Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lake Atitlan volcano view from my balcony, Panajachel, Guatemala

Post left:

Lake Atitlan balcony.jpg (long rectangle size, use for forms and online db)

Lake Atitlan balcony.jpg (regular size)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guatemala NGO / foundation research db, by EntreMundos and Proyecto GT

About this Database a collaborative work between EntreMundos and Proyecto GT, is a free online resource designed to assist local NGOs and community groups in Guatemala search for funding opportunities both nationally and internationally. This database was originally designed in 2007 by Michael Norman, CEO of Proyecto GT, and its contents researched, input and regularly updated by EntreMundos staff.


* Agricultura ( 7 items )
* Animales ( 1 items )
* Arte ( 6 items )
* Afiliación Religiosa ( 8 items )
* Ayuda Humanitaria ( 8 items )
* Derechos Humanos ( 14 items )
* Desarrollo ( 37 items )
* Educación ( 24 items )
* General ( 3 items )
* Indígenas ( 14 items )
* Juventud ( 18 items )
* Medio Ambiente ( 25 items )
* Micro Crédito ( 2 items )
* Mujeres ( 19 items )
* Organizaciones Políticas ( 3 items )
* Pobreza ( 15 items )
* Salud ( 23 items )
* Salud Sexual y Reproductiva ( 10 items )
* Sociedad Civil/ONGs ( 12 items )
* Tecnología ( 3 items )


Use this as a model for the Lake Atitlan Directory?

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Friday, February 11, 2011

© All photos copyright Fotokids 2007


Fundación de Niños Artistas de Guatemala

December 2010
Letter from the Exec. Director

The rains have stopped. There is a nip in the crisp mountain air and the bougainvillea has burst into bloom. The winter winds pick up and bring the smell of wood smoke. Although 46 degrees isn’t considered cold by most of you, there is no heating here and so at 6 a.m. I’m writing tucked under the covers with Jack the dog curled up next to me and a strong cup of Guatemalan coffee. The volcano Fuego is erupting sending fists of smoke into the blue, blue sky.

Soon it will be Christmas season with pine needles spread on the floor, that will offer up their aroma as you walk over them, tamales, hot fruit punch, processions and the sound of singing as the posadas go from house to house asking to be let in (and given hot chocolate).

The season will be ushered in by Handel’s Messiah in the ruins of an old convent lit by hundreds of votive candles.

You know it’s been a rough year for us but we have forged ahead and have, despite challenges gotten a lot accomplished, and I’m happy. October/ November are grant writing months for me and so I get to take a long lingering look back. This year we have expanded the program and brought in 60 more students ages 5 to 14 in three difficult, dangerous barrios.

Abdias and Werner (18 years old now) both have found they really enjoy teaching and get a kick out of the little kids calling them profie (for professor) and confiding their secrets. There is so much good bonding that

Happy Holidays!!!! goes on as the older Fotokids teach in their own neighborhoods and set an example of what you can do if you stay in school and stay in the program.

The 3-year Save Girls program graduates 10 young women this year (can’t believe its been three years already, but then hey, neither can I get my head around the fact that Fotokids will celebrate it’s 20th anniversary next year) and we are taking on Ana, Gaby and Jessica from the program as interns. They will help us teach a public school class of fourth graders, conduct workshops in our new anti-violence program and work in the design studio Jakaramba. As a side note we are looking for sponsors to fund their university scholarships. Ana has been accepted into the school of architecture and Gaby and Jessica in graphic design at San Carlos University.

Save Girls has been so successful in terms of student participation and motivation that we duplicated it this year with Marta teaching in Tierra Nueva 1 and have plans to expand it again in 2011.

We continue to bring in international professionals to teach students and have been blessed with many good mentors who have given workshops in book design, HDR (high dynamic range) photography, Adobe Lightroom, studio lighting, advanced Photoshop, portraiture and business planning.

I went with Evelyn and Nancy Morales up to California, where former Admin. Director Logan had arranged for us to present the Fotokids model at the California state teachers conference. First time for Evie and Nancy to give an extemporaneous workshop in English. They did quite well and best of all we met a group there that works in video in SF with at-risk kids that we would like to bring down here to teach. In 2011, as I have mentioned in previous newsletters, we are looking at meeting the violence in the neighborhoods head on.

Well as head-on as we can get without losing ours. The extortion by gangs has gotten so bad that I overhear things like, “there are only 2 houses occupied on my block of 12 homes. Everyone else has moved out, they can’t pay the protection money.”

I’ll give you more details on that program in the next newsletter, but it’s kind of exciting and it may at least get people thinking that something can be done, you know if you can’t see there might be a solution, you’ll never find one.

If you want a copy of the 2010 annual report send me an e-mail info@fotokids and I’ll send it along.

Thanks to you all we were able to replace, and I might add upgrade, our computers and cameras! So things are going well. We have our Fotokids graduates, most of them with at least 12 years experience in the project, giving back to their communities and I consider them national treasures. We have many things to be thankful for this year.

