The Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Reserve sits surreally amongst a picturesque Guatemalan landscape at Lake Atitlan. Hailed as a spiritual and sacred place by visitors and Mayan villagers, its majesty dominates at the top of media’s “most beautiful” lists. Laguna Lodge owners, Mayah and Jeffro, seemed to have harnessed some of the area’s beauty when they opened their five-star, 6-bedroom, boutique gem in 2008. The standout hotel is artfully constructed into the side of a mountain and distinguishes itself from others in a variety of ways including eco-friendly and organic, vegetarian practices. Though unique, some may argue that the Laguna Lodge separates itself from the masses—not because of business practices—but because of its service to others.
Mayah, a trained psychiatric nurse, felt a soulful connection to the lake and returned often until finally settling there permanently some 20 years ago. “As I began to live here, I could see sick people and I knew how to help them,” said Mayah.
And help them she did. Before joining with her life partner Jeffro, an Australian native whom she met in 1997, she began to provide services to local villagers. During a notable and early account, she noticed an elderly man, who had been blind for eight years. Mayah realized it was cataracts, a repairable eye condition of which he wasn’t aware and for which he could not afford treatment. Relentlessly, Brandon traveled hours on several occasions to take the man to a doctor to be treated. “It was like the lights had been turned on,” Mayah recalled. The man is now 96 years old and continues to enjoy sight.
With her heart and her medical training constantly guiding her, Mayah started the Laguna Community Care Program, funded out of her own pockets initially, but now includes donations from guests. “The program provides the best support to the neediest community members,” said Mayah, particularly in the nearby Santa Cruz village. Over the years, the program has sent villagers to doctors and has funded children’s school careers.
In addition to the program, the Laguna Lodge itself is also an instrument for service and has been so for the last three years. According to the owners, the staff, who are exclusively Guatemalan, come first.
Although the hotel welcomes guests from all over the world, it is important to the owners that all of the staff be from Guatemala “so that it can be legacy for the people of Guatemala,” said Jeffro. Most of the staff hired at the hotel were untrained and Mayah and Jeffro taught them all the skills necessary for their respective jobs. Workers that helped construct the hotel, under the watchful eye of Jeffro, who is a trained carpenter, became wait staff or kitchen staff once the hotel was erected. “It’s an ecological promise to be 100 percent indigenous run,” said Mayah. In fact, when the time comes for the couple to pass along ownership of the lodge, they are committed to it being given to the Guatemalan community.
Demonstrating their loyalty to employees further, Mayah and Jeffro join employees in their personal battles for success. For example, they continuously fight for the sobriety of an employee, who has been with them from the beginning and helped to build the hotel. You name it, they have attempted it for their employee’s successful victory: they sent him to rehab for 3 months, took him to Nicaragua for a month “to dry him out” and numerous other methods. “I wanted the wonder of travel and that fascination to pull him out of his alcoholism,” said Mayah. The couple even stepped in when a tumor caused the employee to have a testicle removed. They tracked down and worked with specialists to create a customized silicon testicle. The story was shared out of love and as an example of the extremes they are willing to endure for the people they love. “Once you adopt these families, you’ve got everyone for life. You’ve opened up a can worms because you’ve allowed yourself to see it, said Mayah.
Twice a year, the pair turns the Laguna Lodge into an ad-hoc medical facility and provides approximately $150,000 worth of care to some 200 people. Various doctors, primarily dentists, stay at the lodge for discounted prices and agree to provide pro-bono services. Primarily extractions, fillings and sometimes cosmetic dentistry work is performed. In addition, some help is given to those with broken arms and broken backs.
“It’s not a business for me, it’s just a lifestyle,” said Mayah. “We have a connection to the villagers.” “Yes,” added Jeffro, “this hotel is something different from the norm. And it’s something we are proud of.”
If you are interested in donating to the Laguna Lodge Community Care Program, please visit their website at http://thelagunalodge.com/laguna/lagunacommunitycare/.