A Sunday Trip to Santiago

Here we are with Bang Soedarjatno

On Sunday morning, we loaded into a boat and traveled across the lake to Santiago to enjoy the day there before the real work begins on Monday. Santiago is a wonderful town and the largest on Lake Attilan. The people are very welcoming and quite interesting. They are more into fashion, so you will see them wearing their traditional garb, but with a modern twist to it.

Gabby, one of the CoEd staff members and some Guatemalan ladies

As you can see, the lake has one of the most spectacular views in the world. It boasts several volcanoes which surround the lake with three very close together which makes for a postcard photo. Traveling across the lake is very tranquil and quite therapeutic. The lake is probably the best tourist attraction in the country. Both Guatemalans and Americans come here for vacation.

Once we arrived in Santiago, we visited a Cooperative that teaches the weaving techniques and attempts to keep this fading are alive in Guatemala. It can take weeks for a single garment to be made and is very expensive for the locals to purchase.

A Guatemalan lady is weaving at the Cooperative in Santiago

In many ways, Santiago is typical of what you will find in Guatemala, especially in the rural areas. The streets are very narrow with store fronts all along the street. The vendors make their living selling their wares to tourist. Guatemala gets around 1.5 million tourist a year. Unfortunately, they should be able to attract more tourist and the Mayan people do not benefit as much as they should due to a lack of education and a corrupt government. The government is getting better and there are hopes that the new president and his administration will help all Guatemala benefit. With nearly 75% of Guatemalans living below the poverty level, there is much room for improvement.

A typical street in Guatemala, this one in Santiago

Once again, we visited the main cathedral in Santiago. So much of their culture and daily life centers around the church. When the Spanish came to Guatemala, they imported the Catholic faith. Today, you will find it mixed with Mayan beliefs and gods as the Spanish attempted to integrate the two religions in order to conquer the nation. They also built cities like Santiago in order to get the population centered to better control them.


Cathedral in Santiago, Guatemala

Guatemala is a paradise for those looking for outdoor activities. You can hike to ancient Mayan ruins, climb volcanoes, paragliding off mountains and so much more. Outside our hotel at Lake Attilan, we saw several paragliders, coming off nearby mountains. If you can imagine yourself doing this, you must visit Guatemala.

Paragliding at Lake Attilan

On Monday, we will visit our first schools. Many of the participants are looking forward to seeing the students. Stay tuned as I will be blogging about the first day in the schools.


First Day in Guatemala

We arrived in Guatemala City on Friday morning with little fanfare and no luggage. We determined that our luggage wanted to spend a few hours on South Beach, getting a tan. It finally arrived once we returned from a tour of the city where we experienced the Parque Minerva, Catedral Metropolitana and Plaza Mayor de la Constitucion. It was a wonderful little trip.

Unfortunately, we also passed one of the more dangerous parts of town and were amazed to the construction of this area. Homes built into the side of a mountain, on top of each other. It was a very inhumane way to live. We were told that it is one area we should not enter as it was very dangerous, especially to tourist.


Monument to Francisco Vela, Engineer

Monument that shows how Francisco Vela surveyed Guatemala in the early 1900s and used to build the Parque Minerva-Mapa en Relieve. This park has the entire geography of Guatemala.

Built in 1904, this map shows the geographical features of Guatemala. This is only a portion of the map and shows many of the areas we will be visiting during this trip.

The condition of this map was not good as it is exposed to the weather, but it is an overwhelming display of the country of Guatemala. I had never seen anything like this in my life.

After leaving the park, we traveled back to Zone 1, which is the downtown area of Guatemala City and experienced the Catedral Metropolitana and the Plaza Mayor de la Constitucion, across the street from the cathedral. This cathedral was started in 1776 and finished in 1868. It has many artifacts that are much older as it was furnished with items that were removed from a cathedral in Antigua when the capital was moved to Guatemala City.

Small portion of this monolithic structure

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a more complete picture of this cathedral, but I was standing too near it and could not cross the street to get a better shot. The interior of this cathedral is breathtaking. If you ever visit Guatemala City, you need to be sure to visit.

