It started as a dream…
In 2002, Jan and Bob Hatmaker, founders of Amigos de Guatemala (ADG), vacationed in Jabailito, a Mayan village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Their visit piqued their curiosity about the indigenous Mayan people living in villages throughout the country. They learned that poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition were common in rural Guatemala. They also learned about the brutal 37-year Civil War in which 200,000 Maya perished and 400 villages were destroyed. The war had ended just 5 years earlier in 1997.
Upon learning that Jabailito village needed $3,000 U.S. to build a kitchen in their elementary school, Bob’s Groveland, CA Rotary Club financed the project. During the war, many Maya escaped the country and were returning to find their villages and schools in disrepair. Zacualpa and surrounding villages in the highlands were heavily impacted by the war, and the Hatmakers decided to locate a school project there. Thus, the birth of Amigos de Guatemala.
Initially, the indigenous people were wary and unfamiliar with the North American customs and language. The Mayan languages, colorful clothing, weaving, and marimba music of the Guatemalan people were also new to the North Americans. However, as the Amigos de Guatemala teams worked alongside Guatemalan parents and tried to communicate, a bond developed. The Hatmakers raised funds for the project materials, and the parents contributed their sweat equity, which encouraged mutual trust and respect. Soon, the ADG teams were welcomed into the local market and homes.
The Amigos de Guatemala co-director, Fredy Argueta, had a wonderful relationship with the indigenous people, and their trust in him enabled the scholarship program to become a reality. Over the years, Amigos de Guatemala program continued to help improve school classrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, wells, and play areas. Girls began staying in their village schools up to 6th grade, and parents began asking for scholarships to continue their children’s education in junior and senior high. Students are encouraged to cherish and preserve their Mayan culture, language, and history. Parents soon realized that education enriched rather than diminished family life, and education became valued rather than feared.
In 2010, Jean Herschede learned about Amigos de Guatemala through a video that Bob Hatmaker created to expand the interest in educating young Maya girls. Not being shy, Jean asked about being part of the volunteer team. This started her love of the people of Zacualpa that continues to this day.
Through the annual trips, Jean learned more about the local needs beyond education and helped expand the support to include health and community develop. As the Hatmakers were looking to scale back their involvement, she stepped in to help guide and expand the program which included donated medical equipment, medical training, updates and expansion of schools, and computer labs to name a few.
Numbers Speak For Themselves
High School Graduates