Konojel: Our Story

Adela, one of the children beneficiaries of the Konojel lunch program. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

In a rural Mayan village, set on the edge of Lake Atitlan, a vibrant, yet disenfranchised community of indigenous Guatemalans struggle to overcome an epidemic of poverty and malnutrition. But with the help of a small community center, Konojel, their futures are looking brighter.

Malnutrition and poverty play out as a vicious cycle amongst the community- one cannot be overcome without addressing the other. The Konojel Community Center, an NGO operating in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, provides an opportunity for recovery by providing jobs, opportunities, and meals to those who are struggling the most.

When you take a closer look, you see that Konojel is more than just a non-profit, it’s a group of people

Konojel’s Director of Operations, Maria Mejia, hires and helps to train women in the community to work at the Konojel Community Center. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

who genuinely love each other. Run by two North Americans, Andrew Raphael and Ivy Challis, along with an indigenous woman, Maria Mejia, it’s a collaboration of cultures, viewpoints, and backgrounds. When you walk through the doors of Konojel, you immediately sense that it is a family. “We know every single person who comes through these doors, not just their names but what kind of conditions they come from, where they live,
and what their needs are. We didn’t just come to this town, set up a community center, and provide these services; we lived here, we got to know the people and they told us what they needed.” according to Executive Director, Andrew. “They trust us because we show up for them everyday, that’s been the key to the success of Konojel.”

Konojel’s primary goal is to feed the most malnourished people in the town, which is no easy feat considering that, according to USAID, 70% of the indigenous population suffers from malnutrition. “We give food to the most at-risk people in San Marcos which include new mothers, pregnant women, the elderly, and elementary school kids. However, our goal isn’t to feed the whole town, it’s to empower women and give them opportunities to work and pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty so that their families don’t depend on our meal program.”

Andrew and Ivy are both ex New Yorkers who traveled to Guatemala to escape the frenetic city life, little did they know that their life’s purpose awaited them in a developing country. “I had spent many years in New York trying to ‘make it’ as a small business owner, but the work left me drained, dissatisfied and disillusioned. Working at Konojel has given my life meaning, and there is not enough I could do for the people of San Marcos that could show my gratitude for that.” says Ivy.

Konojel’s Directors, Andrew Raphael and Ivy Challis, at the Konojel Restaurant, a non-profit restaurant that is raising money for their community project to fight poverty and malnutrition in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

Andrew, Ivy and Maria believe that Konojel is making a real difference in the lives of the people that benefit from their services. Even though they’re up against some scary statistics, they tackle the problem one person at a time. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. We cater to the individuals by providing programs for them that are designed to fit their needs. We have a children’s education program, a computer center, a workshop for sewing, and many other approaches to help strengthen and stabilize each person so they have the tools to thrive.” However, Konojel relies heavily on the generosity of donors to provide these services. Today, on Giving Tuesday, they’re working to raise $40,000, a year’s worth of their operating budget. They are sharing their story today in the hope of inspiring others to come forward to provide the people of San Marcos with support they both need and deserve. “It would be a dream to raise $40,000 today, to be able to tell the beneficiaries that we can guarantee that they’ll have healthy meals and opportunities for another year. There’s nothing I’d want more.” says Andrew. If you’d like to be a part of the Konojel1128 fundraiser, please click below to donate today!