ENERGY GLOBE
Guatemala

WINNER:
Adopt-A-Village Guatemala

With the Project:
Growing Hope, Empowering the Maya

Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala (AAV) has worked for nearly three decades in northwest Guatemala to empower Maya families through education and skills training. AAV teaches sustainable organic gardening to Maya of all ages, motivating and educating students, families, and villages to establish organic plots. Students at AAV's Maya Center for Education and Development earn an organic gardening certificate along with an academic diploma. At the Adopt-a-Village Educational Farm, Maya from surrounding villages are supplied with knowledge and seeds to establish home gardens. AAV’s primary goals are to end chronic child malnutrition, build food self-sufficiency, encourage economic progress, and promote earth-friendly practices. The initiatives have benefitted 150 past and present students at AAV’s innovative boarding school and their families, plus the residents of 15 villages from which they come. Moreover, training has been provided to public school students and families in another 20 villages - an estimated combined population of 1,200.

INITIAL SITUATION

AAV’s founder first visited Guatemala in the mid-1980s while the country’s 36-year civil war and the Maya genocide still raged. Traveling Guatemala’s rugged northwest corner, she witnessed destitute and desperate Maya caught in the middle of the civil war. Maya, who were returning after fleeing to Mexico to escape genocide, were barely surviving in disorganized camps without potable water or sanitation and with insufficient food and inadequate shelter. The refugees returned with hope that their children could be educated, their biggest dream for a better future. But schools did not exist in the untamed wilderness to which they returned. The children suffer from the sixth highest level of chronic child malnutrition in the world. In Huehuetenango and three neighboring departments, chronic child malnutrition is pegged at 70%. After AAV formed in 1991, the organization built numerous village-access roads and community water systems, provided aid to more than 200 single-mother families, and built 12 schools. Those efforts eventually resulted in AAV’s innovative Maya Center for Education and Development, which opened in 2009 under the original founder.

SOLUTION

AAV’s motivation is fueled by longstanding injustices and hardships endured by Guatemala’s Maya. Natural disasters and climate change conditions plague the country, making it increasingly difficult for indigenous people to achieve food security. Without healthy food and effective schooling, few Maya rise above extreme poverty. Opened in 2009, the center is a one-of-a-kind learning hub encompassing academics and superior computer science studies, leading many graduates to higher technical and academic education and professional careers. Academics are balanced with hands-on sustainable organic gardening in 50 raised beds and greenhouses, supplemented with classroom instruction and a nutrition course. Along with an academic diploma, graduates earn certificates in computing competency and organic gardening. Organic gardening is part of everyday campus life. The center is a boarding school perched atop a mountain surrounded by rainforest, where students practice environmental studies, learning about local fauna and flora that are fast disappearing. The combination of building on students’ hunger for learning, creating relationships between the center and local villages, and teaching students to share their knowledge of nutrition and agronomy, creates a ripple effect. Students gather seeds of knowledge, skills and aptitudes and sow them in their homes and villages.

INNOVATION

The Maya Education and Development Center sits atop a mountain surrounded by pristine rainforest, a rare commodity in heavily farmed Guatemala. Students from ragtag villages savor the center’s serenity, wildlife and lush vegetation. Biology field trips are common, as is foraging for native plants used in school meals. The center’s remoteness requires students to live on campus, a dilemma for parents who need their teens at home. AAV’s creative solution: students alternate 18 days on campus with 12 days at home. Without this solution, families couldn’t afford to part with their teens. AAV’s Certificate of Organic Gardening requires two years of participation in gardening’s every aspect. Students receive expert instruction from an on-campus local Maya who plants by the moon. Students helped clear land for and built 50 raised beds and greenhouses. Students’ daily activities include tending gardens and the center’s flock of chickens. An off-grid solar power system serves the campus. The Maya Jaguar Educational Farm, an extension of the school, provides day-long training for adults and children in their villages about all aspects of organic gardening, even providing tools and seedlings. Training is followed by supervisory visits.

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