Across the street is the Plaza Mayor de la Constitution. We did not have an opportunity to cross the street to walk through the square, but it is a massive square with a fountain in the middle.

Glorious fountain in the main square in Guatemala City


On Saturday morning, we loaded into our buses and traveled on the Pan American Highway. After several hours, we arrived in Panajachel, which is on Lake Attilan. This lake has been described as the most beautiful lake in the world. To see this place, you would also agree. We spent the day visiting the city. We also had a opening presentation for those who have never visited Guatemala and the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP).

Tomorrow, we will travel across the lake to visit Santiago. There will be more pictures added tomorrow from the trip.

To see the beauty of this country, one wonders why they were unable to be more successful and prosperous. This project hopes to aid this country out of poverty through education. As the most illiterate nation in the Western Hemisphere, there is much work ahead for this nation and the people. The people are hopeful and are working towards bettering themselves and their nation. I feel honored to participate in this little way.

After the presentation this evening, my traveling partner informed me that we need to visit every club in our district to encourage them to participate with this project. After all they have done, they have still only reached 10% of all rural schools.


Anticipation mounts for this year’s trip

Tomorrow morning, I will be boarding a plane with a fellow member of the North Raleigh Rotary Club to head to Guatemala for a tour of the Guatemala Literacy Project. As a veteran, I know what to expect and am looking forward to a new and unique experience. We fly out of RDU at 6:50 am and should land in Guatemala City around 11:30 am. I am looking forward to this trip as I will have an opportunity to visit and experience this capital city. Last year, we arrived late in the evening and did not get to see the city.

This year should be a very unique one as we will visiting new schools to induction them into the program. Terry and I are excited and can hardly wait to help these young people with their education.

Guatemala has one of the highest illiteracy rates amount Central America and one of the poorest. Approximately 75% of Guatemalans live below the poverty level and over 70% of the education dollars are spent in Guatemala City. This leaves very little for the rest of the country; most of which are Indigenous Mayans. To be a teacher in these schools, you must have a high school education. Unfortunately, most of these teachers have never used a textbook for their education. It is a vicious cycle and one that Cooperative for Education and Rotary hopes to correct in the future.

I am reminded of the parent who spoke of the illiteracy rate in his community. He said that about 75% of the adults I. His community could not read or write. He added that it is the goal of the parents today to “change” that trend for their children.

As Americans, it is hard to comprehend an educational system that generates those results. For them, it is a reality. Life for them means a meager existence with a majority of rural Guatemalans living on less than $1.50/day. This wage has to feed the entire family; not just one person. Education is the key to helping this amazing country to improve and reach their potential.

Over half of all good paying jobs in Guatemala require computer skills, but most Guatemalans have never seen a computer, let alone know how to work one. I think of myself as I have four computers. In Guatemala, this would represent 200+ Guatemalans. We are blessed in America and it imperative that we use our resources to help those less fortunate to improve their lives. Imagine the trading partners they would be if we could help them into the 21st Century.

Plan to follow my trip as I will blog as often as Internet access will allow. Also, consider what you can do to help these people. This is an amazing program and one that is getting results. It is not a “hand out”; but a “hand up”. The communities take a vested interest in this program as the students/parents rent the textbooks or computers. This way, the money collected will ensure that future generations will have the textbooks and computers to continue to advance these people. The Mayans have been relegated to a life of poverty by the elitist who run the country and without CoEd, there would be no hope for these wonderful people.

Stay tune as there will be many more postings from my trip. Also, if you would like to have a presentation for your group, I would be happy to speak to your organization.

Updates on Guatemala Literacy Project

Guatemala Literacy Project

I am happy to announce that I will be traveling back to Guatemala next February and am looking forward to seeing some of the friends from last year while visiting with more of the wonderful people of Guatemala. I have my plan tickets and am getting things in order for the trip.

On a more local note, if you wanted to learn more about this project, I will be giving a presentation to the Cary-McGregor Rotary Club next month. Ed Cody and I are going to be visiting with them and giving them a personal account of our experiences there. It has been a life-changing experience for me and I enjoy talking about it. Please contact me if you want to attend this meeting or wish to have me speak to your club. I am more than happy to share my experiences.

