Visiting Santa Cruz de la Laguna, Guatemala

Submitted by Amigos de Santa Cruz volunteers

Many of us support international development organizations with our donations, but rarely get to observe their work firsthand. Recently several Lopezians converged at Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala, to see Amigos de Santa Cruz Foundation in action.

Amigos is a nonprofit founded by Lopez Islanders Pat Torpie and Nancy Bingham. This small, powerhouse NGO serves Mayan communities in and around Santa Cruz. There are no cars here; mountains prevent road access to the area. Only your feet or a tuk-tuk take you from the boat landing uphill to the Centro de Capacitacion, a vocational center established by Amigos. Here community members learn skills— in culinary arts, computer skills, sewing, carpentry, and metalworking—leading to meaningful work and much-needed income.

Rita O’Boyle spent a month helping the women in the sewing program. She introduced a design for pants made from traditional Mayan fabric. Though she didn’t speak Spanish or Ketchikel, and the women didn’t speak English, they communicated with a lot of humor. “The looks on their faces told the story,” Rita says. “They smiled from ear to ear as each pair was finished. My reward was seeing their confidence expand, knowing that given opportunities, anything can be done.”

Randall Dickson and Ron Walters are committed Amigos donors familiar with its work, but were “blown away” by what’s been achieved. Randall, a physician assistant in emergency medicine, understood the need for basic services after visiting a remote mountaintop school built and supported by Amigos. Escuela Milagros consists of two classrooms plus a nutrition center where kids get a healthy snack each day and mothers participate in trainings.

“As the kids sang,” Randall says, “I saw that a boy’s face was swollen with a serious tooth abscess. Another boy had a fever and severe ear pain.” Later, Randall brought antibiotics and pain medications from a pharmacy. “This felt good, but it felt better knowing that Amigos is educating mothers about keeping kids healthy and getting treatment.”

Kitty was impressed by the way the community drives Amigos’ vision. For example, a nutrition program evolved into a women’s empowerment project. On International Women’s Day Against Violence, 150 mothers marched with banners down the Panamerican highway.

Amigos is committed to empowerment rather than creating dependence. On a village trail, Kitty and a friend met a boy walking with his grandmother. He was stuffing trash into a plastic water bottle. “The abuela pointed at the boy’s bare feet and tried to tell us something,” Kitty says. “Later we learned what they were doing.” Visitors had donated children’s shoes to Amigos. Rather than receiving shoes for nothing, the children were asked to turn in four bottles filled with wrappers and plastic collected in the village. These become eco “bricks” for small building projects, such as latrines. “The children get shoes, the village is cleaned up, and awareness of litter spreads.”

These are only a few of many lasting images from a visit to Santa Cruz, where Amigos offers meaningful opportunities to virtually every community member.

If you’d like to support the work of Amigos, your donation will be put to good use: overhead and administration costs are less than five percent. Checks can be sent to Amigos de Santa Cruz, P.O. Box 148, Lopez Island, WA 98261, or via PayPal on the website: www.amigosdesantacru.org.