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! 



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!

To donate, click Donate

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.

Nuestras Notas: Love for Mathematics

▼ Salta a español


José Elías, a Natik scholarship student, loves mathematics. Not only is he hoping to become a professor, but he is also volunteering at an organization to tutor other struggling students. Yet again, he has proven his dedication to both school and his volunteer organization.

I finished two months of classes here at Guatemala Valley University. Basically the classes that I like are Linear Algebra and Calculus One. I normally like these type of courses. These are very practical courses, and not very abstract. I also need a lot of logic to solve the exercises.

During this year, I have the dream of finishing fifth and sixth semester. I will work for good grades, and it is also important to finish my career path of Intermediate Education Professor with a specialization in Mathematics and Computation. I will achieve these dreams with perseverance, responsibility, patience, and intelligence. I have to be punctual to my classes, bring all of my homework on the days on which they are do, and participate in different activities.


In respect to my service, it is true that I like to work at the National Institute of Diversified Education, INED. I want to work here because I want to help students in their math courses. They told me that the students are doing poorly in these courses, and it is costing them the content. It is true that I have the will and the capacity to help them. Since I am specializing in the courses of mathematics, I will be a good fit.


José Elías, un becario de Natik, discute sobre su amor de matemáticas. Está especializando en matemáticas en escuela, y también está ayudando un organización para enseñar matemáticas a estudiantes que tienen problemas con esto. Otra vez, José está demostrando su dedicación para escuela y su organización.

Ya terminé dos meses de clases en la Universidad Del Valle de Guatemala. Básicamente los cursos que me están gustando son Álgebra lineal y Cálculo 1. Normalmente me gustan esos tipos de cursos. Son cursos muy prácticos y un poco abstracto. Se necesita mucha lógica para resolver los ejercicios.

Este año tengo los sueños de ganar el quinto y sexto semestre. Voy a lograr a obtener unas buenas notas y también es importante para cerrar la carrera de Profesorado de Enseñanza Media Especializado en Matemática y Computación. Voy a lograr estos sueños con perseverancia, responsabilidad, paciencia, y inteligencia. Tengo que estar puntual en las clases, entregar tareas en las fechas indicadas, y participar en las diferentes actividades.


Con respecto al servicio, la verdad es que me gusta trabajar en el Instituto Nacional de Educación Diversificada (INED). Quiero trabajar en este lugar porque quiero ayudar a los estudiantes con sus cursos de matemática. Me informaron que los estudiantes están un poco mal en ese cursos y que les está costando los contenido. Es la verdad que tengo la voluntad y la capacidad de ayudarlos. Ya que me estoy especializando en el curso de matemáticas, entonces encajaría bien con ellos.

The Traveling Library: Expansion Review

After nearly a decade, La Puerta Abierta is proud to have remained true to its founding philosophy of empowerment through literacy. La Puerta Abierta has offered the Traveling Library Program to early education classes as an outreach project for local schools and community centers for the past 8 years. This year, we have launched a new branch of our Traveling Library that focuses on teen literacy. Our Traveling Library Coordinator, Isaias, shares his experiences with the new program.


During this year the Mobile Library started the literacy program for youth and adolescents in the Intermediate level at public schools.

Our first experiences have been challenging. It was very new, sharing the new forms of exploration in reading with a more mature audience.

Every day the youth surprise us with their imagination and works in our literacy circle. Everyone has fun and converses about what had happened in their favorite chapter of the book. Right now we are sharing stories like “Charlotte’s Web,” “Harry Potter,” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”


This is Juan, a great friend of the literacy program of sixth grade. Juan is passionate about classical books and stories.

I have observed Juan during the past few years. Juan is one of the star students in our literacy class. He is always there to lend a book during Literacy Recreation. During the reading segment, he is among the students who finish their book twice, and he has fun helping his friends review the chapters and fix any confusion about what happened.


In addition, he teaches us the physical capacities are not an impediment for enjoying a journey in the marvelous pages of a book.

Juan is an inspiration for me, and his friends!

To find out more about the Traveling Library, watch the video or donate, go here.