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!

Nuestras Notas: Jose

pasted image 0This month for Nuestras Notas, we meet Jose, who is learning about his community through the Natik scholarship program’s service opportunities. Cleaning the library gives him more tools than just a broom!

I do my volunteer service in the library of the institution, Pueblo a Pueblo, which is located in the village of San Antonio Chacayá. I like to be there because I live nearby.

Through this service opportunity, I work with organizations that I can help. One of my jobs is cleaning the library. 

This includes sweeping, mopping, dusting, and organizing the books. I like organizing the books because it gives me the opportunity to review the books that I find.

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I enjoy doing this job, and the work is not new to me because, although in my family we are all men, we help our mother organize and clean the house. I like doing the cleaning because when we practice good cleaning habits, we are protected from the diseases affecting our community.

Once when I had finished cleaning, I asked the librarian if there were anything else that I could do to help. He asked me to make sure that all of the jigsaw puzzles were complete and not missing pieces. It was a lot of work. Even though I have long worked as a teacher, I was surprised by the mountain of games that I had never seen before. In addition, the teacher asked me to write a card, which was a new learning opportunity for me.

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I am very happy about everything that I am doing and for everything I have been learning at the different educational service spaces in my village, like the library of Pueblo a Pueblo.

Nuestras Notas: Maria Esquina

MARIA ESQUINAMeet Maria Esquina! She is a scholarship student in Santiago Atitlan, Gautemala, and aiming to be a high school teacher. Today, she talks about the passion she and her community have for education.

Hello! I am María Esquina. I would like to talk with you a bit about education in Guatemala. Many children in my country have the desire to go to school and study when they grow up. When the children get to study in school, they always have smiles on their faces because every day they get to learn. Sometimes, though, the students have to share their materials because there are not enough in the school for everyone.

I go to University Panamericana, which is one of the most distinguished universities in our country of Guatemala. It is known for the way that it creates and develops hope and knowledge in its students. In University Panamericana Headquarters 54, I study to teach secondary education with focus on administration of education centers.


In the university the students get to do different activities, like games, songs, dances, and more. Out of all of the activities we do in the university, the majority of them are organized by the students themselves. Also in every course we have group and individual work. In the above image, we are working in groups, where we make presentations and hold forums.



Nuestras Notas: Flor


Flor de María Quiejú Tziná is one of three scholarship students receiving university-level education. She has a bent for creativity, and she gives back by helping younger students explore their own creativity at a local school. Today, she tells us what it was like ending her teaching practicum.

This month, I had the opportunity to share in a new experience and meet new people. I had my teaching practice, and thankfully everything went well for me. The professors welcomed me and offered their friendship. My teacher, Marta Francisca Damián, in particular helped me throughout the process because she was an alumna of Socorro, like myself.

When I finished my teaching practice, I said farewell to the students and teachers. It was a day full of happiness and sadness–happiness because I ended with success, and sadness because I didn’t want to leave my students. They didn’t want me to leave either, and some said, “Miss, take a photo with us to remember.”


The next day, I and the other students in teaching practices went to the Institute to submit our final reports. We were there for two days, sharing experiences with our friends. Some of us talked about difficult students who did not want to do crafts or to help prepare meals. One girl had a story that I didn’t like, and it stuck with me and my friends most. She told us that she not only didn’t receive her supervisor’s support, but her supervisor had not signed off on her lesson plans or filled out her final evaluation. My friend had to talk with the director, and eventually the secretary signed all of her papers.


Everybody who had shared their experiences finally reached one conclusion: “Being a teacher involves a lot of responsibility, respect, kindness, creativity, the ability to handle a group, and a willingness to learn.”

The Reading Club

Finding the motivation to study and read can be challenging in the best of environments. For students in Santiago Atitlan, where illiteracy is prevalent and school is often prohibited by cost, education can seem impossible. Fortunately, Puerta Abierta has a special program where young adults motivate each other to keep on reading.


The Reading Club is a program of Puerta Abierta, devoted to young adults in Santiago Atitlan and the surrounding towns.

Our objective is to get the youth of Santiago Atitlan excited about reading by providing an environment where they can feel safe to come together and to explore books. They meet new people, develop critical thinking skills, and share experiences.

We read a new book every 15 days and then get together to discuss and analyze it. As a group, we share our thoughts and connect the book with our lives.

At each meeting, we have different creative activities that help us develop critical thinking skills. In this photo, two of the club members are drawing how they imagined the characters in the book, “La Sombra del Viento” (“The Shadow of the Wind”).


