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Guatemala's Feria de Sololá is not your average state fair

 Their shirts say "say no to deforestation"

Ah, it's that time of year again! Growing up in upstate New York in the United States, some of my late summer memories include the New York State Fair—particularly the concerts, popcorn, funnel cake and fair games-- I can almost smell it from here. However this year, as a Kiva fellow placed in Sololá, Guatemala, I was lucky enough to experience a different type of fair--the Feria de Sololá, or the Sololá Fair.

This feria is held every year from August 7 to the 17 and boasts daily parades, colorful indigenous clothing, religious activities, musical performances, typical food such as garnachas (similar to flat, mini tacos) and of course fireworks. The feria honors the Virgen de la Asunción, or the “patron saint” of the Sololá department.

"We demand Human Rights"

My experience with the feria was enhanced by my current living situation. I was extremely lucky that my co-worker from ADICLA and his wonderful family rented out their spare room to me for the 2 months that I am here in Guatemala. This has given me a unique glimpse into the culture and traditions of a Guatemalan family that I never would’ve had if I had lived elsewhere.

Saturday, August 11 was the biggest parade with over 4,000 people marching. The parade started bright and early at 8:00 am with a marching band and continued with musical groups dancing to various songs (including Jailhouse Rock!), groups dressed up in traditional clothing to represent their schools, floats glided by and there was even a horse show. 

"Let's conserve our lakes and rivers"

However, what struck me the most about this parade was not the creativity, colors or overall originality of each group, but the proud pronunciation of the values that were displayed. Some groups marched with messages calling to protect the environment while other groups promoted equality and human rights. One group even carried mini plants and wore shirts that said “Say no to deforestation.” 

Another group emphasized the importance of clean water and conserving lakes and rivers, particularly Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán, about 3 miles away from Sololá, is one of Guatemala’s most important tourist attractions, not to mention one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

The view of Lake Atitlán from the dock in Panajachel

Sololá also happens to be the home of various microfinance institutions and cooperatives that provide much needed support to the community in the form of microloans and other financial services. Many of them, including where I work at ADICLA, made an appearance during the parade.

ADICLA  provides small loans and services to the community of Sololá and Suchitepéquez, two of the poorest regions of Guatemala and home to a large indigenous population.  

The ADICLA truck

My takeaway from this parade was not just that it was an expression of arts and culture, but a shining example of a true community. I saw a community that is proud of their culture, protective of their natural resources and striving for financial inclusion.

This small but mighty community is paving the way by exemplifying its social, environmental and economic values, that’s my kind of fair!

You can support entrepreneurs in Guatemala and learn more by visiting ADICLA's partner page!   

About the author

Tasha CornellRoberts

Tasha hails from Ithaca, New York, in the heart of finger lake region in upstate New York. She studied Spanish and Sociology at St. Lawrence University. Tasha has always had an interest in international development and wound up studying abroad in Madrid, Spain for one semester. She quickly realized that one semester was not nearly enough, and moved back to Madrid after graduation to teach English in a bilingual elementary school. Wanting to focus more on challenging systemic injustice and poverty alleviation, she moved back to the U.S. and started working at Oxfam America in Boston, Massachusetts. While at Oxfam she worked in the fundraising department, focusing on institutional funding, operations and championing gender justice. She is excited to see first-hand the impacts of microloans on entrepreneurs and social enterprises in Central America!