Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thinking of Guatemala at Christmas

Dear Friends,
November is here once more, and we are once again reaching out to you with news about the past year in San Antonio Guatemala. What a year it’s been! 

In January, all four of our little group of voluntarios canadienses went to San Antonio, laden with library supplies, books, and computers. We were excited by the prospect of a new learning centre for the kids of San Antonio, a new library in a community that has never had access to books, and most of all we were grateful to be handing over a lot of the responsibility of running all of this to Candelaria and Gregorio and their little Mayan NGO Forma Guatemala. Candelaria had done an enormous amount of preparation work getting the schools, the municipality, and the local development council all involved in planning for the new centre. However, she discovered that in San Antonio it’s hard to get agreement on anything, and there was huge dissension on who should be hired as coordinator of the new centre. In the end, all our skills (and our somewhat limited Spanish) were needed to calm the conflict and work out a process of hiring involving buy-in from everyone. At the end of a pretty rigorous process, all parties agreed on Yesenia, a bright young teacher from a little village just outside San Antonio. We finished up the process with a bang-up celebration involving speeches from just about everyone (including the Mayor, who presented 3 computers and a printer), food, music from a guitar-playing principal, and even a little dancing.

Our coordinator Yesenia has proved to be all we’d hoped for, and more. She – along with her part-time assistant Lidia, one of our past scholarship students – have made the Centro de Aprendizaje la Casita (the Casita Learning Centre) into a lively hub of learning. Every day, little groups of students who are referred by their teachers arrive for extra help. 143 students are currently receiving learning assistance. And then there are the multitudes of kids who just drop by to look at books, use the computers, do research for their homework, and read.

Each month, the figures grow larger. In February, when the learning centre opened, there were 324 student visits, in September 590 visits. The number of children in the reading club has increased from 6 to 67—this in a culture where reading for pleasure is practically unknown. We’re being asked for more books; some of the kids have now read all the books in the library at their level (the library now numbers over 600 books).
And all this learning help is working! Of the 110 kids who turned in their school marks, the number receiving passing grades has jumped from 63 to 94.

Meanwhile, other activities are woven into the mix:
•   Twenty-five Ancianas (elderly women), chosen because they are the poorest and most isolated in the village, continue to come for lunch and activities twice a week. Our savvy coordinators have networked with other organizations to provide an occupational therapist at each session to lead them through exercises and art activities – an exciting new area of endeavour for these women. 
•    Groups of adults meet twice a week for literacy courses. 
•    We continue to support scholarship students (9 of them, 2 in university), some of whom provide extra tutoring on Saturdays to kids having trouble with their schoolwork, and also help in the garden. 
•    Every Wednesday morning a group of very disabled children arrives for language therapy, provided by therapists funded by another organization. 
•    Our stove program – replacement of open-hearth fires by clean-burning stoves – saw a major check-and-repair program in which 90 families had their stoves upgraded.

None of this could have happened without your support. Gracias! Gracias! Gracias! 

This Christmas, once again, I’m wondering if you might choose to bypass the usual Christmas gifts, and instead give a donation in honour of friends and family, to help the San Antonio project continue. We have lovely new ¡Feliz Navidad! cards available, saying that a gift given in their name has provided books for the library (and put their name on a bookplate), or helped to feed an anciana, or supported education and the Learning Centre. (To see what the cards and bookplates look like, scroll down below this post. Thanks to all of you for your support. This year we won’t be heading back down to Guatemala, but we're immensely excited by all the good work that’s going on in San Antonio, and we hope you are too. 

With love and gratitude,
Susan, Mary, Kathy and Linda

PS: We can issue income tax receipts for all Canadian donations. If you send a cheque, make it out to Innovative Communities Foundation (put San Antonio Education/Community on the memo line), and send it to Innovative Communities Foundation, 300 – 722 Cormorant St., Victoria, BC,  Canada V8W 1P8. 

To donate online go to: On our new website, you can donate through Paypal just by clicking the donate button on our San Antonio page. You'll be emailed 2 receipts: one from Paypal, and soon after a tax receipt from ICO. (Please click on the box that allows your address to be shared with ICO. This is needed for an official receipt.)

