Transitions by the Tortilla

Since my arrival in Guatemala, my zapatos (shoes) have seen the floors of many houses, villages and stores.  I have completed and served as the practicum for each of the ten individual homestays with each family trained in the Rising Minds homestay program.  I have visited each of our partner programs from small highland villages in Chacap and Panyebar to those hugging the shores of Lake Atitlan in San Pedro and San Juan.  I have opened a new office space for Rising Minds on the main drag in San Pedro to host English classes, cultural exchanges, volunteers and meetings (the first official office in the history of the non-profit).  And, alongside another Rising Minds intern, Fiona, I have outlined the milestones, steps and materials necessary for each our summer programs:

The Rising Minds Office will serve as a educational co-op, workspace (for staff and volunteers), classroom for ESL, a cooperative to sell women’s eco-art and a space for cultural / language exchange.

  • Youth Leadership Program (Panyebar)

Rising Minds Youth Leadership Program promotes critical thinking, creative expression and community involvement through its hands-on, engaging activities.

  •  Communities Gardens (San Juan, Chacap and Panyebar)

  Teamed with nutrition education these gardens, planted and maintained by the local   community, will provide fresh vegetables and herbs to educational programs in the area.

  • Caring for the Rising Minds Nursery and Bottle Wall:

Building a sustainable wall to contain the Nursery as well as grow seeds for nutrition trainings.

  • Sustainable Playgrounds (San Juan and Panyebar)

Rising Minds’ Sustainable Construction initiatives exemplify the mission and community development work of Rising Minds. Working with community partners, we employ creative strategies to address environmental degradation and building needs, all while strengthening the voice and involvement of program members.

  • Nutrition and Health Classes (Panyebar)

Rising Minds is providing seeds teamed with nutritional trainings to women in the Guatemalan Highlands so as to lessen food expenses and confront malnutrition. By combining nutritional trainings with the actual seeds, families will not only have the materials needed to lower their food costs and reduce malnutrition, but also be armed with the knowledge of why eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables is important.

  • Small Business Development Courses (San Juan)

Rising Minds works with small businesses/cooperatives to promote sustainable business practices, community involvement, and transparency.  Rising Minds meets small businesses half-way, providing on the ground developmental support in the form of trainings, increased employment opportunities, and, in some cases, microloans such as to ADEMVI Cooperative this summer in the form of a sewing machine.

  • Recording Folklore Stories from Ancianos (Elderly Center in San Juan)

The loss of cultural practices and indigenous language is a concern voiced by the members of the oldest generation in San Juan la Laguna. In order to confront and prevent the erosion of traditional knowledge and foster a greater appreciation of cultural preservation, Rising Minds is working in conjunction with the Center for Indigenous Elders to record and share the stories of the people, places and events that have shaped San Juan. By combining these stories and histories we hope to create a series of books for the outside world that can help share and ultimately preserve the beautiful culture of the lively elders in San Juan.

  • San Pedro Trash Barrels

Rising Minds is partnering with the local government and shops to install 25 trash barrels constructed from bottles in San Pedro, where there are currently no public trash receptacles.

  • Local government sustainable wall construction (San Pedro)

In coordination with the local government, Rising Minds plans to build a wall made from plastic bottles on a previous city dump site.

  • Preparation for CPR/First Aid Trainings (Fall 2012)

In communities located more than 45 minutes from emergency response care, there is a pressing need for training on how to respond to immediate, life-threatening situations. Rising Minds is implementing a First Aid and CPR training course in public schools throughout the Lake Atitlan basin. Along with certified youth, we will provide CPR and first-aid training programs, with an overall aim to certify every public school teacher within San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo communities by 2013.

  • English for English teachers classes (San Juan and San Pedro)

Our aim is to equip teachers with basic English comprehension, conversational skills and literacy.  Furthermore, we will provide free resources, materials and tools for teachers to learn and then share their newly acquired knowledge in their classes.

  • Eco-Art / Cooperative trainings (Panyebar):

Rising Minds provides hands-on trainings for indigenous women in Panyebar. Through the comprehensive training course, the women are challenged to creatively produce supplies for local educational programs, their children, and with the potential to sell.

There have been times when the do-lists for the summer have seemed overwhelming, but as I count my days by tortillas consumed and the faces which have become my new partners and friends, I have nothing but optimism for the days to come.


Rising Minds is working with the Panyebar Community Center to enrich the diversity of activities done with the children, support their efforts to improve the center itself through, and to plant a community garden that will provide nutrition education teamed with fresh veggies for the 53 children involved in the program.

My three-week transition training to serve as the Rising Minds Summer Regional Director has highlighted the fact that those running small grass-roots non-profits must become the Go-Go Gadgets of all trades.  I have been trained to budget on a dime, coordinate volunteers, communicate cross-culturally in Guatemala, complete basic playground construction, communicate with government officials, organize transportation via chicken bus (school bus turned public metro), tuk-tuk (motor taxi) or truck bed (hang on for your life) and address the technological needs of the organization.  Most of my poignant learnings have not come from the official training schedule the co-founders of Rising Minds (Courtney and Owen) had outlined.  This is where flexibility is the key.  For example: I have learned that it is impossible to schedule meetings with Guatemalans over the phone, to be aware of power dynamics between foreigners and locals (how not to exploit others nor be exploited) and which restaurant sells the only authentic style pizza in San Pedro.  I have already begun to challenge my previous perspectives on the difference between the romanticising cultures versus helping to empower people.  Currently, I am looking forward to becoming more adept at the balance between flexibility and planning.

The homestay program provides an opportunity for tourists to experience daily life in San Juan, learn Spanish and Tzu’utujil, help economically empower families, as well as create meaningful cultural exchanges.

My daily schedule has been pretty strict between completing ten different homestays to opening a new Rising Minds office.  However in between each training I have managed to ride a Ferris wheel made of PBC pipe and chicken wire and attend the biggest parade of the year in San Juan!  Step by step, tortilla by tortilla my Live-It Grant project will be realized.  The Live-It Grant has already began to impact Rising Minds immensely as well contribute to a my own personal positive outlook on international relations.

About awilcox1120

I'm just trying to figure life out one day at a time.

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