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Announcing the Konojel Restaurant Anniversary Party!

We are very excited to announce the first anniversary of the Konojel Restaurant at it’s new location on the main path to the embarcadero in San Marcos la Laguna!

Throughout this year we have managed to grow and improve to provide good service and delicious food. The restaurant has exceeded our expectations and has become an important outreach hub for the Konojel Community. Not only are great meals served, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the women’s coop arm of Konojel has a successful shop within the restaurant.

This first year’s success would not be possible without the women who work every day and do their best to sell their dishes, or our customers who support us and visit to buy in the restaurant.

To celebrate our first full year at the new location, we’re throwing a party!

Join us celebrating our 1st anniversary this Friday, November 22nd. We will have pizza, live music, Karaoke and Dr. Nativo will be with us!!!

If you’re in San Marcos, stop by, the party lasts all day!

Check Out the New Konojel YouTube Channel!

Hello friends!

We are excited to announce the creation of a brand new Konojel Community Center YouTube channel!

Our first four videos were created by our wonderful volunteer and Konojel supporter, Audra McMurray! We are so grateful for the time that she spent in San Marcos la Laguna this year, supporting the community center, taking photos and videos and beginning the work of assembling these videos!

Please have a look. Subscribe to our channel, and share them far and wide on your social media accounts!

We are so very grateful for your continued support!


Introducing Viviana Cabrera Contreras: Manager of the Konojel Restaurant

Viviana Cabrera Contreras a university student, studying a social work degree, who’s goal is to be able to work closely with people and help them to transform their lives. From the age of 11 she started volunteering in non-profit organizations and she has been working since she was 14 years old. She started in a perfumery for 4 years but that did not suit her, so after working there, she worked at SHARE for approximately 3 years.

Viviana then had several jobs, one of them was in a vaccination pilot project in Tecpan and Chimaltenango. As she was working and sharing more closely with people she realized that field work was a good fit because she could see more clearly the change in the lives of people. After that she was in charge of purchasing for a year and a half and was responsible for the relationship with suppliers; serving more than 250 employees and was responsible for a variety of different services such as purchases for 25 agencies and telephone communication. This was a foundational experience for Viviana.

She was living in San Lucas, Sacatepequez when she found out that there was a job in Konojel and she moved to San Marcos La Laguna. Viviana is excited and motivated by this fascinating change. As the administrative manager of the restaurant, her responsibility is to manage the accounts and expenses of the restaurant, innovate and improve the products we offer, create a work environment where women feel part of the team, and train them so they can have their own income and develop experience and individual devleopment leading to opportunities for growth later.

Viviana also manages the solar women’s cooperative and coordinates sewing workshops. She is cooking and is looking for new products to develop for market, hoping to increase the income for the programs as well as ensuring the improvement and growth of both businesses.

For Viviana, Konojel is very important because it is an opportunity to improve the quality of life for the people she serves as well as to create increased income so that the programs can function more independently. The growth of the women who work in the restaurant is also a primary focus. Viviana is motivated and excited. She has many ideas that she wants to implement so that women can have more work and we can increase our impact in the community.

She believes that we should love what we do to be happy and that is where she is now.

Jared Olsen on the link between US Immigration, Poverty & Malnutrition

This week Jared Olsen published his fantastic long-form essay entitled:

In their wake, US-bound immigrants leave communities plagued by poverty and malnutrition

In which he unpacks the myriad multi-layered and intertwined issues that drive Guatemalans to leave their generations deep roots to make the perilous trip north and cross the USA border as illegal immigrants. His masterful treatment of the effects, both good and bad, of tourism in the tiny village of San Marcos, the consequences, intended and unintended, of “development” on the communities and food sources, and the root causes of the food desert that has swallowed up areas where previously nutrition was rich and locally grown, is drawn from interviews with the indigenous people of San Marcos who are working to ameliorate the problems within their own communities.

As an “extrajeno,” or foreigner, this can be a challenging read, but it’s important that we understand the history and culture upon which we have an impact when we visit, and ask the difficult but fundamental questions about our role in creating problems and solutions.

