Monday, December 1, 2014

Hola from Kathy!

Read how Indigenous Guatemalans are creating a political platform for 2014

It’s the 23rd of November and I want to write a note about yesterday and today.  Each was very moving in its own way.  Yesterday my ‘goddaughter’, Sandra Sofia, and her Mum came to help me in selecting new traje (traditional clothes) for Sandra's birthday present.  We went to a few little places and finally found all she needed:  corte (skirt), huipil (blouse), faja (belt) and cinta (head band used only in San Antonio).  Her shoes (a plastic sandal that all the girls and women wear) still looked to have some life in them. 

Not her new clothes, they have to be altered.

After this little adventure, I invited myself to her house as I was really curious to know where they were now living.  Up we went, and up and up till we got to a steep stone stairs and continued to go up, where finally we arrived at their high, one room, rented adobe ‘house’.  The view was stunning but nothing else about it was, except perhaps the poverty of it.  The family now consists of 5 children, the oldest is 9, the Mum is 25, and the Dad seems to be having success with staying away from alcohol!  The youngest is 4 months.  Their home has no fences where there are precipices, and running water is available for half an hour twice a week; electricity is occasionally borrowed from the owner.  They have a tiny yard and are growing a few small things there, but mostly the yard is owned and used by the owner of the house.  The Dad is feeling so stuck with very little hope of change.  He gets very little work as a day labourer, and when he does, he is paid very little.

They would be awfully interested in owning a piece of property which they have been offered for 20,000Q (about $3000).  I start thinking about crowd-sourcing but know so little about it...any takers?

On Sunday, we took a trip (that I have wanted to take for years) to an archaeological site called Iximché.  Almost all of the becados,  the directiva, and a few others came (about 24 in all) in two vans.  It is a 2-hour drive from San Antonio (but about 15 miles as the crow flies) and I think we left at 9 a.m. – only an hour later than planned.  We arranged for a guide ahead of time who met us on site.  With us we brought a Maya Sacerdotisa or priest who has been working with the scholarship students, and some other interested people regarding the Cosmovision Maya.

Iximché was the last Mayan city to be built about (1478 (AD).  The Spanish, under Pedro de Alvarado, came around 1524 and the first capital of Guatemala was built in Tecpán (where Iximché is found) by the Spanish.  There was war, first between the Quiche and the Kaqchikel who joined the Spanish (who won) and then with the Spanish, who were treating them as slaves, only interested in digging for gold.

After a tour of the site we ended up in a special area used for Mayan ceremonies.

Our Sacerdotisa proceeded to prepare a circle which required an amazing number of ingredients…… everything from candles, incense and flower petals to cookies and honey. 

Many heartfelt prayers of gratitude and well being were offered to  ICO and our many wonderful donors and the work you/we are bringing to San Antonio. 

And we each had the opportunity to focus on something personal before offering a candle to the fire.

And the fire slowly burned down

By this time we were all rather hungry so a picnic was next on the list and many had brought food to share.  The area was huge, there were picnic grounds outside the gates of the protected area and we settled down under a shade tree with our lunches.

We brought 2 soccer balls and many of the young people stretched their legs and exercised their skills (or lack of) for a good half hour after lunch.

And the last thing on our list for the day was a visit to the museum of Iximché.  Pretty bare but what was there was interesting and the students were interested.  All in all a successful day and a quiet 2-hourhour drive home!

Sunday, November 30, 2014


The school year in Guatemala starts in January and finishes at the end of October. Given the timing of my visit I have been fortunate while in San Antonio to attend several graduation celebrations - the culmination of a year of hard work on behalf of the students made possible by donations from Canada. The first celebration Kathy and I attended was for the students graduating from high school. Four of the five graduates and some of their parents were able to attend along with the younger becados (students receiving scholarships from El Centro ICO).

Held in our Casita, the celebration dinner was catered by parents and supporters of the students using the fuel efficient stove in the kitchen (thanks to all who helped to fund the building and the stove - both are being put to good use). The four graduates (Alex, Froilan, Gerardo and Juan José) each stood up and thanked everyone, especially Kathy and their ICO friends in Canada for the opportunity to attend school. One graduate summed up the people of El Centro ICO (both in San Antonio and Canada) beautifully by saying they are like a family to him.

This year El Centre ICO sponsored 16 becados. Sponsoring starts in Basico (grades 7 - 9) and costs $250 for the school year. This money covers the cost of the daily uniform, gym clothes, school supplies plus typing and computer classes. The classes are mandatory but the cost is not covered by the government. School supplies were also provided for an additional 100 students.

Costs rise significantly for grades 10 - 12 to approximately $1200 for the school year. And in their final year, in certain courses they are required to have a suit!  About one third of the funding covers transportation costs as the students must travel to Panajachel which is half an hour away by public pickup.

Brenda is the Centro Director and has been working with all the scholarship students all year long.  Including the group below, where she was also the teacher.

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El Centro ICO's support for school children begins at age 4 with a pre-school program. This year sixteen children attended ICO's pre-school. The program gives them a head start when they enter kindergarten with activities that include Spanish language and manual dexterity. Kachiquel is the main language spoken at home and many parents especially mothers speak little or no Spanish. Kathy and I attended the pre-school graduation that was held in the hall at the Municipal office. During an eloquent speech by the mayor a thunderstorm was brewing outside. After a particularly loud clap of thunder the power went out leaving us in semi-darkness. Hardly a beat was missed and I was struck by the reality that low light or no light is the norm here as many of the students' houses are poorly lit, if at all - a fact that makes homework difficult. A solar powered light was provided to one of the graduating becados to help them complete their homework in this pueblo where the sun sets around 6.

