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.
There is a reason Xela Aid recieved an award last year for their fantastic organization. This program is a well rounded, inclusive experience for both contributing members and the San Martin Chiquito village. Their continued efforts to improve the quality of life for so many people is very apparent. My time with Xela proved to be a heart warming and educational experience. I can only hope to volunteer with programs such as this shining example in the future!
Working with Xela Aid was a beautiful and life changing experience. I was unsure of what to expect in terms of the difference I would be able to make, but I saw powerful connections being made between all of the volunteers, including myself, and the people in San Martin. It is a beautiful place, but the people are what made the experience so overwhelming, in the best way.
I will be forever changed because of my time working with this nonprofit. Xela AID is an absolutely incredible organization. It is apparent how the lives of the villagers in San Martin have been touched by its efforts, and the amount of love and connection felt among the leaders, volunteers, and locals is overwhelming and humbling. Lives are positively changed every day thanks to Xela AID, and I look forward to seeing its continued and growing legacy.
Going to Guatemala with Xela Aid was a life-changing experience for me. I was able to discovered the essence in my life which is to help others the way I was helped, receiving and giving love. Once I learned to love others, I learned how to live. At Guatemala there was so much love to give that we ended up receiving more. I learned that people is what makes places amazing, and at San Martin Chiquito people are the most loving and caring people I ever met. Since day one, we felt at home with people that learned to love us the way we are.
I learned this saying in a restaurant in Antigua: "the most difficult thing to open is a close mind." and going to Guatemala helped me broke part of my close mentality. The perspective of my culture was changed, and it will help many of us who decide to go back or do a humanitarian act around you (it does not have to be outside your neighborhood to do this) to transform your worldview.
There is to much to say about going to another country that if I was to write most of the experiences in here I will have to include an essay format review, so what many of us need to do to understand many behaviors of people is to go out and explore.
Definitely, if you have the chance to go to Guatemala with Xela Aid, please do it
My husband and I signed up for the March 2015 Guatemala trip with XelaAid. Wow what a wonderful experience. We have traveled extensively to many countries but this was the all time best trip we ever had. Starting out knowing only one other person we became instant friends with 14 others. Leslie and Mel really know how to run the most organized, fun, heartwarming trip you will ever be on. There is nothing they can't handle or work out. The "work" was a blast and and so rewarding. XelaAid is the best thing that has ever happened to us. And should you have any questions feel free to contact us.
My husband and I were two of the lucky volunteers who participated with the Xela Aid project in August 2014. We were instantly hooked when we went to the home of Leslie Baer for our first orientation in Huntington Beach. The people going on the trip were committed and excited to return to continue the on-going projects. When we arrived at the clinic, we were greeted as family and the joy and appreciation was felt the duration. To see what Xela Aid has accomplished over the past 22 years is more than impressive. Because of Xela Aid, houses for the impoverished were built, a clinic was built and now has 14 staff, the nearby schools have seen improvements, such as bathrooms, classrooms, and playgrounds, and much more. Nothing can be more satisfying than working along side the local people in their endeavor to better their lives. For sure, our lives have been enriched.
I am a physician and have had the opportunity to go to Guatemala twice in the past six months with two groups of wonderful volunteers of Xela AID nonprofit organization. Each trip has exceeded all expectations on many fronts. First of all, the trips have been well organized with group leaders being capable and pleasant people. The spirit and camaraderie of the other participants have been exceptional. The Mayan people who we work with and help are warm, caring and appreciative. They are quick to welcome you with a smile and a hug.
Xela AID seems to be at a point in it's long standing existence of over 20 years, where it is growing and gaining momentum. Much of this is do to the outstanding people involved and the special mission of helping and caring that is the cornerstone of Xela AID. This organization focuses on a comprehensive approach that facilitates self reliance and sustainability, both being so important for long terms success.
I highly recommend to anyone who wants to help others, find meaning in life and share some special time with special people, sign up and go down to Guatemala with Xela AID.
Having retired a few years ago from 40 years in public education as a teacher then an administrator, I welcomed the chance to get back into a classroom and teach some kids. My husband knew how much I had enjoyed my career in education and said he'd give a try being a teaching assistant. We loved it last year, we loved it this year, we'll probably go next year too. The students and staff in the San Martin area are amazing and we absolutely learned more from them than we taught them. As a professional educator, I can tell you that they have model programs where students not only master the basics but also have meaningful art, music and physical education programs. From an early age, students are encouraged to think about the future and choose a meaningful career. It is certainly a bonus to be a volunteer who speaks Spanish, but there are plenty of ways to contribute if you only speak English.
There were other projects this trip such as in working in adult literacy, in the newly-expanded medical clinic, with the young leaders. There was also a project to build a house for four orphaned children being cared for by their loving aunties. It was called "A House for Julia" and you should read all about it on the XelaAid website or FB page. My husband and I worked in the schools for three mornings and on the house the rest of the time. Earlier volunteer teams had it built, and it needed to be painted inside and out and furnished. The cooperation of the community with the volunteers was heartwarming and effective. We will never forget the tears of joy shed by our amazing leadership (Leslie, Luis and Mel), our team who worked on it, the local artisans and volunteers...and mostly the children and the aunties who never dreamed they would have a safe home with a roof that didn't leak, a real concrete floor, real beds, basic furniture, a stove and even a peach tree in the yard. This is an amazing non-profit and I am so glad we are a small part of it.