Jared has, generously, allowed us to excerpt his lengthy treatise. You’ll find some of the highlights below, but we highly recommend that you click through and READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE. 

“…one wouldn’t at first glance think that San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala, is a place where children are so malnourished that growth-stunted nine-year-olds look as if they’re only five, or where babies are so underfed that the hair slips off their scalps.

It’s a disturbing reality, one which often eludes the tourists passing through here: outsiders happily wandering the lakeside town’s bewitching, cobblestoned tourism corridor, garbed in flowing flower printed dresses and bead-laced scarves, unaware of the slums that exist just outside the insular bubble of tourism-centric businesses. In those cracked neighborhoods of ramshackle metal, poverty rates soar, spawning an array of social consequences for the towns Ka’qchikel Maya residents, especially malnutrition.

People often focus on the immigration debate where it ends, at a metal fence along the US’s southern border. But they forget how the entire process starts: in poor towns like this, places where the poverty is so systemic, historically rooted and deeply entrenched that even the introduction of tourism does little to stop the continual hemorrhaging of poverty.

“… Chronic malnutrition afflicts on average four out of 10 children in Guatemala,” Andrew Raphael concedes matter-of-factly. He is the director of Konojel, a locally run organization which focuses, among other things, on providing nutrition program for the San Marcos’ at-risk Maya youth. “In rural indigenous areas, you can say as much of 80 percent of the community suffers from signs of chronic malnutrition. In San Marcos… I would put it at 60 percent”

 

“…You can see the breach between the people that come from outside and those who live here,” says Ingrid Paredes, a restaurateur who works with Konojel. “They have more opportunities, while the poor local families (are) up in the mountains, marginalized and without really knowing much, without receiving much either.”

“… Because Guatemala’s mostly indigenous campesinos were shoved abruptly (and largely without their consent) into a radically integrated global economy, they were forced suddenly to compete against the cheap imported foods of astronomically huge, U.S. farming corporations- an impossible wager for small-scale subsistence farmers like themselves. With no options but to abandon their traditional lifestyles, many have ventured to either Guatemala City or the United States to seek job opportunities, which are now virtually impossible to find in the countryside.

Nearly everyone can name a close friend or family member who’s immigrated to the United States. Immigration- the constant possibility of it, the aura of casting away in search of ever-elusive job opportunities (jobs which rarely manifest themselves in San Marcos)- is for the rural indigenous people as ubiquitous as the sun, the sky, the wind off the lake. After all, it’s not hard to see why some people would leave to become immigrants when one looks at the social situation of San Marcos itself.

This absence of jobs- unemployment for Guatemalan young men in 2012 was at a whopping 25 percen- is diagnosed by many as the greatest culprit in perpetuating San Marcos’ poverty. Joblessness, in turn, perpetuates and accentuates a slew of interconnected social malaises, from alcoholism to juvenile crime to under-education to- of course- malnutrition:

“… They don’t have many opportunities to work,” says Maria Mejía Martín, the coordinator of Konojel’s nutrition program. “Nor to become educated.”

“… In San Marcos, like many communities in Guatemala” says Andrew, “access to gainful, dignified and decent paying employment is scarce.”

“… Paredes says that the economic impoverishment of San Marcos is but one infinitesimal piece of the larger economic restructurings that’ve long since swept the world. Because of this, there is on one level a certain cosmic futility associated with the nonetheless noble, necessary social work executed by NGO’s like Konojel.

“The truth,” she says, “is that there are the interests of large corporations and governments in maintaining this situation. And of course, they maintain it.”

“… “Before,” says Maria, “we were eating beans, tortillas, lots of herbs. More organic.”

“That’s what they were eating before,” Roberto continues. “But when the highway came, when the new means of transport came with it, junk food started to be introduced, and the people liked to buy Coke, to buy Pepsi. But no one realized the consequences that came through the great sicknesses that these foods caused.”

In the same places where they once cultivated pumpkins, carrots, and beets, there now lay blocks of trendy hostels, restaurants, and yoga meditation centers, places which which- though benefiting community members to a certain extent- ultimately play to the financially benefit of their foreign owners. And in the same places where a local culture once sustained itself through the cultivation of its own agricultural fruits, children now fed on a steady diet of cheap, imported junk food descend to levels of malnourishment that are close to being life-threatening.