What’s New with the Kids

Rosa’s 9-12 year old class are working on advertising copy and using design software to make labels for imaginary products. The slogans (and products) were interesting: Royal Chocolate Cereal, helps make you fatter! Kill Lice Shampoo smells like fruit and is white, Fiesta juice made with lemon, orange and a touch of alcohol, “Life is fresher with Fiesta!”, Vegetable Shampoo, 100% natural ingredients, squash, carrot, tomato and broccoli, Sugar the Original! with orange flavoring, you don’t need kool-aid just add water!

David Ixbalán, after a successful and busy internship with a local cable television studio designing their logo and inauguration campaign, has graduated from design high school! His family came down from Santiago Atitlan and were so proud of his accomplishments. His Dad rents a cornfield to eke out their meager income and his mom sells tomatoes in 3 markets to help the family with oil, soap and the necessities. David has been with us since he was 9 years old and is a talented designer. We are considering setting up a space in central Santiago Atitlán for the Lake version of Jakaramba, where David and Josefa can develop the design studio there. It’s important that the indigenous kids from there have a chance to use the skill they have developed to serve and be reintegrated into their own communities

David with his Mother and Dad photo by Linda Morales

Holy, also from Santiago Atitlán who her father told us last January would not be studying, had obviously changed her mind and graduated from high school this year in pre-med.

Andres and Nancy have photos published in Revista the magazine published by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard along side an article excerpted from our very own Fotokids June newsletter (written by your humble correspondent).

Linda documented a film being made on the Peten by Ana Carlos, a Guatemalan television producer, and also worked for the Paiz Foundation documenting their marimba festival.
Janne works for the newspaper photo by Werner Monterroso

Eleven year old Janne and 13 year old Nestor from Werner and Abdias’s class in Mezquital did a photo assignment for the Guatemalan newspaper Siglo 21 taking pictures of for a supplement on the day of the child.

Those of you who remember Gladiz, one of the original Fotokids from near the dump, will be interested to know I went to her wedding! She’s 29 now, working as a medical receptionist and made a good match I’d say with a rather jolly lawyer who seems very kind. They are every much in love and expecting their first child.

Yamilet brought in her new baby to show us. I don’t know what will happen there, I know Yami is planning on going back to school but with a new baby who knows.
Evelyn, Administrative Director of Fotokids and Nancy of design studio Jakaramba attended staff management workshops in California. I went too and they were good workshops, gave me things to think about. We stayed at my Dad’s place in San Francisco and that’s always fun to show people around, China Town, the Park, taking the ferry etc.

We had a younger kids exhibit as part of Foto30, Guatemala’s month of Photography and we bussed in the kids from Tierra Nueva and Mezquital. Our kids all wore their black Fotokids tee shirts and brought their cameras. It was a little like being surrounded by tiny paparazzi, every time I looked up, or didn’t, or was talking to someone there was a flash going off. People were impressed by the kids work, especially, and no surprise, the ones that depicted violence. Many others though were noted as well. We had a big turn out in terms of audience.

We are working with Colegio Maya, an excellent private school in Guatemala City, and they have taken us on as their outreach project this year. We are doing a small gallery presentation as part of a fundraiser in conjunction with their production of a Mid Summers’ Night Dream. We are photographing dreams.

Alex, Jorge, Kevin and Steven spent the Day of the Dead with me in Antigua. So many things have happened that this year, that although we did cover the families celebrating and flowering the grave-sites in the cemetery, I added some additional activities. We visited a thoroughly enjoyable installation at the Cooperative Española on the synchronization of music in the Americas with sound, video and dance steps painted onto the floor. Steven and Kevin tried the tango and Alex the rumba. Then we went swimming in a friend’s pool just to blow off all the heavy things that have happened recently.

You may have noticed that this newsletter is a bit more upbeat - that’s because the Holiday season is coming and I don’t want to depress you. If you are interested in hearing everything that’s going on, not for the faint of heart, you can subscribe to the private Dump Insider’s Edition blog, at
We are also on FaceBook in two locations, Fotokids and Fotokids Santiago.

Honduras- GUARUMA students and first time travelers Adolfo and David were invited to Missouri gave talks and presentations to Runge Centre and River Bluffs Audubon Assocation-
Order the 2011 Guaruma Calendar on Sale Nov. 26th $12.50 (inclds shipping) U.S.A. on our web site with PayPal or

Don’t forget there is a Design4Kids workshops coming up in Las Mangas January 16-22nd. If you want to use your skills in photography, Photoshop design and love nature this is for you. It is so beautiful (see GUARUMA web site to check out what it looks like) and opportunities for nature photography are endless. Birders from the Smithsonian and white water rafters from all over the world have come here. It’s a special place, and so far, unknown to many. The kids will work for a client and there will be ample time to both mentor and take your own photographs.

How You Can Help

We will need many more educational scholarships! There are two kinds of scholarships Educational which pays for a students traditional education $300 a year, paid in any way you choose, monthly, quarterly annually, and Fotokids Photography scholarship $150 which pays for our teaching and materials expenses. All our programs are free to the participants.

