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 in 1992 (pictured that year, far right, interacting with some local youth). At the time, she was a 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 distracted.
Outside the 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 ecumenical 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 1992, 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 43 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 raised later that year.
Integrated Community Development Model
In its early days, Xela AID provided emergency assistance. 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 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. Xela AID also seeks out partnerships with individuals, families, local government, and other non-profit organizations to address challenges holistically—the formula that makes the organization unique and has fueled its many successes.
At 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.