2013

Sustainability through Comprehensive Education

limitless

Project Description
A brief history of the organization
The seed of Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI) was planted during a visit to Chajul, by Katie Morrow and Chajul native, Pedro Caba Asicona. Pedro was born and raised in Chajul, and became the first student from the small community to earn a university degree. As Katie quickly saw, Pedro’s success was truly exceptional given the context of his hometown.

Even in a brief visit to Chajul, one is struck by both its struggle and its resilience. Visually stunning, Chajul is tucked into an isolated region of the Cuchumatanes mountain range in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Isolation has proved a significant barrier to economic development and has also served as barrier to cultural change, for better or worse. Women and girls in Chajul still wear traditional, hand-woven fabrics featuring brilliantly colored birds and complement them with the deep red, wrap skirt particular to the Ixil region. Houses have dirt floors, latrines are far more common than flushing toilets, and meals are cooked over open fires on the floor in the center of kitchens. Chajul is a world apart from the rest of Guatemala and is immediately captivating. On Katie’s first visit, she was particularly taken by the undeniable drive of Chajul’s youth to pursue their primary means for development: education.

Thus, with Pedro, Katie founded LHI in 2004, as a simple scholarship program. Students with the motivation to study but lack of funds were provided with scholarships for their tuition. In the nine years since, much has grown within LHI and in how it meets the needs of Chajul youth. With a team of five Chajulense women, LHI now runs two integrated programs, the Youth Development Program (YDP) and the Saber Sin Límites Community Library, to provide a multifaceted approach to community development through educational access. The YDP now supports 52 youth and their families with a financial scholarship and an array of educational support services designed to fill the gaps of Chajul’s under-resourced education system. The Community Library is the first in Chajul, with lesson-planning resources for teachers and homework help for students alongside literacy programming in Ixil and Spanish for young children. Together, these programs offer individualized attention to provide children, youth, and families with the academic and professional skills needed to effect change in their lives and community.

What distinguishes LHI in its approach to community development is the understanding that change starts with an individual. Yet no individual, particularly no youth, stands alone in his or her journey to personal and professional success. When a child is encouraged by her parents to attend school, provided with resources like librarians and tutors to complete homework, and supported through training and work-study opportunities to develop personal and professional skills, that child can truly live up to her potential. Her dreams become goals, and she is empowered to accomplish them. This is the fundamental theory behind LHI’s work and program development: a dynamic, needs-based response to the community it serves.

This theory of change helped create the Saber Sin Límites (Limitless Knowledge) Community Library, which now boasts 1,300 users. Originally, LHI hosted a small library in its office stocked with a few dozen donated books to help scholarship recipients do their homework. Soon, friends and siblings of LHI youth also showed a great interest in accessing those resources. In 2010, the library opened to the wider Chajul community and staff began developing literacy programming. For example, weekly story hours to engage the many young children who used the library as a safe space to learn and play. Shortly after the library opened, attendance at story hour was so high that children occupied every inch of space in the room.

In 2011, Saber Sin Límites expanded to a larger space just down the street from the LHI Community Center and growing story hours led to the introduction of new activities and programs to inspire positive attitudes toward literacy and education. Older students also began frequenting the library, both out of curiosity and the genuine need for resources to complete homework assignments. In 2012, the Library’s lease grew to include an attached study room where students and teachers could access reference books and textbooks in a clean and quiet space.

As part of its dynamic needs-based approach, LHI provides supplemental initiatives within its programs based on recommendations from local and international experts and direct community feedback. LHI’s women’s artisan program is an important aspect of the YDP, as it acknowledges the strong link between the empowerment of mothers and the success of their children in school. Mothers of youth in the YDP are given the chance not only to earn their own income through weaving, but also to help set fair prices for their work, develop their craft, and have economic decision-making power in their families.

Additionally, students’ parents are integrated into the YDP via regular workshops on topics from family planning to financial literacy. When LHI hosted its first training for mothers on family planning, they were thrilled but asked that their husbands receive a parallel workshop. Upon receiving their training, the fathers were equally grateful. By sharing ideas and opening dialogue, LHI fosters the growth of healthy family environments where youth can truly flourish.

If you walk through Chajul today, you will see what Katie thought was missing nine years ago. You will see what Pedro never dreamed of 10 years before that. You will see youth, mothers, and families with access to what they need and want for their own growth, education, and development.

For more information, contact Clare McInerney at operations@limitlesshorizonsixil.org.

Contact Name:     Bill Fishbein
Web Site:     www.thecoffeetrust.org
Location:     San Gaspar Chajul, Guatemala
Email Address:     bill@thecoffeetrust.org
Phone Number:     505.670.9783

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