Please enjoy this guest blog post by Jeana Deninger who is a member of our Advisory Board and joined us last summer in Chajul for the Colegio Horizontes grand opening! Thanks, Jeana, for sharing your reflections and experience visiting!
Want to join a trip to Chajul and have an experience similar to Jeana’s? Click here to learn about an opportunity to join us in Guatemala in July 2023!
When Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI) invited me to attend the July 2022 Chajul school grand opening, I was volunteering as part of the school campaign committee. I thought it’d be a terrific opportunity to go see the new school, students, and staff, but during that time I was working intense hours for a startup company. How could I leave my work and family behind to visit a developing country amidst an ever escalating pandemic?
But despite all these challenges, I resolved to stick with the plan to go anyway. It was going to be my first time visiting Guatemala, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the 8-day trip turned out to be an immensely memorable and inspiring experience.
The group of 26 travelers comprised the LHI board of directors, staff, volunteers, and donors. The trip started with a one-night stay in the beautiful historic town of Antigua. On Day 2, we experienced a 7-hour bus ride tour up and down the mountains, arriving at Chajul that evening. Tired yet excited, we debarked the bus into the dark parking lot of a modest hostel. We found the friendly local staff waiting to welcome us. But that wasn’t the only surprise!
A surprise welcome ceremony
Hiding behind the trees, 24 Chajul students came out one by one. Wearing big smiles on their faces, they started lighting candles, one for each of us. The meaning behind the candle lighting, as the staff explained, was that the students viewed us as a light in their life. They sang and danced to conclude an incredibly thoughtful welcome ceremony that brought tears to my eyes. We could feel their deep appreciation they had for us and our support, and we could see the impact LHI made to their lives.
Visiting the new school focusing on girls empowerment
On the next day we saw Colegio Horizontes, the new Chajul school for the first time. It had taken LHI many years to raise funds and complete the school construction during the pandemic. I was overjoyed to see the beautiful building, gorgeous pavilion and the breathtaking views of the nearby mountains. That’s a great school environment for the beautiful children.
Over the next few days in Chajul, we observed the classes in action. Similar to schools in the west, boys and girls respectfully sat side by side in their classrooms, unafraid to express their thoughts and opinions. When the teacher asked a question, students eagerly raised their hands to speak. The pure joy at the school was infectious! What I found the most impressive was that many students spoke eloquently about their plan to support their families and the Chajul community as the future leaders. At ages 11-12, students showed an abundance of confidence, gratitude, and a strong sense of responsibility to give back to their community. To me, that demonstrated the high education quality LHI had established in Chajul, that had inspired neighboring areas to follow as a role model and a gold standard for children’s education. Kudos to all the passionate local staff and teachers, advisors and coaches who helped create this amazing program!
A school program with full support from students’ families
The families of the LHI students also participated in supporting the program. Some families hosted lunch at their houses and shared with us about their unique culture. They taught us how to make tortillas and authentic local dishes. The families live a self-sufficient life by weaving their own clothing and living on the corn, potatoes and green vegetables they grow. Although their life is hard and basic, they are grateful with things they have and are very appreciative of the quality education that their children are receiving. While donations help fund the education, parents also make sacrifices to send their children to Colegio Horizontes. The more time children spend at the school means less time available to help out their families.
Chajul children experiencing Kung Fu for the first time
My most memorable moments interacting with the Chajul students were when I had the opportunity to teach them Kung Fu during this trip. In two classes, they learned basic anti-bullying techniques, punches and kicks. For all these children, it was their first time learning martial arts. Many girls were timid at the beginning, as they never thought they’d fight to protect themselves. By the end of the second class, several boys and girls enthusiastically raised their hands to share about their experience being bullied by other children in the past and how the techniques they learned helped them gain confidence in protecting themselves. Confidence and empowerment were some of the key reasons for my commitment to Kung Fu for 20 years. I was thrilled to hear the Kung Fu lessons made an impact in their lives. I hope one day they will have more opportunities to learn martial arts like the children in more developed countries.
The long awaited school opening ceremony
The highlight of our trip was the school grand opening at the CommUNITY Pavilion, which was completed only hours right before the event. We helped the local staff set up the tables and chairs, and spread bags of pine needles to cover the red carpet–a Chajul tradition for celebrations. On stage, heartfelt speeches were made and children delivered adorable performances. The event was much more than a school grand opening. It symbolizes a major milestone of an indigenous community’s transformation, where many future leaders will be developed and girls will be empowered to receive equal opportunities.
Valuable Inspirations from the Chajul students
My experiences in Chajul reminded me that we don’t need a lot to be content and happy, we should reflect on what truly matters in our lives, and continue pursuing our dreams. It also helped me realize that gifting and volunteering can make an impact in ways we cannot imagine.
These inspirations enabled me to make an important decision to change my career path and let go of things that don’t matter in my life. Following the trip, I also joined LHI’s Advisory Board to continue supporting LHI’s great mission to empower girls with confidence, knowledge and skills they need to become the future leaders of their indigenous community. I look forward to going back to Chajul again and seeing its continued progress. If you’re looking for a charity gifting opportunity, learn more about LHI’s mission and consider making a donation.
P.S. Thank you Katie, the entire LHI team, and the group of donors, advisors and volunteers on the trip with me. And thanks to all the passionate local staff, who went extra miles to make sure we had a great experience in Chajul. I learned so much from all of you!
Join us in July 2023 to have a similar experience to Jeana’s! Click here to learn more about our upcoming trip!