“… Not all is tragic in San Marcos. Fiercely proud of of their indigenous heritage- ninety percent of the local population still speaks Ka’qchikel- many people have nonetheless found ways to carve out meaningful lives against a backdrop of incredible poverty, doing so not only with resourcefulness, but with doses of vigor and brio that are nothing short of inspiring.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE

Introducing Angelina: Enrichment Program Coordinator

My name is Angelina Quiacain Sajvin. I am 27 years old, born on May 16 1990 in Barrio 1, San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. I am one of six siblings.

In 2000 I entered first grade at the local primary school, and I have many memories of the great times spent with my classmates and friends; I remember much laughter and doing things that I thought were naughty at the time but now I think are just normal kid behaviors. In 2006 I entered middle school, where I studied for three years and that experience really showed me the difference in upper level studies compared to just finishing primary school.

Then, in 2009 I enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Bilingue in Santiago, which is all the way across the lake from San Marcos and was a really big commitment for me, especially as a woman it is hard to travel and complete one’s studies when life is full of daily challenges. I managed to graduate from High School in 2011 with a degree in Early Childhood Education with a focus on Bilingual and Intercultural studies.

My Job History…

Then, in 2012 I began a job in the town of San Pedro La Laguna, a town located between San Marcos and Santiago. I was working for MANC La Laguna, an organization that focuses on educational programs based on recycling of waste around the Lake Atitlan region. It was during that job that my companions and I realized that our home, Lake Atitlan, produces a great deal of garbage, and our efforts focused running informational workshops with local women on topics like waste recycling, separation of organic and inorganic garbage; not only did we host groups of indigenous women in these talks, we also visited various schools in the area to provide information and activities in the area of environmental protection. I was fortunate because this work also led me to join the National Committee of Literacy (CONALFA), an experience that allowed me to impart literacy classes to women who had not learned to read or write, with the goal of opening doors for those women through helping them develop literacy skills. It was there that I began to observe the participation of those women and their desire to overcome obstacles in their lives, and I witnessed their efforts to help their families each and everyday, in part by improving their own skills and abilities.

In the year 2014 I began working in the Escuela Caracol in my hometown of San Marcos La Laguna. This school is the first Waldorf institute in the country of Guatemala, and I was very happy to have a job as a Teacher’s Assistant in the Kindergarten class over the course of three years. This experience was wonderful for me as I was able to learn about the Waldorf pedagogy and methodology, a really interesting way to look at education that focuses on helping children learn through developing their artistic and manual abilities starting at a young age. The main objective at the Escuela Caracol is to stimulate the potential of children with the help of adult guides.

What I most enjoyed of that experience was learning from the children, as they helped me gain confidence, to feel love, as for them I think I was like a second mother because they always confided in me about personal problems they were facing. I think the job of a Teachers Assistant is to help a child with their mental and emotional state, because sometimes children can be impatient and it’s necessary to educate with love. The parent’s trusted in me and for that I’m grateful to them, and to my co-workers with whom I shared experiences, respect and humility, and to them as well I will always be grateful.

Joining Konojel Community Center

Then, in May of this year (2018) I received an invitation to interview for a position at the Konojel Community Center. I remember the first time I entered their facility, Andrew (Executive Director) and Maria (Director of Programs) were very welcoming to me and made me feel at home in their space. They set a tone of respect and humility, and I’ve deeply thankful to them for allowing me to be a part of the Konojel team. I’m really happy with my new position as Enrichment Program Coordinator, and more than anything I’m excited to have a chance to practice my professional skills with a new group of children in an environment very different from my previous work experiences.

