The Kekchi Mennonite Church (INEMGUA) was legally established as a Guatemalan entity in 1986, many years after the first mission workers had arrived in 1968. The church currently consists of over 10,000 members in 124 churches. In 1998, the Kekchi Mennonite Foundation (FUNDAMENO) was legalized in order to administer and strengthen three of the church’s developmental programs, of which Bezaleel is one.
Alta Verapaz is one of the most isolated regions of Guatemala with very limited access to health and formal education beyond the sixth grade. The population of Alta Verapaz is made up of approximately 800,000 Kekchi of Mayan descent who primarily live in rural communities. Some of these communities have no school and few rural students learn enough of the national language, Spanish, to be able to get jobs and function in urban settings.
This inability to speak Spanish well and lack of education has rendered the Kekchi more vulnerable to injustice and oppression. In order to address these concerns, the Kekchi Mennonite Church, with the support of Canadian, US, Belizean and Nicaraguan volunteers and donors, built Bezaleel in order to educate the youth of the church. Students now travel from their rural homes, some as far as 10 hours away by bus, to live, learn and work together at Bezaleel.
Bezaleel began offering classes in 1999, with an enrollment of 36 students. The first classes consisted of 4th, 5th, 6th and pre-secondary. Later, 7th, 8th and 9th grade were added and primary grades were dropped since the government now provides almost all communities with schooling up to 6th grade.
In 2002, Bezaleel was accredited by the Guatemalan government and held its first graduation from 9th grade. Bezaleel began offering an Accounting track in 2002, adding 10th, 11th, and 12th grade each year over the next three years. There has been a strong interest in the accounting track from the beginning. Many students have graduated and found good employment, and a couple have been employed within the church.