The full attention of Bentley grade 3, 4, and 5 students were focused on Louise Sosa when she made her presentation at the Bentley school on November 12.
“We try to give them (local families in Guatemala) a hand up, not a hand out,” Sosa said.
She is a lone crusader trying to help some Mayan families in part of Guatemala through her registered non-profit charity Aldea Maya. Based out of BC, it was started in 2007 after her trip to Guatemala to visit her sponsored child.
She explained to Bentley students that the Maya families have basically had their land taken away during civil war and that their village was wiped out and many were killed in the catastrophic Panabaj mudslide of 2005. The government decided the village had to be moved to a different safer location, and did provide housing, but the new village (Chukumuk) is too far away for people to get to a job or for students to attend school and there is no arable land or firewood like they had before. Without hope they had nothing.
Aldea Maya supports many projects including water filters, small livestock, and garden, nutrition and building projects.
All funds raised are used to provide such things as school supplies, and pay school fees and costs, or to supply plants and seeds and compost to try to help families become more self-sustainable. Nothing is used for administration.
Sosa explained that most residents have never gone past grade 6 so Aldea Maya started a middle school and help encourage students to attend. Scholarships were made available. The Chukumuk village middle school (Basico), started in 2012, now incorporates grades 7, 8, and 9.
Louise had brought along some traditional clothing, including part of a female school uniform, which some students modeled. She explained the bright colors and designs indicate different areas people are from and stated that it is important the Mayas, especially the females, keep their traditional dress as that is what attracts tourists to their area and their markets.
Aldea Maya also buys beadwork made by the indigenous Mayans in the lake Atitlan area of Guatemala, which is resold mostly in BC. This trip a bag full of colorful, delightful key chains/backpack fobs and beaded Christmas ornaments was left with the Bentley school to sell.
As a major fundraiser Aldea Maya sells handmade Christmas cards. They have gone over well in BC.
This year is a first! One-of-a-kind individual cards have been created by local grade threes and fours for sale here.
There are two categories of cards to pick from. One helps fund school supplies and the other the garden project.
Bentley grade fives learned more about the Maya culture and were given a crash course in Spanish so they could make bookmarks with lots of information written in Spanish, along with a photo of themselves to be distributed to Aldea Maya students.
They will be getting bookmarks back from students, much like a pen pal, but written by students practicing their English.
A couple of days later Sosa’s presentation was well received by the Christian School in Lacombe who also designed cards for sale and will also sell some bead work.
In Bentley, Shirley Talsma has been helping. She has been to Chukumuk twice and will be going back again in February. She has lots of stories to tell about the area and the Mayan people and is excited to be able to help raise awareness about Aldea Maya.
She says while living there among the locals you drink only bottled water and you wash all foods with a special solution to prevent getting sick. She takes clean used running shoes when she goes, but says you have to be careful when you present them to anyone. Visitors use comforters to cover up with at night as it gets chilly there even when sleeping on a mattress, but most locals sleep directly on the concrete floors.
For more information on Aldea Maya, check out their website.
Original locally made Christmas cards handcrafted by the Bentley grade 3 and 4 students are now available at the “Queen Bea” store on the south side of main street Bentley during regular hours. Numbers are limited to those done by the local students. The cards, which have a photo inside of someone who it will aid, would make good Christmas gifts or greetings and benefit a less fortunate family at the same time.