Donate Now

Category: daily life

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!

Konojel Success Story: Elena

At the Konojel Community Center in Guatemala, a young woman sits on a straw mat reading Curious George with her 7 year old son Derek. Elena has been a part of Konojel for four years. At 25, she found herself struggling to provide enough nutrition to keep Derek’s hair from falling out. Elena’s struggles, and her success in providing for herself and her son over the past 5 years, is among the clearest success stories Konojel can share.

As a girl  born and raised in a small Mayan village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Elena was never afforded the chances that many people take for granted. The San Marcos indigenous community suffers from high rates of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition; more than 50% of children are malnourished according to the Secretariat for Food Security (SESAN), and many families live on less than $2 US per day per household according to the ministry of Agriculture (MAGA). At the age of 11 Elena had to leave school to help her household. For years she collected firewood in the mountainside, loading wood on to her shoulders to light the fires that made the tortillas; the main staple of her diet. Hers is a typical story of a Mayan woman: born into poverty, with little formal education, and almost no disposable income for food. It wasn’t a life, it was survival.

This is the reality that so many of the women in San Marcos La Laguna face. Many suffer from malnutrition because they can’t afford a nutritious and nourishing diet, subsisting mostly on tortillas. They bear children who are also malnourished because the poor health during pregnancy directly impacts the development of the baby. And the cycle continues.

Konojel opened its doors in 2011 to address this exact problem in the community. Their goal is to provide the most at-risk people with food, immediately addressing chronic malnutrition. Once they are healthy and energized, they provide jobs and opportunities to empower the women of the community; the ultimate goal is to help them raise their own standards of living through education and job training.

Derek was exhibiting the telltale signs of malnutrition: at just 3 years old, his hair was falling out and he was well under the weight and height of someone his age. Everyday, Elena and Derek walked up to the Konojel Community Center for Derek’s healthy lunch. One day, a job opened up in the Konojel kitchen and Maria Mejia, the Director of Operations, thought Elena would benefit from the chance to learn a new skill. While she didn’t have any experience in preparing bulk lunches, she proved herself to be a trustworthy and loving person, and quickly learned the tools to be a professional cook in a small restaurant. When Elena finished her residency as a Konojel cook, Maria recommended her for a position at Hostal Del Lago, a local business nearby. As of November 2017 Elena celebrated her three year work anniversary there.

To this day, Elena and her sisters complete their school assignments at the Konojel Computer Center; her sister Griselda recently completed a year long English course run by Konojel. Derek’s hair has grown back and his speech is getting better. He still comes to the community center several days a week to read with his cousins, who themselves are recovering their health as beneficiaries of the Nutrition Program.

Elena’s son, Derek, and his cousins having fun at the Konojel Community Center’s Children Enrichment Program. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

Elena was finally given the resources to pull herself out of the cycle of poverty. Through her fearlessness and desire to learn, she is now armed with skills, working and thriving in the community. Most importantly, her son Derek will have a chance. Maybe he will be the town’s first doctor or engineer.

Konojel helps so many women in the community like Elena, all of whom are friends and neighbors of the staff. In order to continue providing these opportunities and meals to the hardworking, kind, and courageous women of the community, they need your support. They tell the story of Elena to show you that this is working; Konojel, along with all of you, can legitimately change the course of the lives of the people of San Marcos La Laguna. It’s not complicated: help them spread the word, connect them with donors in your network, or even make a donation yourself. We know there’s so many people in the world today that need help, and although we can’t help them all, we can make a genuine difference in the lives of women and children like Elena and Derek. Click below to donate and join the #konojel1128 movement!

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!

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.