Honors College Student Aids Community of Chuatroj, Guatemala

Sophomore Christy Folk recently returned from a six-week internship in Guatemala where she helped increase educational opportunities for Mayan villagers.

By amy haycock, student life | 9/21/2015

Christy Folk, a second year student concentrating on environmental studies and minoring in Spanish at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, recently returned from an internship and service trip to Central America. She spent six weeks in Guatemala working with the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Sociales y Desarrollo (INCEDES), a non-profit organization, helping to provide scholarships for Guatemalan Mayan students in the village of Chuatroj, Totonicapán.

Folk became interested in dedicating her time to INCEDES through her involvement with the Corn Maya Club at FAU’s Jupiter campus. For the past year, the club helped raise money for INCEDES’ “Brighten the Barrio,”a program that aims to increase the number of social development projects in Central America. Folk contacted INCEDES and sought the opportunity to create her own internship.

Based in INCEDES’ office in Xela, Quetzaltenango, Folk assisted with donor relations for the Brighten the Barrio program. She spent time in Chuatroj getting to know the villagers and taking photos for brochures and social media, and developed formal communications with donors to help them get to know the children they were supporting. The funds provided by donors make it financially possible for the students to continue school and obtain a degree. A degree will allow them to work competitively after graduation and decreases the chance that they will emigrate out of the country for economic reasons. Currently, a majority of Chuatroj villagers have at least one family member working in the U.S.

While in Guatemala, Folk also assisted a non-profit called PIES de Occidente (FEET of the West), which works with modern and traditional Mayan medicine to improve the health of indigenous communities.

Besides going to a foreign country where she knew no one other than her supervisor, and getting sick with amoebas, one of the most challenging aspects of this unique experience for Folk was developing a new internship program from scratch.

“I knew that doing my own program rather than participating in an existing one would be a challenge, which I suppose was what drew me to do it in the first place,” said Folk. “But the rewards over exceeded the challenges.” She also said it was rewarding to be able to put her Spanish-language skills to the test, especially when working with people who spoke no English.

Folk took advantage of being in a foreign country and did many exciting things. To celebrate her 19th birthday and the Fourth of July – her first away from her family – she arranged a trip to Guatemala’s Tikal National Park, where she met up with fellow Honors College student Kia Taylor-Ricco, who was interning in neighboring Belize.

“I was also able to visit Mexico for a day and observe the differences between cultures, and had the privilege to climb a mountain and visit sacred sites with the students and directors, which very few outsiders are invited to do,” she said.

Folk encourages other students to take a leap of faith and do something in another country. She believes her experience improved her social and critical thinking skills and feels that she has grown as a person from this experience.

“My summer internship in Guatemala ended, but my work with INCEDES, the Brighten the Barrio project and Corn Maya Club has continued to this day and will continue for some time,” she said. “I am now an important link between the people in Guatemala and here in the United States.”

Special thanks to Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College Student Selene C. Vazquez for her work on this story.