We took this morning and visited 2 villages close to Panajachel– Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó. Both are very poor villages but they do try to attract a tourism market with lots of little artisan shops in the streets. Many families use the front room as a little shop and live in the back rooms.
The best way to get to these villages is to ride in the back of a pickup with the locals at the price of 5 quetzales which is about 65 cents. San Antonio Palopó is perched on the side of a volcanic mountain and just seems to be hanging on to keep from sliding into Lake Atitlan. To tour the town it is necessary to climb steps or descend steps! It is so steep there are few level roads in the town.
People grow a lot of vegetables in terraced little plots of ground and you can look up the mountain and see terraces all over. Onions and carrots are two of the major crops grown in SAP.
Many of the women carry their laundry down the steep slopes to the waters of Lake Atitlan to do the family washing. It is much more difficult to bring the heavy wet clothes back up the mountain. Another nonprofit is planning to eventually build a community pila (sink) in the town so the women don’t have to wash clothes in the lake.
A lot of artisans from Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó take their handcrafts into Panajachel and walk the streets selling because they don’t have many tourists visit their villages. In one of the artisan shops in San Antonio Palopó was a little girl of about 10-12 years and she was making a cloth belt. I stopped to talk to her and of course she wanted to sell me a belt but I wanted to find out if she was in school. She said her name was Maria and yes she was going to school but when I asked her what grade she was in she would not tell me and would only ask what I wanted to buy. I can only figure that her Mom keeps her home from school to help with the work. It is so hard to see these young girls working and not being educated—so many selling trinkets in the street or in shops!
We have explained to our artisan groups that we do not want children exploited– we want to help educate them and therefore we ask that no children work on the handcrafts that we buy from them.
So as I see this happening in the streets of Panajachel and in the villages it reinforces my desire to get more girls and boys into the schools, especially for longer than the typical 2-3 years!