As we get closer to our trip, I will continue to update this blog, so please keep reading. If you are interested in traveling to Guatemala, please contact Guatemala Literacy Project to learn more about it and future tours. They typically organize 4 tours a year with one being Rotarians and spouses only. The available slots fill up quickly, so I would encourage you to check it out today.

Speaking engagement to the Wendell Rotary Club

Guatamala Literacy Project

On Tuesday, I had the honor and privilege to speak to the Wendell Rotary Club concerning the Guatemala Literacy Project and my trip to Guatemala in February of this year. The members were very welcoming and warm as they opened up their meeting to my presentation.

There was several great questions about the program to include the tours. I want to thank Johnny Whitfield personally for having scheduling me to speak to his club. I think they are doing a great service to Wendell and hope they find it important to reach out to the Guatemala Literacy Project and support it in any way they can.

Thanks again and I look forward to having Johnny speak to our club in September about the Youth Exchange Program.

Fall Fiesta 2011 “Sunset Over Lake Atilan”

Fall Fiesta 2011 “Sunset Over Lake Atitlan”

If you are a fan of the Guatemala Literacy Project, then this is a great opportunity for you to support the program while having a wonderful evening.


Join CoEd on October 15th, 2011 at the Xavier University Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio for an evening of food and drinks along with a Silent and Live Auction featuring one-of-a-kind items and experiences! Festivities begin at 6pm until 10pm and you will have many opportunities to support this worthwhile program.


  • Live Auctionfeaturing one-of-a-kind experiences and items with Michael Couch, auctioneer. Bid on experiences such as:
    • Notre Dame VIP Football Weekend
    • Private glass blowing seminar with Neusole Glassworks
    • Disney World Park Hopper tickets
  • Silent auction
  • Luxury raffle: Ski trip to Aspen, Colorado! Check back soon for more details!
  • Wine ring toss
  • Open Bar (beer & wine) and heavy hors d’oeuvres


General seating: $65

Table for 10 with reserved seating: $1,200

Become an Event Sponsor!

Become a corporate sponsor for the event and have your business advertised to nearly 5,000 CoEd supporters in the invitation and 350 guests at the event. Email Jennifer Sands at jennifer@coeduc.org for more information on event sponsorships.

Donate to the Auction

Donate gift certificates, event tickets, or merchandise to the silent or live auction and receive recognition in our publications and at the event. Email Jennifer Sands at jennifer@coeduc.org for more information.


The Presentation Went well…but could have been better!

President Boyd Bennett and myself presented to our Rotary Club today about our Guatemala trip last month. The presentation went well and many questions and comments were made concerning the project and presentation. However, it could have been better. If you were there, you know that the projector did not work for us. So, the PowerPoint presentation that I had prepared for today was not seen by many people as only those close could see my computer screen.

I decided to upload the PowerPoint presentation to this blog, so if you could not see it, you will have an opportunity to view it. The trip was amazing to say the least and one that I would definitely wish to do again in the near future. Please click the link to view the presentation.

Guatemala Literacy Project Tour

Next week: My presentation on my trip to Guatemala

A Face of Guatemala's Future

Some have expressed an interest in hearing President Boyd Bennett and myself speak about our trip last month to Guatemala. Well, the time is near as we will be speaking next week to the Rotary Club of North Raleigh. We are getting excited as we have both found a passion for the people of Guatemala and their education. We saw some amazing things in Guatemala and the results of many years of effort by the Cooperative for Education staff, both in the U.S and Guatemala.

Come next Wednesday, March 30th at 12:30 to hear us speak on the project and our experiences. I hope we can display in words the true experience that we felt, saw and heard while there.

We meet at the Sertoma Arts Center at 1400 Millbrook Road in Raleigh. For directions and a map, please follow the link to the club’s website at North Raleigh Rotary Club.

We hope to see you there!

The Last Full Day in Guatemala

A Baroque Style Cathedral in Antigua. This is the main church in this city and is called 'the Wedding Cake Church"!

