The new Yo’onik building is up and running!

Thanks to your generous support, the Yo’onik Learning Center has been built!

The building is already filled with eager students and teachers, though some screws still need to be tightened as we gear up for more improvements. Just as the building was completed, Yo’onik received an award from México Lee (Mexico Reads) for its work promoting literacy.

With Yo’onik up and running in its new space, we are taking a moment to reflect and thank everyone who made this possible. Below founders Xunka and Yoli tell the story of all the donors and collaborators who came together to build the Yo’onik Learning Center.

In 2008, when some families asked us to help their children with their homework, we began an educational support project. Mujeres de Maiz en Resistencia supported us until 2010 with notebooks and pencils, and we worked in a borrowed storage area.  Soon after we began working with Natik, and in 2012, the Church by the Sea (CBTS) in Florida donated money for books, art supplies, educational materials, and a storage cabinet.

Looking to enhance the program, Xunka in Spetember 2013 went with Anita, Devin (a Natik fellow), and his wife Caitlin to visit the Natik projects in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Xunka returned to Chiapas inspired by the professionalism, creativity, and personal dedication of everyone she met. In October, the children named the project“Yo’onik”, which means heart in Tzotzil. This motivated us to apply for (and receive!) funding from Amigos de San Cristobal in 2014.

When the owner of our teaching space saw new tables and chairs, books, art supplies, and more storage units, he asked for rent.  We decided it wasn’t worth it, so we ran the Saturday program under a tarp behind our house. During the first half of 2014, we continued to tutor more than 40 children every week, often ending up inside our kitchen to escape the rain! CBTS provided enough money for two high school scholarships, in exchange for tutoring the younger students.

In April, our family decided that we could donate part of our cornfield and some of the building materials collected from one of the local political parties. In June and July, Natik joined forces with the Lower East Side Girls Club, Church by the Sea, Loyola University interns, Mexican friends, and social media donors, to raise enough money for a new building!

In early August, we inaugurated the Yo’onik Community Education Center with representatives from many of the groups that had collaborated on this project.

Now, every Saturday and Wednesday, the building is filled with children who love learning. Twice a month, teens gather for a photographic, linguistic and cultural workshop sponsored by the Girls Club. Thanks to a nomination from our dear friend Jorge in México City, Yo’onik recently won a prize from México Lee (Mexico Reads). We recieved 50 books and prize money, which will buy a projector to present educational films.

Amigos approved funding for 2015, and CBTS is now supporting six scholarships. In February, the Girls Club will have a fundraiser to generate the funds needed to complete the building. In the first quarter of 2015, two interns from Antioch College will help us adapt and implement program curricula that the Puerta Abierta is team is working on right now!

One of the most effective ways to diminish poverty is to keep children in school. For boys, every year they stay in school beyond sixth grade, they earn an average of 10% more during their lifetimes.  For girls, every year beyond sixth grade they start having children later, and have fewer. When parents only complete second or third grade, they need help to keep their children in school. That is exactly what Yo’onik is doing, with the help of our extended (and growing) intercultural and international friends.

From all of us at Yo’onik, thanks to all for your collaboration and support!

At the Same Table!

Anita Smart has been the Executive Director of Natik since September 2010, and today she shares about the in-person board meeting in Denver. 

1For the first time since 2010, all but one Natik board member sat at the same table! We worked hard, cranked our way through an intense agenda, laughed lots, ate great food and got to know one another in ways that don’t happen when ‘Google Hangout’ is our table.

Priscilla Rosenwald is Natik’s Governance Committee Advisor (and the fairy godmother who suggested to Rebecca and Dan Galemba ‘look up Anita’ when they were in Chiapas in the summer of 2007). Priscilla spoke at a conference just before our meeting, which allowed us to have a hug and a quick catch-up on the way to the restaurant Friday evening. As a professional non-profit consultant in Philadelphia, it was inconceivable for her that Natik functions without its members ever being in the same zip code.  It was largely due to her emphatic urging that we made the effort to meet in Denver, and we are so grateful that we did!


Friday evening, we sipped on margaritas and were serenaded by mariachis as people arrived, hailing from all over the US, and joined by the “Natikers” who live in Denver. Many of our board, fellows, interns and volunteers have worked together for years, yet have never met each other in person. Despite mutual appreciation for working styles and rhythms, most had no idea what the others do outside of Natik, and during the weekend we had many opportunities to share about our lives, hopes and dreams.

One of the most exciting changes we confirmed during the meeting is the restructuring of board expectations. We have established five working committees (Governance, Programs, Marketing, Fundraising, and Academic), designed to attract professionals into the Natik family, to support and perhaps eventually join the board.


Heidi and Ian worked together in Guatemala as students at Haverford, and they hadn’t seen each other since college days.

Heidi McAnnally-Linz (left) works as the Manager of Communications and Development at Innovations for Poverty Action, an international non-profit dedicated to discovering and promoting effective solutions to global poverty problems. She holds an MPA in International Policy and Management from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and a BA in Political Science from Haverford College. Heidi founded Natik’s partnership in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala beginning in Spring 2004. She has lived in Santiago on numerous occasions to oversee Natik projects and to spearhead Natik’s involvement in reconstruction efforts following an October 2005 mudslide. Along with her husband, Ryan McAnnally-Linz (right), she designed and launched Natik’s Just Apparel initiative.

Ian Ramsey-North (right) reconnected with Natik when his wife interned at the Hospitalito in Santiago in the fall of 2013. We convinced him to join the board soon after! He is now the Board Secretary (affectionately referred to as “The Czar”). He currently supports local indigneous groups who want to reclaim thier forests, and lives in Washington, DC.

