Xela AID (Agency for Integrated Development) is a not-for-profit, non-sectarian, non-governmental organization and is apolitical. We have worked with a wide variety of religious organizations, humanitarian organizations, professional organizations, service organizations and others who share values consistent with our mission.
The organization was founded by Leslie Baer Dinkel in 1992 (at right, interacting with local youth). At the time, she was a lay volunteer coordinator with a Los Angeles-based Order of Mother Teresa. At the urging of the Order, she traveled to Quetzaltenango (locally known as Xela - pronounced "shay-la" to study Spanish. But with the decades-long Civil War raging on, she quickly became drawn to a humanitarian mission.
Outside her Spanish classroom, Leslie found widespread suffering in rural communities where access to clean water, health care, and education were the exception. She returned to the states and asked for help from friend Fr. Peter Hickman, founder of the forward-thinking eccumenical community of St. Matthews. With the support of Fr. Hickman and Mother Teresa's Order, the non-denominational community development organization Xela AID was born.
In June of 1993, Leslie returned to Xela with supporters from St. Matthew Church (Orange, Calif.) including Fr. Peter Hickman and Bob Rook, Xela AID's Co-Founders, and 40 other volunteers. In its inaugural trip Xela AID built a small house for a family that had taken shelter in a corn field; held a medical clinic, an optometry clinic, and committed to building a small school in the community of Loblatzan which it completed the following year. It was on that same trip that Leslie met Luis Enrique de León, a career nurse, social worker, and founder/proprieter of an orphanage who was also widely connected with resources including other help groups in Guatemala. With Luis' help on the ground, and later, his full-time involvement as Xela AID's Director in Guatemala, Xela AID soon evolved to include an Education and Leadership training component that was destined to become central to its mission.
Integrated Community Development Model
In its early days, Xela AID focused on emergency assistance. With the good counsel, 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 a community development approach. 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. In 2000, Xela AID added a tagline to reflect this evolution of thinking: Xela AID - Partnerships for Self Reliance.
Xela AID 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 to address, simultaneously, the health and socio-economic issues that thwart learning.
Since 2002, Xela AID has been the vehicle that has delivered in excess of $7 million of support in the areas of Education (Work-Study Scholarships, Leadership Training), Heath (Life-saving medical care, prevention), 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 the formula that in many ways has made the organization unique and has fueled its many successes.
Learn about Who We Are HERE.
Above left: A local weaver displays here wares. Microbusinesses such as that 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.
Xela AID Key Dates and Milestones
• Founding - Xela AID is founded during the Guatemalan Civil War on December 15, the birthday of project mentor Brother Simon, Missionary of Charity (D. June 1992) by Leslie Baer Dinkel. She is accompanied in the project launch effort by Fr. Peter Hickman, Bob Rook and Bob Rhein of St. Matthew Ecumenical Catholic Church under which Xela AID begins operating as a non-denominational project.
• First Volunteer 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 Coordinator, Guatemala - Luis Enrique de León joins Xela AID as the organization’s first Coordinator in Guatemala and works as a volunteer.
• 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.
• 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 led by Luis de León 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.
• Xela AID Headquarters Innaugurated – The Xela AID June Russel Glennon Clinic and Community Center, Xela AID’s first headquarters, is completed. An innauguration 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, Guatemala - Luis Enrique de León becomes Xela AID’s first full-time paid staff member in Guatemala. He is followed by medical and educational staff.
• First Sponsored Children Enter Workforce - First children sponsored through Xela AID’s Work Study 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.
• Loblatzen Expanded - Xela AID adds a second floor to the School at Loblatzan 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.
• Loblatzan 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.
• 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 - Xela AID opens its first free-standing office in Long Beach, California.
• First Official Director, Guatemala - Luis Enrique de León is the newly incorporated Xela AID’s first Director and legal representative in Guatemala, expanding the responsibilities of the position he’s held informally since 1993.
• 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 the program developed by Director Luis Enrique de León with an initial 20 students. Board Chair Sue Rikalo becames Coach and Benefactor and grows the program into a two-year, certified course. Elmer Mazariego 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 explansion. 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 6000 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 innaugurated 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 to Xela AID - 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. Xela AID
The three-story Center for Learning Innovation will be located on Xela AID land behind its current headquarters. The new building will include a Montessori preschool for 90 children, expanded learning facilities and a state-of-the-art computer laboratory, and an 11-room dormatory. The facility will become a source of sustainable income for Xela AID projects and many of the operations in Guatemala, and will model sustainable energy practices. It will bring two dozen additional jobs into the community and provide for a sustainable source of income for Xela AID to continue to serve in perpetuity under local supervision—the best outcome we could hope for.
And the journey continues…