Pre-school children practicing the National Anthem before the ceremony.

 Below, the entire pre-school class as well as the teacher and assistants.

The big day!  The children, all dressed up, will walk up to the stage, seat themselves and wait patiently to receive their 'diplomas',  while adults talk!  And then Kathy and the Mayor handed out the diplomas while 2 scholarship students were in charge of holding the flags.  Then, each child stood between the flags to receive a small gift from the Mayor.

And finally there was cake and a drink for all (however no pictures, it was too dark)!

The day before I left San Antonio Kathy and I sat with Marvin. He is 18 and has completed grade 9. Instead of completing his education he is working to support his younger siblings. He is passionate about painting and is attending free painting classes once a week. He wanted to see examples of Indigenous art from Canada so I searched the internet the night before, something I take for granted but something he is not able to do. In the morning while we sat together talking of art and sources of inspiration I was struck by how important the programs at El Centro ICO are to the children of San Antonio where things like good light to study by and internet access are difficult to come by for many families. 

If you would like to improve the future of a child in San Antonio please consider donating by visiting Donations are tax deductible.

Signing off from San Antonio, Palopo.
Hasta proxima.
Pamela Williams

Friday, November 28, 2014


Saturday, Nov 29th - 10 to 4

We will be selling scarves and shawls to support the projects in
Please join us at this fair - one of Victoria's best!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More helping hands for the people of San Antonio

Time is passing quickly and there is much to write about as there is no shortage of activity at el Centro ICO. In addition to programs such as student scholarships, pre-school programs, and lunches for the ancianas made possible by direct donations and sales of scarves, programs are offered through external organizations working in partnership with el Centre ICO.

In the previous blog I mentioned MAGA delivered cooking lessons to mothers of children identified as being under nourished. For the past two weeks members from JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) have come to the centre to teach many practical skills such as an introduction to soap making. They demonstrated how to make candles from used cooking oil - a valuable skill in a community where electricity is expensive and power outages are common. Sixty women attended these classes free of charge. They also had everyone making small sacks from newspaper for use at the market instead of plastic bags that often make their way onto the pathways and landscape around San Antonio. 

In a second visit they instructed the 40 children attending vacation school in how to make baskets from newspaper.

For a change of pace Kathy and I helped Dr. John Snively, or Juan Jose as he is better known here, move his mobile dental office out of storage in the nearby community of Santa Catarina across the lake to Tzununa. I learned from John that poor dental health is an early sign of poor general health and that poor dental health at a young age if left untreated can lead to health problems as a person ages. 

John's first trip to the area was at the invitation of a Rotary Club member who asked him to visit San Antonio to conduct a preliminary assessment of dental health. What he saw was sobering with the majority of people suffering from some level of poor dental health. This first visit inspired John to return to Lake Atitlan yearly spending up to six months a year in Guatemala delivering dental services to small communities around Lake Atitlan including San Antonio whenever he is able to find a volunteer dental assistant. If you are interested in volunteering with the dental program contact Dr. John Snively at

As the terrain around Lake Atitlan is steep the task of moving the mobile dental office turned out to be quite the adventure and workout. It felt like we were accompanying the Indiana Jones of dentistry. From storage to a pick-up to a boat to a second truck then on foot up a steep path and finally up a flight of stairs we carried the equipment. We wish John well with his dental clinic in Tzununa and the residents of San Antonio look forward to visiting his mobile clinic in the new year.

Arriving at the dock

Unloading equipment at the dock in Tzunana

Down the ramp to the boat

Loading up the boat in Santa Catarina

Almost there only a steep path and stairs to go!

Indiana Juan carrying a mobile digital X-ray machine

If you would like to help support the people of San Antonio please visit

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The kitchen is often considered to be the heart of a home and the kitchen is often the heart of activities at the Centro ICO. Completed in March of this year the kitchen occupies the western corner of the property. Designed by Kathy and Cristobal (from San Antonio) to be a multi-purpose building the kitchen is a cooking space, a teaching space and an additional meeting space. Constructed for approximately $2000 Cdn. the kitchen boasts a fuel efficient stove, double doors that open outwards to increase the size of the teaching/meeting space, screened windows for light and air circulation, and a generous overhang to provide expanded protection during the rainy season. There is a pila for washing up and a water filter to ensure safe drinking water as water quality is a challenge in San Antonio Palopo.

On Mondays an instructor from MAGA (Ministerio de Agricultura Ganadería y Alimentación - Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Nutrition) comes to the centre to teach four to five women how to prepare a nutritious lunch. Donations from people like you help purchase the food. The lunch is shared with the ancianas, women in their 70s and 80s, many who live alone. The menu this week included vegetables picked fresh from the garden less than 20 metres from the kitchen (now that's local!). Up to 15 ancianas make the weekly pilgrimage to the centre - no mean feat in a village that rises steeply from the shores of Lake Atitlan. In addition to good food, the weekly lunch date is an important social time for these women.

Woman with baby on her back filling a pot with water at the pila.

Radishes and carrots growing rapidly in the garden.

For the rest of the week Moscamed, an outside organization, is using the kitchen in the afternoons to teach mothers of underweight children how to prepare healthy meals. 

As school is out, vacation school is in at the casita, with one program for youth ages 11-12 and another for youth ages 9-10. Vacation school has up to 20 youth in each session. Human rights was the topic of discussion today…..
Visiting the centre this afternoon was a heartwarming experience with lots of activity from mothers with children gathered around the kitchen to the youth in the casita to a volunteer working in the garden to Kathy holding an impromptu meeting on the stairs. Never a dull moment. I am looking forward to spending more time at the centre.