One of my blog readers that I know fairly well came down this month and asked if I would be interested in accompanying her to the lake and a nearby foundation that helps children stay in school. Of course, I was interested, especially since it would give me a chance to get a closer look at how other organizations are doing things. I’ll be writing on each of these in a separate post, so today we’ll start with the first place we went, in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.
Niños con Bendiciòn was started by a husband and wife team, Tino and Lesbi. The place is a little tough to find since there is no sign and it looks pretty unassuming from the outside. Once we found it, however, we were warmly welcomed inside and found ourselves in a rather large space with a dirt floor. This area functions as the shop for the project, play area and also the space where they do performances.
Before the performance began, we were told more about the project. Tino and Lesbi started it with just Q300 or around $40 US. They have two children of their own and wanted to help others do well in school. The foundation helps children with scholarships for school, but it’s far more than that. They also have the kids (31 of them!) come over after school to learn things, get help with their homework and to give back to the project. The couple feels very strongly that the children shouldn’t be just given things, so they insist that they learn and return something to the project.
This is where the performance comes in. Part of the project is teaching children traditional Mayan dances. They then perform these for visitors who donate to the foundation. The kids are so popular, though, that they now perform at weddings and such, as well! Their mothers weave the items that are found in the store, as well, beautiful tapetes and huipiles, as well as bags made from tipico cloth.
We were ushered in and given plastic stools to sit on. Each of the children from the day’s performance came forward to introduce themselves and thank us for being there. They were dressed in traditional clothing or traje from different areas in Guatemala, though they’re all from San Antonio, so they explained where their clothes were from, as well. The students range in age from 6 to 15. The older ones went to play marimba in the back of the room while the little ones danced for us. They were so adorable!
I brought the kids along, at Caroline’s request and they really enjoyed the performance. They understood the meaning behind the dances and at the end, when the children pulled us up to dance with them, Dominic nearly flew off his chair, he was so eager to try it. After a breathless laughing dance with the kids, they dispersed while we washed our hands in the pila and had a demonstration of how tortillas are traditionally made.
Of course, I’m familiar with all of this, but it was still a lot of fun. The boys each tried using the traditional piedra de moler with the dough. Then we each made our own tortillas and cooked them on a huge comal over a wood fire. The kids were thrilled with this process! I ended up finishing up a lot of tortillas for Dominic, though, since his little hands couldn’t flatten the tortillas enough.
Once the tortillas were cooked, we enjoyed them with some beans and green sauce. Delicious! Lesbi makes all the food from scratch and fresh each day so that no one will get sick. Everything is very carefully cleaned by the older girls in the project, as well.
Finally, after our snack, the kids ran off to play and Caroline and I looked around the shop at the lovely woven items and coffee in huipil bags. They had some lovely things, all produced right there in San Antonio.
By the end of three hours, we were all great friends and Lesbi invited the boys to come back for Thursdays, when the kids in the project get together to play futbol or head to the pool. I think we’ll be taking her up on that! Everyone had so much fun and Tino and Lesbi are truly wonderful people and very open and genuine. They didn’t complain or go on and on about how terrible things are. Instead, they were very thankful that the project has done so well and were very happy about how many children are going to school. Their first students are getting ready to graduate and that’s an exciting thing in a country where apparently only 12% of students graduate from high school.