Early this morning we boarded a “lancha,” an outboard motorboat that is the standard mode of transportation to the various villages around Lake Atitlan. A couple of youth leaders from each of the Reading Village partner communities joined us on our trip to San Juan. Though the lake is in their backyard, this trip was a first for all. Over the noise of the engine we got to know one another, laughed and joked as we passed fisherman in dugout canoes and enjoyed the spectacular views of the volcanoes that surround the lake.
We first toured a gourmet coffee cooperative, learning that the beans that make our cup of joe each morning are not actually beans at all but the seed of a sweet red fruit. The coffee is shade grown, meaning the plants thrive under a canopy of trees that also serve as a home for migrating birds. After the harvest, the seed is extracted from the fruit, dried out in the open sun and then roasted. Knowing the process made the samples we were served taste even richer and our appreciation for this harsh environment all the more acute.
Before the day ended we were inspired by the Seeds of Knowledge local library, a rare community asset in Guatemala. Beyond books and story hour, this library is also a community center where elders teach children about their history, teens learn to use computers and soccer fans gather to cheer their team on TV. This library is special to Reading Village as it served as the inspiration for the youth leaders in our partner communities to open and run the first-ever public libraries in their own villages.