Below is a message from the members of the Reading Club:

“We are a group of young adults who love reading because we know that it is the doorway through which we can explore the world. Reading is the strongest weapon we have to develop ourselves, our communities, and the entire world.

“Books are written to be read–read by us. We want to keep reading; we want to keep growing; and we know how to do it. More than just a group, the Reading Club is a place where we can feel good and free to disclose our thoughts.

“We want to thank all the people who have provided us with books and Kindles. They have given us the opportunity to travel into, experience, and share in a new world. Thank you!”


To see the Reading Club’s statement in its original Spanish, visit the Puerta Abierta blog.

Unexpectedly Finding Home


Anna Bramfeld

Anna Bramfeld is Natik’s newest board member and recently spent several weeks in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico visiting Natik projects. Today Anna shares more about her unexpected though immediate connection to the people and communities she visited.

The day after I arrived in San Cristobal in early June, Anita and I took a bus to Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. I was accompanying Anita on her journey to welcome Brittany, a new summer project development intern. I was excited to be visiting Guatemala for the first time.

Anita and I met last August when I came down to San Cristobal to volunteer and take Spanish classes, on my first visit to Mexico. Because I teach English as a Second Language in Illinois public schools to children from Mexico, I was interested, last year, to discover that Mayan children often learn a second language when they begin school. For my students in the United States, the mother tongue is usually Spanish, and they must struggle with English when they begin in school. The Mayan children in Zinacantan speak Tsotsil at home and are immersed in Spanish as their second language at school. Like my students in the United States, some of the Mayan schoolchildren interpret for their parents.

Anita and I took a lancha, a boat, across Lake Atitlan from Panajachel to Santiago. Santiago was completely different from how I had imagined it. It is spread across hills sloping steeply to the lake. We rode a tuk tuk (like a motorcycle with a little hut with a bench on it). I had expected a sleepy little village, but Santiago is bustling and lively. The colors everywhere are amazing, beginning with the vegetation and including the textiles and other crafts for sale everywhere. The women all wear beautiful embroidered blouses.

Anita introduced me to Dolores and her family. Dolores is the amazing  coordinator of Just Apparel, the women’s textile cooperative, and the scholarship program. She of course speaks Tzutujil Mayan as well as Spanish, which puts her at the heart of all the collaboration and planning that goes into the programs.  Dolores had arranged  for Anita and me to stay at Dona Chonita’s pension while we were there.

The next day we used the little living space at Dona Chonita’s for a meeting of all the women, and Anita, Brittany, Dolores and I spent a couple of hours explaining an experimental project that we were envisioning for the women. We explained everything to Dolores  in Spanish, then she translated for the women in Tzutujil.

Twenty-some women came to the meeting and sat in chairs around the living room.  While Dolores described the proposed project, I listened intently to the Mayan words I didn’t understand, occasionally catching a Spanish word or phrase. The women had lots of questions, which Dolores translated, and the meeting  went on for quite some time. The women were very serious at first, but gradually, more and more  laughter filled the room. They passed around bowls of nuts, and several fed their babies. The women range in age from about 19 to grandmothers, and all of them qualify for the program based on both their high level of skill and of economic need.

At this meeting, I found myself in the position of some of my second language learners at home in the States, straining to understand any words at all, following facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. I learn so much about my students from putting myself in challenging situations.

Anita returned to Chiapas the next day, but I spontaneously decided to stay in Santiago. There were so many details to work out with the women and the project, and I also wanted to learn more about the library. I wound up observing the school, travelling with a library teacher to a local public school, attending a scholarship student meeting, and a young adult book group.

I had the unexpected opportunity to spend more than a week in Guatemala, and my experience was amazing.  I am grateful that Natik gave me the opportunity  to step into a world so different from my own. I feel hopeful for the women in Just Apparel, and for Natik’s scholarship students, because a little help goes a long way for people with such determination. I met people who are mounting heroic struggles against the problems of poverty, and I also learned to see Santiago as my home.

“Learning is not just academic; it also takes place in your heart”

Scholarship Program

This blog entry is an excerpt of one student’s responses during an interview conducted in August of 2012 with twelve female students in Natik’s Secondary School Scholarship Program. The interview took place in the Puerta Abierta library, a shared space for a community library, preschool and teen meeting room, and was conducted by Anita Smart, Roisin Duffy-Gideon, and Brooke Pike.

Q: Why do you like to go to school?

Mileivy: [Going to school,] we get to spend time with our classmates, we learn a lot from our teachers, and they help us to grow.

Q: Do you enjoy your schoolwork?

Mileivy: Yes. I am studying to be a teacher.  [I have a favorite teacher] and his class is not so formal, but instead more human. We like how he treats us.

