A community development project takes root beneath the forest canopy in Guatemala.
I n 1991, Steve Dudenhoefer sold his successful landscaping business and abandoned his comfortable surroundings in southern Florida, USA, to dedicate his life to alleviating the plight of an indigenous community in the rain forests of eastern Guatemala.
Dudenhoefer says about 60,000 indigenous Maya from Guatemala are living in southern Florida, many of whom fled to the United States to escape the violence brought on by a decades-old civil war. He observed firsthand the challenges facing migrant workers from the Central American country.
“I was struck by the tremendous sacrifice it was for these men to live in the U.S.,” says Dudenhoefer, who became a Rotarian in 1997, when he founded the Rotary Club of Puerto Barrios, Izabal. “It was the only way to ensure safety, health care, and education for their families back home.”
Dudenhoefer moved to Guatemala in 1991 to become a full-time volunteer. While working at a local orphanage, he was struck by the needs of the people there, particularly those of the Q’eqchi’ Maya living in the rain forests.
A year later, he helped establish Ak’Tenamit, an indigenous community development organization that promotes long-term solutions to poverty through education, health care, income generation, and cultural programs.