San Martin Chiquita is a village surrounded by small plots of terraced fields on the steep hillsides. The population is Mayan and many still wear the traditional hand woven clothing which reveal their innate love of color and pattern. There is small store in which the hand woven items can be purchased. Also there is a clinic, which was transformed into an optometrist clinic when I visited with the efficient VOSH team and their translators. Eventually they examined almost 500 people. I was teaching English to a group and one of my students was examined, returned with his glasses and wore them to read his assignment.
At the same time they initiated the use of new kitchen to provide lunch for the team, orchestrated by restaurant owners who taught the Mayan cooks the ins and outs of a modern kitchen. However, they made their tortillas by hand and served traditional Mayan food.
Everywhere in the village there was evidence of the many years of efforts made to change lives. I volunteered in the local school teaching English. The last day I taught there all the students and teachers were clearing the rooms to be painted by paint donated by Xela Aid. Soon they will introduce clean water systems to all the schools in the district.
I left energized and evolved. I would recommend Xela Aid as volunteer experience. It was my first volunteer experience and I will return to this little village where my enthusiastic students of English stole my heart.
What makes Xela AID and its trips an incredible, unforgettable experience is the people. The groups that they manage to put together are full of fun, interesting, and driven individuals who all bring something unique and exceptional to the team. Likewise, when you get to San Martin, the local Guatemalan staff are a group of all-stars doing amazing work and who are so eager to connect and share. My trip down to Guatemala was an unforgettable mix of fun adventures and truly meaningful, impactful work where I felt I grew personally as much as I helped locally.
Xela AID turns standard volunteer work into an unforgettable adventure. They do a great job at mixing business with pleasure. From being a tourist on the cobblestone streets of Antiqua, to the breathtaking views atop the Pacaya volcano, to working with the Mayan people in the small village of San Martín Chiquito, getting involved with Xela AID is guaranteed to enrich your life and the lives of others.
I have gone with Xela Aid 3 times. I love the trip, the people and the great structure in San Martin Chiquito. The Mayan group in San Martin are the most welcoming, loving people I have ever met.
Xela Aid is a first class operation with a great mission.
I met Leslie in the early 90's and was so compelled by the work she was doing ended up going to Guatemala as a volunteer with Xela Aid. The organization was pretty small at that point, but was doing such amazing work. Building a school, building structures in San Martin Chiquito, starting a weaving co-op, medical and dental work, etc. The work continued year round in the states with a group of weavers coming to the US every year and raising money by putting on weaving workshops and cooking classes. Leslie even expanded the vision to try to help and support weavers and other indigenous artists from around the world by starting a "World Weaving" event that, for a time, was held annually at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
For me, one of the best things about Xela Aid is that they are an organization that teaches a community how to sustain themselves and grow in positive ways. They just don't go in and provide "a band aid' for the problems that exist. One of the best examples is the education sponsorship program that has educated so many children in the community. It is amazing to me that babies and children I met in San Martin Chiquito in the early 90's are now educated adults that give back to their community.
Any positive impact I may have had as a volunteer and former Board Member is far outweighed by the impact this organization and the people in Xela and San Martin have had on me and my family. My children were blessed to get to know so many beautiful strong women from San Martin as they spent time with us every year when they came to the US. They became part of my family. My children were very young during this time, but still have wonderful memories of these times. in fact, at 18 years of age my daughter saved her own money so she could go to Guatemala as a Xela Aid volunteer. She loved her experience working in San Martin and was so well taken care of by the community and especially Luis Enrique and his family. Xela Aid is a true community!
I would highly recommend becoming involved with this organization and monetarily supporting their projects as they are excellent stewards of their funds. I hope to go back to Guatemala as a volunteer in the near future.