Remember, every penny you give goes to the project; we are all volunteers and there are no administrative costs.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Life-Changing Christmas Gifts

Tired of searching for the perfect present? Here are some ideas from San Antonio.

Give the gift of reading and learning
$20 will buy one or more books for the San Antonio Learner Centre Library, and we will print your friend’s name on a bookplate. We’re creating a community of readers in San Antonio, and they need more books to read! Your contribution also supports the general running of the Learner Centre, and that is making an enormous difference to the children of San Antonio.

Click on images to enlarge
Give food, fun and exercise to an Anciana
$85 will provide a frail elderly woman with a weekly nutritious lunch for 6 months, plus a social time of fun, stories, and exercise. We hope to continue providing this lunch twice a week, but need your help. Donations of any amount are welcome.

Your financial help will make a great difference to the lives of people in San Antonio. Your friends will probably prefer this gift to socks or ties, and you will get a tax receipt.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guatemalan Scarf Sales - Nov 18, 25 and 26

We would love to see you at our 3 GUATEMALAN SCARF SALES



Saturday, Nov 18th - 9:30 - 1:00

10990 West Saanich Rd., North Saanich



Saturday and Sunday, Nov 25 and Nov 26 from 10 to 4

Saanich Fairgrounds, 1528 Stellys X Rd

In the Sunflower Room


Saturday, Nov 25th - 10 to 4

First Metropolitan Church Hall, 932 Balmoral 


BUY A GORGEOUS HANDWOVEN GUATEMALAN SCARF or MAKE A DONATION AS A CHRISTMAS GIFT instead of exchanging gifts with family, workmates or friends, and make a huge difference in a Mayan family's life. Stop by to see our beautiful gift cards.

Thanks to your generous support over the years, most people in the village of San Antonio Palopo on Lake Atitlan now have clean burning, fuel efficient stoves that have replaced dangerous open hearth fires. We we will continue to maintain them so they are safe and working well. 

Last year, with input from parents, teachers and community leaders, we established  a much-needed Learning Centre and Library for San Antonio's children, who are falling behind and dropping out of school as early as Grade 6.  It has been a huge success.
We are also  continuing  with our lunch program for very poor elderly widows.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

San Antonio Progress Report

In Guatemala, the school year ends in early November and starts up again in January. So this month we received our first Annual Report, showing us the progress made since the learning centre opened in February. And – WOW! – there’s been a lot of progress. Here are some highlights:

-       Attendance has increased from 324 visits per month in February to 590 in September

-       143 students are getting small-group learning assistance in maths, language and reading.

Of the 110 kids who turned in their school marks, the number getting passing grades has increased from 63 to 94. 
We’re creating readers. The number of kids who now come regularly to read has increased from 6 to 67, with numbers growing at a steady pace each month. 

The Casita is a busy place. As well as learning centre activities. 25 elderly women continue to arrive twice a week for lunch and activities; a small group of very disabled children receive language therapy each Wednesday morning, and two classes of adults are involved in literacy training twice a week. 

As the school year draws to a close, our committed young coordinator Yesenia (below) and her helper Lidia (one of our scholarship graduates) have already put together plans for a creative and ambitious vacation school. 

None of this could have happened without your support. ¡Gracias!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

San Antonio Summer Update

Happenings at the Casita

Every month we receive updates and photos from La Casita — the house and garden that now houses a learning centre for kids, a library, a twice-weekly lunch and social program for poor and elderly women, adult literacy courses, and more. The news is heartening. Teachers at the two schools are referring students in increasing numbers to the centre, and our coordinator, Yesenia, along with her part-time helper, Lidia, are engaging these kids in maths, reading and writing activities in interactive ways that are very different from the rote-based methods used in most Guatemalan classrooms. Plus lots of kids come just to read (many are members of the kids’ book club), and to use the computers for research. 

In July there were 643 student-visits to the centre — over 20 a day. 