Due to it being Saturday, we did not have any schools to visit today and it was pretty much a free day in Antigua. Antigua is a very fascinating city that is kind of stuck in time in terms of the buildings. Joe and Howard gave us a little tour of some aspects of the city to include the main cathedral in the city. Antigua used to be the Capital of the city until the late 1700s when the King of Spain refused to rebuild the city again due to an earthquake. Then it moved to Guatemala City, where it stands today.

One of the main statues on the facade of this great Baroque style Cathedral!

The church has a Baroque exterior that has been coined the “wedding cake church” as its exterior façade resembles a wedding cake. The yellowish walls and the statues are very prominent for this church. Inside the church, several statues embellish the walls with the crowning jewel being the wooden statue of Jesus as he is carrying his cross. During holy week, the statue is carried throughout the city on a wooden platform. Men pay a substantial amount of money to be chosen to carry it for a block. This church also has an outside overlook area where you are able to see much of the city and two of the main three volcanoes in this part of Guatemala.

Boyd and I pose with the two scholarship students we spent the day getting to know! They were a couple of lovely and polite young ladies!

After the church, we walked down their main pedestrian only street to the main square. We were given some free time until we were to meet in the square around 11 am. At eleven, many of the scholarship students were there to spend time with the Rotarians. Boyd and I were happy to take two young ladies who were very pleasant and very appreciative for the opportunity they were given for a quality education. When asked what they wanted for lunch, they both quickly spoke up that they would like pizza. So, pizza it was. During lunch, the young ladies shared about their lives and their families. With the translation help of Peggy, one of the CoEd staff members, we were able to carry on a very nice conversation with these young ladies. After lunch, we went for some frozen yogurt and headed back towards the square. At the square, the young ladies gave us some gifts and “Thank you” cards which they had made by hand. It is very rewarding to help those who not only take ownership of the program, but are very appreciative of the assistance.

After the rest of the afternoon spent in Antigua, we returned to the hotel for a bottle of wine with our neighbors on the balcony as we prepared for the final dinner with the group. The group dinner would involve testimonies from the week as people would share their experiences. Meanwhile, the wine was lovely and having an opportunity to speak with Stan and Gretchen from Washington was a real pleasure.

Several Rotarian volunteers spend the afternoon with their scholarship students!

At the ending festivities, they presented several awards and your writer, won an award. I was awarded the Rotarian ‘Least Likely to be Without His I-Pad’. My reward was a Canadian tie which I proceeded to wear for the remainder of the dinner. There were awards given for the most recognizable laugh and the one-liner award. It was a great way to kick off this final evening with a group of people that Boyd and I have enjoyed meeting and getting to know. As the proceedings progressed, it became a little more serious as future plans of CoEd were discussed.

Finally, the Rotarians were allowed to say a few words about their experiences if they liked. Thanks to Boyd, I was forced to come forward and give a few words. All of the speakers spoke of this experience in a very positive and life-changing way. Many vowed to support the project in the future with scholarships and more. It was truly a wonderful evening. To top off the evening, the Rotarians from the Grand Cayman Islands made Howard Lobb a Paul Harris Fellow for his work with the Guatemala Literacy Project. Following that, we heard from Alan, another Cayman Rotarian as he sang a song written by Giselle, a Rotarian from Canada who wrote a song about the trip. As we ended the festivities, many hugs and exchanges of club banners and emails were done before those wishing to go to a downtown club exited to leave for the club.

Boyd and I were among those who went to the club along with the Cayman Island guys. It had been a long time since I have been in a loud “disco” dance club and even much, MUCH longer since Boyd had. Nonetheless, we lasted nearly 2 hours before we retired to the hotel and our last night in Guatemala.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and one that I would strongly encourage all Rotarians to experience. The short tours are for everyone, whether a Rotarian or not, but this one, designed for Rotarians and spouses only is the one that is the most moving as you know this project would not have been as successful if not for the help of all Rotary Clubs in North America and the Caribbean. The reason Rotary works as effectively as it does is the pooling of the resources of Rotarians the world over to make a difference. With over 1 million Rotarians worldwide, there are plenty of resources to accomplish nearly anything we set our collective minds to accomplish. This trip made me even more proud to be a Rotarian and even more proud to be a member of the Rotary Club of North Raleigh as we were the first club to support this project. Thanks to people like Matthew Kane who was introduced to this new project more than 13 years ago; there is no telling if Rotary would be involved today. Thanks to the vision of Joe and Jeff Berninger, who as twenty-something adults, saw the need, quite their jobs and started this great organization to make a difference in the education of the people of Guatemala.

