Exbecarios (former students) Newsletter

Read our first 100% digital newsletter (in Spanish) for our former students.  Just click on thefollowing link to read it:

Student Conference 2017

The 2017 Student Conference was a great success.  About 60 students and graduates attended.  A more detailed description my be read in the spring newsletter, which should appear soon in the column to the right.  The theme of the conference was Immigration, built on viewing of the film "La Bestia" and a detailed presentation by Luis Arena, a Guatemalan expert on the subject.  Attenders found the information useful, thought provoking, and timely.  We also had a useful presentation on nutrition by one of our current medical students, Herberth Beb.  As always, one of the most important aspects of the conference is the building of community and networks amongst the becarios (scholarship recipients).  This was greatly enhanced by concurrent workshops on theater, dance, or visual art, each led by young Guatemalan artists; notably our own Aurelio Rodríguez in the visual arts.  It was a delight to see these events start off with a lot of nervous laughter and some reticence, and end with joyful cooperative production.  We expect these bonds to grow into a network of committed, impassioned Guatemalans whose presence and work will make a Guatemala where migration is less of an issue.  There was much joy and laughter in the evening of community presentations, singing, dancing, theater, games, and more.  For the Quakers among you, we had a grand Meeting for Worship under the trees on first day morning, attended by many of the becarios, although it was not a required activity.  We are filled with hope for this great program and for these inspiring students dedicated to making their lives, their country and the world better.

Here are some photos and video links to help you get an idea of the event:

Teaching English Experience 2017

The 2017 Teaching English Experience included 19 students and volunteer teachers, who came from all parts of Guatemala and the USA respectively.  Many were first time attenders, eager to learn and teach.  We were pleased with the progress many of the returning students have made since the last event.  Everybody loved working in the charming garden of the historic Belén (Bethlehem) Convent where Guatemala's own Saint, Hermano Pedro, healed and comforted many of the poorest of his day.   Exploration of historic Antigua and its surrounding provided new adventures for all, from museums of history and art to explorations of forests to watching a traditional religious festival.  New friendships were made and old friendships renewed among and between teachers and students alike.  This has proved to be more than just a short English lesson.  The opportunity for students, many from quite isolated areas,  to meet others from different areas of Guatemala and with different areas of expertise has been an important community and network building opportunity.  Embedded above are videos from two students and a teacher.  Be sure to click on the subtitles button for Yessenia and Lupita's videos if you are not a Spanish speaker.  To learn more about the Teaching English Experience click here.


Junior Friends Guatemala Service Trip, 2016

The ball court at Ichimché

The second North Pacific Yearly Meeting Junior Friends Service Trip took place from 8/5 to 8/16, 2016, with 10 Junior (high school age) Friends and three adult advisors.  The project was expertly planned and carried out by Miguel Costop and the rest of the Progresa staff.  A visit to the ancient Mayan city of Iximché, capital of the Kaqchikel Kingdom at the time of the Spanish Conquest opened the experience.  Miguel's friend, Angelina Sacbajá, a midwife and Mayan Spiritual Guide, led us through a Mayan Ceremony in a park near Iximché.  After explaining the Mayan principles and practices, she conducted the ceremony entirely in Kaqchikel.  We were struck by the similarities between Mayan Spiritual Principles and those of the Religious Society of Friends.


Planting trees at Xejuyú

Lillia and Nick with their students


Julia and Lillia on their home stay

With this promising start, we moved on to the aldeas (small villages) surrounding San José Poaquil, where we worked on reforestation, planting a number of several varieties of trees; and worked teaching English to high schools students at a lovely school that values the conservation of Mayan language and tradition.  It was hard work at times, but there was much satisfaction at the end of the day.  The high point of this sector and of the trip as a whole occurred here.  Each of us had the privilege of spending a day and a night with one of the families of our students or ex-students.  Traveling by camioneta ("chicken bus") or tuk tuk, we fanned out to various places for an experience of life on a much simpler and poorer basis than that to which we are accustomed.  The depth of love and hospitality we experienced more than made up for any lack of creature comforts, and friendships and connections were made that may endure.  Many Junior Friends have shared afterwards that this experience was not only the high point of their trip, but that it changed their outlook on the world and the importance of possessions.

River clean up near momostenango

Angus learns to spin with help from Luís

From Poaquil we went to Xela (Quetzaltenango) with a brief stop at the remarkable open market at Chichicastenango.  These few days, povided different experience and a chance to experience a larger city, the second largest in Guatemala.  Here we traveled to the smaller town of Momostenango where Gaby López, one of our current scholarship students studying forestry, led us on a clean up work party to a beautiful waterfall and hot springs polluted by mountains of trash.  Her family treated us to a lovely lunch afterwards after which the JFs cleared a small piece of land (with machetes, which caused some anxiety on the part of the elders) to add to their organic garden of native and medicinal plants.  We also treated ourselves to a day exploring some of the villages around Xela, but mostly luxuriating in the large hot spring of Fuentes Georginas.  On our way out of town, we again met Gaby, who took us to visit her friends Thelma and Luís, who are the owners and operators of a 4th generation operation hand spinning, natural dying and weaving wool into beautiful blankets and rugs.  And, of course,  no visit to this region would be complete without a side trip to the unique yellow church of San Andrés Xecul, one of the wonders of the Mayan World.

