Marathon in the Mountains

Recently in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I had the opportunity to be up close and personal with a great changemaker organization called Escuela de la Calle (School of the Street), a school for street kids that is also the parent company for El Hogar – a home for street kids without home or functioning family, and for Quetzaltrekkers, a trekking organization puts all it money it raises towards supporting EDELAC and El Hogar.

If you’ve read my posts before you may know that I work with Actuality Media, an organization that takes media students to developing communities around the world to create documentaries about chagnemakers – people with innovative new ideas and programs to combat problems that plague society.

With a month in each location for videos, I aim to get out and meet with other changemakers where ever I am at, to tell the world about them as well. In Guatemala, however, I ended up filling in as part of a film crew – it’s hard work, it’s fulfilling work, but I had not even a spare day to get out to meet other changemakers. I did get to spend a lot of time at EDELAC and in the offices of Quetzaltrekkers, as well as around town with several of the awesome kids from the Hogar, whose stories are told in Why We Hike, the film we made.

EDELAC was started in 1995 by a group of men who’d been doing similar work with street kids through other programs, but decided they could do better on their own. To this day one of those men, Guadalupe Pos is still leading from his desk at the school. He helped found what has become an organization on the verge of having the perfect sustainable system – EDELAC has tried several models to bring in funding for the school and home, including restaurants, a cafe, and a disco.

None of those businesses have survived, but going strong for around 16 years is Quetzaltrekkers – an organization and community of volunteer guides who come from around the world to spend at least three months, often more, learning every turn in the paths and leading tourists on treks through the mountains. Between pre- and post-trek meetings, gear sorting, hours to days in the mountains, and bi-weekly fundraiser parties, these guides put in most hours of their day working with tourists, and when there are just guides in the office they are still planning and prepping, or out papering the local Spanish schools and hangouts with trek flyers – whether it’s a late night full moon hike, afternoon climb to see Santiaguito – one of the most active volcano’s in the world, or a six day hike in the altiplanos on old guerrilla trails dating from the civil war, there’s definitely a hike to challenge any trekker.

Aside from working with tourists, the guides also have weekly meet-ups with the kids from El Hogar for dinner, for soccer, for English classes and more. There are other guides who mostly go between the school and the Hogar as well. If the timing is right, kids from the Hogar have even been known to help out as guides on some of the hikes. The best part about EDELAC is that this complex intertwining of groups has grown up on its own – the guides wanted to better know who they were helping, the kids are excited to hear the stories of where else guides have been in the world, etc. Quetzaltrekkers was started purely to provide funding – and it still does that quite well.

Of course, donations are quite welcome, especially to help expand the school and El Hogar to help the many, many more Guatemalan kids who come from broken homes, who have no homes, or who head out every afternoon after school to wash cars, sell candy, or work a stall at the local market – whatever they can do to bring in money for the family.

As it stands now though, EDELAC as a volunteer opportunity that provides the most thrilling sights in the world, from a sunrise over a grandeur lake to a playground full of children that would otherwise be destitute in the streets. With Quetzaltrekkers fueling the organization’s successes, the organization as a whole is a prime example of sustainable funding for other organizations to look to. Find out more by watching Why We Hike.