We aim to empower rural Guatemalan communities by enriching education through providing greater access to learning resources and opportunities
267 children and youth used the library for school work investigations
131 children and youth received 80 hours of computer classes
65 children received 130 hours of classes in: drawing, painting, mathematics, writing, handicrafts, English and Ixil alphabet
70 children and youth participated in a book exchange program
54 children were integrated in the Community Impact Hub
17,520 nutritious snacks and meals were provided
History of La Pista
How we got started
Given Nebaj's war-torn history and the lack of development in this region, schools in the local community have been unable to provide students with free access to books. In 2002, Peace Corps volunteer Greg Van Kirk recognized this need in the community, and started the Centro Explorativo as a community library. His vision was to provide a place where children could go to have open access to books.
Immediately, local Guatemalans took the lead at the Centro and began to expand its scope of services to the community. To this day, the Centro remains locally managed and run, with financial support provided by Community Empowerment Solutions (formerly Community Enterprise Solutions), the Centro’s parent organization and a registered 501c3.
In 2008, the Centro was relocated to La Pista, a rural village about 45 minutes from Nebaj by foot, to be more accessible to those most in need. The current Centro Explorativo building has a library, one computer center, one classroom, one multi-use space, a small kitchen, and a small playground for the children. We now provide services to approximately 250 children (ages 4-16) through weekday classes and weekend activities.
The Centro Explorativo is located in La Pista, a rural village situated in the mountains above the semi-rural town of Nebaj in the department of Quiche, Guatemala. This isolated región known as the the Ixil Triangle suffered greatly during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) when these mountain valleys served as the base of operations for Guerilla groups. The military response was described by Human Rights Watch as "extraordinarily cruel" and targeted mainly unarmed citizens. Between 1981 and 1983 the army destroyed 440 villages, and between 1980 and 1985 an estimated 45,00-60,000 civilians were murdered. In 1982, in this region alone, in excess of 100 people per day were brutally killed.
35 years on from the worst violence and 21 years after the end of the war the once tiny village of La Pista has steadily grown to a population of approx. 3,000 people. The road down to the more developed and much larger town of Nebaj remains unpaved and educating ones children beyond secondary school is still a great challenge. Despite their dark past local Ixil Mayan people proudly continue to speak their native language and wear traditional hand-made textiles of vibrant purple, red, green and yellow.
At the Centro Explorativo, we envision a community in which all individuals are empowered through access to educational opportunities. We strive to achieve this vision by directly serving youth and their families, providing access to learning tools including books, computers, and afterschool enrichment courses.
The lack of education among households is the root cause of many issues in the Nebaj region where we work. Compared to other regions in Guatemala, our region still faces severe challenges in the areas of education and access to resources.
As a response to this challenge, the Centro Explorativo puts the educational needs of our community first. We serve members of the La Pista community and surrounding areas by enhancing educational opportunities through proper tools and guidance.
We are locally-led by dedicated leaders of the Nebaj community. Our teachers and faculty are passionate about education, and bring a wealth of understanding of the broader challenges faced by families in La Pista. Our leaders at the Centro are a key part of our integrated community approach.
Empowered through education
We aim to empower the community and enrich learning by providing educational resources that are not readily available to the public. The Centro’s library and technology center serve as tools for learning, combined with lessons for each student to understand how to effectively apply these tools.
Activities at the Centro are designed to inspire a love for learning, and encourage youth and adults in the community to prioritize education. Classes at the Centro not only explore traditional subjects of math, reading, and writing, but also less commonly taught subjects including computer literacy, music, arts, and the environment.. Our library’s book exchange program, Brilliant Minds, is designed to get students enthusiastic about reading their favorite stories while improving their reading skills.
Integrated community approach
We strive to have a sustained impact on the community of La Pista, starting with youth education and expanding to the broader community. Our approach is to cultivate an environment where education and community involvement are valued--by students, their parents, and their neighbors. The Centro Explorativo invites members of the community to engage in children's education at the Centro and to take advantage of our educational workshops.
Our integrated approaches include:
Promoting educational involvement through community seminars that explain the importance of education
Aiming to instill values of social impact and community service through the weekend Community Impact Club
Inviting community members to attend workshops explaining the benefits of nutrition and teaching effective agricultural practices
Promoting quality nutrition through providing students with healthy meals and snacks
OUR PASSIONATE TEAM
Greg Van Kirk
Miguel Brito Ramirez
Ricardo Guzmán Cedillo
Bucky Glickley George
Maria Pérez Matóm
Virgilio Velasco Raymundo
Mara Luz Giambartolomei
OUR PASSIONATE TEAM
FROM THE FIELD
The biblioteca (library) offers over 2,000 books that students are able to access, free of charge - this is the first and only library in La Pista, where the Centro is located.
Brilliant Minds is our book exchange program that started in 2014 to allow students to bring a book to the Centro in exchange for another. Providing students with books has improved their vocabulary and inspired creativity and imagination.