I hope to return in the future and hopefully, I will be able to encourage my wife to come with me to experience the same life changing and life affirming experiences that I have this past week.

Thanks to all who read this blog throughout the week and I hope you were able to see a glimpse of what we have experienced this past week. I hope it moved you and will move you to action. You can learn more about CoEd at www.coeduc.org and you can learn more about the Guatemala Literacy Project at www.GuatemalaLiteracy.org.

More News from Guatemala

We met the young ladies in the Square at Zela. The square has a very classical feel!

Due to forces beyond my control, I was not able to update you on my trip yesterday. It was a two-fold reason. First and foremost, I could not get internet connection at the hotel we stayed in last night in Xela. The secondary reason is I would not have had time as I had a very enjoyable dinner at a Xela Rotarian’s home and did not return to the hotel until after 10:30.

Thursday started with a very warm meeting with a couple of young Guatemalan ladies who actually have become quite popular in this country. Last year, CoEd was selected as one of five finalist for the Juan Bautista Gutierrez Prize competition and as a result, the public relations of the foundation wanted to learn about a CoEd school firsthand. CoEd selected a school in Xela and while the Gutierrez people were touring the school, they noticed Brenda Caj and announced on the spot that they wanted her to be the national spokesperson for the program. Briseyda Hernandez was selected as her “understudy” in the event Brenda could not make all of the PR appointments. As a result, both ladies were videoed and photographed. Brenda’s photo was on billboards and newspapers throughout the country as the winner of the prize was selected from votes from the population for the PR campaign. While the video was on the national television, Briseyda announced that she would like to study to be a doctor. Soon after it aired, a local doctor called CoEd to announce that he wanted to pay for her education.

Brenda and Briseyda talk about their experience as spokespersons for CoEd.

Yesterday morning, we had the opportunity to meet both of these young ladies as due to their efforts, CoEd came in 3rd place and were awarded around $35,000. The amazing thing is that Brenda comes from a single mother household with 2 other siblings. Her mother sacrificed to pay for her to get her education as she knew that the only way to better her daughter’s life was through a good education. On the way to the square where we met these young ladies, a wonderful couple from Canada volunteered to be her sponsor, giving her a scholarship for her primary education.

Brenda was a very pleasant young lady and she announced to the group that her goal is to become a doctor as well. I have a strong feeling that she will be successful in whatever field she decides to do. After our meeting with her, we had a couple of hours of free time in Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Boyd and I had an opportunity to spend some great time with one of the local staff members named Emy. Emy is a delight to be around and is a very warm and pleasant person. We were both pleased we had an opportunity to spend time with her.

A Rotarian and a parent symbolically give the book to the young student. It is important to remember that the parents actually paid for the new books!

In the afternoon, we departed for San Carlos Sija to experience a re-inauguration of the Parroquial School. A re-inauguration occurs when a school has been in the textbook program for 7 years and are now going to get new textbooks. This is important as these books are not purchased by CoEd and Rotarians, but rather by the parents and their community. As you know, each student pays a small fee to rent the books for the school year. Well, after about 7 years, there is enough money saved to purchase new  textbooks. This is what makes this program effective. Each parent and community invests in their schools through the rental fees and thus, it is not a hand out, but a hand up. I personally have a difficult time to donate money to projects that give things away for nothing. This is not that kind of program as the communities, parents and students are invested in the success of their school and it’s textbook program.There was pride in the parent’s face as they handed the symbolic textbook to the student as it is a personal accomplishment to make the sacrifices for their children and community. I cannot stress the importance of this aspect of the program.

