We tend to think of travel as a break from reality. But what if we saw our trips as journeys to philanthropy? I recently spent five days in Guatemala. Francesca Kennedy invited me and a few others to explore a country she has known since she spent summers as a young girl at Lake Atitlán with her family. Five years ago she founded Ix Style, an artisanal fashion label that sells bags, jewelry, and huarache sandals made by women in the country’s traditional Mayan style.
Ix’s crafts are a reminder of the warmth you feel in this small Central American nation, despite its troubled history; 15 percent of the profits from their sale benefits Ecofiltro, an organization that helps Guatemalans get access to clean water. In fact, donating water filters was one of the activities we took part in after we landed in Guatemala City.
I had just flown in from South by Southwest, and it was satisfying to take action instead of just talking about it. After visiting a school supported by the nonprofit Pencils of Promise, we worked up a sweat at Santa Catarina Palopó, a village near Lake Atitlán that’s a living work of art—literally.
Last year a Guatemalan journalist named Harris Whitbeck started a program that encourages locals and visitors to paint the town, in the hope of raising its spirits. It worked! And the town has become a tourist attraction in its own right. We split up into two groups and started bringing back to life the faded colors of some of the homes in the community. As we drove back to Hotel Atitlán, I realized my small contribution had left an imprint, just as Guatemala had touched me.