You can use PayPal button on the opening page of our web site… or

Make checks out to: San Carlos Fdn/Fotokids
and send to: Fotokids. P.O. Box 661447, Miami, FL 332

In Memoriam

This Quarterly Newsletter is dedicated to 16 year old Mynor Chavez, a stellar, much loved member of Fotokids for the last 6 years, who was brutally assassinated this month in a neighborhood gang murder.

Open Door Atitlan ~ Free Library, Santiago Guatemala

The Open Door Library is a non-profit educational center that is supported by a diverse network of individuals and groups around the world who believe in sharing the gift of learning with the youth of Santiago Atitlán.

The library offers an inviting space for children and teens to discover the joys of reading, receive academic reinforcement, and explore creative expression.

design by jakaramba design studio

our blog:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lake Atitlan Health Cyanobacteria Resource

2.5.11: Anyone heard of any updates from here? This is an udated entry, but it appears to have been posted in Fall 2010. CT

Pollution - Cyanobacteria Lyngbya
In Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is currently experiencing a bloom of blue green algae known as Cyanobacteria Lyngbya caused by pollution from human and organic sources. In 2009 the genus Lyngbya Hironymusii was detected. This year, 2010, the strains Lyngbya robust and Microcystis cf. botrys were detected. The bloom this year is not as severe as last year, and November winds are helping to dissipate it.

Located in the highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlan is a scenic wonder and a popular tourist destination in the country of Guatemala. There is a large indigenous population around the lake including Tz'utujil and Kakquichel Maya. Many are subsistence farmers who depend on the lake for all of their drinking water and irrigation. Many others rely on the tourist industry.

Roads To Lake Atitlan are Open

There have been reports that the road into Lake Atitlan is closed. This is only true for the main road in from Solola to Panajachel. That road is closed until January for some needed work. There is an alternate route into Panajachel from Antigua, which is well known by the shuttle drivers. As always, it's safest to travel in daylight only due to changeable conditions.

Regular shuttles are also running from Antigua into San Pedro La Laguna on the othe side of Lake Atitlan. The road into San Pedro is open, but a bit rough in places. The shuttle drivers know it well. If you are driving yourself, then use extreme caution as the road is steep and full of switchbacks.

The lake received a record amount of rain this year which has resulted in many landslides and introduced a large quantity of pollution and new nutrients for the Cyanobacteria to feed on. The level of Lake Atitlan has risen over 3 meters, causing flooding of homes and businesses along the lake shore. The loss in tourist revenue associated with these problems has been very difficult for the many people who depend on it for survival.

Cyanobacteria is a form of blue-green algae naturally occurring in waterways and oceans worldwide. It feeds on pollution from agricultural runoff and human waste. It receives nutrients from the pollution in the form of nitrogen and phosphates in the water. The genus Lyngbya, in Atitlan, contains green pigment chlorophyll which traps the energy of sunlight and enables it to carry on photosynthesis. Most cyanobacteria in small concentrations is generally harmless. When cyanobacteria concentrations increase they can form HAB's or hazardous algal blooms. The toxins produced from a "HAB" can include cyanotoxins that induce everything from mild skin rashes to death of animals in cases of extreme exposure. The toxins from Lyngbya can vary widely over short times and could potentially be highly toxic to dogs who come in contact with the lake.

Another recent development is the appearance of Water Hyacinth in some of the bays of Lake Atitlan. This aquatic plant is highly invasive and can choke waterways quickly.

As of July of this year Health Minister Ludwig Ovalle, and the Deputy Minister of Environment for Guatemala, Enma Diaz held a press conference to report evidence of toxicity of cyanobacteria in humans and asked people around Lake Atitlan to refrain from using the lake water for human consumption, irrigation of crops and to not eat the fish, to avoid possible liver complications. "There is evidence that a low percentage of cyanobacteria has produced a toxin that causes liver damage, diarrhea, skin problems and hepatic encephalopathy, among other diseases," explained Ovalle. There were many cases of severe dermatitis reported around the lake from people who came in direct contact with the cyanobacteria during attempts to "clean" the lake in 2009. This was during the peak bloom, where it had amassed in large quantities.

Both Margaret Dix, a scientist at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and Eliska Rejmankova, a scientist at University of California Davis, agree that the cyanobacteria Lyngbya will return annually for the foreseeable future due to the nutrient load in Lake Atitlan. The current cyanobacterial bloom season starts in early September and lasts through late November. Last year the bloom peaked and covered a large portion of the lake in mid October. Seasonal winds helped break up and dissipate much of the bloom in November.

First International Symposium on Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins
September 27-29, 2010 in Guatemala

This symposium held at the end of September has not released any detailed recommendations so far. The Minister of the Environment did release a declaration at the end of the symposium which is reprinted below. One of the clear challenges in monitoring cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins is the lack of laboratories capable of analyzing cyanotoxins rapidly enough to disseminate health warnings to the general public, as is demonstrated by the first declaration of the Symposium on Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins.
The symposium was the collaboration of the Agency for International Development USAID United States, the Pan American Health Organization, the Mexican Institute of Water Technology (IMTA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others.


