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 most impressive thing about Xela Aid to me was the degree of community development that is visible through their work. Because they have invested their energy through so many years and projects, the progress they have made is evident. Also, while there is some direct charity for short-term need, the main work focuses on long term development: education, health, better housing.
It was a great experience for me to be a part of their work through volunteering on one of the trips. We worked, but we had a LOT of fun doing it. The people of the town are so welcoming and generous, patient with my still-developing Spanish abilities, and really seemed to enjoy the fact that our group was there to help. Guatemala is a beautiful country and I fully intend to go back, both on a service trip and as a tourist.
I took my first trip with Xela Aid just a few months ago in June not really knowing quite what to expect. I have to say now that this was hands down one of the most impactful experiences of my life. Never really experiencing poverty like there is in the small village of San Martin Chiquito, I was in shock at how much joy we brought the locals with just our presence. My project was to help construct a basketball court at a local middle school for the kids, that also opens up to the entire community on Sundays which not only allows for the kids to play but also offers them another way staying in shape and staying out of trouble. Other projects such as the making of a computer lab and constructing homes for those in need are slowly turning this village into a better place, and you can see that simply by looking at the smiles on the faces of the locals. I hope to return in the future to see how past projects have turned out and to help out with future projects.
Having done a great deal of volunteer work both in the US and outside I'm always skeptical of organizations that operate in other countries; handing out charity so that we can feel better instead of actually helping the communities lift themselves out of their situations. I can assure you that all of my reservations were blown apart with the first 24 hours spend with the amazing people of Xela AID!
To start, how often do you go to an orientation for a trip like this at the home of the organization's founder? Within the first day or so in Guatemala it was clear that Xela AID has had an amazing impact on the community they've been working in for the last 15 years or so and I really respected that they are openly NOT a charity. Their goal is to develop self reliance and leadership WITHIN the community and build real, permanent, and lasting change. The greatest accomplishment, in my opinion, is the development of their Leaders of The Future program; a group of 15-20 teenagers who started with the program when they were toddlers and now virtually run the whole thing with the help of the locally based Director and others.
I could go on and on but if you're reading I would highly encourage you to do everything you can to support this amazing organization and everyone involved.
I first volunteered with Xela Aid in 2007, and have been back three additional times. I was a co-director on my most recent trip in July 2013. I've sponsored a Mayan child in the village since 2007, and have been pleased to see him grow into a wonderful, responsible, educated young man...though I still can't believe his schedule. Up at 6:30 every morning to climb the local mountains to collect firewood for his family (father disappeared years ago, mother ill, the only boy living at home with seven sisters), then to high school most of the day, then computer lab, then study, then field farm work, then helping out at home, then repeat that every day...and make time to work with the Xela Aid volunteers virtually every day they're in the village. And now his goal is to become an engineer.
What has inspired me about Xela Aid, in addition to my sponsored child, is its model for third world community development. If you simply give things away as many humanitarian organizations do, they are not valued and the process is not sustainable. Trying to solve one or two community development issues at a time, as most NGO's try to do, can adversely affect others. Educating children without creating local economic opportunities means the educated kids leave the village. Childhood vaccinations without family planning education can result in a population explosion that makes everything more difficult. Providing free health care with visiting foreign nationals can create a dependency, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of trust in local health care providers.
Xela Aid's model is to provide an integrated, adaptive strategy for addressing local community issues, with the intent of creating self-sustaining processes that eventually eliminate the need for Xela Aid. Some of our students are now city mayors, school principals, teachers, nurses, and business people, with more on the way. Our medical facilities are staffed with local health care professionals. Xela Aid's youth leadership program is transformational, and should be cloned in every developing community around the world. There is so much going on there that needs to be documented and shared with other organizations...and I see that as an important goal of Xela Aid going forward. This is a model that I believe will have broad applicability to developing communities everywhere.
I have been on three trips to Guatemala with Xela Aid and have enjoyed all three of them. During the trips we had the opportunity to meet the people in the small town of San Martin Chiquito and do projects together to benefit the community. On this last trip in July 2013 I spent two days at the local elementary school working with 5th grade students. It was a great experience and I would recommend these trips to anyone who wants to gain knowledge of a Latin American culture, learn the language, and generally have a great time in the process.
I learned about Xela Aid while traveling with Direct Relief International to the region of San Martin Chiquito 6 years ago. I was so impressed with the impact this organization makes on this small, impoverished community that I traveled back to the area with a group of Xela Aid volunteers the next year, and have returned with them at least once a year since then. I have recently joined the Board of Directors. This organization's focus on the overall health of the entire community is far-reaching, sustainable, and respectful of the local traditions. Xela Aid is recognized by the community of San Martin Chiquito, and leaders in the country of Guatemala, to be an organization worthy of respect. We are greeted enthusiastically every time we arrive. This is an organization that deserves time, attention, and money by all who care about impoverished communities and the continuation of local traditions.
Briefly, I am a Family Doctor who also has a Masters in Public Health and Tropical Medicine. I have gone on at least two dozen volunteer medical missions in my 20 years of practice and have seen the proverbial "give a man a fish and he eats only for a day", "spit in the ocean", "band aide care" given by most short term volunteer organizations, until I experienced a trip with Xela Aid in Guatemala. The greatest difference was Xela Aid has consistency in listening to the community they serve, then help THEM make their own changes. Xela Aid provides a consistent base of support in knowledge, trust, financial and friendships that have endured over twenty years and through a civil war. There is now a highly successful school scholarship program and a local clinic manned by a local doctor year round with a laboratory and pharmacy. It has branched into micro loans and youth entrepreneur mentoring programs creating new businesses by the next generation of "movers and shakers" in the political world of Guatemala.
A year ago I signed up for a volunteer vacation to a Mayan community in Guatemala and was so impressed with how effective and personal Xela-Aid is that I agreed to join the board as the Chair of the Micro-business and Leadership programs. I have stepped into a world that is vastly different from the one I know - where 15 year old students work at dawn in the fields so that they can afford to attend secondary school, and who seek an education so that they can help their parents and siblings. In spite of this, they find time to give back to their communities in significant ways. They are an amazing group of people and my life is so much richer for having gotten to know them and having the opportunity to be of help.