Q: Where do you do the service that is required for your scholarship?

Mileivy: [I often do] an hour of service at school or at the mobile library that goes to other classes. Sometimes I come here [to help younger children with homework after school]. I help the children when they need help and help the teachers with what they do.

Q: If you did not have the opportunity to be in high school, what would you be doing instead?

Mileivy: We girls would be working in our homes because we are women and that’s what women do here. That is more or less what our custom is; what a woman does is look after the house.

Q: What does your family think of your studying?

Mileivy: The person who has supported me the most is my mother. Her mother did not want her to continue studying because she was a woman. My mother has always supported me. My father does not support me much because he says that there is not enough money [to pay for school]. My grandparents do not support my education either. I’ve always had motivation to study. Initially, I wanted to choose another track, but I like studying this teaching because working with children is wonderful. They are so caring.

Q: Have any of your family members finished high school?

Mileivy: My aunt did finish. I think two of my cousins have. On my father’s side, though, no one has.

Q: What do you do if you cannot figure out your homework? Who can you ask for help?

Mileivy: When we come here, the teachers help us.

Q: What do you do outside of school?

Mileivy: We work in the house. Embroidery is a lot of work, though, and it’s not well paid.

Q: How do you feel when you come here to the library to help the younger students?

Mileivy: Wonderful, because a child needs motivation and support to understand. It’s good to help them so that they begin to feel like they can do things on their own.

Q: Do you remember your first day of school?

Mileivy: I always wanted to study in the school, ever since I was little. [When I first went to primary school,] I wanted to go, but I didn’t know anyone so I got scared and started to cry. I liked school, but I remember my first good friend was a little rebellious and I was much more calm. She was very shy, and we were very similar, but we told a lot of jokes.

Q: What would you say to someone funding the scholarship program?

Mileivy: I would tell someone that studying is very important for me. In my personal life it has served as motivation because there are a lot of problems in my home and studying has given me a distraction. I can have fun with my friends at school. It is motivation for me. I worry a lot about my younger siblings; I want someone to support them. I don’t want them to lack education and become negative people. Learning is not just academic; it also takes place in your heart. Our teacher Mario tells us, if you are very worried because of your problems, but your problems have solutions, stop worrying!

Some parents don’t let their children study because they think it is a waste of time when they could be working instead. Parents also need to be convinced that studying is good. They have to look at their own situation and see that they are not doing very well, their jobs do not pay well, they have to travel a long way to work and only get paid a little. They have to look at how the situation really is. [Studying] costs a little at first, but later someone who studies can get a better job.


Puerta Abierta

AmandaAmanda Flayer is the co-founder and director of one of Natik’s partner programs, La Puerta Abierta (Open Door) Children’s Learning Center and Library in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, which opened in 2006. She also serves on the Natik Board of DirectorsRead her recent blog post below, and feel free to check out her blog here.

I am inspired by the network of supporters that we have created around the world.  Throughout the past seven years, the story of La Puerta Abierta, the first community  children’s library in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala,  has reached people near and far. Three years ago I was blessed to cross paths with Carol Hodges, a librarian from Tidewater Community College who by chance, stumbled across La Puerta Abierta while touring Central America. She was moved by our efforts to share literacy and creative learning with the youth of our community and was instrumental in creating a sister library relationship betweenTCC and BPA. Over the years, Carol has collected and donated meaningful and quality children’s books to our library collection.

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Last year Carol connected with Kole Matheson, an instructor at TCC, who was impressed by our commitment to youth and was guided by compassion to help our center as well. Kole and his wife Andrea organized a supply drive in 2012 collecting and delivering duffle bags packed with educational games, school materials and books for our community.

This year,  Andrea’s thirteen year old daughter Julianna, who participates in the Teen Leaders Club at the Great Bridge/Hickory YMCA, shared the vision of La Puerta Abierta with her local youth group and inspired the teen community to donate to our center whole-heartedly.  Donation boxes quickly filled with glue sticks, glitter, pencils, stickers and paint destined for the children of Santiago Atitlan.

Thank you Carol, Kole, Andrea, TCC and the Great Bridge/Hickory YMCA for spreading the story of La Puerta Abierta throughout your community and for sharing your kindness with the children of Santiago Atitlan.

As I reflect on the  trail of support that has been created by one serendipitous encounter with Carol three years ago, I am reminded that La Puerta Abierta truly is a community endeavor, a project that supports the community of Santiago Atitlan and a project that is supported by communities who believe in our work. I am also reminded of the power of one…one person, one story, can make a big difference!