Party with a Purpose

Scene from gala fundraiser dinner with keynote speaker President Colom (Derek Steele)

Scene from gala fundraiser dinner with keynote speaker President Colom (Derek Steele)

Capuchinas is one of the many landmarks that needs long-term protection (Jack Houston)

Capuchinas is one of the many landmarks that needs long-term protection (Jack Houston)

by Jack and Joy Houston

Panchoy 50 celebrated the conclusion of its first phase in September with a glitz-and-glitter gala at Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. The project, launched in February, completed formation and analyses of 10 volunteer committees working toward an integral, 50-year development plan for the Panchoy Valley. In the next phase the committees will set goals and objectives. The project will conclude in February 2009 with the compilation of a comprehensive document for presentation, hopefully, to a public/private development board of the central government. “We would set up that board as part of our last job, signed between the government and our foundation,” according to Antigüeño spokesman Derek Steele.

Guatemala President Álvaro Colom addressed the roomful of 46 elegant tables of 10, commending the efforts of neighbors, business and municipal leaders pulling together and encouraging support of government ministers. “This was a big message,” says Steele. Besides noting the potential as a matter of national interest, Colom specifically recognized the importance of protecting the cultural heritage of La Antigua Guatemala as “a city clean and conserved”.

Panchoy 50 hopes to rescue what has been lost of that heritage, save what exists and avoid disordered development in the future. The idea is to rally networks of citizens of all sectors of La Antigua, the pulse of the Panchoy Valley, and its surrounding villages. Obvious issues, beyond architectural conservation, include traffic, waste collection and disposal and antiquated drainage systems.

The scene of the September gala was set on the site of the colonial Dominican monastery founded in 1547, among the first of an eventual 16 in the town. La Antigua, then called Santiago de los Caballeros, was established as the seat of the Spanish government in 1542, after the earlier location, nearer to Volcano Agua, was destroyed tragically and traumatically by mudslides and storms. The heritage that Panchoy 50 aims to preserve and protect developed over the next 230 years, when the earthquake-weary capital moved to now Guatemala City. Massive evacuation by mandatory decree left the ruins safe from stage-by-stage modernization.

Serious rescue efforts began when La Antigua was declared a National Monument in 1944, furthered in 1969 with the formation of the National Council for the Protection of La Antigua Guatemala. In 1979 the town was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List.

Panchoy 50, not itself a funder, hopes to attract interested implementing entities. Funds collected will support work of the Panchoy 50 committees to return the environment, as expressed by General Coordinator Susana Barrios Beltranena, “to the paradise once delivered to us.”

More information: www.visionpanchoy50.org

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