Xela AID Brief History


Local Hope, founded and still known today in Guatemala as Xela AID (Agency for Integrated Development, pronounced “Shay-la”) is a not-for-profit organization that provides a range of important services to largely indigenous populations in poverty belts in Guatemala. We team locally and with organizations abroad who share values consistent with our mission to enable those who are critically underserved to become healthy, educated and self-reliant so they can beat poverty and thrive.

The organization was founded in 1992 by Leslie Baer Dinkel, then a young professional who’d gone to Guatemala to improve her Spanish. Finding herself in the middle of a decades-long Civil War that was still raging, she came upon widespread suffering in rural communities where access to clean water, health care, and education were the exception. She quickly became drawn to a humanitarian mission, and upon her return to the states, turned for help to friend Fr. Peter Hickman, founder of a forward-thinking ecumenical spiritual and service community.

With Hickman's support, the first volunteer service trip was scheduled for June of 1993 and Xela AID was born. Early projects included emergency medical aid and the building of a school. A full account of the founding of the project and associated adventures and misadventures can be read in Hope Dancing: Finding Purpose and a Place to Serve, Leslie’s memoir published in 2019.


In its early days, Xela AID focused on emergency medical aid. With the good counsel of the Peace Corps and local development organizations—as well as from lessons learned as first-hand witness to "give-aways" eroding dignity and creating dependency—the organization quickly adopted an approach of "integrated community development" to address a range of issues that together thwarted health and prosperity. Leadership recognized education as key to overcoming poverty and creating abundance, and by the late 1990s, the lion's share of Xela AID's efforts had evolved to focus on removing obstacles to education and to promoting self-reliance.

Today’s Local Hope understands that children who are hungry or sick cannot learn, and that families who have insufficient income cannot support their children being in school. Therefore, the organization supports education while it works simultaneously to provide the tools, services and access needed by the local population to overcome health and socio-economic issues that thwart learning.

Since 2002, with the support of thousands of individual donors and dozens of foundations and organizations that provide medical and other materials and low- or no-cost, Local Hope has delivered in excess of $8 million of support in these areas: Education, Health, Small Business Development/Micro-Finance, Clean Environment Initiatives and Emergency Relief. We seek out partnerships with individuals, families, local government, and other non-profit organizations to address challenges holistically. This formula has made the organization unique in some aspects and has fueled its many successes.

Learn about Who We Are HERE.

Above left: A local weaver displays her wares. Microbusinesses such as those supported by Xela AID through its Tesoros del Corazon Weavers Cooperative help remove economic obstacles to learning and give parents a way to support their families.



Founding - Xela AID is founded during the Guatemalan Civil War on December 15th.

First Volunteer Service Trips – In July and December, Xela AID undertakes its first two volunteer trips Organized with the help of a local language school, the group holds medical and optical clinics and builds a small home for a family living in extreme poverty. Yearly volunteer trips continue through present.

First Building - Xela AID’s builds a single-room school at Loblatzan, the organization’s first block structure. It initially welcomes 30 children. Heartened by the single classroom, the community soon adds additional rooms.

Educational Scholarships Launched — Karen Edwards, Colleen Dodds, and Jim Mramor sponsor three children from Santa Cruz de Laguna to go to school, launching the program which is first run by volunteer Ana-Maria Flores. (Today's program is called LEAP)

Women’s Gathering Place - Xela AID constructs a round building designed by then-Board Member Wolfram Alderson. The unique structure is initially used as gathering place for women and as a weaving cooperative.

First Emergency Response - In response to Hurricane Stan, Xela AID sends funds, and local teams build emergency shelters and deliver clean water and blankets to victims of earthquakes and flooding.

In History: Signing of the Peace Accords - Peace Accords are signed by the Guatemalan government and the revolutionary forces after a civil war that lasted more than three decades and during which at least 300,000 people were killed or “disappeared”—an estimated 90% of which were rural Maya such as those served by Xela AID. The conditions of poverty and unequal opportunity that fueled the war remain largely unchanged.

In History: “Never More,” and Murder - Roman Catholic Archbishop and human rights defender Juan José Gerardi Conedera releases the report “Nunca Más” (Never More) which includes interviews with more than a thousand survivors and witnesses to attrocities committed almost exclusively by the Guatemalan military. It is the first investigation to include the names of the implicated individuals, totaling more than 1,000. Two days after presenting the report, the Archbishop is murdered in home in Guatemala City.

Land Purchased - Xela AID purchases approximately two acres of land in San Martín Chiquito with funds donated by Xela AID Board Member Karen Edwards. Fundraising begins for Xela AID’s new headquarters and clinic.

