Yo’onik Learning Center is an interactive learning environment that provides remedial education and scholarships to children in Zinacantán, Chiapas. The center provides scholarships to secondary and preparatory school students in exchange for their help in facilitating classes and workshops for younger students. Yo’onik means “heart” in Tzotzil Mayan. The name was chosen for the learning center by the students.
“Seeing the kids progress every week has been really fulfilling. You can tell that the future of the kids at Yo’onik is going to be brighter thanks to the individual help they are able to receive.”
– Volunteer, Caitlin Graves
When sisters Xunka and Yoli Hernandez Gomez began helping children with homework, they didn’t realize that they were founding a learning center. In Xunka and Yoli’s hometown of Zinacantán, Chiapas, many of the Tzotzil Mayan residents speak little or no Spanish and have only third or fourth grade educations. Parents were having trouble helping their children with homework, so they turned to Xunka and Yoli for help. In 2010, Xunka and Yoli established a small Saturday school program.
As the program grew, Xunka and Yoli realized that children in Zinacantán needed more than once-a-week homework help in a borrowed storage shed. They dreamed of after school programs to provide daily academic enrichment. In October 2013, Xunka accompanied Natik staff on a trip to Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala to learn from the visionary work of La Puerta Abierta Library and Learning Center.
For a few months, the program operated in a back yard, under a tarp. The growing number of children made it that clear that Yo’onik needed a dedicated building.
In the summer of 2014, a local family donated land and materials to build a more permanent learning center. Inspired by this donation, the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York Club offered to help Natik raise funds to complete the project. The Center is now home to a remedial education for preschool and primary school students that is run by high school scholarship recipients. Mujeres Sembrando la Vida artisans have their meetings at Yo’onik. The center is currently cultivating a terraced, organic demonstration garden on the hill behind the center. In partnership with the Lower Eastside Girls Club, Natik hosted a bi-weekly photography and arts program for teens. The final product was a Tzotzil-Spanish-English ABC book for local literacy.
Yo’onik is currently raising money to complete their second floor.