This is a guest post from Walter Steele of Atitlan Leather a wonderful organization helping Maya of Lake Atitlan.
I love traveling and working in Guatemala. My first visit was in 2004 for three months. I listened to the howling monkeys and saw the old ruins in Tikal; watched molten lava spew out of volcan pacaya while standing only meters away; jumped off a bridge in the beautiful waters of Semuc Shampey, and almost drowned in Monterrico (seriously, be careful). It was a breathtaking experience and I knew I would go back if I had the chance. Luckily, in 2012 I did. Recently graduating from college I got a job working six months for a nonprofit on Lake Atitlan. This time my experience in Guatemala was different. I spent the majority of my time working in the poorest areas witnessing first hand their daily struggles and living conditions. After my six month tenure I decided I still wanted to be part of that special place and started my first company.
Atitlan Leather was founded with the intention of helping isolated communities around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala find work. To this end we work with several Artisans around the lake whom make our beautiful handcrafted products. We assist in the development of the communities by donating to a local nonprofit, Guatemala Housing Alliance, doing great work in the region. Our goal is to raise a year’s education by August, 2013 with our Belts to Becas Program.
In Guatemala today, only 42% of rural children finish primary school, the average length of study being only 3.5 years. The indigenous, particularly girls, have the least access to education. Guatemala spends a smaller percentage of its GDP on education than does any other Latin American or Caribbean country, resulting in fewer literate people ages 15-24 than anywhere else in the region.