Lago de Atitlan Expedition 2010 ~ UC Davis

Feb 2011: Note, has anyone had an update from this research trip? CT

"About Lago de Atitlan Expedition
This 2-week expedition, funded by the US National Science Foundation, brings together experts to understand the ecological processes in Lago de Atitlan and suggest future directions that will further our understanding of the eutrophication in the lake. Our goals are to collaborate with Guatemalan scientists, govt officials, & community groups, and train Guatemalan students to develop local capacity to conserve one of the most beautiful highland tropical lakes in the world."

Friday, April 23, 2010

All were up early this morning to finish closing up the labs, safely store our samples for transport, and leave our “home town” of Panajatchel. [Panajachel]

The drive to Guatemala City was much smoother than we’d expected, given our experience with traffic on the way to Panajatchel. We arrived at the Universidad Rafael Landivar just in time for our final presentation of the trip. In a nearly fully auditorium, we presented an overview of the trip, our preliminary findings, and recommendations for the future.

Charles MacVean, dean of the College of Environmental Sciences and Agriculture, opened the session by reminding us of the importance of science in making good decisions and stressing that collaborations of this type provide great hope for Lago de Atitlan.

Photo: Dean MacVean opening the session

Charles Goldman (UC Davis) spoke next. He shared the experiences of Lake Tahoe, which shares many of the same challenges as Lago de Atitlan. After spending 30+ years working on the lake, Dr. Goldman understands the importance of making a long term commitment to a watershed. The parallels are intended to provide hope in two areas: 1) we can learn from what has been done at Lake Tahoe, and 2) it has been demonstrated that factors that damage deep lakes can be changed.

Photo: Charles Goldman

Eliska Rejmankova (UC Davis) spoke next (in Spanish!) to share more specifics about what the expedition learned during the two week expedition.

Photo: Eliska Rejmankova

Nancy Giron (Universidad Rafael Landivar) continued this part of the presentation and provided a detailed overview of the expedition’s activities. She described the fast paced schedule, an overview of the types of experiments conducted, and underscored that the testing and monitoring of this lake should continue if we are to fully understand the dynamics of this lake.

Margaret Dix (Universidad del Valle) was next at the podium and also stressed that science-based decisions will be critical for ensuring the long term health of Lago de Atitlan.

Overall, the message of today’s presentation was

· The lake is sick, but it’s an early stage sickness

· Options exist for mitigating water quality damage

· Capacity exists in Guatemala to fix these problems

· The international science community is fully engaged

A question and answer session after the presentations yielded great discussion. Questions like: “How do we know it isn’t the effects of Hurricane Stan (2005), rather than direct sewage disposal, that has deteriorated lake quality?” (answer: long term monitoring is critical for answering questions like these), “Can we kill the cyanobacteria?” (answer: not realistic, let’s just manage the lake so it doesn’t get enough nutrients to bloom), and “Can chemical or mechanical treatments be applied?” (answer: no, the lake’s too deep for chemical or mechanical treatments to be viable options), and “Is the cyanobacteria in this lake toxic?” (answer: we don’t think so, but we’ll need to work with the samples more in a full scale laboratory. Attention also needs to be paid to the microsystis, which deserves additional study.)

Photo: Dr. Komarek (far left) answering cyanobacteria and microsystis questions

After a wonderful reception hosted by the university that allowed for conversations filled with future collaborative ideas, we piled back into our busses and traveled to a beautiful home in Guatemala City, hosted by Amigos del Lago.

More on that tomorrow!

Posted by Christine Schmidt at 10:15 AM 2 comments

More: comments and photos at

Lago de Atitlan Expedition 2010 ~ UC Davis & Universidad del Valle

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No boats went out this morning to collect samples (the chemistry group says thank you!). The focus was packing. Many of the conversations this morning, however, focused on the exchange of email addresses and facebook names so that expedition participants can keep in touch. Many friendships have been forged over the past two weeks.

At around 11am, we all piled into busses and were driven to the Altiplano campus of the Universidad del Valle [Guatemala]. We were greeted by the leadership of the university, surrounding communities, and government agencies and learned more about the Universidad del Valle’s commitment to focusing their research efforts on Lago de Atitlan through the formation of a new, university-wide center.

The center's goals:

1. Generate trusted, pertinent information for monitoring and analyzing the situation of the watershed of Lago de Atitlan

2. Systematize information and documentation that relates to the watershed of Lago de Atitlan

3. Propose behavior changes among those who live in the watershed

4. Use appropriate technologies to contribute to the development of solutions for problems faced in the region

Photo: the center’s goals in Spanish


Partners of the Americas & Kids Share Workshops at ASOCAMPO, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Partners of the Americas & Kids Share Workshops at ASOCAMPO, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

KidsShareWorkshops | November 30, 2010 | 2 likes, 0 dislikes

Dear friends,

I am pleased to share this video with you of our recent visit to Guatemala on a site investigation. It was a very good choice to go first before teaching which I had wanted to do originally. I personally gained a lot of knowledge and additional appreciation for families living in coffee communities. I also feel strongly about working to help these kids with education because they are the future of the coffee plantations from which we enjoy.

