Natik Book Fund: Loving to Read, All Life Long!

brookeBrooke Pike started working with Natik as a Fellow in early 2012. She and her husband, Elliot, were the first participants in the Natik Fellowship Program, and worked in Chiapas, Mexico.  At the end of her fellowship, Brooke transitioned to the Board of Directors where she serves on the Executive Team as Treasurer. Brooke holds a Masters of Arts from SIT Graduate Institute where she focused on program planning and design and a BS in Business Administration from the University of New Hampshire. in this blog she reflects on the importance of books! 

For my baby shower when I was pregnant with my son we requested that people bring their favorite childhood book as a gift. Being from a family of avid readers, I wanted to create a library for my son and provide him access to the learning, creativity, and imagination that books inspire. My son is now a year and a half and we aim to read at least one book together each day. We all look forward to this time – to sit together and connect through the colorful pictures and words on each page.


The children in Mexico and Guatemala are no different than my son. They are drawn to books but many do not have a home library like we have the privilege of referring to each night. In Santiago Atitlán, the children crowd around the Puerta Abierta librarian who brings a new bag of books to the school each week, anticipating the new stories that will unfold. In Zinacantán, children attend remedial education classes on Saturdays, even after having gone to school during the week, because they are discovering the joy and value of reading at the Yo’onik Community Learning Center.

DSCF5748In April 2013, Natik started the John E Pike book fund in memory of my father. It brings me joy to know my father’s love of books is shared by his grandson and the next generation of readers in the communities in Guatemala and México where Natik works. This book fund enables the programs to bring books and creative learning to hundreds of children every week.


For more information about the book fund or to donate, click here. 

Senior Natik Adventures in Chiapas!

thumb_IMG_0307_1024In March, a group of five intrepid seniors from Portland, Oregon ventured to Chiapas. The personal histories of Nancy Johns, Turner Odell, Jeanne Pace, Dale Stitt and Davis Fisher include educating groups about social-political realities in Africa, India and Haiti, education of young children and their families, family psychology, diplomacy, and pastoral. This blog is about their adventures…

The trip began with an overnight in Chiapa de Corzo, the charming colonial capital of Chiapas, and a boat ride through the misty and majestic Sumidero Canyon. During our time in San Cristobal, we had a historic tour of downtown, and visited the Mayan Textile Museum. Yoli Hernandez (Yo’onik co-founder, and Mujeres Sembrando la Vida designer) practiced her English by being our guide to the markets and churches of the Mayan villages of Chamula and Zinacantán.


In honor of Yoli’s natural talent for design, our group gifted her a copy of the recently published book Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas.

The book is in English, and therefore gives Yoli the opportunity to practice her English for international clients, and other visiting groups!

We had a lovely morning playing games and sharing the books and toys with the children of the Yo’onik program. We each received a copy of the beautiful ABC of My Culture Tzotzil, Spanish and English literacy book, which is the final product of the teen photography project. Below are photos of Davis doing magic tricks for the children!

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Then we traveled overland to the tropical rainforest, to visit the Mayan Ruins of Palenque, which was beautiful, but incredibly hot and humid.  We were all melting, and Anita and Manuel kept saying how good it was that we were there while the weather was still coolish!

Since we returned home, Anita informed us that after much deliberation, the Hernandez sisters Xunka and Yoli decided how to ‘invest’ our donation: to host an in-person meeting and workshop for the members of the Mujeres Sembrando la Vida artisan cooperative.  The women live in the mountain villages around Zinacantán, and normally only representatives go to the meetings, since it is too costly for all of them to attend every meeting. Now the artisans will be able to spend the whole day together, including a meal and formal presentation with their new projector!

We were happy to learn that the projector that they are buying with our donation will also contribute to their idea of offering occasional family movie nights at the center for entertainment and edification of the local children and their families– and thereby help subsidize some of their programs at the center!

Everyone at Yo’onik is thrilled that their small library is continuing to grow, and all of them are eager to be able to share books with the schools in the villages near Zinacantán.

All of us are enthusiastically looking forward to being advocates for the upcoming fundraiser, so their dream of having a Yo’onik Traveling Library will come true!

Scholarship News: USH and Ruk’ux


Anita Smart has been the Executive Director of Natik since 2010.  In her blog, she writes about the latest developments in the Santiago Scholarship Program. 

The exciting news for the Santiago Scholarship Program is that in 2016, our scholarship students were invited to be partners of Unlocking Silent Histories. USH teaches youth to look critically at the media coverage of indigenous, and trains them in the art of video filming and editing so they can interpret their own reality to the non-indigenous world. Soon to come: student-created videos!

