In 1991, Frances Dixon was invited to speak at a Rotary Club about Guatemala’s long-standing 36-year civil war. Dixon had just established her nonprofit organization, Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala, in the unlikely location of northwest Guatemala where the conflict was at its most intense. “The mission of the organization,” she explained to the audience, “is to provide access to education for hundreds of disadvantaged indigenous youth who have suffered the worst hardships of social inequality.”
Inspired by Dixon’s compelling message about the Mayan people of Guatemala, whose human rights had been brutally violated in the government’s genocidal war, the Bonita Springs Rotary Club of southwest Florida awarded Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala $1,000 to purchase a small area of land where it would build its first school.
This event marked the beginning of an almost three-decade partnership with Rotary Clubs to help build schools, water systems, roads, and homes for the poor during the post-war construction era.
The refugees who came flooding back from Mexico after the peace treaty was signed—many suffering from tuberculosis and other illnesses—were aided by Adopt-a-Village through a generous Rotary Global grant.
Dixon, a tireless advocate for social justice and the Mayan people of northwestern Guatemala, was mindful that while these development projects offered much-needed aid to help the Maya rebuild their lives, it would not result in long-term change. She came to believe that the only hope for real and lasting peace in this beautiful but troubled country would come through education. Her goal focused on offering a quality education to Mayan youth—they would be the ones to change their country’s future for the better.
Today, a unique educational community—Adopt-a-Village’s Mayan Center for Education and Development—stands in a remote rainforest mountain where dozens of impoverished young Maya live and thrive as a result of the transformative education they receive. Moreover, surrounding villages have benefited from the organization’s outreach programs, which include initiatives ranging from sustainable gardening and nutrition to literacy training.
Rotary Clubs have helped to fund the solar equipment that powers the middle and high schools in the Center. They have also helped to equip the schools with impressive computer and science labs—the first of their kind in the region. A state-of-the-art satellite system ensures that students can access the Internet for educational research. The Mayan Center’s buildings are architecturally designed to withstand earthquakes, and a rainwater collection system serves the entire campus and its organic gardens. Students share daily chores that include food preparation, grounds keeping, managing the small chicken farm, and tending to the campus gardens that produce nutritious vegetables for staff and students.
The Mayan Center’s curriculum includes community outreach programs designed to provide students with practical training to hone their skills, as well as aid members of their communities. An adjoining rain forest habitat offers students a rare opportunity to experience interactive learning in science and biology while studying the endangered wildlife living in the area.
Drawn to the extraordinary international efforts of Rotary, Dixon became a member in 1994 in Florida where she served as World Community Service chair at club and district levels. She is the proud recipient of a District Rotary Foundation Service Award, is a multiple Paul Harris fellow, and a Rotary alumna. When she moved to southwest Oregon five years ago, she continued her membership by joining the Rogue Gateway Rotary Club. “I am extremely grateful for the wonderful partnerships I have formed with Rotary Clubs over the years. It has been a rewarding experience to be a part of leadership efforts to build peace in the world,” she says.