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UPAVIM: United for a Better Life

The DoGoodery Marches On In Guatemala


As many of you know, last week Emma and I did our first official promotion of our new website, The NGO List, which was a great success. It never ceases to amaze me the readiness of people to help us. We can throw whatever crazy new project we scheme—an Amazon wish list material drive, a yarn-bombing program, and now another website—and friends rally to the cause. Thank you.

Appropriately timed, this week’s blog entry is my monthly NGO profile, and oddly enough, not twenty minutes ago, I was introduced to this NGO by my friend Bri. She’d come in to find me, as usual, perched in Bagel Barn, flipping through social media sites as my little workday warm up. She told me she’d checked out the site, loved it (of course), and that I should check out UPAVIM for the Guatemala page. Bri is a smart cookie, so I did as she instructed.


UPAVIM (Unido para viva major/United for a Better Life) is a super cool organization originally founded on a sort of fair trade model. They began by making simple handicrafts to employ women and help to pay for a program for the community. The women in the organization wanted to get out of relying on foreign aid for social improvement. So, they took charge.

The handi-craft project was a major success, so much so that it garnered a national award in 2001 for non-traditional exporting. With the cash flowing in from UPAVIMCrafts.org, the ladies who have taken charge of their own fates have helped to start several other amazing ventures. The business has grown so successful that they’ve had to start building an “Annex”, a second complex to house all the good things happening:


1. First and foremost, UPAVIM Crafts has been the lifeblood of the organization since 1991, providing the funds to run a nursery and school, as well subsidize a clinic. A member of the Fair Trade Federation, UPAVIM not only produces its own crafts but also buys from organizations around Guatemala, ensuring that everyone receives adequate money for their work. UPAVIM has an inventory of products in the United States, and the company has shipped to several other countries throughout the world. It’s truly what all NGOs should be trying to do: Creating a sustainable model not reliant on donations and truly empowering the people involved.

2. The Bakery & Store employs a few people from the community: a baker, an assistant, and shopkeeper. Like UPAVIM Crafts, these folks were given a hand up, and ultimately, they have taken charge of their own thing. The bakery and store support themselves and contribute to a general UPAVIM fund, which helps to pay for more expansion.

3. UPA Soya products are another project finding great success. While dairy milk is really expensive, soya milk can be sold at a much more affordable price throughout the community and provide a much-needed nutritional boost. Milk alone, though, just didn’t do the job, so UPAVIM soya production facility uses the pulp to create protein-rich additions for sauces, the base for veggie burgers, and pancakes. And, there’s ice cream! This branch is currently working on being a milk and cafeteria supplier for local schools. Um, as a raging veggie boy, I’m pretty hip to this.

4. The Annex, aside from housing the awesome aforementioned businesses, is also devoted to being a building for building the future. Tutoring programs, a library, and classrooms are spread throughout the complex. Kids are getting cared for and educated, the community now has access to an awesome library (with hopes to expand it) and computers, and there is a plan to start a senior program where elderly folks could come in a get a little something to eat.

5. I haven’t mentioned a lot yet: the medical programs in place, especially the Growth Monitoring program to insure the children are doing well but also the affordable clinic with $2 consultations, the scholarship program helping kids who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend even public school, the English program, and on it goes—cool stuff centered around people finding a means to better their situation through their own efforts.


Want to take part? There are great volunteering opportunities available through UPAVIM, including tutoring, teaching English, and providing medical care. Or, do it from home: Visit their online, fair trade shop to buy a few of your upcoming Christmas gifts--free shipping in the continental US for purchases over $75.

So, there you have it: Another great NGO for the Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad blog and another great volunteer opportunity added to list on The NGO List. Thanks for the tip, Bri, and if by some off-chance someone has made it to this last line of today’s blog but hasn’t visited The NGO List yet, I cordially invite you to take a look after you’ve checked UPAVIM’s website.

Posted by jonathonengels 09:00 Archived in Guatemala

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