Lebron, the Man of Steel, and Zinacantán

David Feurerbach was a Natik intern during the summer of 2016, between his junior and senior year at Denver University, in the International Studies Department.  His job was to document all our projects in Guatemala and Chiapas through photographs and videos. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with all of Natik’s programs…




As I walked through the market, past the fruit and vegetable vendors, past the row of stands selling chickens, the chickens, recently plucked and gutted, resting upside down with their necks dangling over the side of the counters, resembling the toy, rubber chickens that we used to play with as kids, and past the shops selling artisan textiles, I thought about the week ahead of me in Zinacantán. I had arrived in Chiapas one week earlier to start my summer internship as the photographer and videographer for Natik, and was beginning to adjust to my new life in San Cristobal de las Casas, which is an old colonial city with an interesting mix of tourism and local culture. But now I was heading to Zinacantán to spend the week living with a family, I was unsure of what to expect.

Zinacantán is a small, indigenous town, hidden in the mountains outside of San Cristobal, that retains its traditional culture and way of life. The main language spoken is Tzotzil and many of the inhabitants, including the men, continue to wear the traditional clothing. Zinacantán is a different world from the one in which I grew up in, and so I was unsure if I would be able to find ways to connect with the people.

I emerged from the market and arrived at the transport station. I climbed into the van and greeted the others already aboard. After waiting for about 20 minutes for more passengers (the local transports here generally don’t have a schedule; they leave when they are full), we headed out for Zinacantán.

After about 30 minutes, with my knees jammed into the seat in front of me (the disadvantage of being tall), we arrived. I headed for the house of Doña Magdalena, where I would wait for the family where I would be staying for the week to pick me up.

I arrived at the house just before lunch, and found Doña Magdalena and Xunka seated in the kitchen next to the wood stove chatting in Tzotzil. When I entered, they greeted me and found a chair for me to sit, and then resumed their conversation. I sat for a while listening to the rhythmic flow of the indigenous language, every now and then picking up on a Spanish word that was integrated into their conversation. After a while, Teresa and her husband, Juan Miguel, arrived with their two kids who they had just picked up from the school. Gabriel, (6), and Rogelio, (4), were both full of energy. As Doña Magdalena finished cooking lunch, they ran around the kitchen chasing the cat and the chickens which occasionally wandered in from outside.

Doña Magdalena asked me if I was hungry as she handed me a bowl of vegetable soup, (which made the question more rhetorical than real). That was certainly not a problem for me, as I am always ready to eat. I sat with the family around the wood stove eating the soup and tortillas (meals are always served with a giant stack of tortillas), listening to the conversation in Tzotzil and not understanding anything. The kids occasionally took a break from playing to eat a few bites before returning to their fun. Occasionally one of the members of the family would ask me a question in Spanish to which I would respond, and then the conversation would switch back to Tzotzil.

After lunch, I left with Teresa, Juan Miguel, and the kids to go to their home. I had just set my backpack down when Gabriel and Rogelio burst into the room.

“Let’s watch a movie!” Gabriel enthusiastically said in Spanish.

I agreed, so Gabriel climbed up onto the dresser to start the DVD player. Then, seated on the bed with our backs against the wall, we waited for the machine to read the disc. I was curious to discover what movie I would be watching here in the small, quiet town of Zinacantán, and was surprised when I read the the words on the title screen – “Superman: Hombre de Hierro.”

Gabriel and Rogelio jumped on the bed during the parts that they didn’t find interesting, and explained in great detail the parts that they did find interesting. After the movie, Gabriel asked me if I wanted to watch another. I was content watching another movie, and so Gabriel, Rogelio, and I searched through their collection of three movies. Due to scratches and imperfections, none of the other three movies worked, so we started watching “Superman: Hombre de Hierro” for a second time.

About halfway through the movie, Teresa called to us that dinner was ready. Glad that I would not have to watch the entire movie a second time, we headed to the kitchen to eat.

For dinner we ate eggs with a tomato salsa, and, of course, tortillas. I was thrilled, as I love eggs, and usually eat them twice a day back home in the States. (I may have discovered the only place where the people eat as many eggs as I do!). The dinner conversation was about half in Tzotzil and half in Spanish. When the kids finished their meal they ran off to play, and I stayed in the kitchen talking with Teresa and Juan Miguel.

During our conversation, I learned that Juan Miguel had actually spent a couple of years in the U.S. working as a migrant laborer, sending money back home to Zinacantán to support the family. He had worked in Florida and a couple other states in the Southeast, so we shared stories about the differences between that part of the U.S. and Colorado, where I have spent the majority of my life.

As Juan Miguel and I continued chatting, Gabriel entered the kitchen full of excitement. He ran up to us to report that the white team was winning by two and therefore was going to win. Curious to discover what game he was talking about, I left with Gabriel to go to his parent’s room where he and Rogelio were watching the game. As I entered the room, Lebron James was in the process of getting fouled as he drove into the paint. Gabriel and Rogelio were watching Game 5 of the NBA finals!

I had watched some of the conference finals games with my friends back in Colorado, but had not had the chance to see any games of the finals since arriving in Chiapas for my summer internship. You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the first game of the finals that I would be able to watch would be in the quiet, indigenous town of Zinacantán. I sat on the floor and watched the game with Gabriel and Rogelio.

Later, Juan Miguel and Teresa joined us. By the end of the third quarter, Teresa and the kids had fallen asleep, but Juan Miguel and I stayed up to see the outcome. Having lived in Florida, he had watched Lebron, who at the time was playing for the Miami Heat, and played a lot on TV. So we talked about Lebron. And then we talked about how great the Warriors are, and about the shooting ability of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Eventually, our conversation included other topics also.

