Yeni de León, a decade of work with the families
We spoke with researcher Yeni de León, about her experience working at FAFG for almost a decade through assisting and accompanying families in search of their loved ones.
To begin, can you tell us briefly about the activities you do as a researcher at the FAFG?
Part of my responsibilities is to have the first interaction with family members, we record all of the events and create profiles of the people who report to us some of the violent events that occurred during the Armed Conflict. The link we have with family members is very important to us. We have to be sensitive in how we approach things with them.
Also, part of our job is to take the DNA samples from relatives. It is a very satisfying job. I am very proud to be part of the team.
How long have you worked at the FAFG?
I am a few months shy of completing 10 years at FAFG. It has been 10 years full of learning, not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. The opportunity to have a different perspective of what people who grew up in urban areas generally taught us. Contact with the rural area gives you a broader panorama, makes you more supportive and aware of what you have, and of everything you can do with what you have, without longing for something else.
During these 10 years, what has been your greatest motivation at work?
It is an impressive job. Doing your job responsibly and seeing that you are contributing to our society, to the families that have lived in constant grief for decades, and that there is a positive response in the work that you do, is what motivates me to continue the work thoroughly and responsibly.
Any anecdote or memorable experience for you, during the time you have worked with families at the FAFG?
I remember a notification where we went to give the good news to two people between 90 and 93 years old, who were still waiting to hear news about their three children, and they were notified of the identification of two of them. They were eagerly waiting. It was very impressive and motivating. You get to get involved in a very deep way, although remain objective. I believe that objectivity in research must always be present, but there are times when sensitivity and emotion are often charged, and you cannot be indifferent to this type of situation.
Each one of the processes we carry out, and the approach we have, is totally different, even from one family member to another. But all the processes are enriching, and I think that we as researchers must always have that channel of learning open. Everything is learning, even if you are 90 years old you keep learning; And you don’t necessarily learn from the person who has five master’s degrees or twenty doctorates. There are people that life has given them a wealth of experiences that they can share with others.
Can you share an experience that has been challenging?
There are tough days. Many times in the ixil area it rains a lot, so you have to walk in the rain, you are cold, you can get sick, your legs and feet hurt a lot, but I consider it part of the job. Maybe at the moment you are like “Oh, I can’t take it anymore”, but then comes the news that there is a positive result and that the investigation was concluded, so it’s worth it. There is nothing that comes without making a prior effortIn addition to conducting ante-mortem interviews with family members who report their missing loved ones as part of the victim investigation and documentation process, you also participate in the FAFG Visual Histories Archive project, conducting interviews with Life to CAI survivors.
How has your experience been in collecting these testimonials?
Being in front of a person who opens up and begins to tell you their story about very difficult moments in her life is quite complex. It is not the same as you open a book and start reading it, for the person to tell you with that emotion that expresses the moments lived. It is shocking. There are stories that leave you cold, you don’t even know how to react to so much suffering. Many times we are ignorant about what has happened in our country, and not only in our country, worldwide.
There are so many moving and complex stories. They shake you to your core and you realize that the suffering that you live now is minimal compared to all the situations that these people endured, because there are many that continue with living with their grief.There are many people who are community leaders, because that has been a push for them to come and come to light in defense of Human Rights, but there are also people who have become ill, who live submerged in terrible depression and poverty. There are several cases, but they all leave you with greater knowledge.
“WE HAVE TO KNOW OUR HISTORY TO UNDERSTAND OBJECTIVELY WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW” – YENI DE LEÓN
Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the research and documentation work been?
I really miss going out to the communities. If we take care of ourselves, we take care of everyone. The work does not stop. At home we are still in the investigation phase. There are many investigations that do not end with an exhumation, we continue to find many factors and investigate further.
With family members we have virtual media now. We have had enough contact with some of them, even the positive results continue to emerge and through this virtual medium we have been able to communicate and give them the good news. Communication does not have to be lost, regardless of whether you cannot be physically present, communication is maintained with some organizations and the work continues alongside expert opinions, in looking for elements that help us enrich some cases, and therefore achieving our final objective to identify people who have reported their Disappeared loved ones.
What is your vision for the Foundation? What is the impact you would like to see?
To strengthen the bond within families that is segregated by the griefs that they have been holding onto for decades. The FAFG contributes to the search and identification of these people who have disappeared in these family groups, and, subsequently, everything emotional that arises when achieving an identification is extremely important; It is not only a job at a scientific level, but the contributions go beyond it. In the future, I think that we will have double or triple positive results if we continue with the discipline and responsibility that we have had so far.
Any final thoughts or messages?
We as Guatemalans have lived through different complex stages at the society level, the difficulty of an Armed Conflict affected us quite a bit in different areas. Difficult situations, such as the one we are currently experiencing, we have to see them as a springboard to get ahead. I believe that we have to channel in the best way all the complicated situations that present themselves to us to go a step further as a society. With your grain of sand you can contribute so that we can all succeed.