The Rios Fund, Guatemala is a social enterprise that applies market-based strategies to address social and environmental issues. We also have tax-deductible capacity via our affiliate organization, the Guatemala Tomorrow Fund. 100 percent of our profits are donated to the Guatemala Tomorrow Fund and fund educational and economic opportunities to end extreme poverty, while also protecting and restoring the Rio Sauce watershed.
Where we work: 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. National parks and nature reserves dominate the horizon, including the Sierra de las Minas, the largest area of protected cloud forest in Central America.
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 and burn agriculture are Guatemala's leading causes of deforestation. All become difficult or impossible on steep mountain slopes or canyon walls. The area does present remarkable potential as a eco-tourism destination. Tourism can be a funding source that empowers the local people with life changing educational and economic opportunites that end deep poverty and incentives to conserve natural resources, restore degraded landscapes and protect nature reserves.
View this short video for an overview of our work in the recently established Seacacar Cañon Natural Reserve. Please note the name change from the Boquerón Cañon Project.
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 psycholgist, 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. The combined efforts of the Mayan people and international volunteers will be to create opportunity, not dependency.
Education: In March 2014, we opened the first ever intermediate school (grades 7 - 9) in Seacacar, a riverside village near the entrance to the spectacular Boquerón Cañon. Our student numbers have doubled from 15 to 30 full time students in two years. The educational format is based upon the philosophy of the vocational boarding school at Ak' Tenamit, on the Rio Dulce. At Ak' Tenamit, 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. Our school is solar powered and curriculum is loaded onto tablet computers. 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. Future goals include building and funding male and female dormitories so that students from other villages in the Rio Sauce Valley can attend school. We also envision individualizing education via digitial resources. This can reduce costs, expand resources and allow each student to progress at his or her own learning pace.
Ecotourism: A remarkable achievement! The Q'eqchi worked with us to create Guatemala's newest protected "Reserva Natural" along the Rio Sauce and in the Boquerón Cañon. Our jungle lodge sits at the entrance to the protected area and opened for business on November 12, 2015. It includes spacious rooms overlooking the Rio Sauce gorge, a covered cabin tent platform (glamping) and a restaurant that serves delicous and nutritious family style meals. An all weather interpretive trail provides visitors with stunning views of the Rio Sauce gorge and jungle ecosystem. This trail ends at the entrance to the Boquerón Cañon. From here, guides take travelers on an inner tube float through the spectacular jungle gorge.
Sustainable agriculture: Efforts are underway to establish community orchards and houshold gardens that provide an economic alternative to slash and burn agriculture, improved nutrition, prevent soil erosion and establish marketable produce. This also includes reforestation with native rainforest species, such as the Ramon Tree.
Micro business development:
* Spanish language school (provides employment to our top students to teach Spanish to lodge guests)
* Handicraft production (provides employment, especially to women, to produce handicrafts for retail sale in Guatemala or internationally)
*Fruit orchards and other marketable / sustainable crops to individual families or as a community orchard / farm
* Tourism guides and general tourism employment (work with travelers as nature guides, cooks, etc.)
Tax deductible donations:
The Rios Fund accepts tax-deductible donations via our affiliate organization, The Guatemala Tomorrow Fund. Donations are used to fund teacher salaries and school supplies at our Education Center and reforestation of the Rio Sauce watershed.
Make a Difference and Donate Now - Go to the Ak' Tenamit webiste link
Tax deductible donations via The Guatemala Tomorrow Fund - Check the RIOS Fund box
The GTF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, located in the United States, whose mission is to empower the indigenous people of Guatemala to become self-sustaining by supporting projects that: improve health care; reduce illiteracy, promote environmentally sound agriculture; promote enterprise development to raise income levels; and increase awareness and participation in civic affairs.
The GTF does this principally by raising funds and providing logistical support for Ak’ Tenamit, a non-profit association registered and located in Guatemala as “Asociación Ak’ Tenamit” (AAT). Ak’ Tenamit works closely with Guatemala’s Q’eqchi Maya villages as they work to develop their communities by providing access to education and healthcare and supporting micro-enterprises.