Larry Dressler

A mentor of mine once said to me, “One thing we have on this planet is an abundance of suffering and inequity. So just pick a spot where you believe you can make a difference.”  Seven years ago my wife and I picked our spot — rural Mayan villages in Guatemala where literacy rates are below 50% and poverty levels are among the worse in the western hemisphere.

Reading Village works at the cross-roads of youth leadership development and children’s literacy promotion.  Basically, we provide high school scholarships to teenagers who we help to become rock-star reading activists in their own communities.  Imagine a middle-schooler named Laura who on the day she arrives in our program speaks in whispers and can hardly make eye contact with our staff. Within three months Laura is standing before a group of 25 boisterous kids, reading aloud from a story-book, and engaging the kids with sound effects, puppets, and provocative questions.  Laura’s confidence soars and this previously invisible girl is elected to be president of her school class. Three years later Laura becomes the first person in her family to ever graduate from high school, which in Guatemala can be an economic game changer for a family. But that’s not all. While Laura was a reading promoter she worked alongside local boys who came to respect her as an equal. As a result, Laura’s will be the first generation of parents who not only read to their children but who also carry fundamentally different attitudes about what a girl can grow up to become.

Laura teaching a young girl to read

Laura’s story is representative of many of the teens who complete Reading Village’s program. That said, Guatemala is a place of great complexity — politically, economically, culturally, and socially.  We must constantly adapt to emerging realities on the ground. In that sense, Guatemala is an amazing learning lab for social transformation. Working with local people to build their capacity to create the future they dream of is the most difficult work I’ve ever done.  It’s so easy as the white, educated, privileged guy to jump in with my opinions and “brilliant” ideas.  But encouraging local initiative and sustainable community change among a people who for so long have been “conquered” involves restraint.  Yes, restraint as a strategy for change…. I know, it seems counter-intuitive, especially for an entrepreneur who is all about action!
So, I’ve picked my “spot” on the planet and I’d love to share it with you. If you’d like to deepen your learning about social change, experience the richness of rural Mayan life, and get inspired by participating in Reading Village’s work on the ground, please consider joining us an our upcoming Learning Journey November 2-9 (inclusive of air travel days).  This is the seventh learning Journey I will be leading and each one is unique. No Spanish necessary. The trip is limited to ten people. For more information about the trip feel free to stop by my office or check out http://readingvillage.org/literacy-programs/learning-journey/.

About the Author: Larry Dressler is the founder of Blue Wing Consulting, a firm specializes in convening high-stakes conversations and weaving participation, authenticity, and courage into the fabric of today’s organizations. He is the author of Standing in the Fire and Consensus Through Conversation. Larry also co-chairs the HUB’s Ambassador initiative.

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