Sunday, December 13, 2015

News From San Antonio Palopo - Clouds above Lago de Atitlán

December 13, 2015
From Kathy

Greetings and Saludos to Supporters, Friends and Family,

It is, once again, that time of year when I make my annual appeal for support for our initiatives here in San Antonio Palopó.  Yes, I am right here in the heart of it (enjoying the warmth and beauty of the lake and the people, I must admit).  However, the economy of Guatemala, especially in Maya communities, is frightening - and I won´t go into the politics (a new government takes over mid January).  Everyone here does the best she or he can but there isn´t much leeway.  It is difficult to know where to start and there is no `fix´.

With your help we have been working here since 2007.  You have donated 1,365 ONIL stoves, which use 70% less wood, are vented, and save so many from burns, lung, and eye problems ... and it is a huge environmental benefit.

 Happy family with stove
You have graduated 17 or more children from high school who would not otherwise have received an education beyond primary school, and have given school supplies to hundreds of elementary children.  
 Mostly undergraduates and graduates with our Coordinator, Brenda (in yellow sweater)

Purchases of thousands of local hand woven scarves to sell at craft fairs and organizations in Canada have helped many avoid complete deprivation. 

Our Centro (a house given to us in 2012) has literally been a centre of activity wonderful to behold.  At this time of year (summer break) we have a Vacation School with 3 groups of 25 children coming twice a week in different age groups, to take part in activities planned by our young Mayan Coordinator, Brenda, with the help of our scholarship students who have been working with her all year long.  The students keep the Centre clean and during the school year, they tutor children having difficulty in grades 3 and 4 - a very successful program we have discovered. We hope to expand this program with more scholarships.  As the population grows there are fewer and fewer options for the young people here and they need these tools to look outside of their own village.         

Our program for elderly, mostly widowed women, which includes a very healthy lunch on Mondays has been very well received.  They are so appreciative.  We are hoping to fund an expansion of this program in the new year.  More women, more food, more activities to keep them healthier while they live - there is no pension fund and no medicine for the poor in this country.

There is a small gardening program at the Centre with several of the women in the community who have no land on which to grow things.  We hope to plant a lot of traditional medicinal plants soon and are attempting to create a food forest as gradually we remove some of the trees that are either too big for the property or are not producing anything.  We also steadfastly maintain a patch of lawn where children can enjoy playtime!

During the school year there is a group of 4-year-olds who come to the Centre 3 mornings a week for a play school experience, in preparation for the real thing the following year; one afternoon a week a very small group of young women come to learn how to use computers – another program we hope to enhance with the purchase of ... more computers.  Regular activities and classes helping women to create things that they can sell and earn some money are really well received

So far I have only mentioned women and children however we are beginning to lay the groundwork for an AA program one evening a week for men in the community.  There is an enormous need and hopefully, once off the ground, will one day expand to women and ALANON.

I am sure I have missed a lot of the details but want you to know it is a `happening place´. All of these initiatives – the community centre, the scholarships, and the stoves – are increasingly under local leadership. The Colectiva, a board made up of women, meets monthly with Brenda, our employee, and a member of our Canadian group Skypes in when possible. This year we’re also involving a young American woman who lives in nearby Panajachel to mentor Brenda and the Colectiva, helping them assess and improve the effectiveness of the programs, and use the Centro as efficiently as possible.

So here I am as we move into winter, writing to you in the hope that this Christmas you might, again, or for the first time, choose to bypass a commercial present or two in favour of a Christmas donation in honour of a friend or family member. We have produced some new 2015 ¡Feliz Navidad! cards (see examples next blog post) that we can send you to pass on to your friends, saying that a gift given in their name has helped install an ONIL stove, or  supported education and the community centre.

Thanks to all of you for your support – whether financial or otherwise.  I have spent much of this trip saying farewell to very good friends, families and my godchildren, explaining my need to retire (from regular visits here) and to let go.  I will continue to work on this amazing and wonderful project at home in Canada, thankful for every moment I have had here and for everything I have learned.  It has been very rewarding.

Yours with heartfelt gratitude,


PS: We will issue income tax receipts for all donations. To donate online (and also to learn more about the work of ICO in Guatemala) go to Select Guatemala – San Antonio Stoves for Health or San Antonio Education/Community under ‘Select the fund your donation will support’, in the Donate to ICO page. If you prefer to send a cheque, make it out to Innovative Communities Foundation (put where you’d like it to go on the memo line), and send it to Innovative Communities Foundation, 1004 North Park St., Victoria, BC, V8T 1C6. Remember, every penny you give goes to the project; we are all volunteers and there are no administrative costs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Christmas Cards & Scarf Sales to Support Projects & the Indigenous Weavers in San Antonio Palopo

Christmas Cards with a Difference

This year you may choose to forego ties, socks, and gadgets for a different kind of gift. We have produced two different Christmas cards this year. One tells the receiver that, thanks to a gift made in their name, a Mayan family will receive a safe, clean-burning stove to replace their open fire. The other represents a donation made to help a child receive an education, and help the small community centre keep reaching out to the community of San Antonio. If you would like to make a donation and request some cards, please contact Susan. To donate to either the Guatemala: Stoves for Health project, or the Guatemala: San Antonio Education/Community project, go to, and follow the donation cues. Your gifts will make a huge difference in the lives of Mayan families.

Christmas Scarf Sales

We will be at community events in Victoria, Saanich and Duncan selling our gorgeous Guatemalan scarves. We would love it if you come to support us with your friends and family. Please consider sending this information to all your contacts.


