People often ask me why do I return to Guatemala year after year. My answer spills out of my mouth with enthusiasm these days. “Because I get to witness the work of the youth leaders and community facilitators of Reading Village.” But that is not how I got to Guatemala the first time.
In 2004 I shared a meal in Boulder, Colorado with two childhood friends and one of them had recently returned from a trip to Guatemala with her daughter. She showed me two photographs: one of the market in Chichicastenango and the other of a temple in Tikal. And that was it.
The next summer I snagged my daughter and a dear friend and we took off on our first adventure to Guatemala. We packed light, never really getting the message that Guatemala is known as the land of Eternal Spring. We filled our carry on bags with tank tops and shorts. Lucky for us we found a second hand store in Antigua that sold jeans and sweaters. I wouldn’t discover the “Paca” for another year. You can learn about the “Paca” in a future blog.
We called ourselves “Las Tres Amigas,” The Three Friends. We attended Spanish school for a week in the mornings, explored Antigua in the afternoons. The following week we took a shuttle to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán. We learned the Spanish word for toilet when ours malfunctioned. We found out the hard way the difference between 50 and 500 when I did my best to negotiate a deal with a boat captain to take us around the lake.
On our private boat tour to a couple of villages nestled on the shores of LakeAtitlán, we began to get a feel for the enduring Mayan culture thriving today in Guatemala. We learned that each community around the lake takes pride in its unique characteristics and pride of being members of the Maya culture; 50% of the population of Guatemala.
I didn’t realize cruising on the lake that day that in a few years I would get the privilege of knowing in a deep and rich way how some indigenous communities only a few kilometers above the lake are working to preserve their communities and at the same time end the cycle of intergenerational poverty: the communities with which Reading Village partners.
I still love to go to Antigua, Panajachel, the villages around the lake, and to discover new parts of Guatemala. But the reason I am drawn there now is simple. Each time I go I reconnect with the Community Facilitators and Youth Leaders of Reading Village. I experience the magic of teens sharing their love of reading in their communities and feel the power that spreads across the their lands.
By: Jan Wanner, Reading Village Board Member