Amigos de Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz La Laguna is a small Mayan community of 6,500 on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. It has no road access and is surrounded by jagged mountains: the only way to get there is by boat.
The community is believed by the Guatemalan government to be one of the 45 poorest townships with illiteracy and malnutrition among the highest in the country. Amigos de Santa Cruz is a small charity established by a small group of foreign residents in 1998.
The main focus is on the education of the residents, both primary and secondary, in order to help develop a literate community who are better educated and able to improve their own lifestyles and future. They now have a local staff of 20, many educated through their participation in Amigos programmes.
The education projects provide books and other supplies for the primary school along with a daily nutritional snack for the 400 children. There are also secondary and university scholarships and sex education programmes in place to combat Guatemala rate of adolescent pregnancy, the highest in Latin America.
In 2007 CECAP (Centro de Capacitacion) was initiated by the community and is supported by Amigos. CECAP offers vocational training which could lead to meaningful work and a more prosperous community. It now offers programmes in sewing, hospitality, computer education, carpentry, welding and foot loom weaving (products are being sold both locally and internationally).
A café was opened in 2012, staffed by graduates, and is proving very popular.
The health projects provide the local community with clinical care and an immunisation programme for the children. Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in Latin America and 4th highest in the world. Amigos has helped to establish women's nutrition centres in four remote villages.
Groups of 50 to 60 women plus their children (six months to five years), gather to prepare and receive healthy nutritional meals and vitamins. The mothers are also trained on subjects that include family planning, health and hygiene. Amigos work with a total of 200 women and 200 young children.
Women are not only learning to prepare nutritional meals, but also to how to establish and maintain sustainable community and family gardens.
Casa Mantay was created in June 2000 as a safe house for young mothers and pregnant girls, and currently houses around 50 individuals.
It provides employment to ex-members of the house through a workshop which makes high quality leather goods. This not only allows the girls to learn a skill, it also teaches them the responsibility of having a job and managing their money, all while still having the support of the house.
When the girls reach 18, Casa Mantay offers them a self-contained flat within the house as a way of preparing them for life outside. When they eventually depart the house they continue to receive support and are given practical help in the form of soup and dinner plates, spoons, forks, knives and glasses.
They are also allowed to take with them their wardrobe, mattress, bed pillow and bed linen, in return providing replacements for the newest girl who enters the house. Even when the girls have permanently left they are always given the option of bringing their child back to be cared for. In fact you could say they never really leave the Casa Mantay family.
To run the Casa Mantay house takes a large number of staff and resources which is why Audley’s Latin America department are helping to pay the wages of a nurse. This nurse works full-time and teaches the young mothers and mothers-to-be how to look after themselves and their babies.
If you are travelling to Peru and visit Cuzco, you can contribute directly to Casa Mantay by purchasing goods at their shop in the Palacio del Inka hotel. Alternatively, you can also donate by speaking to an Audley specialist on 01993 838 600.