HISTORY OF THE IXTATAN FOUNDATION
In 1999, Beth Neville Evans, founder of the Ixtatán Foundation, visited San Mateo Ixtatán for the first time on behalf of a North American nonprofit organization attempting to help a resident of the town with a life-threatening medical condition.
She discovered a town that was a microcosm, high in the Guatemalan mountains where the residents spoke a unique language, Chuj. This language is the predominate tongue used by approximately 64,000 Mayans, the majority of them residing in San Mateo Ixtatán. As one of the many indigenous groups of Mayans in Guatemala, these people find themselves among the lowest on the socio-economic ladder, lacking in many basic services and with few opportunities to improve their situation. This was starkly evidenced by the lack of any high school education facility in the entire region.
As a result of her visit and ongoing conversations with the community leaders in San Mateo Ixtatán, Beth Neville created the Ixtatán Foundation, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit. Ixtatán Foundation, Inc. was incorporated in January of 2001, with the expressed goal of creating the first high school in the town. The school opened its doors in January 2005 with 11 students for high school and 21 in middle school and saw its first graduating class three years later when nine students received high school diplomas.
Seven years on, the school’s most recent graduating class saw 31 students receive high school diplomas, all of whom plan to go on to higher education. Our student body is 280 strong and we have graduates attending, or recently graduated from the following universities: Universidad Rafael Landivar, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Universidad del Valle de México, Universidad Panamericana de Guatemala, and Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM). At present (2014), the Seeds of Wisdom School serves 140 students in middle school and 143 students at the high school level.
Initially based solely in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Ixtatán Foundation added a Guatemalan Office in mid-2012 under the stewardship of Executive Director, Elias Alonzo, who had won a scholarship from the Ixtatán Foundation to attend Toccoa Falls College from 2005 to 2008.
While the formation of the high school was the impetus for the formation of the Foundation, education in general is the primary goal. In 2012 the curriculum was adapted to reflect Project Based Learning philosophy. The school oversees a working farm, a bakery, carpentry shop, an Internet café and many other workshops, all of which return income to the school as well as providing real-world experience for the students.
After almost 14 years of experience, the Ixtatán Foundation continues to believe that access to quality education is the fundamental key to build development according to the economic and social context of the community. However, we are also convinced that our work has to be accompanied by community development programs that help enhance the life of the Chuj people.