Have you ever wondered why it is that we are so passionate about supporting Konojel a malnutrition centre in San Marcos La Laguna? For what reason we donate 5% of our proceeds to them? No doubt it keeps many of you up at night, so we decided to share our story with you. Read on (BYO tissues).
Six months into our travels, Luke and I were immersed in our new lives as nomadic gypsies, moving through the wonders of Mexico and Cuba. While we loved our new found freedom and were endlessly inspired by new cultures and experiences, we were yearning to be still... just for a moment at least. The magical shores of San Marcos La Laguna called to us, after recommendations from fellow travellers as the place to learn Spanish and practice yoga.
We found ourselves a "rustic" rental, equipped with nightly earthquakes, deadly spiders and the most picturesque view you've ever imagined. We also tracked down the best Spanish teacher in town, who also happened to be on the board of directors for a non-profit malnutrition centre…you guessed it, Konojel (Con-o-hel). As he does with all of his students, Andrew invited us to check it out.
We were greeted by forty boisterous kids from ages four to fourteen, enjoying a plate of nutritious food, sneaking curious glances and giggles at us "gringos". After lunch of tortillas, salad, rice and beans, there was a colouring activity organised by volunteers Coco and Eres.
We were hooked. And from that day in, for the next seven months, we visited Konojel five days a week. We got to know each and every one of the kids and they, in turn, got to know us, thanks to our slowly progressing Spanish (often the catalyst for many giggles!)
A month into our visits we were given the incredible opportunity to Co-Ordinate the Enrichment Program as Coco and Eres were moving on, as is often the case in such a transient town.
Between the two of us, we had zero experience teaching and the thought of coordinating forty kids in our broken-Spanish was as comforting as the scorpions we kept finding in our beds… But we absolutely thrived!
I spent my afternoons planning art and craft activities for the kids. In the morning I would practice yoga, have a Spanish lesson and then head to Konojel. Some of my favourite activities were making paper sunglasses using cellophane for lenses, crafting cameras out of cardboard tea boxes that I collected from the community, and an art class where we looked at different styles of art and then set up a still-life of amazing local fruits for them to paint...and then devour!
We also initiated Friday soccer afternoon, where we would take the kids to the oval for a fun game of soccer followed by a refreshing treat of juicy watermelon. They still do this every Friday.
Luke had the idea to take the kids out two-at-a-time to play with his camera and teach them about photography. The results were amazing and the idea soon grew into a permanent project. The timing coincided with Luke’s 30th birthday and rather than asking for gifts he asked for money towards the project from friends and family. We raised over $2500!
After the first outing with two girls Flora and Lidia, the girls were giggling, which Luke assumed was because he had said something silly in Spanish but when he asked what was s funny, they replied, "nothing, we're just happy."
The program grew to become the Young Artist Initiative. Luke hired a local guy, sweet Chente, to teach the photography curriculum that he tirelessly put together. His aim was to use the children's photographs to print onto postcards, all of which the proceeds would go back into the program. In addition, they would hold an exhibition at the end of the 10-week program, all of which the proceeds would go back into the program. In addition, they would hold an exhibition at the end of the 10-week program, where the sales from the photographs would go back to the children's families.
The time eventually came for us to dust off our neglected backpacks and adventure forward. ‘Difficult’ doesn’t cut it to describe how it felt to say goodbye to our little friends, but as we rounded the last bend and took our last glimpse at the Lake with tears in our eyes we knew that we would continue to return to this magical place and our friends for the rest of our lives.
Konojel has grown immensely since our first visit, with their contributions to the community including:
· nutritional workshops for parents,
· an English course with a TEFL accredited teacher,
· scholarships to the local Waldorf school,
· a restaurant and a sewing co-op employing and empowering local women
· an internet space providing free internet and computer training.
If you would like to know more, volunteer or make a donation visit here.
And if you have any questions please comment below, we love sharing our experience.