Honoring Our Elders: Snapshots from Christmas in Sololá, Guatemala.

Yesterday, I shared some scanned hand-drawn Christmas cards from children (and their parents) in a K'iche' Maya village in Guatemala -- people who participate in the work of an international nonprofit I volunteer with there, along with family and friends.

This year, we included two additional elders in the foundation's Christmas festivities in the Guatemalan highlands, which brings the total number of participating elders in our Ancianos de Honor program to 22. Two of the most recently honored ancianos are blind. You can see them in the photograph below. They both completed their hundredth birthdays this month. They were brought to our foundation's center by some very caring young people.

Above, the elders receive their gifts from our local director in Sololá, Don Victoriano. It's the first time in the lives of these two new elders that they have received a gift or been honored in this way.

Upon receiving his gift, centenarian Don Juan expressed thanks to Ajaw (the Mayan creator god) and to the givers of the gift who had "the good conscience to remember the forgotten elders."

The Christmas gift baskets they are receiving typically include bread, dried pasta and rice, chocolate and candies, corn flour for making tortillas or tamales, dried beans, fruit, and household necessities. The local project directors, who are from the community themselves, make those arrangements and include things that are customary, and part of the local diet.

These elders are among the most at-risk and neglected members of the community, and often suffer malnutrition and health problems related to a lack of food, water, and protection from the elements. They live literally on the fringes of the village, and fall through the cracks -- they become invisible.
Our foundation works to reach out to them, document their existence and their needs, and provide basic support, bringing them back into the center of the community where they belong, with honor and respect.

We are working toward establishing the same ongoing support system within the community for these elders that we are providing for the children of the village.

- Happy holidays to all of you from the people in our communities in Guatemala and Nima Mam Ajq'ij, Dr. M. X. Quetzalkanbalam, international executive director, and our international staff of directors: Anamaria de To and David To Quiñones, Guatemala; Jolon Bankey, Costa Rica; and Xeni Jardin, Mike Outmesguine, and Mar Doré, USA.

(Photos: Top and bottom, courtesy Don Victoriano; center thumbnails, Xeni Jardin).


  1. cool! i’m an evangelical, and this is where we line up 100%. we try our best to not let the same thing happen here in montana.

    1. Right on, towtansua. The organization is not a religious organization, and it’s worth noting that participants in the pueblo reflect the variety of faiths of that community: traditional Mayan beliefs, Catholics, and evangelicals. It’s been pretty amazing to see the people there come together in ways they had not before.

  2. Wow. Thanks for this. Mad props to all the good work you’re doing down there.

    Always good to hear about the better side in people.

  3. I feel compelled to point out that Sololá is hard by Lake Atitlan, which is one of the most beautiful and internationally touristy places in Guatemala. As such it’s quite prosperous and bustling as K’iche Maya communities go. What motivated the selection of Sololá as a target for these aid efforts, given how much more in need of assistance are some of the further-flung highland towns?

    I spent a couple of months in Guatemala last summer and was struck by the degree to which aid workers tended to end up in close proximity to resort destinations, or (somewhat less egregiously) to metropolitan centers like Xela. Evangelical mission groups wearing matching t-shirts were by far the worst offenders in this vein, but running across NGO workers in more attractive and less impoverished locales turned out to be a central motif of my trip…

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