Tuning Up San Antonio’s Stoves

Those of you who have been involved with the San Antonio project in the last few years will already know about the stove project. Mayan families have traditionally cooked over an open fire in their tiny, windowless homes — a practice leading to respiratory and eye diseases, burns, and deforestation. For over 10 years, our ICO group has worked hard to replace these open hearths with clean-burning, vented stoves that have improved health, and reduced deforestation because they use less wood. This year we decided that we’d achieved our goal in terms of stove installation — we’d managed to install almost 1,500 stoves. Now the problem is that many of these stoves are getting old and needing replacement parts in order to burn efficiently. 

So in June and July, Brenda Pérez— a past employee and currently one of our scholarship students in her 3rd year of university — visited homes, identified parts needing replacement, ordered the parts, and worked with a helper to get the parts properly installed. In all, 97 families received replacement parts and tune-ups, and we hope to continue this program into the future.

What a great feeling for all of us involved in various forms of support for San Antonio, to know that lives are being transformed through our partnership with these strong, motivated Mayans making a difference in their community.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Scarf Sale May 13, 2017


SATURDAY, MAY 13th, 11 - 3

1648 ROCKLAND (corner of Terrace) 

There is parking on Terrace Avenue, Algoa Place and Patly Place
Montgomery Avenue (3 blocks away)
- Enjoy the lovely Rockland home & garden of Carole Sabiston, renowned textile artist.
- Browse through scarves and shawls in new spring designs. Choose a hand-crafted huipile, handbag or hanging made from handwoven fabric.
- Your purchase helps a San Antonio weaver make a living, and supports projects in San Antonio, Guatemala — student scholarships, stoves, lunch for poor elderly widows, and a vibrant learning centre & library. 

Please pass this message on.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Scarves & Weavings Sale May 13th, 2017

Carole Sabiston, the renowned textile artist, is co-hosting — along with the ICO Guatemalan Scarves Team — a Scarf and Weavings Sale in her beautiful Rockland home and garden. We have done sales here before  and everyone has loved them, so we are delighted that Carole has generously offered to host one again. This year we are especially excited as we have recently returned from Guatemala and have some new designs and colours, specially chosen for Spring.

Many of you are already familiar with the work we’ve been doing in the Mayan village of San Antonio PalopóThe sale of these lovely scarves, shawls, huipiles, hand bags and hangings — all woven by hand in San Antonio — will help over 30 women weavers to make a living, and, as well, will support our projects.
We're holding the sale the day before Mothers Day, so it is a great opportunity to buy a meaningful Mothers Day gift or a gift for yourself. It is also the first day of the 2-day Annual Garden Tour for the Victoria Conservatory of Music, so you may want to buy a ticket for this wonderful event, and make an outing of it. What better way to enjoy yourselves post election, and contribute in a positive and fun way!

Please join us and pass this on to any interested friends.

SATURDAY, MAY 13th  11 TO 3
1648 ROCKLAND (corner of Terrace) - there is parking on Terrace Avenue, Algoa Place and Patly Place
Google Map Link

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ALL SMILES: Update from Linda

The Learning Centre is really taking off!   Candelaria and Yesenia are all smiles as they report to us that  there were 325 visits to the Centre by San Antonio kids in this first month of operation.

Wow!  We are thrilled too.

Yesenia, the young recently-hired teacher, is very busy providing learning assistance to groups of 12 children at a time, focussing on Math, Reading, Writing and Computer skills. Most families in the village do not have books or computers, so the Learning Centre provides a much needed, supportive learning environment. The teachers in the schools have embraced the Learning Centre and are organizing their classes to visit and make use of the resources. 

Many children are attending to do their homework and to enjoy the library of new books. Mary Lynch and Kathy Coster were able to purchase over 100 books in Mexico (where the prices are much better) and these are now on the shelves.

The Centre is such a hub of activity, especially in the afternoons, that consideration is being given to paying a senior high school student to assist Yesenia for a few hours a day, as managing all this enthusiasm is quite a challenge. 

You can see the excitement on Petrona's face as she harvests lettuce from the garden. Fresh produce is very expensive to buy in the market. The women helping in the garden share the produce while some of it is used towards the lunch program for the Ancianas (elderly women). 

