The Reserva Natural Cañón Seacacar is one of Guatemala's top tourism destinations and serves as a guiding example of sustainable social development in harmony with the natural world.
Work with the Q'eqchí Maya to establish financially sustainable educational and economic opportunities that end extreme poverty while also conserving natural resources, restoring degraded landscapes and establishing protected nature reserves in the Rio Sauce watershed.
Donations are available via our affiliate organization, the Guatemala Tomorrow Fund. These tax-deductible donations fund educational and economic opportunities to end extreme poverty and efforts to protect and restore the Rio Sauce watershed.
Where we work: Seacacar, Rio Sauce Valley, Guatemala
Seacacar is a Q'eqchi Mayan village and lies along the translucent green waters of the Rio Sauce, beneath the steep jungle slopes of the Sierra Santa Cruz and at the entrance to the overhanging walls of the Boquerón Cañon. A bird's eye view takes in Lago Izabal, 40 miles long and Guatemala's largest lake.
Although Seacacar is only a few miles from a paved highway, geography seals the village into a bygone century. There is no electricity and the only access is via a rough dirt road carved into the steep mountainsides. The rugged terrain isolates the village, but it also acts to protect some of the last remaining rainforest on Guatemala's Caribbean slope. Cattle ranching, plantation crops and slash / burn agriculture are Guatemala's leading causes of deforestation. All become difficult or impossible on steep mountain slopes or canyon walls.
The area presents remarkable potential as a eco-tourism destination. Tourism can be a funding source that empowers the local people with life changing opportunities that end extreme poverty and incentives to protect their natural environment.
Founder: Paul Heesaker
Paul Heesaker first saw Guatemala's Rio Sauce Valley as owner of Area Verde Expeditions and while on an exploratory kayaking expedition in November 1995. Following a career in public education, Paul returned to Guatemala in October 2011 to begin work on a documentary film that highlighted Guatemala's endangered wild rivers. The resulting film, "Rios Guatemala, The Preservation of Wild Rivers," was a selection of the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and the Breckenridge Festival of Film. Paul and his wife Catherine, a school psychologist, are full time residents of Silverthorne, Colorado.
One important aspect of the long term vision is that ecotourism will become at least one economic alternative to slash and burn agriculture. Profits generated through tourism go directly to the local people and will become a sustainable funding source for reforestation, sustainable agriculture, education and all other project efforts. While donations will help establish and maintain project initiatives, the local Mayan people will not depend on them. We value creating opportunity, not dependency.
The Rios Fund Operational Structure
Donations are sent to the Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund, Inc. (GTF) is a non-profit, non-denominational organization located in the United States that raises funds and provides logistical support for Ak’ Tenamit. All designated donations made to GTF are directly distributed to Ak’ Tenamit and are tax-deductible. Ak' Tenamit is a vocational boarding school for indigenous youth. Students who graduate from our intermediate school have the option to continue their studies at Ak' Tenamit.
Our Adventure Trips are conducted via "The Rios Fund LLC," a limited liability corporation owned by Paul Heesaker. The Rios Fund is a mission driven social enterprise. A social enterprise combines the social mission of a non-profit or government program with the market-driven approach of a business.
Amigos of the Rios Fund: A team of committed and compassionate people who conduct fund-raising events for the Reserva Natural Cañón Seacacar. Oftentimes, this will address educational infrastructure (example - student dormitories / study areas) and ongoing expenses, such as teacher salaries. It may also include tourism infrastructure that becomes a sustainable funding source. We hope to accept 20 more boarding students from other villages in the Rio Sauce watershed by the start of the new school year in mid- January, but this will not be possible without a successful funding campaign.
The Q'eqchi Mayan village of Seacacar Abajo implements and oversees all project initiatives. Initiatives are presented to a local Board of Directors. This group is elected by Seacacar's citizens. All project efforts must have the approval of the Board before moving forward. Per written agreement, the community must use profits generated via tourism to fund some educational expenses. This includes providing meals for boarding students from other villages along the Rio Sauce. The community is also expected to fund all employees at the community owned tourism center. 100 percent of the funds for the Tourism Center (until July 2018) were donated by Paul Heesaker.
