Quetzaltrekkers/Escuela de la Calle (EDELAC) was the brainchild of a small group of Guatemalan and foreign social workers, one of whom, Guadalupe, is still the director of EDELAC today. As one of the first operations to offer organized treks out of Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltrekkers embarked on the tough process of building and improving trails, establishing relationships with highland communities and acquiring equipment and volunteers. Meanwhile, aid work started on the streets; giving classes and providing support to the kids living and working in the city´s main bus terminal.
From these humble beginnings, Quetzaltrekkers has grown to become the biggest trekking operator in Quetzaltenango and possibly all of Guatemala. As interest in our treks has expanded over the years, so has our ability to help Quetzaltenango´s street children. In 1997, QT’s founders opened a school in a rented space, offering the kids a semi-formal education, and in 1999, opened the Hogar Abierto (“Open Home” in English), a dormitory that continues to act as a permanent home for troubled youth who lack families that can cover their education and basic needs. In 2004, the school was relocated to a purpose-built complex in the impoverished neighborhood of Barrio las Rosas and expanded to offer a full educational curriculum to disadvantaged children from across the city and outlying regions. These two institutions – Escuela de la Calle (the name of the school as well as the overall organization) and the Hogar Abierto – remain the cornerstones of EDELAC and the primary beneficiaries of the profits of Quetzaltrekkers as well as a number of EDELAC-run programs that focus on drug-rehabilition, family-building, and political activism.
With the constant financial support of Quetzaltrekkers, EDELAC is currently helping over 200 children in the fields of education, housing, nutrition, counseling, rehabilitation and medical-care. The expanding alumni of EDELAC´s programs have gone onto become successful accountants, carpenters, mothers, fathers and teachers (some of which now teach at EDELAC).
Quetzaltrekkers, as a business, works very simply. While EDELAC and the Hogar, directed by Guadalupe, are run by a staff of Guatemalan professionals, Quetzaltrekkers operates independently by a staff of temporary volunteers. Every QT volunteer, once accepted by the current volunteer staff, is asked to commit to a minimum of three months (although many stay for longer). Old guides pass on their knowledge of the trails and the organization to the new, who in a few short months become old guides themselves, and thus, QT exists in a constant, effective, and stable cycle of guide turnover. For the period we serve as guides, we work all-day everyday and share in the responsibilities of running the business. This involves not only guiding clients on treks, of which there are a variety of half-day to six-day excursions, but also checking emails, answering phones, managing the finances, washing dishes, preparing food, and every other imaginable task integral to a functioning trekking company. We also live together in a rented house and prepare all our meals communally throughout the day in the office. All in all, Quetzaltrekkers is an incredible living, working, and learning experience for anyone passionate about hiking and travel. I mean, look at us. Our time guiding officially is over and yet we just can’t stop. If you’re intrigued, visit the QT website and look into becoming a volunteer. Or if you find the work of QT compelling but are just not one for hiking, there are also wonderful volunteering opportunities within the school and the Hogar. We intimately know this organization to be not only credible, but invaluable to the children it serves and we cannot recommend it enough!