History

Michael de Groot and some of his friends established the Guacamaya Foundation in 1996 in the Netherlands. The main objectives of the foundation are to help especially the poor Maya inhabitants increase their welfare and promote a more sustainable use of the forest. In cooperation with the local inhabitants Michael developed an educative centre in the Maya village of El Corozal in 1997 and organized various small-scale projects Ranging from carpentry courses for men to assisting women with the development of vegetable gardens and to help the whole community with the construction of the first primary school. In 2002 Michael returned to the Netherlands with his Guatemalan wife Hilda and their daughter Esmeralda. The main reason for his return was to be able to give more opportunities to his daughter Esmeralda to receive a good education. Juan Tzalam, a well-respected local leader, took over the management of the centre with a group of local villagers. The Guacamaya Foundation supported the activities financially.

Educative centre

In time the educative centre in El Corozal has expanded gradually. The size of the area of the centre is about ten hectares of which six hectares with forest cover. There are trails to walk through the forest where often the Guatemala howler monkey can be seen, a species threatened with extinction. The other part of the area consists of a number of agroforestry systems including animals such as chickens, ducks, sheep and goats, fish ponds, vegetable gardens and also a flower garden specifically designed to attract butterflies. There are ten species of bamboo planted in the area. The facilities consist also of a museum, which is dedicated to the local wildlife and the role of different animals in ancient Maya culture and another museum is dedicated to Maya dress, traditional Maya dance and also includes photos of the most important ancient Maya cities. There is a workshop mostly used to teach students to work with bamboo. Another building is used for presentations and other workshops. There are also two buildings where people can spend the night. The facilities of the centre are very suited to mix theory and practise.

Local partners

In 2013 a more formal local organisation was formed, the association Tz’unun. The main objective of the association is to improve the level of education in the region. The members are mostly enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers from the region. Varying from a young Maya woman with a teaching degree from El Corozal to two young women with their own local radio show for children and the director of a college from El Naranjo, a nearby city. Juan Tzalam still manages the centre and the members of the association manage the various activities. Apart from working together with a large number of primary and secondary schools, the association also works together with for example the departmental office of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) that organizes various courses in the educative centre for local women and students of secondary schools. The departmental office of the Ministry of Education also supports the various educational activities and there are contacts with local NGO’s as well. The activities are mostly focused on El Corozal and surrounding villages in het western part of the department Petén, but in cooperation with MAGA two schools in the central part of the Petén are included in the project and in cooperation with a local NGO also two schools bordering a cloud forest in the department Alta Verapaz.