By Mauricio Vivero, Executive Director of Seattle International Foundation
SIF recently provided grants to ActionAid and Catholic Relief Services totaling $33,000 to support the relief efforts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha. A big thanks to all of you who donated and turned out for our event in partnership with the University of Washington Center for Human Rights where we raised over $3,000! Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Guatemala to see firsthand the damage caused by Tropical Storm Agatha, and to meet with many committed individuals working on the ground to tackle poverty.
My trip began by visiting with U.S. Ambassador McFarland, to learn about our government’s work in Guatemala. Ambassador McFarland was generous with his time and advice, and provided me with a thoughtful and helpful update on the challenges facing Guatemala and its institutions.
Tropical Storm Agatha affected both urban and rural communities. In Guatemala City, I visited El Refugio, the only center in Guatemala providing shelter and services to victims of human trafficking. El Refugio lost part of its roof in the storm, and is now in temporary housing. SIF is proud to help support their efforts to rebuild this home for girls.
My trip also took me to the remote community of Santa Catarina in Ixtahuacan, Sololá. This community has approximately 39,000 thousand residents– 98 percent of which are indigenous. This community, like many others in the region, was developed by German immigrants in the late 1800s. At the end of the 19th century, many German immigrants arrived to Guatemala and planted large areas with coffee for exportation. On the road into Santa Catarina, you are greeted by signs of its history– like this clock tower commemorating the 100 year anniversary of this particular community in 1995.
During this trip I also had the opportunity to meet with various groups supporting economic development, women’s leadership, and educational opportunities for indigenous groups. First, I met with Hugo Cabrera of Comunidades de la Tierra which supports economic development by providing support to small businesses. In addition, I met with Marco Granados of ADAM (based in Quetzaltenango), which provides similar services and focuses on assisting small businesses in entering larger distribution channels and export markets.
I also had the opportunity to meet with Mabilia Joj of Fundación de Asistencia para la Pequeña Empresa (FAPE). Through her work with FAPE, Mabilia demonstrates local leadership and dedication by working in remote communities, providing microloans as well as technical training to small business owners. Mabilia is personally in charge of seven loan officers, who primarily serve female borrowers, living in rural communities with very few resources.
Finally, I met with Maria Marta Ramos, the Executive Director of la Universidad del Valle de Guatemala Altiplano (UVG). Campus Altiplano, located on the site of a former military base, now serves as a center of learning and development. For example, UVG Altiplano focuses on sustainable agricultural practices by allowing students to study the most effective production methods through farming their own crops on campus. The campus library also serves as a community resource, demonstrated by the local high school students utilizing it during my visit.
I’d like to offer a special thanks to Arturo Eschevarria, of Action Aid Guatemala, for serving as friend, advisor, and travel guide during our trek through Guatemala City and the winding, rough and rocky roads of Sololá.