After my visit it became clear to me the best way to make a difference is to assist in building an interactive library, arts education, health and sports programs with the help of Partners of the Americas and other non profit organizations. One of our directors also suggested having the Peace Corps involved the first two years so we could have an ongoing presence. These kids have little exposure to the outside world and I am certain few books from which to learn. We did notice a new school was being built. As far as we know only one organization, Catholic Relief Services, which is supported by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has an active presence. This community was hit hard not too long ago and lost more than half of its family members. But they are rebuilding and feel proud of their heritage and way of life as you will see in the video.

My hope is that by focusing on this rural community for which my employer GMCR purchases coffee from, other NGO's will take notice and want to give to this coffee community as well. Maybe some of you drink coffee, I do. The US is the largest consumer of coffee so I feel it is important to give back to these kids and their families. They are our future and coffee is always going to be important to many folks as it has for many centuries when it originated out of Ethiopia in the 9th century.

Thank you, Kristina Applegate Lutes; Executive Program Director & Founder


Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fabulous Venetian Ball in Antigua

Revue Magazine:

March 8

The second annual Antigua Masquerade Ball, a colorful, Venetian-style charity event, is coming to the ruins of San José El Viejo on Fat Tuesday, March 8.

In addition to costume contests, the ball will feature dining, cocktails, music and raffles. There will also be an auction of four unique pieces of art, which the artists will “speed paint” in only 90 minutes.

Event proceeds will support an array of children’s charities, according to event organizer Lyne Bissonnette.

Doors will open at 6 p.m., although participants are invited to gather at La Merced church at 5 p.m. to parade down Fifth Avenue to the venue.

Only 150 tickets (Q500 each) will be sold. The price includes two drinks, food, entertainment and setup. Music and dancing continue until 11 p.m.

Participating NGOs are selling tickets;
for more details visit

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Goto a free site like and then upload your PDF. It will then give you the Embed HTML Code to add to your blog post.

San Lucas Toliman & the San Lucas Mission

About Us | San Lucas Toliman | Program Areas | Projects | Volunteer | Educational Resources | Juan Ana Coffee | Donate | Newsletter
parish history

The San Lucas Mission was originally founded as by the Franciscan order in the late 16th Century, with the building of the Mission Church around 1584.

In 1958, as the Catholic Church in Rome called for greater involvement of clergy and lay people in world missions, the Diocese of New Ulm responded by launching a diocesan partnership with the Diocese of Sololá, Guatemala. Fr. Greg Schaffer, a diocesan priest from New Ulm, began serving as pastor of the San Lucas Mission in 1962.

Perhaps one of the most well-known parishes in Guatemala, its long-term devotion has been the enhancement and enrichment of the whole person – spiritually, intellectually, and physically – by addressing both the immediate effects of poverty and its underlying causes.

Through listening to the expressed-felt need of the people, the philosophy of the San Lucas Parish attempts to respond, as Jesus did, to the needs of the people.

Parish programs began addressing the needs for housing, healthcare and nutrition, education, and land - all attending to the integral human development of the community.

Beginning 45 years ago, San Lucas was a small village of cornstalk homes with thatched roofs, lacking both electricity and plumbing. There were neither health care facilities nor schools and women and children suffered severely from the lack of healthcare, with many women dying in childbirth and children suffering as a result of malnutrition.

Education, inaccessible to the majority of the Maya population, perpetuated discrimination against the Maya, who were consequently unable to find employment off of the coffee plantations. Land ownership, with which the people could live and raise their own crops, constituted the gravest of injustices, having resulted in the systemization of land deprivation with huge disparities in rural land ownership.

Through the initiatives begun by the Parish, San Lucas is now a village of cement block and stone homes, built by local stone masons and carpenters trained in parish programs. Free healthcare and nutrition programs, including dental facilities and an eye clinic, are also available to the people.

Through education, the people of San Lucas have taken advantage of the opportunity to advance. Very proudly, many of today’s Maya teachers, doctors, engineers and lawyers of San Lucas have been educated in the parish’s programs. The literacy rate, around 2.5% when the Parish school began, is now more than 85%. For youth interested in pursuing post-secondary schooling, the parish provides annual scholarships and for others there is an apprenticeship program, through which students gain training in agriculture, stone masonry, carpentry, electricity, and plumbing.

With respect to land ownership, perhaps the most significant of the parish’s programs, the San Lucas Parish has undertaken the restoration of land and livelihood to the landless Maya majority - over the last 35 years more than 4000 families have received 3 acre plots of land.

In listening to the expressed felt need of the people, the San Lucas Parish has attempted to address situations of injustice, promoting as its base the structural and systemic change that is necessary in addressing the process of poverty and its underlying causes.

