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Lantern Journeys Guatemalan Adventure

Last week, we wrapped up one of our annual Starfish trips: the Lantern Journeys Guatemalan Adventure! Through a partnership with Live Worldly, an organization that organizes intentional trips abroad by engaging with local communities, Lantern Journeys enables Starfish visitors to become familiar with our program while also being immersed in Guatemalan culture and personal wellness. This May, eight women participated in the trip, led by Starfish Director of Development Wende Valentine. Over the course of the five-day visit to Guatemala, Lantern Journeys participants explored Antigua, bonded with several of our Girl Pioneers and mentors, explored the Lake Atitlán area, and became familiarized with the work of Starfish.

The first activity with the Starfish team in Panajachel was an invigorating scavenger hunt with a special twist to it: instead of doing a traditional Starfish dinámica, or warm-up vocal empowerment exercise, Starfish Wellness Manager Virgilio led everyone – Starfish visitors, staff, and Girl Pioneers alike – in a Zumba class! Zumba was a fun challenge that served as an effective ice-breaker for everyone involved. At the end of the warm-up, the Starfish visitors, staff, and Girl Pioneers were divided into teams and set off to complete their scavenger hunt. The teams ran across Panajachel, completing tasks with their empowered voices. They sang the Starfish Affirmation Song in front of the chicken buses, interviewed their fellow townspeople about the importance of wellness, and requested free fruit at the market. After each team finished the required tasks, they all met at the town’s ice cream shop for their prizes: ice cream and nail polish!

The next morning, the Lantern Journeys visitors employed Mayan Life Travel, a Starfish small business venture, to guide them on a lakeside hike. Accompanied by Mayan Life Travel co-founder Marcos and Girl Pioneer Pamela, the Lantern Journeys group hiked the nine miles between Santa Cruz and San Marcos. Everyone had a yummy Guatemalan picnic of beans, eggs, tortillas, and fruit en route. In San Marcos, all of the hikers took the opportunity to take a refreshing swim, and some of them even jumped from the 10-meter platform!

Wende and Julie on the trek to San Marcos.

Wende and Julie on the trek to San Marcos.

Later that night, guests enjoyed a delicious traditional Guatemalan meal prepared by Starfish graduate Maria Petzey and her sous chef (and Girl Pioneer) Juana Simaj. Maria is in Starfish’s New Horizons program and is currently training to become a chef! During dinner, the girls and participants told each other about their life experiences and goals. Both Juana and María excitedly described their ambitious dreams with the Lanterns Journey guests, and vice versa. This experience allowed everyone to reflect and be inspired by each other’s goals and aspirations. 

On Sunday, the group divided in two; one team went to observe a Starfish mentorship session in Sololá, the other did the same in Santiago. Lantern Journeys visitors learned more about Starfish’s mentorship program by observing our Girl Pioneers and mentors hard at work. Later, they accompanied mentors to the homes of a few Girl Pioneers, where they did more dinámica exercises with Starfish families. In the intimate atmosphere of the home visits, our guests were able to bond with families by discussing life experiences, making tortillas, and sharing a meal of plato estrella.


On Monday, Starfish guests had a relaxing experience in San Juan, another town on the lake. There they visited Olga Mendoza, a former Starfish employee, who is very knowledgeable about Mayan cosmovision and spirituality. Each visitor received a spiritual Mayan nahual reading from Olga (nahuals are similar to horoscope signs; they each have meanings and representations for the lives of the people to whom they correspond), which allowed for an intimate connection with traditional Mayan culture. Lantern Journeys visitors also learned about traditional weaving practices of Mayan textiles from Olga. After the nahual and textile sessions, participants ended their day with a wonderful meal of wine and cheese in local restaurant El Artesano.

On the final day of the trip, participants visited the Panajachel Starfish office and met the managers of each of our projects. Through short question-and-answer sessions with the managers and Girl Pioneers participating in each project, the Lantern Journeys visitors were able to delve deeper into each project and familiarize themselves with the holistic approach to empowerment that Starfish offers the Girl Pioneers.

The 2016 Lantern Journeys trip proved to be an enriching and educational experience for all involved. The focus on mental and physical wellness, combined with participation in the Starfish program, allowed our visitors to learn about the values that Starfish staff members and Girl Pioneers practice every day. Participant Julie Larkin attests that the trip was “a truly immersive opportunity for learning about the lives of these Guatemalan girls, the amazing Starfish staff, and the Starfish organization.” Thank you to all of the Lantern Journey participants for visiting Starfish and to our team for integrating them so seamlessly into our family!


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Are you interested in visiting Starfish in Guatemala? Contact Jo French at

Posted on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

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