There are many projects and organizations that compete for our attention and our money. Many are definitely worthwhile investing on, and they do a good job in their fields. However, I have never belonged to an organization whose work has positively changed so many lives, permanently, in transformational ways, and I include my own life in this change. Organizations that focus on the balance between Education, Health, Environmental Sustainability, and Work Opportunities are seldom found in the developing world. Xela AID believes that there can’t be real development in any community if one or more of these elements are missing. It is like a four-legged stool. If you want the stool to go higher and higher, you have to elevate all four legs simultaneously, or risk upsetting the balance and even fall. This is what Xela AID does, quietly, consistently, year after year, with the help of a small and dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers. Xela AID has changed the lives of hundreds of children, many of them now productive adults, through education scholarships, giving them the opportunity to learn and aspire to a better life. Xela AID has accompanied their scholarships with holistic health programs for the children and their families, improving their lives so they can learn better and become productive citizens. Xela AID has provided, through micro-loans and other programs, opportunities for women and youth to develop their own businesses and support themselves and their families through their own efforts and creativity. And Xela AID has invested in developing strategies for environmental health in their communities, from clean water, to waste management, improvements to homes and much more. Xela AID is a model for how development aid should be. Your support for this organization will help expand and replicate this successful model to other communities in Guatemala and beyond. And your life will be changed by your involvement. Irreversibly and for the better. Whether you go on a volunteer trip once, become a long-term supporter and a donor, or become part of the leadership of the organization, your life will never be the same again. Your heart will expand in your chest and it will hurt, and you will do things you never thought you could do. And you will make friends for life, expand your horizons beyond belief; and you will become a better person too.
In the seven years we've been part of Xela AID, first as volunteers and now as part of the Board, I've been struck by the amazing changes that the various programs have on the people of these communities. The balanced approach of working on the four pillars of development, health, education, environment and work opportunities, provides the best template I've seen for true sustainability. As a model for integral community development this should be enough. However, there is also the personal, deep and emotional involvement with people that become your friends and family for life. Sponsored children given an opportunity of education and health become young adults with high dreams and unending energy; humble women become community leaders and master teachers, empowered business women and public speakers; shy young students become group leaders and movers of humanitarian projects. Xela AID saves lives, builds capacity, deals with emergencies, gathers resources and empowers people. There is so much potential, so many opportunities, and already so many accomplishments. I look forward to many more years of partnering with these communities working together for their future.
My collegues and I went to Guatemala with the Xela Aid team. It was such an amazing experience, and I would definitely do it again. I plan on returning since i was so impressed with the organization. I will cherish the memories with all of the people I had the chance to meet, and will hopefully see them again in the future. It was not only a great emotional experience but it was also extremely useful for educational purposes. I would definitely recommend others to get associated with Xela Aid.
My university--California State University, Fullerton--partnered with Xela Aid to create a study abroad course that focused on community engagement. It was an incredible experience for my students and for me. Xela Aid really knows the meaning of partnership. We worked together to make a meaningful and important course of study that my students benefitted from, and that I know they will continue to benefit from for the rest of their lives. The work that Xela Aid does is important, one could say vital, to the people of San Martin. It is also vital to the rest of us in the most basic sense of the word: Xela Aid is about life and lives.
Xela AID has completely changed my life. This incredible organization does more than just give back material goods. They give their time, passion and whole heart. The volunteer trip I went on was amazing. I had the opportunity to work hands on with the people of Guatemala by helping individuals enrich their lives. I also got to really see what Xela AID is all about. They have created leaders, many learning opportunities and hope for the people in the small village of San Martin. Xela AID truly gives people the feeling that they are making a difference. Changing the world!
I am a professor and have travelled multiple times to Central America and the Caribbean, often with students along as well. I have also done significant reading on the economics of global poverty. Many efforts fail from lack of on-the-ground communication and establishing of relationships. Often "development" or "mission" trips drop in to meet immediate "needs" as perceived from the outside with little regard to long-term impact and sustainability and can even do more harm than good (e.g. giving away clothes can be valuable or it can harm a local garment industry -- how can you know without relationship? [See "Toxic Charity" by Robert Lupton or "White Man's Burden" by William Easterly.] XelaAID, however, gets it right. They are building on over twenty years of relationship with the Mayan people of San Martin. Their focus is on long-term, sustainable, impact principally through education while thoughtfully and caringly meeting immediate needs as well. The people of San Martin clearly love Mel and Leslie and the other workers there. The children served find a bastion of safety and happiness amid lives that would otherwise be relegated to complete poverty and neglect. I am both proud and humbled to have worked with XelaAID. I trust them completely.