Additionally, we are thrilled that the micro enterprise Ruk’ux Language and Cultural Immersion Program (Ruk’ux means “heart” in Tzu’tujil Maya) uses the skills of the recent graduates to create local jobs and create income opportunities for Santiago families.

Both USH (as in swoosh) and Ruk’ux (also as in swoosh!) offer the possibility of greatly increasing exposure of the scholarship program through the student-produced videos, and has the potential of contributing to local job creation and additional income for families in Santiago. All of the students are working on both the Ruk’ux project and the USH video project.

The university students understand that we are all working toward them being able to be paid for their work through Ruk’ux Language and Cultural Immersion Project. The goal is to create jobs so they can earn money, and thereby finance their own studies at the university level.  A percentage of the profit from Ruk’ux will go toward the scholarship fund for younger students.

In 2015, we initiated the requirement that every scholarship student must write a short essay each month. At the beginning, it was as though we were punishing them, since writing is not taught in the Guatemalan schools, and the students didn’t understand why they had to write at all.

In the spring of 2015, the scholarship team (Dolores and Candelaria, with some strategic support from Amanda) successfully wrote a proposal for an Entremundos Foundation grant, which provided funds for kindles for all the students. Thereafter, for two Sundays a month, the students met to read and talk about the books they were reading.

Much to everyone’s surprise, learning to love to read had a wonderful benefit: it greatly improved their interest in, and capacity for expression, through writing!  Everyone so enjoyed the reading circle that they all enthusiastically expressed the desire to continue reading books together, despite the additional commitments of USH and Ruk’ux during the 2016 academic cycle!

To find out more about the scholarship program, see the video, or donate, go here.


Fair Trade Coffee: How One Class Funds Scholarships

Photo on 12-10-15 at 8.50 AM (1)Bruce Chase teaches Spanish at Fair Haven Union High School in Fair Haven, Vermont. With the help of his students, he has been supporting the Santiago Scholarship Program since 2011.

My first time in Santiago Atitlán was 2004, when I traveled with a group of high school students.  I have been back on two separate occasions. On one trip, I met the director of a small Mayan Elementary School, where the children only spoke tzutujil. It was during this visit that I recognized the need for students to receive support to continue their education. As a teacher I am passionate that all children have access to education. The people of Santiago are sincere and loving people.

As a teacher, I understand the importance of education. There can be no chance of turning around the cycle of poverty without shifting a paradigm for education. Generations have come to accept limitations in their daughters’ ability to pursue education. Likewise, boys may only pursue a high school education at best. Were students exposed to further education, they would become more productive and proactive citizens, not only the basics of reading and writing, but also knowing about how to be creatively proactive when approaching the complicated problems that face a community as marginalized and conflicted as Santiago.

My interest as a teacher is to connect my students with the “so what?” of learning, that is, to connect them to their world through relevant and real projects. I created what I call a “Coffee Unit”. Coffee is particularly important to Spanish speaking countries, as coffee is an important crop for many of these countries. Students learn about the economic difference between Fair Trade and Free Trade as it relates to the coffee growers. To further their learning, around the Christmas holiday season, students sell coffee from a local roaster who sells coffee from a local farm owned by the author Julia Alvarez.

The students sell Fair Trade coffee to their family and friends. Proceeds from these sales support the Santiago Scholarship fund. In this way, the students’ motivation for learning about coffee is a result of their interest in helping underprivileged students their own age to further their education and economic opportunities.  It follows the “teach someone to fish and they will eat for a lifetime” metaphor. In an ironic twist, students are only encouraged to sell one pound of coffee. Every year, a small handful of students become so passionate that they end up selling as much as 10 to 20 pounds of coffee.

As part of another project, students write and illustrate children’s stories in Bare Books.  These stories are intended to provide children of Santiago a glimpse of life in Vermont.  These books are sent to the Puerta Abierta library in Santiago, to share with the scholarship students and others. My students learn about the scholarship students through the Nuestras Notas publications.

Working with Natik has made easy the possibility of connecting my students to students in Santiago.  This has been a truly valuable connection these past four years.  My students and I are happy to be able to sponsor two scholarship students in 2016!

  • To see the video and find out more about the Scholarship Fund, go here.
  • To donate to the Scholarship Fund, go here.
  • To give a recurring donation to the Scholarship Fund, become a Friend of Natik.

