By: Abby Belongy
An NGO in Guatemala has an inspiring story. In 1990, Steve Dudenhoefer was the owner of a successful business in southern Florida. Many of his employees, Mayans from Guatemala, sent their entire paycheck back home. To understand this, Dudenhoefer decided to visit Guatemala himself and learn more about the Mayan people (Q’eqchi) there. When he saw the vast amount of people struggling and living in poverty, he sold his businesses and founded Asociación Ak’ Tenamit (New Village Association) in 1992. Dudenhoefer remains active in the NGO today, but it is run by the Q’eqchi people. All board members must be elected by their communities, and the board has to have an equal number of males and females. Dudenhoefer is more directly involved in The Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund, a U.S. non-profit that fundraises solely for Ak’ Tenamit.
The Q’eqchi people recognize that fighting poverty starts with improving education. Therefore, a major focus of Ak’ Tenamit is education in the villages, and this is reflected in their young Board members, who are an average age of 23. By providing girls with more access to schooling, Ak’ Tenamit has increased female enrollment in the village school by 400%. Education also goes beyond traditional schooling and aims to inform the community about issues such as gender violence, women’s rights, and HIV. In addition to that, 100% of the 2009 graduate class from Ak’ Tenamit’s school are currently employed.
Students have also founded an additional NGO, Aprosarstun, which promotes environmental improvement. These students help by replanting trees, installing wood-saving stoves, and giving presentations in communities and schools. Because of its environmental work, Ak’ Tenamit is the only civil society organization in Guatemala to have Permanent Observer Status to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.
In its two decades of work, Ak’ Tenamit has already improved quality of life of the Q’eqchi people. Having a Board run by the people keeps the village’s best interest in mind and assures that the money raised by The Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund benefits the indigenous people of Guatemala.
Watch this video to learn more about Ak’ Tenamit: