I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Highland Support Project for all of my life. My parents are the directors. I was an infant when I was taken on my first trip to Guatemala. My earliest memories are images of the post civil war military state. Of driving through central Quetzaltenango, seeing Humvees drive by carrying men with automatic rifles. I also have vivid memories of my experiences in the indigenous communities. I remember feeling scared as I sat in the back seat of a little pick-up truck. On a narrow mountainside road, where any divergence would be fatal. In the middle of a thunderstorm. With my parents outside, pushing the truck from behind to keep the momentum moving forward. This effort was to reach even the most marginalized communities. From that same night, I remember the loud thuds of raindrops on their thin tin roofs and the black soot that covered their huts with flies stuck in it. I would later learn that the soot comes from cooking over open-pit fires. Throughout my life, I learned about various aspects of development from my experiences with Highland Support Project (HSP). From stove-building I learned about grassroots development, from reforestation I learned about sustainability, from weaving circles I learned about behavioral health. All this time, I had a general feeling that genuine good was being done. Not just because the directors were my parents; but also due to the sincere gratitude that was expressed by families in the communities we worked in. However, it wasn’t until my junior year of college, when I had a class called Development Economics, that I truly appreciated the amazing work that HSP has pioneered. The class, for me, validated everything that HSP does. Although it is impossible to summarize sustainable development in three points, there are at least three critical topics that I learned, which HSP has been enacting for over 22 years. These key points include a focus on women’s empowerment, acknowledging multidimensional poverty, and a spotlight on human and social capital. We learned about a focus on women’s empowerment as if it were a new concept. Something brand new that came along with the New Millennium Development Goals. This left me dumbfounded, considering that HSP has been focusing on women’s empowerment since 1993. HSP’s first women’s empowerment program was to provide indigenous mothers with ventilated cookstoves. It is seemingly simplistic; however, the ripple effect is amazingly intricate. For example, through community surveys, we found that the leading cause of death for Indigenous women was a upper-respiratory infection. This is easily prevented with ventilated stoves. Furthermore, the ventilated stoves are fuel efficient. It elevates the cooking from the floor to provide better sanitation. Regarding sustained development, it allows women to spend less time cooking because cooking a meal over an open-pit fire takes hours (Just think about that time you tried to cook anything while camping). This enables women to engage in their communities. To establish PTA’s. To help their children go to school. To make lunches for the children who are at school, so they children can learn and retain information better. To have time for women’s circles, so they can share their experiences and relate with other women in the community; and, ultimately, to endeavor in different income ventures and become successful businesswomen. From the chain of events, you can see how investing in women results in a greater social rate of return than investing in men. This is because investments in women more directly benefit their children and women are empirically more likely to spend increased incomes on their families. From the beginning, HSP has invested their efforts in addressing multidimensional poverty. This simply means that poverty entails more than just having low income. To address multidimensional poverty, organizations must consider the health, educational and productive aspects of individuals. HSP’s acknowledgment of multidimensional poverty is exemplified by their growth of different, yet interrelated, projects. For example, the Mayan Arts Project was initiated to address the dissipation of Maya philosophy in rural schools-- the educational dimension. The Association of Maya Women was started to provide indigenous women with behavioral health programming-- the health and productivity dimensions. Very early on HSP recognized the negative impact self-esteem could have on a community. The “Qanil” project was started to address nutritional deficiencies in indigenous communities-- the health dimension. Over 22 years, HSP’s attention to the dimensions of poverty has led to drastic increases in capital available for the indigenous communities we support. Remember that capital can take many forms. Capital can be financial, human, social, and the list goes on. HSP has enabled indigenous women to build their human capital through all the projects and programming provided to them. At every step of the way, the women and their families are involved in the process. For example, before even receiving a stove, women are trained in community engagement, and there is an understanding that the stove is not charity. The women are not dependent upon the stove. A stove is a tool for their economic independence. Furthermore, our volunteers understand they are not giving anything away. Our volunteers engage in partnership with the families. Where the families receive the support for their projects, and volunteers leave with a completely changed perspective on poverty and development. The partnerships formed is what builds the social capital. My favorite example of the social capital being built is with the reforestation project. Initially, HSP would buy samplings from a big company in the city. Now, however, a woman who once received a stove now started her tree nursery. Thus, HSP can source the saplings for reforestation from the women who once received a stove. This example illustrates social capital and HSP’s continuing relationships with the communities HSP engages in. From my earliest memories of post-civil war Guatemala to what it has become now, much of the change can be attributed to non-governmental organizations such as Highland Support Project. I could never express enough how proud I am of HSP, after learning the academics behind development economics. I am so proud that before implementing projects, HSP went to the communities and asked them what they think their most pressing problems were. I am proud of the relationships that have been created. I am proud of the gratitude that has been expressed towards my family and every volunteer that has worked with us. Lastly, I am proud to assure that anyone who spends just a week with HSP in Guatemala will feel this pride too.
