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.