You are my Joy.

Winter Break Cultural Exchange Trip

Application for the 2009-2010 Winter Break Cultural Exchange Trip are up now! Download a copy click to download pdf

For the last two years, Weave A Dream has conducted a Winter Break Cultural Exchange trip in San Juan La Laguna, a small Guatemalan town of Tzutujil Mayas around the Lago Atitlan area. Lago Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America.

During these trips, Columbia University Undergraduates get a chance to meet the women of Ixoqui Ajkeemaa',the weaving cooperative that Weave A Dream works with, and their children, who recieve partial scholarships to help subsidize the cost of schooling.

Students also participate in a variety of cultural programs with the residents of San Juan. All activities are planned jointly by Weave A Dream coordinators and Miriam Navichoc Ujpan, the president of Ixoqui Ajkeemaa.' Trip actiities are designed both to give Weave A Dream scholars a chance to show their hard work and help undergraduates better understand Mayan culture.

This begins with Weave A Dream scholars giving a presentation of traditional Mayan Dance followed by the scholarship presentation ceremony. The scholars also show us their community garden, which is part of the program they complete to receive their award. Throughout the two week trip, students also take traditional Mayan weaving classes, taught by the women of Ixoqui Ajkeemaa, and Tzutujil language and culture classes. Other activities include a short tour of the three small villages within San Juan, a visit to Puente de Amistad, a microfinance NGO across the lake, and a Mayan religious ceremony.

Scholarship Ceremony and Presentation of Mayan Dance

In the months before the Winter Break trip, Weave a Dream students complete a program designed by Miriam Ujpan Navichoc the women Ixoqui Ajkeemaa' to help preserve Mayan culture and instil pride in the community. This includes students working in a community garden, learning a traditional Mayan dance, and participating in a lake clean-up effort. During our visit, they present and explain to us all their work.

From left to right: One of our scholars, Melvin with his certificate, traditional Mayan Dancing, Demonstration of tortilla making

From left to right: traditional Mayan Dance, lunch shared after the ceremoney.

Weaving Classes

Undergraduates took weaving classes from the women of Ixoqui Ajkeemaa'. Weaving is an integral part of Mayan culture. Traditional Mayan women's dress, including a long skirt called a "corte" and the traditional top called a "huipil" are important cultural markers for Mayan people. Each village has a specific huipil pattern. Part of the Mayan cultural tradition is a young girl's learning learning how to weave.

Women showing the traditional way of making thread, and group participants learning how to weave.

Mayan Religous Ceremony

For centuries, Mayan culture and religion have been repressed in Guatemala. This intensified with the Guatemala Civil War (1960-1996), in which expression of Mayan culture often was met with violence. Although most Tzutujil Mayans are deeply religious christians, Mayan religious ceremonies offer a connection to Mayan heritage and a way to remember those lost. The ceremony, conducted by a Mayan preist, usually consists of prayers in Tzutujil to the god Hao, and a candle-lighting ceremony. Ancestors and deceased family members are represented by different colored candles, which are burned in a circle around a small fire. Of course, there are no pictures taken during this sacred ceremony.

Activities Around the Lake

Group participants also have some free time to explore the San Juan and the lake.

From Left to Right: Kayaking on the Lake: a colonial church in Antigua, where students stay the first night: beading lesson from jewelry making cooperative working with La ComUnidad

Fiesta de Despedida with students: Sign painted by undergraduates outside Ixoqui Ajkeemaa's store

Market in San Juan: View from the hike to Nariz de Indio: Touring the three small towns around San Juan

Application for the 2009-2010 Winter Break Cultural Exchange Trip are up now! Download a copy 2010 Trip Application

Want more information about this year's trip? Come to an information session this week on Friday, October 29th at 1pm in the lower level 2 of the Diana.

Weave A Dream is proud to be working with La ComUnidad, an organization the supports women's jewelry cooperatives. Look for their products in the store section soon!

Want to learn more about Guatemalan culture and San Juan La Laguna? Try these links:

Extensive report on the Guatemalan Civil War: Guatemalan Truth and Reconciliation Report

Website by a native of San Juan on Tzutujil Culture: La Casa De La Mente

An extensive website on the Popol Vuh, a classical Mayan religious text, with translation in K'iche', English and Spanish. Popol Vuh

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