4Sarah Mawhorter joined Natik in 2007 to help develop the website and design the logo for Just Apparel. She moved on to design the holiday catalog for six years, led the design aspects of the rebranding process from IHF to Natik, and is now working with Natik Fellow Jenn Miller to revitalize Just Apparel custom embroidery and product design on behalf of the artisans in Santiago. She has been a member of the board since 2012. She is currently PhD candidate in Urban Planning and Development at USC, and lives in Los Angeles.

Roisin Duffy-Gideon (middle above) lived and worked in Chiapas as a Natik fellow immediately after graduating from Harvard. Her professor Rebecca Galemba recommended that she work with us. She and her mother run the Etsy sale of artisan products from Zinacantan, Chiapas. She has been a board member since she returned to the US in 2013, and is the chair of the Marketing Committee. She currently works as an advocate for the rights of the homeless in New York City.

Rebecca Perkins (right above) has been involved with Natik since she was a student at Dartmouth, when she started the first IHF chapter. She spent three years in Senegal in the Peace Corps, and returned to practice corporate law in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. for several years. She has been the Board Chair since the fall of 2013, and is Chair of the Governance and Fundraising committees. She is currently back in her home state of New Hampshire, working at a law firm in Concord.

5Anita Smart (left, sitting) became the Executive Director in 2010, after three years of working as the volunteer Brown Chapter field advisor in Chiapas.

Rebecca Galemba PhD. (standing) has been connected to Natik since she was a student at Dartmouth, and she set up the Brown Chapter when she was getting her doctorate. Her husband Dan was a founding board member. She is currently a board member and chair of the Academic and the Chiapas Program Committees. She taught in the Social Studies department at Harvard, and is now an anthropologist who conducts fieldwork at the Mexico-Guatemala border as well as a lecturer at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Brooke Pike (right) lived and worked for a year in Chiapas as a Natik fellow with her husband Elliot Willams, at the same time Roisin Duffy-Gideon was a fellow. The three of them carried Natik through the legal, fiscal, virtual and design details of organizational restructuring and rebranding with style, grace and humor. Brooke became a board member when she returned to the US in the spring of 2013, and she is currently the Board Treasurer. She took maternal leave from her job at an Energy Efficiency non-profit in Denver, to give birth to Jacob, (who was less than two weeks old at the time of the meeting!)


And there we are, pausing for a photo-op on a beautiful autumn afternoon after about 30 hours of conversations, decisions and actions….. and about 30 seconds before running off to our non-Natik lives.

Not pictured: Amish Parashar, Co-founder, Executive Director from 2003-2007, who did not attend because he was on his way from Japan to China!

Works for Progress

Joanne readingJoanne Castronovo has been working with our partners in Zinacantan, Chiapas and traveled to Santiago, Guatemala. She is a recently retired high school teacher and director, and was delighted to share the joy and excitement of the children at the schools she visited.

I arrived in San Cristobal on September 1, and I left this past Sunday, November 2. It has been a full and fulfilling two months working with the two projects in Zinacantan: Mujeres Sembrando La Vida (women’s artisan cooperative) and Yo’onik (student education program).


At the beginning of October, after much planning, Yo’onik began work on a new project: an ABCdario (alphabet book)! There are high hopes that this little book will accomplish some grand objectives:

  1. It is an opportunity for meaningful collaboration between the younger children and the teenagers in the community;
  2. Under the supervision of Margarita Martinez Perez (a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics from Huixtan), the younger children are being taught both the Tzotzil and Spanish alphabets and will participate in deciding which Tzotzil words will be chosen for the book;
  3. Under the guidance of Maruch Santiz Gomez (a professional and esteemed photographer from Chamula), the teens are learning how to use digital cameras to photograph items to represent the words chosen for the book. They will learn to edit their photos and will have input into which photos are selected;
  4. With the support of the Lower East Side Girls Club in NYC, the book will be formatted and printed and will be ready to support fundraising efforts by June, 2015;
  5. Perhaps most important, the process of creating the book is just one of many ways the Zinacantecans (like many other indigenous communities) are striving to keep both their language and culture alive in the face of encroaching modernization and other threats to their traditional way of life.
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At the beginning of November, I began accompanying women from Zinacantan in visiting members of Mujeres Sembrando la Vida in their home communities. We have been conducting interviews with the women as an informal census, a way to gather specific information on their economic status and living conditions. They show tremendous courage, persistence and pride even though their families live well below the poverty level. Most of the women are married and most of their husbands work, but their work demands long hours for little pay. Sometimes, their “work” is in their own milpa (farm), so they receive no pay at all. The money the women earn by selling their artisan work through the cooperative is often what the family depends on for sustenance.

One of the questions we asked the women is whether or not they feel their lifestyle is adequate. The facts are that most of them have only a second grade education or no education at all; that they live in substandard and unsanitary conditions; that they don’t speak the dominant language but instead an indigenous language that isolates them from the larger culture; that the government isn’t merely benign but harmful to their way of life; and that the rising cost of living and the encroachment of monopoly capitalism are literally killing them. In spite of these facts, the women feel that their lives are adequate, but they do feel the lack of sufficient food, money for their children’s education and materials to continue producing their artesania.

For me, the best part of the visits occured after the “census-­taking,” when we were just a small group of women, sharing stories about our work, our families, our hopes for the future. Our lives are dramatically different from one another, and I know I’m lucky to be welcomed into their homes and to get a glimpse of their world.

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