About Us ~ Links:

Parish Philosophy
Mission Statement

Support Our Efforts


Contact us:

San Lucas Tolimán:

La Parroquia
San Lucas Tolimán
Sololá 07013
Phone: +(502) 7722 - 0112

New Ulm, MN:

Diocese of New Ulm
San Lucas Mission / Kathy Huebert
1400 Sixth Street North
New Ulm, MN 56073-2099
Phone: (507) 359 - 2966

San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala | E-mail | Web Design by Group M7 | Photography by Alexander Zoltai

Harvard and Montessori meet at Lake Atitlan

From Dragoness' Utterances, by diane e. dreyfus:


"Two nights ago, I met an art historian and a psychologist, here, who generously shared about their work in several communities around Lake Atitlan. They are both proponents of Harvard’s Project Zero The art historian, Maribel Rivero Socarras had worked with the concepts of David Perkins in fostering “visual thinking” in children before she joined the team of four others, working with Guatamala’s Fundosistemas. ( Maria Jose Matheu, the psychologist, facilitates parent training and teacher evaluations. Together, this group is positively impacting about 4,000 indigenous (K-12) students."


I want to build a school on some of my (very small) building lots, and am interested in finding out more. I was thinking classes for art, music, dance, beading, computers and construction using recycled building materials. I hope to be working with using used tires, rammed earth, plastic bottles filled with dirt, sand or adobe.

Could Harvard and Montessori help here?

Diane's response: "Harvard Project Zero and Montesorri are pedagogical methods so you can USE or ADAPT them as you please."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

rechargeable battery service, rechargable lantern,

Welcome to Burro

Burro is a new kind of company dedicated to delivering high-quality, affordable goods and services to low-income families in the developing world. Our for-profit business model will allow us to sustainably serve consumers who are largely ignored by the marketplace but who are eager and able to spend on innovations that improve their productivity.

The world's poorest people spend some $5 trillion annually on goods and services, but few businesses pay careful attention to meeting the particular needs of those who earn a dollar or two a day. Much of what is offered to them is overpriced, poorly made, and sold at inconvenient locations. But Burro puts its clients first. Like the hardworking pack animal that inspired our name, we are truly out there—in the fields and on the trails, helping our clients live more comfortably and work more productively.

More Power

Burro's first offering is a rechargeable battery service that our clients use predominantly for flashlights, radios, and cell phone charging. It costs less than available throwaway batteries while delivering more power and eliminating potentially hazardous waste. Roughly half of Ghana's 23 million people live without electricity, including the vast majority of rural communities. For these people, little things can mean a lot—a Ghanaian family can spend half a day's income on a pair of poor-quality, throwaway batteries just so a child can do a few hours' homework at night. Burro's better battery offering is already helping such families to do more with their lives.

We are conducting our pilot in Koforidua, the capital of the Eastern Region of Ghana, a peaceful, democratic nation in West Africa.


See NY Times article "When Microcredit Won't Do" & comment (below):

Max Alexander
South Thomaston, Maine
February 1st, 2011
11:35 am
This is very similar to what my brother, Whit Alexander, is doing now in Ghana with Burro ( and the subject of my next book, The Gong-Gong Man, due out early next year from Hyperion. His model is also creating a sustainable for-profit business that recruits local villagers as salespeople in a consignment model. His core offering is a rechargeable (NiMH) AA battery that he essentially rents to off-grid villagers, who exchange for fresh at far less than the cost of the throwaway batteries most Ghanaians use. The batteries are charged by Burro at a central grid location. They are used in flashlights, radios and proprietary cell phone chargers that Burro also sells. Unlike solar devices, which are expensive and don't work optimally during the rainy season, Burro's batteries are extremely versatile and always provide plenty of power. His latest product is a battery-powered lantern he developed in partnership with Greenlight Planet that provides as much light as kerosene hurricane lamps at one-fifth the cost, without the danger and odor. You can learn more at Burro's website or my own blog related to my upcoming book (

Burro. Do More.

Contact Us

Burro, LLC
Seattle, Washington
Whit Alexander, Founder

Burro Brand Ghana Ltd.
PO Box KF721
Hospital Road (near Market Street, green office)
Koforidua, Eastern Region, Ghana

When Microcredit Won’t Do: Microconsignment

COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE SOLUTIONS: Changing Obstacles into Opportunities

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO DO! Microconsignment for stoves, water filters, reading glasses, water filters and more...

Read more at the NY Times:

January 31, 2011, 9:15 pm
When Microcredit Won’t Do

Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.


Guatemala, microconsignment, Microfinance, Poverty

If you asked poverty experts to name the single most significant new concept in the field in the last few decades, chances are they would say microcredit. Microcredit is the lending of very small amounts of money to very poor people to help them invest in things that have the potential to bring income later on — a loan of $50 to buy a sewing machine to make clothes, for instance, or piglets to raise and sell. It reaches nearly 100 million clients in more than 100 countries.

One of the reasons that microcredit is so exciting is that its benefits can go beyond the women (and they are almost all women) who borrow money. Not only does their increase in income add to the economy of the whole village, they can start businesses that sell needed goods and services to their neighbors. After all, much of rural development involves bringing to villages the same things that city dwellers take for granted. For example, a borrower can use her loan to buy a cell phone and charge her neighbors for calls and messages. She has a new business and her neighbors have a link to the outside world.