In History: Truth Commission Report - After interviewing 11,000 people and pouring through declassified information from the U.S. government, the Guatemalan Truth Commission completes its final report, “Guatemala: Memory of Silence.” The report states that “agents of the state committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people… State forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93% of the violations documented… Insurgent actions produced 3% of the human rights violations and acts of violence.” The total number of people killed was more than 200,000; 83% of the victims were Mayan and 17% were Ladino. Subsequent to the Commission’s work, a "Diario militar" (military logbook) was found that had registered the names and data of persons unlawfully arrested, tortured, and put to death by a unit of the government security forces. The Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) continues to exhume mass graves contributing valuable information for further investigations.

International Weaving Conference - “World Weaving 2000” hosted by Xela AID at the San Juan Capistrano Mission brings together 80 weavers from 12 countries and welcomes more than 10,000 people over two days. The event is coordinated by Xela AID then-Board Member Joyce Fournier and volunteers Alana Jolly.

Preschool Launched - Xela AID enters into a partnership with SOSEP, the project of the First Lady of Guatemala and converts its round weaving cooperative to San Martín Tots Preschool. This is made possible by a donation from Milton and Helen Dinkel that funds the building of a kitchen at the round house. The preschool initially serves 30 children, but quickly grows to nearly 60.

Captsone Gift - A $10,000 gift from June Russel Glennon completes fundraising for Xela AID’s headquarters and clinic and construction begins.

Headquarters Inaugurated – Xela AID’s first headquarters, is completed. An inauguration is held including local political and religious officials, a volunteer group, and many local citizens. Mám children are featured dancing during the ceremony.

First Full-Time Staff Hired in Guatemala

First Sponsored Children Enter Workforce - First children sponsored through the LEAP Scholarship Program in 1994 graduate and take leadership roles. Rosa Hernandez becomes a teacher and her brother Adalberto, a school principal. Third sponsored child Gregorio Simaj becames the village’s first literate mayor. At this writing in 2017 more than 500 children have received scholarships through the program whereby sponsored children pay their good fortune forward by tutoring other children in need.

Loblatzán Expanded - Xela AID adds a second floor to the School at Loblatzán made possible by a donation from then-Board Member Dr. Flora Johnson. The new classroom increases the schools capacity from 70 children in two shifts to 140.

Loblatzán Expanded Again - The local community continues adding on, and the School at Loblatzan which began as a single class room built by Xela AID serving 30 children grows to 5 classrooms serving 500 children daily over two school shifts.

Study Center Established - Xela AID then-Board Member Sheryl Fontaine spearheads Centro de Estudios, a study center where children struggling in school can be tutored in their native language. Juana Gomez Perez, a graduate of Xela AID’s WSS program, becomes the Study Center’s first teacher.

• First Weaving Cooperative Built - The Tesoros del Corazón Weaving Cooperative is formalized when a storefront is built and dedicated as an addition to Xela AID headquarters. The Weaving Cooperative is made possible by a generous gift from Board Member Kathy Burt, and Don Logan.

Incorporated as a Legal Entity - Xela AID Partnerships for Self Reliance becomes a freestanding 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization through the efforts of Milton Louis Dinkel, the organization’s first Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer, a full-time volunteer. Leslie Baer Dinkel becomes the organization’s first formal Executive Director.

First Official Board Chair - Entrepreneur Susan Rikalo becomes first Chair of the Board of the newly-minted Xela AID 501 (c) (3).

First Freestanding Office, U.S. - Xela AID opens its first free-standing office in Long Beach, California.

First Official Director, Guatemala - Guatemalan national Luis de León is the newly incorporated Xela AID’s first Director in Guatemala.

First Paid Employee, U.S. - Amy Logan becomes Xela AID’s first paid employee in the United States as office manager. She later becomes stateside Director of the Work-Study Scholarship Program.

Leadership Training Program Launched - Xela AID launches this Leadership Training Program with an initial 20 students. Board Chair Sue Rikalo becomes Coach and Benefactor and grows the program into a two-year, certified course. Elmer Mazariegos leads the program to success as its first full-time Coordinator.

Women’s Literacy Program Formalized - Board Members Sherry Robin and Bailey Smith become Coaches and shore up the Xela AID’s fledgling Women’s Literacy Program, positioning it for expansion. It is led locally by Alicia De León, a graduate of our Work Study Scholarship Program and one of the village’s first college graduates. Colleen Dodds establishes the Karen E. Edwards Women’s Empowerment Program Fund to further strengthen and grow the program.