The Enrichment Program at Konojel focuses on reinforcing skills that local children need to finish their studies and have opportunities as they grow. These days in San Marcos there are many obstacles that children face in receiving a quality education, in part because of large class sizes and a lack of resources available to public school teachers. The work that Laura (Site Coordinator) and I do at Konojel is reinforce the instruction they receive in school through cooperative games and other activity that I hope enrich their lives and experiences beyond what they receive at home. In particular, Laura and I focus our time with them on literacy development in Spanish, Mathematics, and arts and crafts, as Konojel is fortunate to have many educational resources available for us thanks to international donors who support our work. These materials are extremely helpful as a tool for us to help them strengthen their skills as students, and as individuals.

More than anything I love doing arts and crafts with the children of the Konojel Enrichment Program. I spend a lot of time and energy planning the activities from Monday through Friday, and I can see that the children enjoy my effort; every day the first thing they ask me is “what are we going to do today, what will you teach us today?” and this to me is beautiful because it motivates me to push ahead and better myself in my work as an educator. Our goal at Konojel is educate the young people of San Marcos to have good values and to help them develop a desire to continue learning and to take on challenges that will make them better neighbors and citizens.

Walking Across the UK to Feed Kids in Guatemala

Imagine our surprise and delight when monthly supporter, Colin Wilson, contacted us to ask if he could use his walk across the UK to raise funds for Konojel!

One of the amazing things about our tribe of regular supporters is that they understand how vital their regular support of our monthly budget is. Kids don’t eat just once a year, conveniently hungry around the month of a big fundraiser. Nope. Feeding kids is an every day affair. That’s why Colin gives monthly, he’s a dad. He gets that. And that’s also why he decided to use his walk to boost his support of the Konojel Community Center, specifically, the nutrition project.

This isn’t the first big walk that Colin has embarked on for charity. Four years ago he walked across Spain for the first time, raising money for a cause close to his heart. The next year, he did it again. He’s got a habit of doing extreme things for the benefit of others and we couldn’t be more pleased that he’s chosen to support Konojel as he does the northern coast-to-coast walk across the UK.

Colin and his partner Rosie started walking yesterday, but they started raising funds weeks ago. If you’d like to support their walk and Konojel at the same time, visit their Just Giving page and donate. If you can’t do that, then please click the link and share their story on social media. The more views, and donations, the better!

The picture, above, was taken on the west coast, at the sea, where the walk begins. Check out his cool Konojel t-shirts, which he had specially made for the walk!

Visit Colin’s Just Giving Page and Support the Walk & Konojel!

 

 

The Land That Time Forgot

Sandra Levins, a Konojel partner for the last 2 years, recently wrote about her recent trip to San Marcos, in which she and her team brought donated goods from the Iowa Conference United Church of Christ.

“San Marcos la Laguna on Lake Atitlán is like the land that time forgot. There is a weird combination of the ancient and the modern. Here they fish in dugout canoes made from hollowed tree trunks and scavenge for firewood, but almost everyone has a cell phone. The women dress in traditional clothing and many weave their own fabric on backstrap looms in the early Mayan tradition. The language spoken in the home is Katchikal, but when the children enter school they learn to speak Spanish. Then we gringos came along and out of necessity some, but not all, became trilingual. In my grandson’s school, every lesson is taught three times: in Katchikal, Spanish and then English.

Mother Theresa said that each one of us is merely a small instrument. When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, often you see small and big wires, new and old, cheap and expensive. Until the current passes through there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God.

Let us continue to light up God’s world and change lives.”

Read about Sandra’s visit and experience on her church blog.

How Can You Change Lives In Guatemala Using The Internet?

 

The Internet Society (ISOC) is a US-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization with more than 65,000 members. Their mission is to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world, focusing on enhancing public policies that enable open access and facilitating the development of open standards that run the backbone of the Internet. This project was made possible in part through a donation from the Internet Society.

 

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Indiana School of Dentistry Partners with Konojel in 2016

The Konojel Community Center, a project of the All Together Foundation, is proud to announce a partnership with the Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) for 2016 in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. IUSD has been offering an International Service Learning program in Haiti, Vietnam, Mexico, Kenya, Guatemala, and Ecuador since 2000. The goal of the program is to provide dental services and oral health education to underserved populations in response to their needs, and to partner with an on-site community organization to incorporate their assets in both service and learning aspects of the program.

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