But microcredit isn’t a panacea. It has always been vulnerable to abuse. The most recent example is a scandal in India, where banks have been luring microborrowers into excessive debt, just as predatory lenders lured millions of Americans into unsustainable mortgages. Loans can be malignant. Some people shouldn’t take on debt. Some businesses are too risky. And the temptation is always present to spend the loan on food for the family or shoes for the children.

In the hills of rural Guatemala, a different kind of microfinance, one that doesn’t involve loans, is doing something microcredit can’t. A company called Soluciones Comunitarias (“community solutions”) is selling products that improve the health and prosperity of villagers, and doing it in a sustainable way while providing rural people — the vast majority of them women — with new business opportunities that do not require risk or debt.
Dominga Akalo‏, a Guatemalan MicroConsignment Model entrepreneur, tracks sales and inventory in a village in Solola.Community Enterprise Solutions Dominga Akalo, a Guatemalan Soluciones entrepreneur, tracks sales and inventory in a village in Solola.

Soluciones Comunitarias uses the same model employed by second-hand clothing and furniture shops in the United States and elsewhere: consignment. It’s an old idea. What’s new is using it to improve the lives of the rural poor.

Take reading glasses. Imagine you are a rural Guatemalan in your forties. You make a living as a tailor, weaver, carpenter or mechanic, but to your horror, your close vision is getting more blurry each day. It seems like the end of your livelihood. If you were middle-class and lived in a city this wouldn’t be a big deal — you’d just get reading glasses. But not only were these not available in villages, few rural Guatemalans even knew about them. Their progressive blurriness seemed, to them, incurable.

Microcredit cannot help get reading glasses to Guatemalans in mountain villages. With microcredit, an entrepreneur would first take out a loan, then buy an assortment of glasses, sell them to her neighbors and repay the loan. But there’s no existing market for reading glasses. A good sales force can create one, by teaching people that their vision problems are curable — and that this is the cure. And while it’s not hard for an ambitious entrepreneur to learn to test eyes and find the right glasses, someone has to teach her. She has to be confident in her ability to sell people a product they don’t realize they need. She has to acquire the credibility to sell a health product. It’s one thing to take on debt to buy a cell phone or baby chicks to sell — she knows there will be a market for phone calls and chickens. Reading glasses are too much of an unknown. “Lots of women are afraid of debt,” said Clara Luz de Montezuma, a Guatemalan who trains women entrepreneurs for Soluciones. “When you borrow money, you fear you won’t be successful, and it will be very difficult to pay it back.”

Greg Van Kirk was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nebaj, Guatemala, a town of about 10,000 people in a mountainous Mayan region, when he thought of consignment as the solution. He was an unusual Peace Corps volunteer, having already had one career as an investment banker. He had worked in structured finance for UBS, helping companies do complex deals to buy, sell or lease airplanes and power plants.
Greg Van Kirk teaches Margarita, a Guatemalan entrepreneur, how to give an eye exam.Darby FilmsGreg Van Kirk teaches an entrepreneur how to give an eye exam.

Van Kirk’s adventures in less-structured finance didn’t start with reading glasses, but with cookstoves. He saw that families in the region cooked on open fires on the dirt floors inside their houses. Their ceilings were black from smoke. People coughed all the time and children were always sick. (Respiratory illnesses are a leading cause of death in poor countries, and indoor cooking is a significant cause.) Open-pit fires, moreover, were inefficient. The heat dispersed, and only one pot could be heated at a time. That meant the family had to collect or buy a lot of firewood. Moreover, fires were unsafe, especially for children, and cooking on the floor was unhealthy, luring ants and the family’s chickens into the house.

Van Kirk worked with a local mason named Augustín Corrio to try to find something better. Corrio took a standard stove design and rejiggered it in various ways. The best model had cement block legs, a brick chamber surrounding the fire on three sides, a metal sheet over the fire so several pots could be heated at once, and a chimney to take the smoke outside the house. This stove used 60 to 70 percent less wood than an open fire — so even though it costs about $100 it could pay for itself quickly. Buyers could pay in installments. It could be locally produced from basic construction materials.

The problem was how to sell it on a wide scale. No micro-borrower would take out the enormous loan necessary to buy a number of stoves to resell.
An Ixil Guatemalan woman with her improved cookstove provided through the MicroConsignment Model.Community Enterprise Solutions An Ixil Guatemalan woman with her improved cookstove provided through Soluciones.

Van Kirk thought that consignment was the answer. With consignment, a supplier gives a product to a retailer, who then sells it. After the sale is completed, the retailer reimburses the seller, keeping a commission. The risk is taken not by the retailer, but by the supplier. Van Kirk made a deal with Corrio: Corrio went around to groups of people in Nebaj and surrounding villages to talk about the stove and show pictures. When a family ordered one, Corrio built it right in their house with materials Van Kirk had bought for him. Families paid in installments about equal to the money they saved by buying less wood. As payments came in, he repaid Van Kirk and kept a commission.