In History: Guilty of Genocide - A court in Guatemala finds former military leader Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. From a BBC report: “The three-judge tribunal sentenced the 86-year-old to 80 years in prison. Montt was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his time in office in 1982 and 1983. Survivors described horrific abuses committed by the army against those suspected of aiding left-wing rebels. In blisteringly critical language, Judge Jazmin Barrios said that as de facto president it was logical that Rios Montt knew of what was happening in the country, but did nothing to stop it. Hunger, systematic rape and forced displacements were all used as tools of war against the Ixil people…” It is the first time a former head of state is found guilty of genocide by a court their own country.

First Foundation Grant – The SG Foundation awards Xela AID its first foundation grant under the purview and with the assistance of long-time SG staff member Dee Reed and Executive Director Pamela Gratten. A second grant comes from the Arthur B. Schulz Foundation. Numerous grants follow. Foundation grants augment personal gifts to enable the organization to professionalize and expand services, and this year, serves nearly 6,000 people through all programs.

Montessori Preschool in the Making - Xela AID Board Member Sherry Robin designs and supports a Montessori teacher training program and test preschool in preparation to launch an official Xela AID Montessori preschool.

Welcome Center Added - A sorely needed third floor is added to Xela AID headquarters, and inaugurated as The Betty Rikalo Welcome Center. It is made possible by a capstone gift from Dolores Tusich secured by Sue Rikalo on behalf of the Tusich and Rikalo family estates.

Expanding: A Second Capital Campaign - Xela AID launches a campaign to build the Center for Learning Innovation, a second three-story building which will encompass 16,000 square feet and will double the organization’s capacity to serve.

Clean Water Grant - An 18-month-long effort led by the Rotary Club of Avalon on Catalina Island, the Rotary Club of Quetzaltenango, and Xela AID results in a $119,000 Rotary Foundation Global Grant to provide clean water and sanitation for nearly 15,000 people in the San Martín Chile Verde region. Additional support comes from Rotary District 5320 and the Rotary Clubs of Signal Hill, Las Alamitos/Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, and Placentia. Under local Rotary supervision (Club Rotario de Quetzaltenango), Xela AID leads implementation of the grant, “San Martín Thrive.”

Commitment to Sustainability - Xela AID’s Board ratifies a resolution to use only cutting-edge, sustainable energy technologies and to become a model for sustainable community development that can be replicated and scaled in other areas of Guatemala and beyond.

First Six-Figure Grant - The SG Foundation contributes a $100,000 matching gift to Xela AID’s Center for Learning Innovation, becoming the first six-figure grant awarded directly to the organization and the second under it’s management.

Partnership with Art Ambassador – Art Ambassador For A Colorful World and Xela AID form a partnership to incorporate the Art Ambassador Open Air Studio, Guatemala, into the Center for Learning Innovation.

Name Change – The organization’s name is changed in the U.S to Local Hope, with Xela AID—well-known and understood in Guatemala—continuing in use there.

Second Guatemalan Director Named – Norma Lucrecia González , with Elmer Mazariegos—once sponsored through the organization's LEAP Sponsorship Program, named second in command.

Emergency Response - When closures to prevent the spread of COVID cripple the region and spur hunger and malnutrition, Local Hope initiates and Emergency Food Security Operation which delivers more than 20,000 bags of life-saving food to 50 villages, and launches a hot meals program and a nutritional supplement program.

Partners for Preschool and Special Needs Children - The Rotary Club of Quetzaltenango, Placentia Rotary Club, and Rotary International make possible a renovation which results classrooms them housing a Montessori preschool and a new Local Hope program serving children with special needs and their families.

Partners for Safe Computing - The Rotary Club of Quetzaltenango, Placentia Rotary Club, and Rotary International make possible a renovation to get children back to school by creating a COVID-safe computer laboratory. Within months of opening is serving in excess of 500 children each week.

Eco Guest House Opens - In November, our partner organization Art Ambassador for a Colorful World were the first guests to stay at the Eco Guest House@San Martín.

Inauguration - The completed Center for Learning Innovation innaugurated July 18 of this year models leading-edge environmental practices, brings sorely needed additional jobs into the community, and is providing a sustainable source of income and local donations for Xela AID programs so that we can continue to serve in perpetuity under local leadership—the best outcome we could hope for.

Endowment Campaign Launched - Celebrating our 30th year of service to the Guatemalan community, we launched Local Hope Forever, a campaign to endow our future and ensure service to the community in perpetuity.

And the journey continues…