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.