Written by by John Barrie
How the Antigua Network helps connect organizations productively through presentations and one-on-one contactsAnother successful meeting of the Antigua Network was held recently in the spacious surroundings of La Peña del Sol Latino in downtown La Antigua Guatemala. The Network is the brainchild of Judy Sadlier and Gene Budinger, two active U.S. retirees who came to Guatemala in 2004. Judy and Gene both have a background in sales and say they “love to connect people.”
The Network has been active since Spring 2005, when it first convened under the title of the Community Forum. It describes itself as “an informal network of organizations and individuals in Guatemala and outside the country who work to improve the living conditions, health, education, and economics of others in Guatemala.” The principal aim of the Network is simple: to bring together locally operating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and interested individuals, with the goal of fostering cooperation between them and of increasing awareness among them of what other individuals and organizations are doing throughout the country. Simply put, Gene and Judy believe that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” and that this kind of coordination has many payoffs in improving the services for the poor of Guatemala.
Through the Network, organizations that require resources or knowledge can connect with those who are able to provide these things. Organizations that require volunteer assistance or materials find this connection very useful; in one instance, people organizing libraries found others who were able to supply books. Fruitful exchanges of knowledge and experience increase effectiveness and efficiency in the myriad practical tasks facing anyone working in these fields: Knowing what has been done, and what has worked best in any particular area, can be invaluable to any endeavor starting out or branching into something new. In Judy’s words: “People don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
The Network meets in Antigua three or four times a year. Participants are generally a mix of older, more established organizations such as Wings (which promotes reproductive health, family planning, youth reproductive health education and cervical cancer screening) and the Reicken Foundation (which works to establish community libraries in Central America), and newer organizations and individuals desiring to publicize their activities and link with others working in the same or similar fields. The latest meeting on Nov. 6 had more attendees representing newer and lesser-known endeavors and organizations, which Judy and Gene found heartening as it indicated a fresh pool of talent and enthusiasm to supplement the more-established participants.
Several participants gave short presentations about their activities and outlined how others could assist them. The range of these activities demonstrated the diversity of efforts that are ongoing across Guatemala, and the potential that exists within the Network for bringing together people and organizations that may not otherwise come into contact. The following is a selection of the contributions.
Founder Marie-Elena and colleague nurse Emily outlined the work of ASSADE, which provides medical care to very poor indigenous people in the town of San Andrés Itzapa, in the municipality of Chimaltenango. ASSADE operates a health center that sees 500 patients a month, 60% of whom are children. The town has a malnutrition rate of 65% among children, and many families cannot afford to pay the nominal Q3 charge for treatment (which is waived when this is the case). ASSADE can benefit from many kinds of assistance, from monetary donations to donations of medicine and medical supplies, to the help of volunteer medical staff. Even children’s toys for the upcoming holidays are welcome as part of ASSADE’s wide-ranging efforts to improve life in the town.
Partner for Surgery
In the words of co-founder Linda Peterson, Partner for Surgery exists to be a “bridge between volunteer surgical teams that come to Guatemala and the poor they serve.” Formally founded four years ago by two Virginians, the organization has a strong presence in Alta Verapaz and now operates in San Juan Sacatepéquez, where it has a “beautiful clinic” but needs medical teams to work there. In the future, the organization hopes to train local people to carry out many of the medical services for which they now rely on outside volunteers to provide.
Nelly Zambrano described how her organization assists Guatemalans in the economic and business spheres. Namaste, an NGO based in San Francisco, California, and working in three locations in Guatemala, provides microfinance loans, business management education and vocational training to small businesspeople, especially women. A critical part of this training is carried out by experts in the particular business area—these experts are what Namaste needs most at the moment.
Martha Duggan spoke about Progresa, a Quaker-based organization that provides scholarships and loans for poor students to go to university, usually supplying a combination of a scholarship and zero-interest loan to each student. Progresa helped 110 students in 2008, and accepts over 95% of qualified applicants. The organization is moving toward a community-service-in-lieu-of-repayment scheme to further reduce the financial burden on its students.
Iglesia del Camino
Antigua-based church Iglesia del Camino can offer logistical help to other endeavors in the form of short-term mission teams from the U.S. who are available to carry out a range of activities, from medical provision to construction. The church also operates a hotel that can provide services in the form of food, transport and accommodation.
Andrew Steinberg from Encountour spoke about his recently formed organization, which aims to help people from the U.S. volunteer in Guatemala, and is primarily aimed at college students. Encountour is looking for established projects that need volunteers to assist them.
As Green As It Gets
As Green As It Gets was founded by Franklin Voorhees in 2005 to help small farmers and artisans in Guatemala do business in an environmentally sustainable way. The organization is another microfinance provider and helps with business development and finding markets for its clients’ products. Many of these clients are coffee farmers on the slopes of the Volcán de Agua. The organization helps them to find markets for their coffee directly and thus realize a much larger share of the retail sales price. As Green As It Gets is looking for monetary donations and volunteers.
From the brief outlines given above of some of the organizations attending the Network meeting, we can see the possibilities for co-operation and synergy that exist between those with the common aim of helping the less fortunate of Guatemala. When this snapshot is expanded to cover the wide range of NGOs and individuals working throughout the country, it is clear that the potential for the Antigua Network and similar organizations, including the monthly networking group at Stuardo’s Place, to make “the whole more than the sum of its parts” is great. Judy and Gene’s efforts are a valuable contribution in the efforts to make Guatemala a better place for all.
For more information about the Antigua Network and its many participants, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For monthly NGO activities and gatherings, refer to the December DateBook.