Guiding Action Statements
Hope fuels change.
Change must be in harmony with the natural world.
Establish opportunity, not dependency.
Ensure equal access to opportunity.
Build strength, stability and transparency via local, national and international roots.
Pay it forward. To those who much is given, much is expected.
Education for Change
· 75% of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty
· Many indigenous children are child laborers by age 10
· On average, indigenous girls drop out after 1st grade and boys after 3rd.
· Only 5% of indigenous girls finish high school
· Source: UN Development Program
In March 2014, we opened the first intermediate school (grades 7 - 9) in Seacacar, a riverside village at the entrance to the spectacular Seacacar Cañón Natural Reserve and the Boquerón Cañon. The educational format is based upon the philosophy of the vocational boarding school at Ak' Tenamit, located about 70 miles away and along the Rio Dulce. Ak Tenamit's curriculum is adopted to the needs, interests and culture of students learning in a rural context.
We complement classroom learning with practical work experience. This includes reforestation, sustainable agriculture and tourism. When students complete the 9th grade, they continue their education at Ak' Tenamit and choose a career path in rural community development or sustainable tourism.
In January 2018, we accepted 15 boarding students from other villages along the Rio Sauce and have the long-term goal of providing a quality education to every child in the Rio Sauce watershed.
Imagine the enormous difference the first ever educated generation can make for their community and the entire Rio Sauce valley!
We need your help to provide a quality education to students who otherwise have no opportunity to escape a life of extreme poverty. Boys will often look for employment on distant plantations and work in near slave level conditions. They will also continue to slash and burn the rainforest to plant corn and beans. A cycle of extreme poverty and environmental destruction continues for yet another generation.
Mayan women are oppressed and overwhelmingly excluded from accessing educational opportunities. Many Mayan girls drop out of school in primary school and only 10% finish the 6th grade. Girls who leave school early marry young, have large families, and face a lifetime collecting firewood and breathing indoor smoke from open fires.
Your donation of just $1 per day changes lives, protects the environment and funds the following:
- Classroom teachers
- Books, computers and other school supplies
- Simple meals of tortillas, beans and rice for our students who travel from distant villages and stay overnight in our dorm. First priority for dorm berths will be given to girls so that we can increase female enrollment.
- Travel expenses for our students who go on to study at Ak' Tenamit
- Construction of female and male dormitories
Donations are available via our Affiliate organization, the Florida based and non-profit Guatemala Tomorrow Fund. The GTF raises funds and provides logistical support for Ak' Tenamit, our affiliate secondary boarding high school. Our students have the option to continue their studies at Ak' Tenamit after graduating 9th grade.
Please call 561 747 9700 if you have any further questions or need assistance with your donation. Thank you!
Women's Artisan Project
Not only does the artisan project provide income to impoverished families and an alternative to slash and burn agriculture and further rainforest loss, it also builds cultural knowledge and pride. Women are often isolated in their homes and spend a good part of each day preparing meals. They inhale smoke from cooking over open fires. Pulmonary and cardiac disease often leads to early mortality.
Quality of life is improved through a shared experience with other women as well. Women pass the day among friends and create unique products for sale to visiting travelers and to retail outlets throughout the world. Volunteers with artistic talent or handicraft experience are needed to expand this project.
We can connect retail outlets directly with the women artisans. All goods are made from sustainable rainforest resources. We encourage retail outlets to contact us and we will help arrange your direct connection with these Q'eqchí women artisans.
Nahual Jewelery - Hand carved from coconut shells
In the Mayan cosmology, your personal Nahual or spirit animal is determined by your birthdate and year. There are 20 different Nahuals and each has particular personality strengths associated with it. For example, the Nahual pictured in the artisan's hand is I'x, the Jaguar Nahual. Ix is the symbol and energy of Mother Earth. I'x is brave, strong and intelligent, but can also be immoral and arrogant.