The stoves and the consignment model were both successful. Soon Van Kirk and a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, George Glickley, began to train local women to sell the stoves and protective glasses, eye drops and reading glasses supplied by VisionSpring, a nonprofit organization that sells eye glasses to poor people all over the world. (My co-author, David Bornstein, is a member of VisionSpring’s board.)

VisionSpring had started out using microcredit for part of its sales — its retailers took out loans to buy glasses to sell. But it didn’t work very well. “We needed a financing arm — but we weren’t a microfinance institution,” said Malini Krishna, the company’s vice president of development. At Van Kirk’s urging, in 2004 the organization switched from microcredit to a consignment model. “Why put all that risk on somebody up front?” said Krishna. “Why not help them put the glasses out there and then get repaid when glasses sell?”

One of the first entrepreneurs Glickley and Van Kirk trained was Yolanda García. She was a primary school graduate and housewife — she knew the men because Glickley had lived in her family’s house when he was in the Peace Corps. Consignment was key for her, she said. “If I had had to take out a loan I wouldn’t have done it. I always felt I wanted to do something, but we didn’t have the economic resources beyond what we needed for the day.”
Maria, a Guatemalan MicroConsignment Model entrepreneur, administering an eye exam in a village in Quetzaltenango.Community Enterprise SolutionsA Soluciones entrepreneur administered an eye exam in a village in Quetzaltenango.

Van Kirk and Glickley trained her in how to test eyes and fit glasses, but more important was boosting her confidence to sell a mystery product. “No one knew about reading glasses,” she said. “People thought I was crazy.” That wasn’t the only obstacle. Her first customer was eager — she wanted to be able to read her Bible again. “But who will do the examination?” she said, looking around. Clearly, there was no doctor there.

“I will,” said García.

García nervously took out her charts and instruments. A few minutes later, the customer was reading small print and grinning from ear to ear.
More From Fixes

Read previous contributions to this series.

“Luckily, “the ‘aha!’ moment comes quickly,” says VisionSpring’s Krishna.

Still, García said, it was not a very successful campaign. She sold five pair of glasses and netted 65 quetzales — about $8. But García was thrilled to be earning anything. She spent the money on school supplies for her kids.

In 2006, Van Kirk and Glickley founded Soluciones. Its entrepreneurs — the vast majority of them women — now travel from village to village selling glasses, water-purifying buckets, solar flashlights, a solar panel that powers a lamp and cell phone charger, eye drops, sunglasses, energy-efficient light bulbs and vegetable seed packets. (The stoves are mainly sold around Nebaj.) A campaign in a village takes two days — one for publicity and one for sales — and usually nets each entrepreneurs some 200 quetzales, although once in a while a lucky salesperson can triple that. Van Kirk said that a new salesman started just two weeks ago and has already earned $100 — more than he would make in two or three months in a different job.

Soluciones is still very small. In the last two years, it has sold fewer than 7,000 pairs of glasses. The solar lamps are the most popular big-ticket item, with 3,000 sold since their debut. Soluciones today is owned and run by eight Guatemalans who were its original entrepreneurs, including Yolanda García and Clara Luz de Montezuma. By the end of the year, it will be running a consistent profit.

Soluciones is an incubator, testing new strategies and new products that may some day sell all over the world. (Van Kirk and Glickley have more information about their non-profit efforts at Improved cookstoves, reading glasses, water purifiers, solar lamps — these are all products that can provide equity, in the form of ability to work and better health, to villagers who before only had access to microcredit debt. Yet the real news here isn’t the cookstove or the lamp. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such practical and ingenious products exist. Yet they do little good if the rural poor can’t use them. A constant drumbeat of the Fixes column is that the more important innovation is the delivery mechanism.

Is microconsignment a system that can deliver these products on a sustainable basis and large scale to people who need them? If so, how? Saturday’s column will respond to comments, and will explore answers to those questions.

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Tina Rosenberg won a Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism.” She is a former editorial writer for The Times and now a contributing writer for the paper’s Sunday magazine. Her new book, “Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World,” is forthcoming from W.W. Norton.

More and photos:

Read more excellent comments; here's one:

Max Alexander
South Thomaston, Maine
February 1st, 2011
11:35 am
This is very similar to what my brother, Whit Alexander, is doing now in Ghana with Burro ( and the subject of my next book, The Gong-Gong Man, due out early next year from Hyperion. His model is also creating a sustainable for-profit business that recruits local villagers as salespeople in a consignment model. His core offering is a rechargeable (NiMH) AA battery that he essentially rents to off-grid villagers, who exchange for fresh at far less than the cost of the throwaway batteries most Ghanaians use. The batteries are charged by Burro at a central grid location. They are used in flashlights, radios and proprietary cell phone chargers that Burro also sells. Unlike solar devices, which are expensive and don't work optimally during the rainy season, Burro's batteries are extremely versatile and always provide plenty of power. His latest product is a battery-powered lantern he developed in partnership with Greenlight Planet that provides as much light as kerosene hurricane lamps at one-fifth the cost, without the danger and odor. You can learn more at Burro's website or my own blog related to my upcoming book (

Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
View of Lake Atitlan and volcano from my apartment balcony in Panajachel. Taken by Catherine Todd June 2008.