I went on a trip with HSP to White Mountain Apache Reservation for a service learning trip with a group of students from Virginia Commonwealth University. The trip was one week planned to the hour with presentations, activities, and events. White Mountain is gorgeous, full of breath taking views and so much culture that America often misses. The time I spent in White Mountain truly opened my mind to a whole new perspective and I am so thankful to HSP for that gift. Their dedication to service is unparalleled. This is a non-profit that truly gives everything it can into their work.
The Highland Support Project is one of few non-profit networks that doesn't focus on development from a Western perspective. Their methodology is one of "transformational development", meaning that communities lift themselves out of poverty by participating in their programming, and do so sustainably. I really think that HSP is doing that that almost no other organizations working in Guatemala are doing. Their methods may not be as flashy, but they help people from the ground up. Highly recommend participating in one of their amazing trips!
What makes HSP is different is that they don't implement band-aid solutions. Their mission and work focuses on the long-term solutions and more importantly, solutions that are sustainable. I know I've personally always felt like the charity/volunteer work I've done in other areas (donations, hosting fundraisers, volunteering at events, etc.) have not been enough. I think that they do help, but I know I could contribute even more to the causes I care about.
I admire and advocate for HSP because it is an organization that puts the people they serve at the heart of their projects. I've volunteered with them for about 7 months and I can see that they are committed to working with the Mayans for the long-run. Everyone here is outwardly passionate and driven in what they do and love the people that they work with and I'm happy to be a part of the work that they do!
I truly enjoyed my trip to Guatemala. I feel as if we have left an impact of who we are and what we stand for with the Myan Woman. The fact that they know others will struggle for their lively hood helps them know they are not alone. I felt like the support helped them more then the physical labor.
I worked with HSP to build stoves for the indigenous people. I had a great exposure to diversity and I was amazed to see how women are now taking initiatives to be educated despite having socio-economical barriers. They knew the ventilated stoves could change the future of their kids. The families were very welcoming and we all had a great experience in the highlands of Guatemala. Other students should take this opportunity to explore different cultures, which can open a new window for them.
As a volunteer for the Highland Project, I worked to build stoves for the women and families living in the highlands of Guatemala where I was immersed into the community and families of those we were building stoves for. The conditions in which the families lived greatly humbled me; I was most shocked that clean water and indoor plumbing was not a standard for the households in the Highlands. Yet, I was more surprised by the families positivity, hospitality and giving nature! I never felt as though I could convey my gratitude towards the women and families that our group worked for. I highly recommend working with the Highland Support Project to further forward their mission to create self-perpetuating social entrepreneurship by empowering individuals through teamwork to transform adversity into opportunity.
I had a great time in December 2013 traveling to Guatemala with Highland Support Project! I wish I had been able to spend more time building the stoves--one week was NOT long enough for everything I wanted to do! My group was relatively small, but we had a really good time. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. I appreciated the whole experience a lot.
Volunteering with the Highland Support Project during Spring Break of 2014 was probably one of the most useful ways to spend my time. I embarked on the journey without a clue of what to expect but I was going alongside some of my friends that had gone before and they assured me that it would be an amazing experience. Working alongside the women of the highlands and interacting with their children and families opened the windows of a new world to me. They welcomed us into their families and communicated with us as their own--they helped us as we helped them. I saw that these women are climbing mountains just to complete their daily chores while I complete daily tasks in complete leisure. In addition to the service activities, I greatly enjoyed exploring Guatemala on my own which allowed me to immerse myself into the culture. This program works to educate and entertain the students as well as provide a great service opportunity in the rural area of Guatemala. This trip taught me to become human and I look forward to making another trip to this region again, all thanks to the Highland Support Project.
HSP is a wonderful organization that empowers indigenous people of Guatemala and truly makes a difference. I signed up for a trip over spring break that truly changed my outlook on the world. I was surprised to see so many happy faces in a country I assumed to be overrun by poverty. While HSP allowed me to do all the touristy type things my heart could desire they also showed me what it meant to show love and kindness to others in ways I didn't have the opportunity to do so before.