The classic tourist photo in Antigua.  The volcano "aqua" in the background

We finished our trip with a visit to the home of one of our students in San Pedro la Laguna, on the spectacular Lake of Atitlán, and his very charismatic grandfather, a sculptor in stone.  The lake is very large and set in a huge caldera surrounded by several volcanic peaks.    Antigua Guatemala was our last stop, and lovely city with much of the Spanish Colonial flavor and many ruins from the early days of the Spanish occupation.  All returned in one piece, tired, but with experiences to change a life, not to mention lives changed for those of us who worked with and for them.  If any are interested in arranging such a trip for another group of young Friends, you may contact Progresa through this website or at .  You may also contact Joe ( or Jane ( Snyder for ideas and details.

Iximché, archaeological site, capital city of the Kaqchikel at the time of the Spanish Conquest

Junior Friends Guatemala Service Trip, 2014

From 8/8 to 8/19, 2014, twenty Junior Friends (high school age) from North Pacific Yearly Meeting traveled to Guatemala for a learning and service trip, organized superbly by the PROGRESA Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program.  Our introduction to Guatemala was a visit to the ruins of Iximché, the capital city of the Kaqchikel Maya at the time of the Spanish Conquest.  Included in this visit was participation in a Mayan spiritual ceremony explained and performed by a midwife and spiritual guide.  This remarkable day culminated in a delicious dinner at the home Miguel Costop, director of PROGRESA and our guide throughout the trip.

Junior Friends during the reforestation work

After that dynamic start, we spent three days in the little town of Santa Cruz Balanyá, where a PROGRESA student was completing her internship with a well organized women's co-op.  Mornings were devoted to a reforestation project where well over 2,000 trees were planted.  During the afternoons we taught English at the local middle school.  All this under the care and direction of members of a women's co-op who provided the seedlings and fed us generously and deliciously each midday.  This segment culminated in an overnight home stay with a local family, the most dramatic experience of the journey for most of us.  Deep friendships were made in this very short time.

Church in San Andrés Xecul 

After fond farewells, we traveled to Xela (Quetzaltenango) with a detour to visit the fascinating (and famous) weekly market at Chichicastenango and a brief visit to the intriguing yellow church in San Andrés Xecul where we were met by another PROGRESA student.  In Xela we visited a school for street children or those at risk of becoming street children, founded by another PROGRESA scholarship recipient.  There we did a deep cleaning of the school, played joyous futbol with students and staff, and worked on a piece of farmland neglected and damaged by climate change induced drought.  The following day, we visited the nearby town of Momostenango where Gaby López, one of the current PROGRESA scholarship recipients, shared with us her passion for and concerns about forestry in her region, and showed us a section of forest ravaged by the pine bark beetle inadvertently imported from Canada by local furniture makers.  After visiting a nearby 5th generation family hand weaving operation producing some of the woolen blankets and carpets for which Momos is famous, we were treated to lunch at Gaby's house in a compound set up for families traumatized by the violence of Guatemala's 36 years of civil war.  Her family fled to Mexico in the face of extreme violence to her grandfather and uncles and were repatriated in this area where 5 families are working together on organic plant production and preservation of plant species used for food and traditional medicine.  We finished the day with a chance to see some local natural wonders, including a beautiful waterfall on a polluted and trash laden river.  We couldn't clean up the river, but we at least (without any prompting from leaders) picked up all the trash from the trail leading to it.

Lake Atitlan

From Xela we had a day of travel punctuated by a visit to the spectacularly beautiful Lake Atitlán with a boat ride from Panajachel to the pretty town of Santa Catarina Palopó.  The last day, in Antigua Guatemala, was given to relaxation, preparations for travel home, and grateful worship.  During our travels, we were able to meet several PROGRESA students or graduates, learn first hand about the hardships they face, and realize how important the program has been in overcoming them. 

These are the descriptions in time and space.  What is left out are the laughter and tears, exuberance and exhaustion, cooperation and community, deep places of worship and gratitude, and the transformative seeds that have been planted in many hearts.

We are all immensely grateful to the PROGRESA Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program and to Miguel Angel Costop Bala in particular.  The dedication, local knowledge, connections with students, understanding of Quaker values, and the care and love shown created a truly life changing experience.

Joe Snyder

Some students and their parents waiting for an interview with Progresa's staff

Selection Process 2014

The year began with lots of last minute preparations for the Teaching English Workshop which was held from January 5th to the 13th.  As soon as we said good-bye to all of the students and volunteer teachers we had to prepare for our first interviews with our new and returning students.  As we have done in the past, we held the interviews in three different locations:  Coban (in the north) Xela (in the west) and of course at our office in Parramos (in the middle of the country). We travel to Coban and Xela because many of our students live in areas that are so remote that a trip to our office takes two days.  It is cheaper and less time consuming for us to travel than to have all of the students take such long trips.

In Xela we worked with 30 students, both new and returning.  In Parramos we saw 35, and in Coban 19.  In the end we saw 57 returning students and 27 new students for a total of 84.  Although we had to lower our student count this year (from a total of 97 in 2013) we greatly appreciate the efforts of our supporters in finding new donors.  We are hopeful that next year we will be able to once again sponsor more students.  We wish you could have been with us to receive the many expressions of appreciation we heard from the students and their parents during the interviews.  It was inspiring to see the joy and trepidation of the young people as they prepared to move forward with their education.  For many, it was the first time they had received a scholarship and their gratitude was moving.  In the name of all the students and their families we say MUCHAS GRACIAS! THANK YOU! MATYOX CHIWE!