Since schools in the local community do not offer computer courses, we started the Technology Center to teach students computer skills, including typing, MS office, and basic Internet research.
In Guatemala, half of all children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and in rural areas percentage is much higher. We aim to combat malnutrition through our healthy snacks initiative, providing students with healthy foods each day.
Afterschool enrichment classes are provided to students ages 4-8, focusing on the alphabet, numbers, and colors. Each month we have different themes (Animals, plants, etc.) to make learning fun and relevant.
Through our Community Impact Club held on Saturdays, students have the opportunity to express themselves creatively through music, art, gardening, sports, and community & environmental projects.
FROM THE FIELD
“Me gusta escribir historias de mi familia”
Meet Wendy, a precocious 9-year-old student at El Centro Explorativo. She has been attending the Centro for 3 years, where she has the time and resources to pursue her passion for math. When she’s not practicing her arithmetic with the support of her maestros (teachers), she’s outside playing basketball with her friends or learning how to use the computers at the Centro to write cuentos (stories) for the Centro's weekly student story exchange. “Me gusta escribir historias de mi familia (I like to write stories about my family),” says Wendy - she especially likes to focus on her eight brothers and sisters or her young niece. Some of her siblings attend El Centro too, and they spend the afternoons together playing and reading each other’s stories.
Wendy • Age 8
Meet Nicolas, the rambunctious 2-year-old who has been attendin the Centro for half of his life. While he speaks only in Ixil, he is well-versed with the word futbol (soccer), a game he fondly noted as his main draw to the Centro Explorativo. Despite his small size, his fondness towards the other students around him is undeniable. He never says no to a game of catch (though he ducks his head every time a ball comes his way!).
Nicolas • Age 2
FROM THE FIELD
Senior Capstone Program
In La Pista, where the Centro Explorativo is located, our services provide a necessary outlet for productive educational opportunities for youth. Beginning in 2017, we plan to take this process one step further—by turning students into student leaders. With this in mind, we have designed a Capstone Program in which students—particularly older ones—will have the opportunity to design, research, and present Capstone projects of their choosing.
As part of the Capstone Program, students in their final year of education at the Centro will conduct, design, and implement workshops either individually or in groups. These workshops will be open to the entire community and represent the students’ passions and accumulated knowledge from their time at the Centro. Students will have the opportunity to select an educational topic for their project, such as: benefits of technology, self-esteem & public speaking, nutritional health, environmental responsibility, or the advantages of physical exercise and sports. Additionally, the Capstone projects will grant students increased responsibility, leadership, and empowerment while promoting greater community support, awareness, and involvement in Centro Explorativo.
The structure of the Capstone Program will involve detailed plans from students, meetings with mentors, resource gathering, and workshop marketing. The mentorship component will pair each student group with a teacher and an alumni mentor (an alumnus of the Capstone Program who could offer insight and advice). At the end of the program, an additional certificate will be given in recognition of each student’s achievement.
In the first year of implementation, students will host two presentations – one at Centro Explorativo for friends and family, and one in a public center in Nebaj for the greater community. The goal of these presentations will be to increase students’ confidence in public speaking and to inspire younger students to actively pursue academic and extracurricular interests.
High School Volunteers
Our High School Volunteer Program provides students ages 14-18 with the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of rural Guatemalans through education. This is our newest program, with a small group of up to 10 students volunteering for 2 weeks in July of each summer.
Benefits of the High School Volunteer Program:
International volunteer experience in rural Guatemala
Two weeks of Spanish lessons
First-hand experience working with children in a new environment
Opportunity to work with local Guatemalans and our experienced volunteer coordinators on summer projects
The College Intern Program provides a unique experience for current college students to experience working abroad in rural Guatemala. Students will have the opportunity to work on individual projects that impact the lives of the residents in Nebaj, Guatemala. Examples of projects have included: marketing and social media, education strategy, and program development. College Internships take place in December/January (2 weeks) and in the summer (4 weeks).
Benefits of the College Intern Program:
International work experience in rural Guatemala
2-4 weeks of Spanish classes
First-hand experience working with children in a new environment
Opportunity to work with local Guatemalans and our experienced intern coordinators on independent and group summer projects
Our Corporate Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity that enables employers to provide an international volunteering experience to employees. We work closely with employers to plan logistics and projects for volunteering with the Centro Explorativo, and have hosted groups of 5-20 employees for 1-2 weeks. Corporate volunteers will have the opportunity to work on short-term strategic projects that will have a lasting impact on local Guatemalans.
Benefits of the Corporate Volunteer Program:
- International work experience in rural Guatemala
- First-hand experience working with children and adults in a foreign environment
- Opportunity to gain transferrable skills--strategy, flexibility, communication, confidence working in a new environment
Our strategic partner, Social Entrepreneur Corps, has supported us in hosting and coordinating work with Deloitte, Warby Parker, Northwestern University, University of Connecticut, Duke, and many more.