Duncan: Eagles Hall on Boys Road in Duncan

Saturday November 14 from 10AM to 4PM


Saturday and Sunday, Nov 21 and Nov 22 from 10 to 4

Saanich Fairgrounds, 1528 Stellys X Rd

In the Sunflower Room, Booth #4 


Saturday, Nov 28th - 10 to 4

First Metropolitan Church Hall, 932 Balmoral 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stoves Transform Lives - posted by Linda

In San Antonio Palopo, people spend many hours gathering wood, or precious dollars buying it. Everywhere, wood is carried up the hill to burn for cooking and warmth. ONIL stoves burn 70% less firewood than open hearth fires and stop homes from filling with health destroying smoke.  This young woman lives alone in a tiny space made of rough boards and metal sheets.  Inside it is filled with a few simple possessions and cages of chickens and turkeys, which she raises.  She sleeps on a rush mat on the dirt floor, in front of her ONIL stove, which she received last year.  She was so happy to show us her new stove, and thanked us with an offer of a couple of fresh eggs, carefully brought out of a little basket. Such a sweet and generous gesture.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Scholarship students

Our scholarship program allows students to continue beyond Grade 6, and to finish High School.  For many families, the additional costs associated with Jr and Sr. High are prohibitive.  These costs include school uniforms, school supplies, and transportation into Panajachel for High School students.  In exchange, the "Becados"  must keep up their grades, and volunteer at the Centre.  These boys dug a compost pit one Saturday, and the girls were cleaning, organizing the office, and making new posters.  On Saturdays, they also mentor younger students who are struggling with their school work.  These hardworking students are the future for San Antonio Palopo.   

Posted by Linda

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A new school is on the way!

This new wood has been purchased and is stacked in the town plaza to dry before the construction starts.  Every night several men stay up in the cold wind, to guard it.  Groups of volunteers are ready to start the construction in another week, and it is hoped that this temporary school will be ready by the end of Easter week.  500 primary school children will use this space, in two shifts. 

The town of San Antonio Palopo is very thankful to everyone who has contributed to this project and the future of their children's education.  

Posted by Linda.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A note from Mary Lynch

Hi friends and supporters of our Guatemala project.

I am finally back after 8 years to work on our project here in  San Antonio Palopo on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I am so happy to be back in this village that I love so much - in spite of the extreme poverty, it is beautiful and the people have been so warm and welcoming.

We have been very busy with our  projects, especially working with the centre in the little casita, where we have programs for women and children in great need. One of my favourites is the lunch we serve once a week to a group of 17 ancianas - elderly women, some of whom  have only this one full meal a week. Most of them are barefoot and have only a few teeth left, but they are delightful to  spend time with; even though they speak little Spanish (they speak their indigenous language), we somehow communicate beautifully. Yesterday, we all danced together after lunch - lots of smiles and chuckles and some tears.

One of our concerns is that the temporary school in the basement of the church, established after the school was damaged by the mudslides 5 years ago, is being forced out of the church on March 31st. As the government  won't build a proper school, another temporary school for 500 students is being built by the parents on top of the mercado and as, again, there was no  government help, we are financing it. And we think our government is bad!

We only have a week left - it will be hard to leave - and we have so much more to do.

Much love to all of  you and a heartfelt thank you for your interest and support,


The Casita - posted by Linda

Every Monday a group of up to 17 elderly women come to the Casita for a hot lunch and some social time together.  These women are all widows, and live on their own with very little. They have experienced a lot of grief, losing husbands and children.  Their lovely smiles show their appreciation of this time together and they always begin their meal with a prayer.   Yesterday Brenda played  some traditional music off her computer  and we danced with these women, who giggled with delight. 

The preschool program runs 3 mornings a week and currently there are 14 four year olds attending. They are served a nutritious snack and enjoy playing games and making friends, like children do everywhere.  

The Casita is such an inviting space for all ages to come and enjoy !  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Colectiva

The Women's Collectiva has been working with Magdelena  (in red dress below)

and together they have discussed the principles of teamwork, and their aspirations for the group. Brenda (in the boat below)
is hardworking and enthusiastic about her job as the coordinator of the ICO Centre. Together  these women want to contribute  to the betterment of their community. They have lots of ideas about future programs that could be offered in the "Casita", our affectionate name for the lovely property where the Centre is located.  The Colectiva is a concept that fits well for these women, who have had little opportunity to demonstrate their potential and develop leadership skills.    It is an exciting time to be in San Antonio Palopo.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Volunteers in San Antonio Palopo

Kathy, Linda and Mary have been in San Antonio Palopo now almost 2 weeks.  This is a place of spectacular beauty and immense poverty.  We have had a productive time and have been very busy in meetings with the Colectiva and our staff person, Brenda.  We were incredibly lucky to make  a connection with a Guatemalan woman who works with indigenous women's groups and she has volunteered her expertise and skill to assist in the ongoing training and support of the Colectiva and Brenda.  Magdalena has already met with them for two workshops; she is inspiring.  Walking on the many footpaths through the village always brings a surprise, like watching the women wash chickens in preparation for a special feast, 

or talking to these men (below) resting from packing heavy loads up the hill.  

Riding pickup trucks is the way to get in and out of town and is quite an adventure.  It is a privilege to be here, where we are welcomed with friendly smiles and are feeling positive about our work.  More on that in the next entry.