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News from Semillas,
and Chocolá, Guatemala

Semillas hosted the first "meeting of discovery" in Chocola with 125 invited civic leaders and guests. A new spirit of planning and working together toward common goals for economic and social development and conservation of historical assets emerged. Photos show the meeting which was held in the old Sawmill and Taller, townspeople enjoying historical photos of the old Beneficio; children watching the "goings on"; four young ladies who helped host the event and a group of citizens watching the proceedings.

(Below) The roof of the community salon, used for community meeting, education programs and fiestas was removed unceremoniously by Hurricane Stan a while back but the governing municipality has finally come up with funds to repair and restore this important meeting place. Work was going apace prior to Christmas with the hope of reopening the building in January. Flying buttresses were added to the exterior walls to strengthen the structure.

(Below) The volcano Fuego has a tendency to clear its throat in the winter months. This shot shows his fury rising from behind Mount Acatenango.

(Below) A rare snow fall hit the tops of volcanoes all over Guatemala on the third of January and although there was a mad rush to find gloves for snowballs, it had all melted by mid-day.

(Below) Visible from Chocola, Mt. Fuego was active from August through January – very active!  Fortunately, high winds aloft kept the ash at bay.

(Below) “Dr. Peter Rohloff meets with group of visiting Canadian and US physicians at La Condessa before heading out for field work, including at the Socorro neighborhood in Chocola.  Dr. Rohloff and Semillas are working on a plan to establish a health care clinic in Chocola, by the end of 2008.”

(Below) “Group of volunteer water engineering graduate students from Southern Illinois, their engineering mentors and Anne Kramer ham it up in front of the great Antigua fountain before heading to Chocola to assess feasibility of new potable water system for a growing. The group is led by Russell Rohloff, a civil engineer hailing from Vermont.”

(Below) "Suzanne and Earl of Semillas and join Dr Rodolfo Paiz, President, and Otoniel Gamboa, Regional Director for Alta Vera Paz, of the Presidential Commission for Local Development at the annual Commission meeting in Guatemala City to discuss the National Cacao Initiative.”

(Below) “Dr. Jeffrey Hurst of the Board, Dr Paiz and Erich Eger also of and Semillas Board, at Hershey’s facilities in Hershey Pennsylvania for meetings to discuss the Cacao initiative in Guatemala.  These were followed by meetings in Washington DC with the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Cacao Foundation. “

(Below) While at Hershey’s, Erich Eger is delighted to explain the history of Cacao to two American tourists at the Hershey’s Chocolate Center.  Behind them is the “Northernmost Cacao Tree in the Americas.”

(Below) Suzanne and Richard Rotter, President of Pilones de Antigua, stand in an inter-cropped stand of teak, mahogany, eucalyptus, and palo blanco situated on the coastal plain west of Chocola. Pilones de Antigua is the largest tree and vegetable seedling company in the country, which also manages an extensive re-forestation program throughout the south coast.  As a part of the Semillas demonstration farm program to help Chocola area farmers learn new “added value” methods of agriculture, we are exploring the feasibility of intercropping with cacao, banana and vegetable crops..  

(Below) “Vera Richardson and Corrine Willock, founders of ChocoGuateMaya, a partner of Semillas visit the demonstration farm site with Leo Sonderegger.  The ChocoGuateMaya group is focused on developing cacao growing stock that traces back to the genetic origins of cacao and then supplying those strong root stocks to Maya farmers throught Guatemala.”

(Below) “Through the good efforts of several Board members we are slowly adding to the children’s library in the ECA building.  If you have access to Spanish language books suitable for young people, please contact board members Jeffery Hurst or Earl de Berge and they will help make arrangements for getting them to the community.”


Novermber 19th 2007
Semillas Signs Convenio Marco with Guatemalan Ministry of Culture & Sports

On November 23rd, Carlos Daniel de León, Executive Director, will sign the Convenio Marco, on behalf of Semillas Para El Futuro. Signing this pact confirms Semillas’ commitment to adhere to the principles and values encompassed in the Convenio:

1. Recognition that culture includes a broad range of human activities.
2. Respect for human dignity and rights
3. Recognition of the value of language and cultural diversity in Guatemala
4. Respect for the cultural and historical patrimony of Guatemala
5. Understanding that arts and other cultural expressions are critical to the development of the human personality
6. Encouraging a culture of peace based on inclusivity, diversity, multiculturalism and internationalism
7. Recognition that sports and recreation are an integral component of human and national development.

