Photographer Tim O’Brien provided the details and images for the Guatemala destination.
The story of my trip to Guatemala started more than twenty years ago with a Rotarian from Florida named Steve Dudenhoefer. He had a number of Guatemalans working for his landscaping company. He was so impressed with their work ethic and how they sent so much money home that he decided to visit their village in Guatemala. Seeing the poverty in the village he asked what he could do to help the village. They said that they needed a school. So he raised money to start a school for 12 children. He eventually sold his business and moved to Guatemala to continue working on this project.
Now that school, called Ak’Tenamit, draws over 500 male and female students from a number of villages in the area. Most of the students are Q’eqchi’ Mayan, one of the indigenous groups in Central America. In rural areas in Guatemala most students do not even complete sixth grade. The Ak’Tenamit students, who live at the school, are not only able to continue with standard school subjects in grades 7-12 but also receive vocational training in sustainable agriculture and tourism. Thanks to the generosity of Rotary Clubs and other groups such as Engineers without Borders the school now has not only dorms and classrooms for the students but also computer labs (with solar panels to provide the necessary electricity), aquaculture tanks to raise fish, a restaurant, and small ecotourism cabins that the school rents to visitors. There is also medical and dental clinics that provide care, not just for the students but also for the people of the surrounding villages.
So how did this get me to Guatemala? Rotary members support Ak’Tenamit not just with money but their time as well. Every year groups of Rotarians go to the school to help build additional structures, work with students and teachers, and purchase supplies. I do not belong to a Rotary Club but my girlfriend does. It did not take long (about five minutes) for her to convince me to join the Chicago Rotary District on a trip to Guatemala in April 2016. We stayed in the town nearest the school, Livingston, a sea coast port on the mouth of the Rio Dulce River. Each day we would travel 30 minutes by boat upriver to the school to work. The students prepared our lunch every day at the restaurant at the school. Then each evening back in Livingston we ate dinner at the student run restaurant in town. I was one of several volunteers who worked with the students to build storage cabinets in a vocational training building that another Rotary Group had built earlier in the year. Once the school obtains the necessary tools they will begin classes in carpentry and other building skills. This will give students another vocational track in additional to the current agriculture and tourism. You can learn more about Ak’Tenamit by following this link.
I included one image from the school. That shows the computer lab on the girl’s side of the school. The students drew murals on the walls showing their aspirations to be teachers, cooks, doctors, or scientists. The other images are all birds. Egrets lined the banks of the Rio Dulce River so there were plenty of opportunities. There were also some ducks on the river. Egrets occasionally appeared at the sea coast in the port too. But more often there we saw pelicans and gulls.