The Cool Shack…

This post isn’t about biking. Or bikes. Or camping, or long journeys. But don’t worry. There’s nothing in the small print that says stuff on here has to be about these things. I checked. This post does, however, involve surfing and skateboarding, some pretty cool kids, following your dreams and in a roundabout way, this blog.

A few years ago a friend of mine had the guts to leave her (fulfilling and worthwhile) job in London, to follow a long-term dream.  Getting to the point of leaving ‘normal’ life was tough, as often seems to be the case (and as I’m demonstrating fairly well at the moment). But from London, via Portugal and Scotland, Julia eventually ended up in Guatemala, in a small fishing village called El Paredón, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the mangroves.

This coastline here has some of the best surf in Guatemala and is seeing growing levels of surf tourism, with a few surf camps and hotels nearby pulling in visitors from all over the world. But when Julia arrived in El Paredón with her friend Carla, they were struck by how few local people were benefiting from this developing industry. Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate of all of Latin America, and the average family earns just $5 a day. 10% of children in El Paredón fail to finish primary school education and are held back year on year for not passing end of year exams, making it impossible to lift themselves from poverty and fulfil their potential. Foreigners are moving into the area and establishing businesses which locals could themselves start, if they had the entrepreneurial skills and resources.

Tourists have money to spend and they are keen to buy locally made products, which local young people have the talent and creativity to create. But, alcoholism is a big problem amongst local fishermen and whilst the kids have heaps of potential, they have no access to toys or sports equipment which makes it difficult to get involved in positive sports and creative activities to keep them on the right track.  And whilst the local surf scene is growing, the kids lack access to the global surf community and so their learning and potential to use surfing as an income source is limited.

With backgrounds in managing creative and employment programmes for young people, Julia and Carla wanted to help change this, and started to teach English in the school and run community tours employing local guides. Three months later they opened a workshop for young people to learn how to make and sell crafts to tourists.  In June 2012 they established La Choza Chula (The Cool Shack) with the aim of helping local children, young people and their families benefit from the surf tourism, and work with surfers to leave a positive footprint during their travels through sustainable education and enterprise projects.

The Bracelet Club

In the first year, 100 young people aged 4-25 made and sold jewellery to tourists, making money for their families, school materials and clothes. After the second year, they had helped to build the first ever library in El Paredón, a new bathroom in the school and raised over $15,000 for resources for the local community, including teacher and student books, a photocopier, calculators and surfboards for the local young surfers. In their third year, they opened the library and started to build a secondary school, which is near completion, with the help of 90 volunteers recruited by partners Surf for Life.  This school is something that the local community has wanted to build for 25 years, but which they haven’t had the resource to implement.

There are many other initiatives that La Choza Chula are introducing in El Paredón, that you can check out on their website. They are clearly having a positive impact on the community, but they survive on volunteer manpower, and donations and grants to pay their core costs.This week they found out the amazing news that they are one of just 4 causes shortlisted for a $10,000 Be The Change grant through professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler’s Foundation.  Winning this grant would help them continue to cover their core costs, and implement further plans for the coming year and beyond.  With just 4 causes shortlisted, they have a great chance of winning but need as many votes as possible between now and 3rd August.

I’d like to help La Choza Chula because of what they do, but also because Julia is actually the reason that this blog exists. The friend I mention here –  that’s Julia. Not only did she (probably unknowingly) give me the confidence to start sharing stuff here for myself, at a time when I was too worried about what people I knew might think and about why I should think I had anything worth sharing in the first place, but she also provides incredible inspiration of what you can do when you dare to be different, follow your heart and do what you love.  As with Rob Lutter’s Lifecycle, I think that this boldness deserves some support.  I’m sure that the other 3 causes in the running for this grant are very worthwhile – hell, there are causes all over the world that are worth supporting – but all you can do is try to support those that touch you in some way.  I know how hard Julia has worked to make La Choza Chula have a positive impact for the people of El Paredón, and I would love to see that continue.

You can see more about La Choza Chula in their campaign video below, and read about their achievements so far and how they would use this grant here. If their story touches you in some way and you’d like to help, you can vote for them VOTE FOR THEM HERE. You can vote once per day, every day until 3rd August!

If you’d like to help them in more practical ways (as well as voting – PLEASE VOTE!), you can check out their website for details of volunteer opportunities and how to donate to their library.  Thanks!

All photos in the post, and the featured image on the main page are courtesy of La Choza Chula or Julia Harriman.

Posted in Inspiration.