Spotlight: San Mateo Aniversario

This week the local language school celebrated its anniversary, which included a special presentation by the kids from San Mateo.
During its anniversary week, the language school passed out fat slices of cake, decorated the place with streamers, and hosted a number of activities for the language school students.  Even though I am not taking language classes, I am always hanging around La Union and feel like part of the family.
The language school is constantly throbbing with life, laughter, and is conveniently located between three hot spots in Antigua: Y Tu Piña También, a hip café with fabulous breakfast options;  Café No Sé with the best tequila in town; and Café Sky with its satiating mojitos and a breathtaking view of Volcán Agua.
Freddy and his piña, tambien
Considering the constant crowd in and around the language school, Cultural Embrace thought it would be the perfect place to promote its HUG (Hug, Understand, Give) Project.
With intentions to attract volunteers to San Mateo, share a glimpse of Guatemalan culture, sell the children’s  handcrafted jewelry (more on this soon), and increase awareness about social projects around Antigua, we coordinated a special event for its language students:  traditional dances performed by the children of San Mateo.
While the kids performed two dances: “Instrumentos de Labranza” and “Nuestros Tradiciones,” Instruments of Labor and Our Traditions, respectively, I explained to the crowd what was going on in Spanish and in English.  I didn’t realize how much I loved microphones.  They had to wrestle it away from me by the end.
Leading the procession with Judith, the orphanage’s co-manager
First, the kids performed “Instrumentos de Labranza,” which is considered a “Working Man’s Dance.”  It is the traditional dance of los campesinos, those who work in the fields, and features typical labor tools.  Many of the children from San Mateo start working in the fields with their parents as early as age 3,  executing difficult tasks such as grinding coffee, carrying stacks of woods, gathering flowers, or harvesting corn.
As many children in the villages work with their families at the expense of an education, the HUG project in San Mateo aims to pulls kids out of the field and help them matriculate by providing materials, scholarships, and scholastic support.  Thanks to donations and volunteers, we have been able to gather school materials, help with homework, and teach the children life skills about nutrition, computers, emotional health, and hygiene.
After Instrumentos de Labranza, the kids performed Nuestros Tradiciones, a dance that mirrors a traditional marriage ceremony in San Mateo.  During a wedding in the village, a pair of children receive their First Communion while the couple is blessed in matrimony.
While the bride wears traditional Mayan attire, the First Communion recipients dress much like Catholics kids in the United States (above and below). After the ceremony, the families and clergy have dinner together.  Instead of a honeymoon, the bride gets to clean up after the party and host a celebratory lunch the next day.  Lucky gal!
When both dances were finished, we provided a special treat for the kids.  They hired a clown, who frankly, was underwhelming in a bird costume (?) and had a short supply of magic tricks.  However, most of the kids had never seen a proper clown before, so they didn’t notice his/her shortcomings.  The look on their faces was priceless.
The event turned out to be a great way to promote the orphanage’s aspiring jewelry business.  Charmed by the children and Juan and Judith’s passion to provide them with an education,  we sold half of the jewelry the night of the dance.  The following mornings, I set up a table at the language school to vend the remainders.   By Thursday morning the rest of the jewelry was gone.
 As soon as we replenish our stock, we will start selling the jewelry online and hopefully create a sustainable source of income for the orphanage.  Also coming soon—those who can’t travel to volunteer in person will be able to support the orphans of San Mateo by sponsoring a child on Cultural Embrace’s website.
This weekend, I am heading to Rio Dulce and Livingston to rattle coconut trees, day dream in hammocks and count my blessings.   Whether you are sipping on sunshine or clobbered in snow, I wish everyone a peaceful weekend full of love and appreciation for those who make life worth living.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Published by

Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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