The Ancianas are enjoying the use of new balls for their social time. They are encouraged to participate in games which challenge them mentally and physically.  Twenty-five isolated, poor elderly women attend regularly. They are so appreciative of this opportunity to eat a nourishing lunch and have some fun with friends. You can see it in their smiles.   

Thank you to all those who have supported this transformation of the Casita to a vibrant place of learning in San Antonio Palopo. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Update on Felipe's new home - by Mary Lynch

Dear friends who are helping with having a house built for Felipe,

IT IS  COMING ALONG WELL ... and, in fact, it should be finished in less than 3 weeks. It has turned out that it will be about 12'x9' and it has cost a little more than anticipated, but thanks to all of you, we should make it. 

I am very relieved to think that Felipe will  be brought  down from his dark, isolated room to a place with windows and where he will be with his family, who will be able to lift him outside to watch the world go by - check out the view!

Above are some photos of the work in progress. the first photo is  of his  uncle , who only has the use of one  hand, the 3rd one is of his grandmother and mother who are sorting the coffee beans; they are very relieved to know that Felipe will soon be living down there with them again after his hut had been  wiped out by Tropical Storm Agatha (in May 2010).

I am really very moved  by your response and really can't thank you enough for supporting this project, that will make such a difference in the life of a man who has suffered so much.

I'll keep you posted.
Thank you,

Monday, February 27, 2017


Eleven years ago , I was very moved by the plight of a  young man, Felipe, who has very severe Cerebral Palsy. He lived with his extended family, one of the very poorest families by the lake. At that time, his little shack overlooked the main road and the lake, and he could sit outside watching the world go by. His little house was destroyed 7 years ago by the landslides that hit San Antonio.  He now lives up the hill, away from his  family, in a tiny house with no windows and is left all  day in the dark - immobile and alone, except at night. I found this truly heart wrenching and decided that somehow I had to do something.

After several discussions, with a friend translating from Cakchiquel (the family's indigenous language) into Spanish, the family agreed they would like to have him back living down with them by the lake, if only he had a house. I am raising money to have a tiny house built for him, which his mother will share with him - she is greatly  relieved to have him back in the family. It will only be 8' x 9' but it will be made out of cement blocks, not mud, and it will have windows. His family will be able to lift him outside each day into the sunshine, where he can watch his family working and the people going by.

A  Canadian friend, Thomas (below), who has lived in the village for over 15 years, will oversee the work; we are are hoping to do it for under $2000, but $3000 may be more realistic. So far many generous friends have responded to my request for help and I have pledges for $825. If you would like to make a contribution, we can issue income tax receipts for all donations. If you send a cheque, make it out to Innovative Communities Foundation (put San Antonio Education - Felipe - on the memo line), and send it to me at 5178 Old West Saanich Rd, Victoria, BC, V9E 2B1. 

To donate online go to, and click on the Donate button. Select Guatemala – San Antonio Education under the heading: ‘Select the fund your donation will support’.  And where there is a message box, just write one word - Felipe.

Please feel free to pass this on.

With heartfelt thanks,

Mary Lynch.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Learning Centre Update - Off to a Good Start

Just over 2 weeks into operation, and the Casita is buzzing with the sound of kids learning. Yesenia, the energetic young coordinator, has visited the schools, recruited kids, and set up a schedule. A sign advertising the Centro has been printed, and ready to be mounted. ‘Reforzamiento’ — learning assistance for groups of kids identified by their teachers as needing extra work, is starting this week. Meantime, the ancianas continue to meet for lunch and exercise twice a week (sometimes eating on the patio, when learning groups are in session). Brenda, our former employee, now coordinates these lunches as part of her volunteer service ‘payback’ for the university scholarship she is receiving. 

We’re all feeling pretty enthusiastic about the dynamic team that’s making all this happen.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The ‘Gran Inauguración’ - The Learning Centre is Launched

Friday February 3 was the big day — the official opening of the ‘Centro de Aprendizaje La Casita’. Prep started at 6:00 am, when Olivia and Petrona, two members of the faithful Colectiva — the group of women who have acted as a board of directors over the past few years — arrived to fire up the stove and start cooking the rice for the tamales.

