SalaamGarage: Guatemala

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Late last year, we profiled a very important social documentary organization, SalaamGarage.  In the interview, SalaamGarage Founder Amanda Koster noted that she "created SalaamGarage based on these observations and over a decade of experience as a traveler, backpacker, documentary photographer, producer, media maker, etc., and teacher. SalaamGarage leads adventures that collaborate with international NGOs with the goal to cause change through creating and sharing intentional content.

On a SalaamGarage trip, travelers come with me (and my growing team) to an international NGO.  We mentor and work as a team; the travelers and the
NGO, collaborating to create and tell a story that will cause change and help others.  Travelers work on those projects together and commit sharing the content with people back home. Past examples of ways of sharing are photo exhibitions, blogs, videos, slideshows, articles, etc.".  You can read more of our interview with Amanda HERE.



One of SalaamGarage's upcoming trips is to Guatemala. We were lucky enough to learn more about the trip from the Organizer, Patricia Bennett. Patricia Bennett is delighted to be organizing and leading this trip for SalaamGarage. She produces and coordinates photo shoots with her husband, photographer Patrick Bennett (, and does a bit of writing as well.  Her investigative nature is focused on Latin American countries right now.  As such she and her husband recently took their teenage daughter, Nadine, to live with them in Argentina for a year. She is volunteering a bit of her time with Agros to get to know more of the organization. A life-long traveller, she's seen 5 continents.  She is happy to say she now speaks Spanish.

Here's what Patricia had to say...


Everyone is the age of their hearts. – A Guatemalan Proverb

Thirty-six years of war, a civil war, left Guatemala’s people and land in ruins, their social structures decimated.  Some of the hardest hit areas were in the Ixil Triangle of Guatemala’s western highlands.  There, the indigenous Mayan population describe being caught between 2 armies.  They literally were caught and killed, some 200,000 Guatemalan’s lost their lives, but figuratively they were in the center of an ideological storm, a proving ground of the Cold War. And they had nowhere to go.


San Diego Land 


In the midst of some of the most gruesome fighting of the early 1980s, Agros International was born from the kernel of thought that fighting would end if only people had land and the means to provide for themselves.  Agros now helps the rural poor in 5 Central American countries become economically self-sufficient though a framework that allows them to purchase and farm their own land. 








It’s an amazing story of regeneration that begs to be more fully understood. Enter SalaamGarage to provide a platform to tell the tale.  In June, 2009 a group led by SG founder Amanda Koster and me will travel to villages in Guatemala to see how the Agros’s program vision manifests itself by building lives and renewing the hearts of people who had become completely hopeless, living in abject poverty unable to even imagine a future for themselves and their families.


Guatemala is a land of extreme contrasts.  The colors are brilliant, especially in the clothing and tapestries, and the topography is lush.  You can be literally walking in the clouds, the mist enveloping you.  And yet despite the verdant green fertile land there are the hungry and desperately poor.  The peaceful rhythm of daily life contrasts so with its history of bloodshed. We will also see distinctions between the Ladino people of the cities of Antigua and Guatemala City and the Mayans who live in rural areas.



We are inviting our travelers, photographers, filmmakers, and writers interested in social justice and human rights work, to places they would not be able to see or certainly comprehend on their own.  They will share a commitment to be the eyes and ears to the world of the poignant successes that are the fruit of Agros’ vision and their own hard work.  I encourage them to investigate the history of Guatemala and Central America.  We have a reading list to serve them in this regard.  Each participant will develop a story from those listed on the project page of the SalaamGarage website.



First, we begin our 12-day trip in the ancient city of Antigua.  The former capital was abandoned after an earthquake destroyed it in 1773 and rather than rebuild they relocated to what is now Guatemala City.  Those who remained in the old city did so on their own at a subsistence level and earned the nickname panzas verdes, or green bellies, for all the avocados they ate to survive. The bohemian flavor remains, and despite it being a very international travel destination with young and old from around the world, Antigua is easy and casual.



After an orientation to the country and preparation for our projects, we will travel to the Ixil for the heart of our work there.  A welcoming ceremony will follow the 6-hour journey to Agros’s villages.  In all of Guatemala there is a sense of connection to the land. That will be most evident here as we sink into the pace of life in the highlands.  Here we plan to split into 2 main groups so as to lessen our impact on the communities as we go about our projects.  In the evenings travelers can expect creative support and direction. We will stay in the villages 3 days.

Next, we will find ourselves at Lake Atitlan, said to be the most beautiful lake in the world.  A number of villages on the north shore are accessible only by boat and there we will stay in Jaibalito for 2 days, soaking in the stunning surroundings.



From there we visit the famous Sunday Market in Chichicastenango before heading to Antigua for a bit of last minute shopping before flying home.

We need to keep the number of participants to a minimum because the people of the Ixil are so very hard working.  Visits are a disruption to the rhythm of their lives.  “You cannot work harder than them,” says Agros’s Sean Dimond who will accompany us on the trip.  As Westerners we always want to help, to give.  As such he describes how visitors want to put their back into it through physical labor, working on building a project or such, but they are no match to the hard-working villagers.  “We’ve had college athletes that just can’t keep up with them.”



The best way to give is to simply commune with them and then share their stories so that more lives can be touched through the transformative work of Agros.  As a non-profit organization Agros is suffering through the effects of the current fiscal crisis and has seen a drop in donations.  They are keeping to commitments already made for village expansion, but future growth depends on more capital investment.



The beauty of the SalaamGarage/Agros partnership is that it puts creative individuals in touch with a colorful, fulfilling projects and empowers them to serve a need at the same time.  Through their individual efforts to get the story out in whatever method of self expression they choose, whether it be viral media, blogs, traditional gallery showings, film or any new media combination, their creativity through this trip WILL change lives.


For more information on SalaamGarage, please see:

For more information on Agros International, please see:



There are still spaces left on this trip!

Here is how to register for the trip:

Contact us at SalaamGarage and let us know you are interested. We are offering a few early registration discounts and refer a friend discounts which you can take advantage of right now.




Photos courtesy and copyright of:

Ira Lippke (
Don Mirra (
Trevor Snapp

Sean Dimond (





Comments (2)

  • Beryl Singleton...

    8 years 8 months ago

    Jessie, are you working with this amazing group. It was not clear whether this was submitted from elsewhere or if you wrote it.


    Author of The Scent of God: A Memoir (Counterpoint NY 2006 hardcover; 2007 paperback)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    8 years 8 months ago

    hi beryl! i interviewed the great folks at salaamgarage (and agros) and there will be more interviews coming up - both of another salaamgarage project, and a more in-depth interview with agros. 


    aren't they GREAT?!

    Jessie Voigts


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