We first heard about this project 8 years ago from our former pastor's wife. She made a presentation at our church and we signed right up to sponsor a student's education. Our $1/day would make the difference between him staying in school or not. Over the years, we mailed, emailed and Facebooked with that student and watched him grow up. When our beloved pastor died a few years ago, we sponsored an additional student in his honor, since this was one of his favorite projects.
Most students never meet their sponsors face to face. At the encouragement of our new Xela family, my husband and I volunteered for a summer work team, partly to meet these two "godchildren" and partly because we thought so highly of Leslie and Mel and all of Xela's well-thought-out, sustainable projects. Over the past 20 years, this project has grown from sponsoring the education of a few children to planning a comprehensive and sustainable program to keep these educated students in their villages and truly become the future leaders of the area.
I recently came back from a trip from Guatemala with XELA Aid. From the moment that we were greeted into the San Martin community, it became clear that this organization has become family and a consistent source of empowerment, aid, and joy for many of the people there. Headed by smart, hard-working people both in Guatemala and the U.S., the leaders are constantly working to improve and stretch dollars to help people help themselves. Especially exciting programs that I saw were the youth leadership group (empowering youth to be community leaders and raise money through micro-loan businesses); a restructuring of the clinic with an energized, committed, and accomplished new doctor; a literacy group of women who are learning to speak Spanish for the first time; sponsored students who are going further in school than they ever would have imagined; construction of new homes and schools to make survival and education possible; and a continuation of a woman's weaver's co-op that generates income and preserves an important artistic tradition. These are just a few of the MANY ways that XELA Aid affects the community. Beyond these initiatives, XELA Aid trips and events with the community are filled with love and cross-cultural communication and respect. I have amazing new friends on both side of the border. I am proud to now be a small part of this organization and am excited to see what wonderful work they will continue to do.
I guarantee you will be changed forever working with Xela AID to give a "hand-up" and not the proverbial "hand-out". The results are evidenced by the houses and schools being built. The leaders being trained to take care of those in their community. The education for better health and nutrition is helping the children become more confident and simply do better in school. It was so satisfying to work with these happy children. They are so interested in learning and trying new things.
The women are becoming even more literate and better able to take care of their families. They are being shown how to create micro businesses and either help support, or become the bread winner for their family. It is so empowering.
I was fortunate enough to have my sixteen year old daughter volunteer with me. Every once in awhile I would stop for a moment to watch the wonder, and see the sparkle in her eyes as she connected, played and shared with the children. She worked with all the other "grown-ups" on different projects like slinging concrete blocks helping to build a house for four orphans, assisting with testing and giving out eyewear for those that could not see well, and helping in the art class for the children.
The most wonderful outcome was on our last day, she wanted to sponsor a little girl so she would be able to complete her schooling. I was overjoyed.....I had already decided we would do that but it was even more meaningful to have her bring it up and we could share it with her "new sister" as she called her. She never left our side the rest of the day! My daughter is going to babysit, rake lawns or other things to make money to help sponsor her. She wants to be partially responsible for her personally. Talk about a life changing experience for my daughter and how proud I am of the choices she is now making. Her eyes have been opened and her heart has been touched because of Xela AID.
We will be going on more trips to visit (our new sponsoree) and help in many more ways. Maybe next time I'll get to help put in water filters in more of the homes like some of the others on our team did this trip. That is why I think Xela AID is so special...they are there in the community for the looooooong haul. Twenty two years and counting, not a once and done.
Thank you Xela AID for adding to our family through the awesome group members we worked with and all the new friends we made!
Till we see you all again, (soon)
Xela AID 06/27/2014
Jennifer, it was a pleasure to have you and your daughter on our June 2014 trip. We are thrilled that you had a profoundly enriching experience, which is our hope with every volunteer! We look forward to welcoming you back soon! Warmly, Leslie Baer DInkel, Executive Director, Xela AID
Now is the time for confession--I am still seeking balance after this life-changing experience. I've experienced life-changing experiences before; nothing before like this. My husband Glen and I work at living a life which is aware of the plenty which those of us living in the US have by consuming less, 'living simply so that others may simply live.' Now again I am keenly aware of the accidents of birth.
Just living in that climate, up high in the 'cloud forest,' as our Costa Rican colleague called it, is challenging. Nothing ever really dries! In the centuries old traditions of the Mayan people, the weaving, is of cotton. The women (in the village of San Martin) make a length of beautiful fabric, then wear it as a skirt, wrapped around their bodies more than 1-1/2 times, tied tightly at the waistline with a doubled around sash woven of more heavy cotton. Very beautiful textiles. Always damp.