By 1:45 taped marimba music was tinkling from the sound system, bowls of guacamole and chips graced the tables, and invited guests were arriving. Nothing could start until the mayor arrived, but hey, he was only half an hour late, so at 2:30 the speeches started. Guatemalans can be pretty long-winded, but this time the speeches all seemed just right — filled with hope and optimism for the future of the Learning Centre.
Vicente, one of the school principals, brought out his guitar and got us all singing along to a ditty about San Antonio. The Mayor made a formal presentation of 3 new desktop computers and a printer.

(Below): Candelaria, our supervisor, Yesenia, our new coordinator, and Kathy, with the newly-installed computers (3 of them from the Mayor’s office, one donated from Canada), in the background.
The librarian from nearby Panajachel presented us with 2 bags of cast-off books (a mixed blessing). Kathy, Susan and Mary all got to practice their Spanish in front of the gathered guests. The ribbon was cut, and the 50+ guests were served plates of tamales and cups of tea. A great success, and wonderful to see all these people from different sectors of this oft-conflicted community working together and expressing shared support for the new Learning Centre.

 ¡Adelantemos! !Forward we go!

Posted by Susan

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What's it like here, anyway!

Our little band of volunteers are kept super busy with an amazing variety of tasks.  Walking around this village with Kathy, we are stopped almost every 5 minutes by someone who welcomes us, or  asks for help with a scholarship for one of their children, or wants to chat about the new Learning Centre at the Casita. 

We have been in numerous meetings, and when having breakfast or dinner at the small hotel, often folks show up and ask if they can talk to us.  Communication in the village is still mostly face to face .  

Then there are moments when it is quiet, and you look out at the stunning beauty of the lake rimmed with volcanoes .  

Our days are filled with contrast.


Sunday, January 29, 2017


Hiring Committee meeting
It seemed like such a good idea at the start: invite representatives from all the various sectors of San Antonio, involve them in planning the Learning Centre and hiring the coordinator, make this project their own. And we had a great coordinator – Candelaria, who has years of experience in bringing people together, starting up learning centres. What we didn't reckon with was the fractious, cantankerous nature of San Antonio's men – and pretty-well all of these participants were men.

At our first meeting with Candelaria, she announced that she was almost ready to quit. She had hoped to have a coordinator hired before we arrived, but was stopped in her tracks by a group of the COCODE (development council) who insisted that she hire someone from San Antonio, even if there was no one really qualified. Our role from this point on was to combine persuasive one-on-one talks with stern speeches (a challenge to our Spanish), and also to reduce the participation of the COCODE to one, very reasonable, representative. 

In the end we had 4 candidates: 2 from 'outside', one from San Antonio, and one from a nearby village. The process was rigorous and streamlined. We all went through the applications; the 4 applicants (all women) arrived and wrote a written test, and then we interviewed each of them in turn, following a set of questions prepared by Candelaria. It boiled down to 2 candidates: Veronica from San Antonio who had a great personality but a background in social work rather than teaching; and Yesenia from the nearby village, with teaching qualifications, a lovely personality, but not much spoken Kaqchikel, the Mayan language. To our surprise, after all the preceding battles, not only did everyone on the selection team get along, but they unanimously chose Yesenia.

On Thursday we met with Yesenia and Candelaria, and once more we were impressed by Candelaria's skill and experience. She plans a robust training program for Yesenia, to help build skills in teaching through games and puppets, in motivating reading, in participatory learning techniques. And Yesenia, although only 24, seems quick, poised and unflappable. We feel our little 'Centro de Aprendizaje' is in good hands indeed.

La Colectiva

These 4 women have been loyal, dedicated volunteers at the Casita for over 2 years.  It is unusual for poor women in San Antonio Palopo to contribute to their community in this way and, despite many challenges, they have shown a real commitment to the programs offered at the Casita.  We invited them to a lunch and thanked them for their service to the community. We hope they will continue as "Friends of La Casita" where their knowledge of the programs and the village can be a source of support to the new Coordinator of the Learning Centre.  

Muchas Gracias Ana Olivia, Manuela, Martina, and Petrona.  

Linda Woodward Stanton