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March 21, 2021

One Little Way to Support Healthy Eating and Sustainable Tourism

There seems to be more and more dire, doomsday, downright bad news in the media with each passing week. 

If you’re in need of an inspirational pick-me-up, learn about the amazing work being done by one small yet fierce, heart-centered nonprofit in rural Guatemala.

Junk Food Exports

But first, the sad facts. Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in Latin America. Approximately 70% of ten children suffer from malnutrition in Guatemala’s indigenous communities. Nearly half of San Marcos natives live in extreme poverty.

Although the Mayan people here eat corn tortillas with every meal, the cornmeal comes from GMO corn. The biodiverse crops cultivated by family farmers are largely gone. Worse yet, much of the food consumed by the local indigenous population is cheap, imported, and processed. 

The ubiquitous tiny corner stores are filled to the brim with a wide array of low-quality snack foods, many with brand names familiar to the US consumer, like Oreo, Doritos, and Lays. Organic healthy foods tend to be prohibitively expensive. Most people thus develop unhealthy eating habits that manifest as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stunted growth. 

Fortunately, there is a bright light in the center of town aiming to address and resolve these issues in an impactful way.

Good Karma Spotlight: Konojel in San Marcos La Laguna

Konojel means “all together” in Kaqchikel, the Mayan language spoken in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. 

Established in 2011, Konojel has been bringing people together ever since to benefit the community, especially its most vulnerable members. For many years, the organization served dozens of nutritious lunches daily to the most malnourished individuals in San Marcos. 

For several years, they’ve run a small restaurant serving authentic Guatemalan dishes. In addition to a simple menu of burritos, pizza, and pupusas, their daily specials feature cuisine from different regions of the country. 

My family and I live a couple of kilometers outside of San Marcos, and we are especially grateful for Konojel’s moto-taxi food delivery service, which they started to offer due to the pandemic last year. 

They cater to the local tourist population by offering vegan and vegetarian options, as well as plates with chicken and shrimp. The Konojel restaurant currently employs seven women in the kitchen, plus two managers. 

New Horizons

Now, Konojel is in the process of revising and expanding its organizational mission. A new educational center is under construction that will provide a space for skill-building workshops and classes to train people with marketable skills and specialties.

One of the primary goals of the new mission is to implement a healthy families initiative that provides pregnant women with prenatal vitamins and young mothers with education around nutrition for themselves and their children. Konojel wants to ensure that children are properly nourished throughout the most crucial stages of their development, from their time in utero until age two.

Konojel has also developed programs in children’s education, sustainability, and women’s empowerment. The organization also has a computer center that serves as a venue for high school computer classes. All Kaqchikel students have access to the laptops, internet, and printer for homework purposes. Some local indigenous teens also take one-on-one English tutoring (via Zoom) with university students in New York.

Another Konojel initiative, the Sabor del Sol women’s artisan collective, employs four local women from San Marcos. They create purses, aprons, and other designs using vibrant and colorful Mayan textiles which are sold in the small shop within the Konojel restaurant space. 

Most of the employees of Konojel are women native to San Marcos who simply wish to help their children get an education and benefit the people of their village.

Get Involved!

Konojel is an altruistic project that creates an opportunity to give back as a tourist visiting San Marcos La Laguna at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Pop in for a meal if you’re passing through town, serve as a volunteer if you’re staying long term—and, of course, donating any amount to the cause always helps! 

To learn more, visit the Konojel website and watch this 5-minute mini-documentary from 2019.

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