As I laid in bed waiting to fall asleep, I reflected on my first day in Zinacantán. When I had walked through the market that morning, thinking about the coming week, I had certainly not expected to watch Superman and the NBA finals on my first day! I guess this is what my International Relations professors are referring to when they talk about the cultural effects of globalization. However, I do not see this as a negative consequence of globalization, as many scholars would argue.

The idea of cultural homogenization, the idea that Western culture is a dominating force that will lead to a world in which local cultures are replaced by Western culture, has become a prevalent idea in the field of International Relations. But I do not see it this way. Parts of Western culture have certainly found their way into Zinacantán. Yet, at the same time, Zinacantán retains the majority of its traditional values and customs. And it is true that the culture of Zinacantán has changed over the years, but this is true of all cultures. Cultures are constantly evolving and adapting, Western culture included. I do not believe that globalization is leading to one, homogenized culture. On the contrary, I believe that globalization is opening the door for different cultures to connect in more profound ways.

For me, even though it was something as simple as watching a movie with Gabriel and Rogelio, or talking about a sport with Juan Miguel, having something in common allowed us to share in the similarities between our two cultures. It also opened the door to discussion and reflection on the differences. Ultimately, it made us realize that even though our two worlds are very different, we can still share a meaningful connection.

Santiago Scholarship Fundraiser!

We need your help to keep all our students in school for the rest of 2017. 

Join the Natik team and contribute to our amazing Guatemalan scholars!

Mother’s Day: Donate on behalf of your mother before noon on Sunday, and send us her name and email so we can send her a great video with images of the scholarship students and their mothers, interspersed with beautiful tropical flowers!

Check out the Santiago Scholarship Page! 



Ruk’ux Preparation Supported by DAI

The students of the Natik Santiago Atitlán Scholarship program are currently working to transform their scholarship program, which has historically been 100% dependent on international grants and donations, into a financially sustainable and independent entrepreneurial venture by the year 2021.The students are using capitalist business skills and directing the profit toward local social needs; a model that is known as Social Entrepreneurism.

In 2014, we began working with the students and the leadership of several local organizations to conceive a culturally appropriate micro enterprise that would generate income for university students who demonstrate financial need and academic excellence, and that utilize the skill sets that are taught at the local technical high schools; primarily teaching, business administration, accounting, tourism, and bi-lingual secretary.

The result is a language and cultural immersion program for international students and tourists. The students named the program Ruk’ux, which means “heart in action” in Tzutujil Maya, and is pronounced rook-OOSH, with the “oo” as in “root”

The university students will work their way through school, and the younger students will be supported with scholarships as they ease into greater degrees of responsibility within the entrepreneurial venture.

This project will also contribute to local organizations through the labor of international volunteers, and to the local economy through home stays and the activities shared with the international participants by local people who continue to practice the traditional crafts and knowledge of the Mayan culture.

The students decided to invest the money they had earned as tutors of their first “trial volunteer” to travel to nearby San Pedro to meet the directors of the Cooperative language school and request formal training for teaching Spanish to foreigners.

The school was so impressed by the students’ initiative that they offered an introductory teacher training course at a reduced group rate. The students paid for the first session out of the funds generated by their first ‘test volunteer’. A generous grant from DAI Global LLC is permitting on-going compensation to the school for the rest of the teacher training courses. The students are eager to continue their language training in preparation for the formal international project launch in the fall of 2017!

Friends in Art and Books: Libby goes to Mexico


Libby began her work with Natik as a short-term volunteer. Her experiences in Zinacantan–with the children at Yo’onik and the artwork of its founders Xunka and Yoli–inspired her to continue working for the community of Chiapas, Mexico.

I traveled to San Cristobal in Chiapas last July to work with Natik and learn more about the local economy of artisan handicraft creation from the women of Mujeres Sembrado la Vida. I met Xunka and Yoli Hernandez in their hometown of Zinacantan, a small village outside San Cristobal. It’s there that they pursued their dream of creating the Yo’onik Learning Center and MSV, where they help to educate and provide economic opportunities for their community, where many children are not provided with the support they need to receive an education.

They were warm, and quickly invited me into their home. Yoli showed me into their living room and studio space. I was instantly inspired by the amount of beauty contained in the array of pillowcases, hair clips, textiles, and clothing. The works were colorful, original, and diverse. The room was a practical space, with a loom and a sewing machine. It’s here that the two create these works of art with their sisters, relatives, and neighborhood women, as they have for generations.

Just up the road is the Yo’onik Learning Center. It’s a bright, cheerful place for children in Zinacantan to gather to receive tutoring from Xunka and Yoli, along with older students and local volunteers. The space provides a fun environment for community youth to learn, where they can explore a tire playground, enjoy a library, and create works of art.

Anita Smart, Executive Director of Natik, was my guide, mentor, and translator for the next two weeks in Zinacantan while I learned about the culture and community life. Brimming with enthusiasm for the mission of MSV and Yo’onik, she proudly spoke about Xunka and Yoli and the noble work they do to support their community. I was deeply impressed by their accomplishments, goals, and steadfast determination.

When I learned that they wanted to create a traveling library program similar to the Puerta Abierta program in Guatemala, it seemed like a perfect extension to the Yo’onik Learning Center. It would be an excellent means of supporting the education of community youth. In addition to immediately benefiting Zinacantan, the mobility of the library would provide other nearby villages with valuable, but often-inaccessible resources such as books.

Since departing from Chiapas, I have remained involved with Natik as a board member. It is an honor to be a part of this mission, and exciting to watch the dream of creating a traveling library out of Zinacantan come to fruition.

To learn more about Yo’onik’s Traveling Library visit our fundraising page, and please consider donating to this project to here 


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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