Puerta Abierta Time Travel


Amanda Flayer is an educator from California, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, and stayed! She is the co-founder of the Puerta Abierta Library with Karen Hedrick, and in this blog, she remembers how it all began…

Let’s travel in time to 2006 and land in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.  I was a a twenty-something Peace Corps volunteer working in rural schools, bouncing in and out of classrooms modeling non-conventional teaching practices for rural school teachers.  In a wonderful twist of fate, in a town and country far away from our own native California, my life path crossed with Karen Hedrick, a soon to be retired school teacher from San Diego.

As Karen and I worked side by side for a week with elementary school children and teachers, we began to converse about our hopes and dreams for the future.  While our ages separated us by generations, our commonalities were plentiful.  We both shared a passion for education, culture, children and books.

Karen returned to California and I stayed in Guatemala, but our friendship and our love for books continued to grow.  She was approaching retirement from teaching as I was transitioning from the Peace Corps. We joined forces to create the first public children’s library in Santiago Atitlan.  La Puerta Abierta (Open Door) Library was born!

a2cq0v-mzwLAwJtrT_gdZaoggFTtQmui1damcIWROBw,HvArXqmGgzynbWDXCJgh1C9Mwed1zyVcCURSt6qOyf8As time passed, the library took on a life of it’s own.  We began with one small reading room in the center of town, with a part time local librarian and slowly transformed into a learning center.  We experimented with programs such as reading clubs, story hour, a traveling library, adult education, and early stimulation programs, most often with success, always with challenges, sometimes with mistakes we learned from.

10 years later, I am inspired, amazed and enlightened by the tiny seed of a dream that Karen and I planted in Santiago Atitlan, a project that has blossomed into a self sustaining center. La Puerta Abierta will continue to need love, support and innovation as time passes. However, I also believe that our center is capable of functioning with minimal guidance from the outside.

Here’s to 10 years of creativity, critical thinking and literacy in Santiago Atitlan, and hoping for at least 10 more!

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For recurring monthly donations, become a Friend of Natik

Nuestras Notas: A Trip to the Knitting Museum, Cojolya

▼ Salta a español


This week’s blog is by Concepcion. She is our kindergarten teacher and has been working with Puerta Abierta for nearly a decade. Concepcion is also the coordinator of our mothers’ artisan group. In this blog she shares her trip to Cojolya, the knitting museum, with her students.

13090286_10209547243058797_82241390_nIn the Puerta Abierta School, the children have English classes twice a week with the teachers, Abigail, Isabel, and Amanda. My kindergarten students are always happy and excited to learn new words in this class. During the month of April, the students were studying a theme “My Town” and important places in their communities. We took a tour around town and we ended at the museum of knitting, Cojolya.

In the museum, the students were surprised to see original clothing of Santiago Atitlán. They saw clothing for men and the women. The people working in the museum shared their experiences–of the process and the production of thread needed for clothing.

13101282_10209547302420281_187029413_nMrs. Maria, the knitting expert, also shared her experiences with the children, explaining the process she takes to prepare the fabric and the materials that she needs. She learned how to knit huipiles (traditional, embroidered blouses) when she was just 11 years old. Now, she said, she feels very happy everyday producing new designs so she may continue exporting artisan products.

The happy children returned to their families to share what they had seen and heard.


El blog de esta semana está escrito por Concepcion. Ella es nuestra maestra de preprimaria y ha estado trabajando con Puerta Abierta durante casi una década. Tambien, Concepcion es la Coordinadora de nuestro grupo artesanal de madres. En este blog ella comparte su viaje a Cojolya, el museo de tejer, con sus estudiantes.

13090286_10209547243058797_82241390_nEn la Escuela Puerta Abierta, los niños reciben clases de ingles dos veces por semana con las maestras Abigail, Isabel y Amanda. Mis estudiantes de preprimaria siempre están felices y emocionados a aprender nuevas palabras durante la clase. Durante el mes de abril, los estudiantes han estado estudiando el tema (my town) mi pueblo y los lugares importantes de su comunidad. Tuvimos una caminata en el pueblo y terminamos en el museo de tejer, Cojolya.

En el museo los niños se sorprendieron al ver el traje original de Santiago Atitlán. Vieron los trajes de los hombres y las mujeres. Las personas que trabajan en el museo compartieron sus experiencias del proceso de la elaboración del hilo para hacer el traje.

La señora Maria, la tejedora experta, compartió su experiencia con los niños explicando el proceso que se lleva para elaborar la tela y los materiales que se necesita. Ella aprendió a tejer huipiles cuando tenía 11 años y ahora ella se siente feliz todos los días, sacando nuevos diseños para seguir exportando productos artesanales.

Y los niños felices regresaron con sus familias para compartir lo que vieron y escucharon.