Ak’tenamit

Side note, have a look at the Flor protest piece, there is a little pr war being waged. Thanks Jason, for stepping in and responding to the flak pr obfuscation dumped on this poor blog.

I have been meaning to write this post since the beginning of the year, but the pace of travel kept me from getting down to it. I had arrived to Antigua from Coban in central Guatemala, via the less-than-charming capital Guate City. A series of chicken buses brought me to the Guatemalan Disneyland and I was ready to dislike Antigua for its gringo thickness but the city’s charm seduced me to the city’s loveliness. I descended upon Antigua for the new years, and settled in to a hostel called Yellow House. Antigua being the capital of cosmopolitan in Guate was full of peace corps volunteers down from their villages and other various purveyors of global good. As 2009 grew thin on time, I sauntered up to the roof, where I met a few partisan volunteers of the good fight. I met Jesse Shauben-Fuerst and his compatriots of Ak’tenamit on the roof and was intrigued by his organization and his work. He was kind enough to sit down with me on a new years day afternoon to share with me about his NGO, and we chatted as new years day fireworks crackled about, confusing us if a coup was in the air.

Ak’tenamit is an NGO devoted to indigenous education and health, based in Isabel, Guatemala- between the towns of Rio Dulce and Livingston. The organization is 18 years old, founded originally by a fellow named Steve Dudenhoefer in colabortation with local leaders of the surrounding villages. Today Ak’tenamit consists roughly 100 employees, mostly indigenous, with a board of directors that are indigenous community leaders. It gets support from the Guate government and from Rotary districts that sponsor projects, while also receiving subsidies from the Dutch and German governments as as well as USAID. Ak’tenamit’s mission is that is works to maintain and celebrate indigenous culture of the Q’eqchi. It is a multi-faceted organization that deals with community healthcare and education.

Ak’tenamit tries to create stronger community by educating young people for a new generation of indigenous leadership. It is trying to help stem the flight from villages to cities and create local opportunities for the Q’eqchi villagers. This is done by providing education that teaches critical thinking, vocational training and practical skills.

In the context 18 years ago that girls would drop out of school by 3rd grade, and boys by 5th, the Ak’tenamit program was founded to help provide community education and empower indigenous youth. Ak’tenamit prepares the community to lead itself through relevant education. Today there are over 500 students at the boarding school that come from nearly 100 villages in the region. More than 40 percent of the students are girls. Ak’tenamit is making a special push for girls education and will grow to parity with male and female students. Students can follow two career paths, one that will help prepare them for community jobs or work with NGOs; the other track helps prepare the students for work in the sustainable tourism sector. In this regard, one such project is a restaurant in which the students are cooks, waiters and accountants. Another new project in the works is to set up a new site with focus on traditional agricultural models to help sustain indigenous communities. The students pay a nominal fee for their schooling to help instill ownership of their education; those who cannot pay are able to trade work for their school fees.

Beyond working to provide kids with an education, Ak’tenamit also provides basic healthcare services to the community. Those who work in the community can barter services or volunteer work for care. There is also a mobile health clinic that brings around people who speak the local Q’eqchi language, and train isolated communities in basic health services and midwifery.

Jesse beamed with pride as he mentioned that the Ak’tenamit school helps educate the Q’eqchi youth to know their own culture. Jesse said that the project teaches the kids to know who they are, to know their own culture. This is especially important after the many years of conflict in which people either forgot their culture or had to forget amid the turmoil. So the kids learn their history, including Mayan cosmology and Mayan spiritual ceremonies. The elders help instill pride in the students for their own long history and rich culture.

To Jesse and Ak’tenamit, keep up the good work. To the bloggy readers, please do visit the Ak’tenamit site and see all the work that the organization is doing, as it is rather impressive. For any of the global health students who may be interested in hooking up with Ak’tenamit for volunteer work and the like, I’m glad to make introductions.

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One Comment

  1. Kathryn says:

    Hi Paul,On behalf of Ak' Tenamit, thanks so much for promoting our volunteer opportunities! I am currently volunteering with the organization and have seen their health programs in action- the service they provide is incredible and fills a huge need in the area. I just created a video called a “Day in the Life of an Ak' Tenamit Mobile Clinic Volunteer” that might give USC's global health students a better idea about what it's like to work in our clinic. It is available on YouTube. We also have a new Facebook page and blog where you can read more stories about our work (listed under the Guatemala Tomorrow Fund). Please feel free to contact me with any questions about our organization or if you'd just to chat about Antigua. It's a great place!Kathryn Klaas

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