In addition to pledging that these values will be included in their programs, signatory organizations and groups will constitute a broad network which can interact to enhance each others’ activities as we all work toward a better future for all Guatemalans.

Semillas is proud to be a member of this network.

The signing ceremony will also be attended by Semillas founding members Earl de Berge and Suzanne de Berge, and Derek Steele. 

CASA DE CULTURA. The Chocolá ECA has agreed to begin planning to refurbish the old Hotel Chocolá (built late in the 19th century) for Casa de Cultura and other community uses such as community events, youth programs, a museum to celebrate the history of Chocolá, both ancient and modern, and a children’s library. The grand old building is in serious need of repair due to decades of deferred maintenance, but is a sound structure. The search for funding and technical support is underway and we encourage interested parties to contact us.

Hacienda Painted Chocolá

Veranda of German Hotel

Funds have been raised to repair several of the community tractors used during harvest time. The nearby sugar refinery, Palo Gordo, has joined the effort by contributing the time and skills of several of its mechanics.

Tractor Chocolá

A plan is being completed to build a sluice pipeline from the Coffee Beneficio to an organic fertilizer plant following the line of an original German open canal that was long ago abandoned. Following this old line will avoid any new damage to the archaeology site. Semillas will provide the funding for needed equipment while the community will provide labor and will provide archaeological oversight. When completed, the sluice line will also eliminate the industrial pollution of the Rio Chocolá resulting from years of dumping waste into the river and will rid the community and a nearby school of noxious odors and flies from the same waste piles.

Lunch with ECA Leaders

Team Inspects Sluide Line Path

Board members Earl de Berge, Derek Steele, Anne Kraemer, Suzanne de Berge, Erich Eger and Eric Kingsbury met together in Chocola several times during August, conferring with leaders of the ECA (Empresa Campeina Asociativa) and the Asociacion Para Desarrollo Social y Cultural.  Agreement was reached to use and begin work on repair of the German “Hotel” to prepare it for use as a cultural, community and museum facility and possibly to also house a family health clinic that is in the planning stages.

Agreement was also made to assist with the repair of tractors needed for the coffee harvest and to assist in the construction of facilities that will convert coffee hull waste into organic fertilizer that can be both used by local farmers and sold. It will also clean up a pollution site and stop dumprting of waste in the local river.
Dr. Peter Rohloff and Dr. Linda Valencia met with board members for two days to discuss needs and initial plans for a health care clinic in Chocola capable of providing services to local people in their native tongues whether it be Spanish, Kakchikel or K’iché and with an emphasis on health education, treatment and diabetics   
Meetings also included: a visit to Chocola of the President of the Presidential Commission for Local Redevelopment, Rudolfo “Fito” Paiz  and three of his top officers;  meetings with Kristen Anderson of Child Aid, a group that specializes in helping rural communities develop libraries and library access for young people; and the Rainforest Alliance coordinator for Guatemala, Mario Escopedo.  Analysis and papers are being developed on a variety of potential economic and environmental initiatives to help diversify farming practices in the region and to assess the potential for Chocola as a historical site featuring both the Industrial Archaeology of the Old German Chocola Finca and the Ancient Maya City of Chocola.

Meetings are in progress with top officials of the federal agency responsible for protecting archaeological sites (IDAEH) to encourage them to become more aware of and active in the protection of the Maya site.  The agency is hamstrung by a lack of staff and funds and Semillas is searching for partners and strategies to help protect the site, including the purchase of sensitive mounds in the path of urbanization.  If they can be acquired, they will be turned over to the Federal Government of Guatemala and become a part of National Patrimony Sites so that they can be protected in perpetuity.

A program with the world famous Museo Ixchel will be launched next year in the local schools to help re-acquaint children with traditional crafts of the region.       


Semillas Meeting With ECA Board

Anne & Volunteer Teens

Dr. Paiz & Board Members

At Organic Fertilizer Plant

Working With Volunteers