Saying a few words while presenting the North Raleigh Rotary flag to the school

That evening, we had dinner at the home of a Xela Rotarian. My host Rotarian, Israel, has been a Rotarian since 1989 and he has a lovely family. We were a little disadvantaged as neither of the parents spoke English and none of the other Xela Rotarians and spouses who came to dinner spoke English. However, they daughter, who will be graduating soon from law school spoke wonderful English and was willing to be the interpreter. Later, the rest of the children, a boy and girl, came home and added an additional English interpreter. Dinner was wonderful as the served a typical Guatemalan dinner and served local Guatemalan beers. One that is brewed in Guatemala and one in Xela.

On Friday, we attended an inauguration of a computer lab and had an opportunity to tour it. This was an amazing experience as the local radio and television were in attendance to capture this momentous occasion. During the ceremony, we were asked to dance with the young ladies who had performed a traditional dance for us as a sign of appreciation for the new computers.The dance was not as taxing as some have been this week and the principal of the school even got involved in the dancing. On hand for this occasion was the national Director of Education who has been a huge supporter of CoEd. Additionally, the school and community gave out a traditional doll that they make as another sign of appreciation.

After the ceremonies, we were allowed to tour the computer lab and sit at a computer with one of the students for a demonstration. These students have had only 3 weeks of lessons and the demonstration consisted of a PowerPoint demonstration. I was both very impressed and jealous as the ones I saw were much better than the Powerpoint presentations that I have created for my business. I told my young lady that she may have to go to work for me when she finishes school.

After the computer demonstration, I was bombarded by several students who really liked my I-Pad. I played several games of table hockey with different students. They especially liked the Talking Tom application that I have on my I-Pad. We were all saddened when it was time to leave. On the way out, I was asked by a teacher if I would be willing to pose for a picture with several ladies. I could hardly pull myself away from that school and was the last one to get on my bus.

It was also a sad occasion as it was the last school on our itinerary for this trip. We then began the long bus ride back towards Guatemala City. We are currently staying in Antigua for the remainder of our trip. Once we got to our beautiful hotel, we had a little social hour before dinner. At dinner, Boyd and I sat with Joe and Howard, two of the staff members. Joe is a co-founder of CoEd and we had a very interesting conversation from real estate to the economy and the future of Rotary giving to International projects. My take is that Rotary will continue to give to International projects that show they are making a substantive difference. It is easy to give things away, but much harder to build a sustaining program where the recipients invest in the program. It is my wish that this program continues to grow and reach more schools in Guatemala.

Joe has said several times that their program is geared more toward quality than quantity. As he said, there has been a goal set that all of Guatemala children are enrolled in school, but to get them in school will not mean they will get an education.

The students loved my I-Pad as we played games and I showed them the Talking Tom application.

Some of the things I have learned about the Guatemala education system is appalling. Legislation was passed a few years ago that stated that primary education will be free and that no child/parent will have to pay for it. However, in practice, this means that lights and teachers will be paid by the government, but it does not include any materials such as textbooks or computers. How can you actually learn to read and write without a textbook as an example of what writing is? Furthermore, we were told that many times, the teachers will go several months without a paycheck as the government had not paid them.

Sheila, a Rotarian from Ontario, told me about a school she visited few years ago where there were no lights. When she asked the principal about it, he said that the power company cut off the electricity as it had not paid the bill. When speaking with John Dhiel, a local Rotarian, he said that it would be easy to pay the electric bill, but the electric company still would not turn ont he power until the government was caught up on all of the schools electricity bills.

This is a sad state as Guatemala has such great potential as it has a beautiful country with many natural resources that could be highly beneficial to the economy here. With the political power stationed in Guatemala City, the rest of this amazing country suffering. It is hard to explain it, but to experience it is life changing. These people are not lazy and want to change their country and lives, but many times, do not have the knowledge to change.

Israel’s daughter told me on Thursday evening that she would love to live in the states because she loves how the cities are more organized, but her ultimate goal after college is to stay in Guatemala and try to bring attention to the many problems that exist here and try to make a difference in her community. In the end, shouldn’t that be the goal of anyone…to make the world, or their world, a better place than they were given.