Youthlinc is proud to announce the opening of its newest site for the summer of 2012: Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Guatemala is one of the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nations with over 50% of its population living in poverty. We are looking forward to the opportunity to help the people of this great nation.

Youthlinc will be partnering with Ak’Tenamit, an indigenous owned and operated nonprofit association based on the Río Dulce, in the rainforest of eastern Guatemala. Ak’Tenamit works to improve education, health, and business opportunities for Mayan communities . Ak’Tenamit was founded in 1992 by Rotarian Steve Dudenhoefer. Long time Youthlinc friend and former board member, Bruce Powell led the site visit.

After a long day’s travel by car and boat from Guatemala City, we made it to Livingston, a fishing town on the eastern coast. The night was spent discussing possible projects with Ak’Tenamit representatives and dining at Buga Momma’s, one of Ak’Tenamit’s three restaurants that give practical experience to Mayan youth in tourism and other services.

The next morning we woke up early and took a small motorized boat down the scenic Rio Dulce River to the two Ak’Tenamit project sites. The first site was home to Ak’Tenamit’s administrative offices and health clinic, as well as a neighboring community’s primary school.

Meeting with Dr. Omar Ibanez, an Argentine and Swiss trained physician, I discovered the amazing efforts made by Ak’Tenamit’s trained health care promoters, midwives and international health care professional volunteers, who provide health care service 6 days a week and visit over 40 communities once every four weeks. Often, it takes several days journey through the jungle to reach the villages in the area. The staff is truly dedicated to their work.

From the clinic visit, I learned that malnutrition is the most pervasive health problem in the region. Guatemala ranks fourth in the world for the highest number of malnourished children. Youthlinc can help alleviate this problem, making a significant difference in the lives of many rural Guatemalans. As part of our mission of creating lifetime humanitarians, we want to partner with Utah universities to institute studies and pilot projects to improve agricultural production in this area.

Next, I traveled another 10 minutes by boat to Ak’Tenamit’s main site and secondary school. I met with the board of directors and the school’s principal to discuss potential partnerships. Meeting with these leaders was the best part of the trip. Their enthusiasm was palpable and contagious.

The principal of the secondary school shared with us the change that occurred in him from working at Ak’Tenamit. I listened to him describe his evolution starting at the school years ago as an uninvolved teacher to becoming an amazing and motivational teacher/principal. I could tell that I was among one of the people in the world who continually works for personal progress while lifting those around him. I knew that Ak’Tenamit, and this inspirational man, would teach our students invaluable life lessons about commitment to service and the fruits of those labors.

That night at Buga Momma’s, I met Martin Coc Caal, a twenty year old graduate of Ak’Tenamit. Martin and other Ak’Tenamit alums started a non-profit organization focused on reforestation and building wood burning stoves to improve community health in Mayan villages. Speaking with him manifested again the amazing scope of Ak’Tenamit’s work and how it has changed the lives of rural Guatemalans and how Youthlinc can become even more involved advancing this work.

Reflecting on my recent experience in Guatemala, I realize that I often lose sight of what is truly important and how we can work together to make our weaknesses our greatest strengths, just as the people of Ak’Tenamit strive to make their communities self-sufficient and strong. My hope has been renewed by a humble and hard-working people and I look forward to Youthlinc’s partnership with an organization so impressive and so inspirational.

Smith Monson, Youthlinc International Service Director

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