Choice Humanitarian began its work in Guatemala July 9, 1992. The minutes of school records in the community of Xalibe (Municipality of Senahu and in the State of Verapaz, Guatemala) record that the “objective of the first expedition was peaceful coexistence, cultural interchange, and the construction of a school. This is to be done in a joint venture with CHOICE volunteers through community work and instruction of new construction techniques.” The minutes also record that the hope and desire of the joint effort would be for the “community to implement other similar and future projects without the direct leadership of CHOICE, but by what the community would learn as a result of this collaboration.”
After more than 18 years, the schoolhouse is still standing, operating, and fulfilling the purpose of that first expedition. Javier Rabanales worked first as a volunteer and then later as an employee becoming CHOICE’s first Director of Guatemala Operations. In 2000, CHOICE expanded its operation to two additional villages: Seamay and Sepamac. A school and a small health post were built in Seamay, and three classrooms were constructed in Sepamac. The project in Sepamac introduced CHOICE to a number of very impoverished villages in this very remote and rural region of Guatemala.
With a much clearer vision of sustainability, CHOICE now began to pursue sustainable development of communities through self-management. CHOICE expanded into the communities of Seococ, Sajonte, Nueva Concepcion, Sillab, La Laguna, Xalibe, Los Limones, and Chimaxyat. During 2000 to 2010, CHOICE built five schools, nine community water systems, two Health Posts, and the very first Secondary school in the region. CHOICE also assisted villages in building a library as well as a number of home improvement projects, such as the installation of latrines and wash basins. Other projects focused on education and health improvements in the region. The home improvement projects improved the living conditions of 70 families! At the same time, CHOICE successfully introduced two significant programs: a Women’s Adult Literacy program and a Savings Box program.
In August of 2008, Javier and Walfred were killed in a tragic plane crash while in service to the organization. Their loss created an incredible hardship on CHOICE. Javier and Walfred were the heart of CHOICE in Guatemala and were loved by all the villagers. After their death, there was a time of uncertainty for the organization in Guatemala. Rebounding from this accident was not easy, but their memory and their work were not in vain. CHOICE resolved to continue their work and to search for a new Director.
In 2009, CHOICE hired Jorge Chen, an acquaintance and longtime friend of Javier’s. A lawyer by trade, Jorge had assisted CHOICE in its efforts to finalize its legalization process to become an official NGO in Guatemala. Jorge was a perfect fit. He is Quek’chi by birth (of Mayan decent) and has always had a desire to return to the villages and help his people.
In 2010, CHOICE returned to the communities of Seamay, Chirixquitzac, and Los Girasoles, but this time armed with a successful model of development and developing partnerships with the LDS Church, Singular Humanitarian, Downeast, and others. It has taken CHOICE a number of years to learn how to be effective, how to work with village leadership, how to partner with other organizations, and how to effectively mobilize local resources. This has prompted Jorge to recently proclaim, “We have a model, we have a history, and we have the tools to eradicate poverty in these rural communities, which are waiting for an opportunity to develop sustainably.”