Volunteering in Tecpán With Kaqchikel Maya
“There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, but account for 15 percent of the poorest”(United Nations Indigenous Day). Cross-Cultural Solutions works with indigenous populations, among the most underserved populations, throughout the world to alleviate their plight. In Tecpán, the first Capital of Guatemala, 90% of the population is indigenous people. In this dynamic location, one of our main focuses is assisting the Kaqchikel Maya. From the colorful clothing to the community-oriented way of life, working with the Maya population offers an incredible eye-opening experience to volunteers of all ages.
Tecpán has developed into a unique location where tradition intersects with modernity. Walking down the streets, there are people dressed in traditional garb among internet cafes. This provides the perfect location for volunteers to experience this unique culture, while still remaining connected to their home country. This esoteric cross-section is also eye-opening to many as it shows how the past can blend with the present, and how the Maya fight to preserve their culture--even when approached with the influx of technological advancements. Tecpán is mostly rural, filled with farmlands and a smaller, tightly-knit community. Cultural activities help facilitate a deeper understanding of the Maya.
Visiting the Iximche Maya Archaeological Site provides volunteers with the opportunity to explore the history of the Maya culture. Walking through the ruins, you can feel the pride that the Maya had for these incredible structures. The stone walls were intricately carved and are filled with beautiful symbols. Volunteers also get the opportunity to see how Maya culture has stayed alive in the present, visit their homes, and witness ceremonies from locals. The Maya are very family-oriented, and it is common for extended families to live in close proximity. They often live collectively, and are tied closely to the local community. While getting to know the community, volunteers experience artisan craft-making, a specialty of Maya people. From pottery to woven blankets and textiles, the colorful and distinctive crafts always catch the eyes of travelers. These cultural activities help volunteers to understand the population to prepare them for the work that they do in the community.
CCS volunteers focus on working in elementary schools where most of the population are children of indigenous people. Some students speak the native Maya language, Kaqchikel, while others speak Spanish. Volunteers learn both Kaqchikel and Spanish at the Home-Base to better equip them for success during volunteer work, and provide further cultural context for this experience. At these schools, high absenteeism has become a major issue. CCS helps to combat this by working on beautification projects at the schools to make the environment friendlier. Remodeling the schools make the kids feel more welcomed and excited to learn every day. The students are always ecstatic to meet new volunteers, especially English-speakers, and learn about their experiences.
Volunteers leave Guatemala inspired by the Maya population. Seeing the ways that the Maya care for one another while fighting to preserve their culture often resonates with them. Although some Maya live below the poverty line, they make their best out of their experience in life, and maintain an incredible sense of humility. Working with the indigenous population of Guatemala is like meeting a new family abroad. It is an experience that will open your eyes to the world. Are you ready to learn more about this cultural adventure of a lifetime?