These people are so grateful for the assistance provided by Xela Aid that they do not question our motives at all. There is no bitterness or resentment, or begging for more. And they see Xela Aid volunteers 3 to 4 times per year, for the past 22 years. They see our willingness and respond and we see their willingness and respond. Reina seemed to want to find a place in my heart, or perhaps I wanted to find a place for her there. Both, and both have succeeded! It is a marvel I will reflect on for the rest of my life.
Now a few words about such a well-thought out and organized trip. It seems to be designed so that working people can take 6 days of their vacation time only, or 5 days and a sick day, easy to work into your schedule. The trip starts in beautiful Antigua, moves on to 4 days of organized yet flexible work with the people of San Martin, then ends in gorgeous Lake Atitlan.
The 4 days of work is divided into mornings and afternoons. The San Martin people cooked us hot delicious lunches each day--some with Asian influences, others more traditional corn tortillas (black and yellow corn), chicken, and beans. Always the beans! Each lunch was punctuated by a different salsa, from mild to hot, with very different ingredients. The work ranged from hard physical work of building a house, to distributing eco-water filters for improved hygiene, to teaching new sweets to cook and hopefully create a micro-business, to providing 'reading' glasses so the women can continue to sew, to art projects with the kids. That's what I organized, two art projects where we taught 22 10 year olds to tap holes into fresh eggs, blow out and preserve the egg, and paint the egg with colorful designs. Not one egg got broken during the tapping of the holes! Amazing. They have such skilled hand-eye coordination at very young ages. The second project, star weaving, which you may be more familiar with as Eyes of God (but we did not impose that name on them) or even sometimes as Dream Catchers, was a huge hit! Altogether over 40 kids aged 5 to 12 caught on to the weaving and started making their own designs the very first time! Both of these projects are sustainable, do not require resources they do not have, and can become artisan objects which could be sold. They did not wait to be taught—sometimes not long enough for the next step! They were eager to learn.
One of our young male colleagues worked on the construction project every day, morning and afternoon. Hard, dirty work. In what I learned to be his characteristically understated way, he said the work could be done much more effectively by machine, but this way of work gave him much to think about. Another, a woman gifted in many ways, taught the women to knit, an art they were not familiar with and which they learned eagerly. She was surrounded by up to 25 women daily, carrying their babies on their backs, with all the sounds and smells that many people and babies crowded into a damp room bring.
There is no religious talk. (Perhaps that is why the San Martin’s do not question our motives; we are there at their disposal.) There is sharing of thoughts and feelings in twice-daily 'check-ins.' From the very first time I realized that 'check-in' meant more than just seeing if you still had a pulse, I looked forward to learning what the others had felt and to lightening my burden while they listened. The founder and leader, Leslie Baer Dinkel, has a unique gift. She can speak of the pain and misery in an objective manner, and balance it out with humor, education, and sensitivity. I hope we had a fraction of the impact on these peoples' lives as they had on ours. Actually, I can be sure of that because Xela Aid has been around so long and yet approaches the work with fresh eyes and optimism each trip.
Not only Leslie, but everyone on this particular trip, had a sense of self and of wonder and of purpose which melded us into a very effective and congenial group. I have new old friends for life. Good leadership, Leslie!
Xela AID 06/27/2014
Thank you Myra for taking the time to share your thoughts on your recent journey with us -- and so poetically! We appreciated your heartfelt participation, and are glad to read that you were deeply touched by this experience. Warmest regards, Leslie Baer Dinkel Executive Director Xela AID
Xela AID and the Guatemalan trip we just took is one of the BEST trips which my wife Myra and I could have ever imagined. Leslie who leads the experience of a lifetime is one finest human beings and shows this at every turn. Her energy and spirit is one of the most amazing ones that I have seen in my 70 years. From the outset, she was responsive to all our concerns. Her staff and her husband Mel make for one of the finest teams for this type of immersion experience. The hotel accommodations were outstanding, as well. A private bus took us everywhere, and the driver was most careful along the many highways and byways.
Antigua, Quetzaltenango, and Lake Atitlan were all so very impressive. Leslie threw in several wonderful surprise excursions which kept us smiling and delighted. I have told my two children (ages 27 & 29) that I will pay for them to join a Xela Aid trip, believing that such a memorable time will be with them for many years and give them insights that young folks can benefit by. I HIGHLY recommend Xela Aid for all. Enjoy!
Xela AID 06/27/2014
Glen, it was a delight to have you with us and I look forward to meeting your two children and sharing experiences with them in San Martín. It will be our pleasure. Thank you kindly for your review shared here. Warmest regards, Leslie Baer Dinkel Executive Director Xela AID
The First time I came on a Xela AID volunteer trip was 7 years ago and I have been coming ever since! This project is not just another pilot project like you see in so many places. It has been going strong for over 20 years and it gets stronger and bigger every day! The Maya's we work with are amazing people and they make the decisions about what they need help with and many times I have seen them put the need of others before their own. The projects include health, education, clean water, micro loans and emergency help for those who are in dire need. The volunteer trips are amazingly beautiful, efficient and somehow everybody seems got get along wonderfully and we have made great friends not only with the locals but also other volunteers. There is no drama and no personality clashes, it's amazing to see!