Please don’t hate me, but I just got back from a weekend trip to the Pacific Coast of El Paredón, in Guatemala. It’s a tiny little village of about 1,500 people, but is quickly becoming one of the go-to destinations for surfing in Central America. The beaches are filled with this gorgeous volcanic black sand, and the waves crash in with powerful force, while a large mangrove forest is home to one of only 7 places in the world that has year-round presence of sea-turtles.
We stayed at a place called the “Surf House”, and it’s a small outdoor resort where all the lodging are in these little bungalow huts that are on stilts that hover over beach. They claim it’s a “Touch of Bali, in Guatemala.” It only takes about 90 seconds to get from the bungalow to receiving a forceful hug from coastal waves. Every morning they provide free breakfast, and at night they provide a 3 course meal, while we all sit on a large outdoor dinner table. During the day, we typically spent most of the time swimming in the ocean, surfing (or at least attempting to), or just simply lounging in the relaxing pool at the Surf House. I made an effort to get up before sunrise, and thankfully there was staff up as well and they were proactive at brewing some amazing locally sourced Guatemalan coffee, so I got to sit in a hammock, with fresh coffee in hand as I greeted the morning sun.
But I actually want to take the focus off of the quite enviable weekend escape and talk about Guatemala, the people of El Paredón, and a local organization called La Choza Chula.
While the beach front of El Paredón are attracting more tourists every year, and new resorts are being built up, what is quickly forgotten is that a 5 minute walk from the beach rests a small tight knit village that bears no resemblance to lounging in a well-maintained pool with chilled drinks in hand. The reality is that El Paredón is a village that is isolated from much of the rest of the country. There is only one road to El Paredón, which is a 15km dirt road that the village is at the very end of. The nearest city is Puerto San Jose, and it takes on average 45 minutes to get to it. El Paredón is on the coast, but it just as well be an island to itself.
Let’s take a step back real quick and learn a little bit about Guatemala.
For all the beautiful mountains, gorgeous lakes, and majestic remains of the Mayan empire, Guatemala is one of the least developed countries in Latin America. One of the most widely used metrics for evaluating a country is the Human Development Index (HDI), which factors not just income, but life expectancy rates, and education. In the 2017 survey, Guatemala was only above Haiti and Honduras on the HDI report.
One of the main instigators to limiting the development of Guatemala was 30+ civil war that went from 1960 to 1996. This has pushed much of the indigeneous people to the remote regions of the country, which the effects are still felt today. To date, Guatemala is the least urbanized country in Latin America, with just over 50% of the population living in urban regions. This is important because what has happened is the urbanized region of Guatemala has been able to develop a healthy infrastructure, but much of that benefit is shared within city limits. Places like Guatemala City have been able to flourish, and standards of living can be quite nice there, but once you leave the urban region, extreme poverty starts becoming a reality.
With half of the country’s population having limited access to the urbanized resources has resulted in a huge chasm between the opportunity of the urban community and the depravity of the rural community. As a whole, 8.7% of Guatemalans are in extreme poverty (the current standard for extreme poverty is living on less than $1.90 per day), and it is estimated that 90% of those in extreme poverty live in the rural regions. In addition, 30% of adults are still illiterate, and Guatemala has the 4th highest chronic malnutrition rate in the world.
The Two Sides of El Paredón.
The effects of being over 125 km away from Guatemala City is surely felt in El Paredón. According to La Choza Chula, over half of adults didn’t finish primary school, and only 30% of adults can read and write. The malnutrition issue is ever-present as well there as well, since fruit trucks only come by once a week, and most of the population don’t have proper refrigeration.
When you lay in a hammock on the beach, El Paredón looks like paradise, but once you step off the beach, El Paredon represents all the deprivation that Guatemala suffers from.
This is where La Choza Chula steps in.
La Choza Chula
LCC was established in 2012, with the aim to providing sustainable assistance to the people of El Paredón. LCC is considered a “Social Enterprise” which means that they are legally a nonprofit, but they try to operate like a normal business and use the business to fuel its social objectives.
While LCC’s objective is quite comprehensive, they try to focus on three main things: education, income, and nutrition. In the short 7 years that they’ve been at El Paredón, LCC has built a fully functional library (with over 2000 books and a staff of librarians) called “Biblioteca Buena Vista”, Built El Paredón’s secondary school (along with a computer lab), and an organic garden that is maintained by the secondary school students.
They’ve been able to do all this, not only through generous donations, and government grants, but through its social enterprise approach. Seeing how El Paredón is becoming a tourist destination, LCC has become the exclusive tour guide company of the village, and has invested in training and certifying local villagers as the guides. This has the two-fold effect of not only generating profit for La Choza Chula, but it also is employing and providing sustainable income to locals. Tours that LCC provides include:
- Mangrove tours where you get to go fishing
- Sea Turtle watching tours
- Authentic Guatemalan Cooking class
- Bracelet making workshop
- Homestay tour of what it looks like to live in the village.
Along with the tours, LCC is the primary souvenir provider of El Paredón. They source materials exclusively from regions of Guatemala, and are manufactured by the locals of El Paredón. They provide:
WiFi Tribe’s Gift
La Choza Chula is an organization that has quickly embeded itself into the very fabric of the village of El Paredón; taking them by the hand, and ushering them to create their own new opportunities for themselves. As you can see, it’s hard not to want to get involved.
If you don’t know already, I’m living with a digital nomad community called, “WiFi Tribe.” The previous weekend we had defeated Volcan de Acatenango which was an excrusiation hike, so for this weekend, we needed something a little more relaxing. I was tasked with setting up the setting up reservations, and when I was reading up on the Surf House, they had a piece at the bottom about how they partner with La Choza Chula, and ask if guests could bring books along to donate to the LCC library. After doing more reading up on LCC, I was sold; I even skipped prepping for an assignment that was due that day for my Microeconomics class, but I couldn’t help it. I spent a couple of hours compiling info together and sent it out to the rest of the WiFi Tribe, and asked if anyone wanted to contribute to donating to this organization.
We easily raised up over $100, and I set out for the supermarket to buy some books and school supplies. In total we were able to donate:
- 8 books
- 5 packs of pencils
- 5 packs of colored pencils
- 5 personal white boards
- 5 highlighters
- 5 standard notebooks
- 5 children’s-themed notebooks
- 2 calculators
- 2 watercolor painting sets
- 2 pencil sharpeners
When I went to drop off the supplies, I walked by a building, of which it looked like the whole village was crowded around. At first I thought it was a church, but soon found out it was actually the La Choza Chula library, and it was being used as the voting center for the presidential election. It was further demonstration the La Choza Chula is not foreigner that is imposing its will over the community, but has risen from within and is part of the community.
I wrote a series called “How to Be Lazy, And Save The World”, and it was an exploration of how individuals can contribute to significant change; if you want to take a small but meaningful step into providing new opportunities to people, then La Choza Chula is an excellent place to start.
Donations are obviously one of the most direct and effective means to contributing to people of El Paredón, but you can also assist through LCC’s Social Enterprise model as well. You can purchase beautiful merchandise online and you can capture a small piece of El Paredón without having to book a flight to Guatemala, and riding a shuttle for 3 hours over dirt roads in order to do it… But also, don’t you want to visit this place now?
Put it on the calendar: Next vacation–El Paredón, Guatemala (and don’t forget to bring some books to donate).