As many of you know, last week Emma and I did our first official promotion of our new website, The NGO List, which was a great success. It never ceases to amaze me the readiness of people to help us. We can throw whatever crazy new project we scheme—an Amazon wish list material drive, a yarn-bombing program, and now another website—and friends rally to the cause. Thank you.
Appropriately timed, this week’s blog entry is my monthly NGO profile, and oddly enough, not twenty minutes ago, I was introduced to this NGO by my friend Bri. She’d come in to find me, as usual, perched in Bagel Barn, flipping through social media sites as my little workday warm up. She told me she’d checked out the site, loved it (of course), and that I should check out UPAVIM for the Guatemala page. Bri is a smart cookie, so I did as she instructed.
UPAVIM (Unido para viva major/United for a Better Life) is a super cool organization originally founded on a sort of fair trade model. They began by making simple handicrafts to employ women and help to pay for a program for the community. The women in the organization wanted to get out of relying on foreign aid for social improvement. So, they took charge.
The handi-craft project was a major success, so much so that it garnered a national award in 2001 for non-traditional exporting. With the cash flowing in from UPAVIMCrafts.org, the ladies who have taken charge of their own fates have helped to start several other amazing ventures. The business has grown so successful that they’ve had to start building an “Annex”, a second complex to house all the good things happening:
1. First and foremost, UPAVIM Crafts has been the lifeblood of the organization since 1991, providing the funds to run a nursery and school, as well subsidize a clinic. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, UPAVIM not only produces its own crafts but also buys from organizations around Guatemala, ensuring that everyone receives adequate money for their work. UPAVIM has an inventory of products in the United States, and the company has shipped to several other countries throughout the world. It’s truly what all NGOs should be trying to do: Creating a sustainable model not reliant on donations and truly empowering the people involved.
2. The Bakery & Store employs a few people from the community: a baker, an assistant, and shopkeeper. Like UPAVIM Crafts, these folks were given a hand up, and ultimately, they have taken charge of their own thing. The bakery and store support themselves and contribute to a general UPAVIM fund, which helps to pay for more expansion.
3. UPA Soya products are another project finding great success. While dairy milk is really expensive, soya milk can be sold at a much more affordable price throughout the community and provide a much-needed nutritional boost. Milk alone, though, just didn’t do the job, so UPAVIM soya production facility uses the pulp to create protein-rich additions for sauces, the base for veggie burgers, and pancakes. And, there’s ice cream! This branch is currently working on being a milk and cafeteria supplier for local schools. Um, as a raging veggie boy, I’m pretty hip to this.
4. The Annex, aside from housing the awesome aforementioned businesses, is also devoted to being a building for building the future. Tutoring programs, a library, and classrooms are spread throughout the complex. Kids are getting cared for and educated, the community now has access to an awesome library (with hopes to expand it) and computers, and there is a plan to start a senior program where elderly folks could come in a get a little something to eat.
5. I haven’t mentioned a lot yet: the medical programs in place, especially the Growth Monitoring program to insure the children are doing well but also the affordable clinic with $2 consultations, the scholarship program helping kids who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend even public school, the English program, and on it goes—cool stuff centered around people finding a means to better their situation through their own efforts.
Want to take part? There are great volunteering opportunities available through UPAVIM, including tutoring, teaching English, and providing medical care. Or, do it from home: Visit their online, fair trade shop to buy a few of your upcoming Christmas gifts--free shipping in the continental US for purchases over $75.
So, there you have it: Another great NGO for the Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad blog and another great volunteer opportunity added to list on The NGO List. Thanks for the tip, Bri, and if by some off-chance someone has made it to this last line of today’s blog but hasn’t visited The NGO List yet, I cordially invite you to take a look after you’ve checked UPAVIM’s website.
My list of places left to visit in Guatemala is steadily depleting. This past weekend, I went to Monterrico for my first proper visit. It was far beyond what I expected: On the first morning, we spent two hours on eco-tour through miles of mangrove, in the distance, Volcan Fuego spewing smoke as the three other volcanoes—Pacaya, Agua, and Acatenango—also decorated the skyline. I visited an animal sanctuary with prehistoric fish, sea turtles, caiman, and iguanas. I buried rescued turtle eggs and released an olive ridley turtle into the Pacific Ocean. Then, there was also swimming, black sand beaches, cheap beer, and hammocks. By and large, I never heard rave reviews about Monterrico, or much of anything really. I loved it.
On to the next place: One of the remaining Guatemalan destinations for me is a northern city called Quetzaltenango (the land of quetzals), otherwise identified as Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Frankly, I’ve never wanted to go. It’s Guatemala’s second largest city. It gets cold there because of being at a ridiculously high altitude (2330 mts/7600 ft). It’s a place I best know for cheap Spanish classes, and I’ve got Emma, whose Spanish skills have undoubtedly far surpassed mine, for that. The only other thing I know is going on is hiking, and herein lies this month’s NGO and the reason Xela will feature in my future at some point.
Quetzaltrekkers is an idea I’m completely jealous to have not come up with. Essentially, there are kids in need in Xela, kids in danger of living life on the street, malnourished, undereducated, and so on, and there are people who want to help with that situation. These helpers are not necessarily educators, doctors, or multimillionaires, but what they can do is walk…trek, if you will. So, in 1995, Quetzaltrekkers—a non-profit tour company—comes into being to create sustainable funding for a school for these kids, and as many great ideas do, it grows.
These days, Quetzaltrekkers continues to work withAsociación Escuela de La Calle (EDELAC), a school in an impoverished neighborhood that provides education to over 175 kids, either from the street or at high-risk of being so, as well as operates Hogar Abierto, a dormitory/permanent residence for 15 adolescents which includes supplying them with clothes, medical care, and food. Over 80% of the funding required by EDELAC comes from Quetzaltrekkers, from tourists paying to go on their guided hikes and the profits from that going to good.
As Quetzaltrekkers has grown into its own, the NGO has become involved with other local projects. Primeros Pasos is a NGO focused on providing women and children with healthcare and treated over 7,000 patients last year. The Chico Mendes Reforestation Project is planting trees in rural areas outside of Xela, places the Quetzaltrekker crew leads tours, and it is attached to a Spanish school that helps finance its mission. And, now there is also the Quetzaltrekkers’ Scholarship Fund that provides tuition for students who have earned and want tertiary education (usually alumni from EDELAC).
Volunteer opportunities are vast and plentiful when getting involved with this project and its friends. First and foremost, Quetzaltrekkers looks for guides for its walk. EDELAC needs educators and/or helpers for the classroom. Hogar Abierto needs people to help with running the dormitory. These opportunities can all be pursued the Quetzaltrekker group, but there also chances to volunteer and work with Primeros Pasos and the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the fact that a-whole-nother branch exists in Nicaragua.
So, I’ve got to go to Xela, I suppose. I really dig what this place is doing, and I want to be a part of it. I really want to be a trekker.
In 2013, I decided I want at least part of my writing to be devoted to helping people, or the NGOs that help them, whether they wanted it or not. These NGO profiles are the beginning of that venture, which has now expanded into its own website: The NGO List.