She didn't speak any English, and her Spanish didn't seem to be much better than mine. Her native language was Katchiquel, one of the 21 Mayan dialects officially recognized by the Guatemalan government. I know two words in Katchiquel. Still we communicated. She was at her daughter's middle school (called "Basico" in Guatemala) for the ceremonies. At each of nine schools that week, our little group participated in celebrations of better opportunities for education. This woman communicated her joy about the new prospects for her child and her village with hugs and kisses on my cheeks. I gave her a little picture book of Arizona I had made. She hugged me some more.
I've just returned from my fifth trip to the Western Highlands of Guatemala. The majority of that time has been spent with a nonprofit called Cooperative for Education, or COED. The opportunity to participate in a high-quality literacy program is the main reason to be there.
On this trip, though, I've been thinking about other reasons, like access and interactions. Thanks to COED, I've traveled to remarkably isolated villages. Sometimes the parents tell us they're amazed that we've come so far to see them. They say that even the Ministry of Education seems to have forgotten them. All over the world, the smaller the town, the kinder the people.
Another aspect of being welcomed with open arms to isolated Mayan communities is having the occasion to photograph strikingly beautiful faces (young and old) surrounded by color. I concentrated on portraits this time around, to my great joy.
This heroic woman spends 40% of her income sending four of her nine children to school. Her life would be much easier if they were working in the fields with their Dad, but she won't hear of it.
I met Lola, this baby's Mom, six years ago. I'm always happy for a chance to catch up each trip. When she's finished with her day selling crafts and caring for her two children, she stays up late hand-beading stunning belts.
Maria supports her family by participating in a Weaver's Cooperative, in which the individuals support each other as well as marketing and buying raw materials together. She invited us to see her home and meet her family.
There are so many stories; just a few of the reasons I love Guatemala.
More Images from this trip are on the website.