Preserving Maya culture, one app at a time

Meet Manuel: Mil Milagros Admin Assistant, computer whiz and creator of several Tz’utujil language apps!

Manuel, 22, lives in San Pedro La Laguna, which is one of the many beautiful towns along the shores of magical Lake Atitlán. Every day he takes the “lancha” (public boat) across the Lake to Panajachel to work in the Mil Milagros’ office where he is the Administrative Assistant and go-to resource for anything computer-related. He handles computer maintenance and troubleshooting for the office and our partner schools. He also manages our databases, in addition to many other responsibilities. In his free time, Manuel is a musician, soccer player, and university student. He speaks three languages - Spanish, Tz'utujil, and English. Most impressively, he is also a computer programmer and has developed four apps.

Tell us about your work with Mil Milagros.

I started working with Mil Milagros in 2017 as a volunteer and was eventually offered a position as the Administrative Assistant. I really like the focus of MM, the way we help children and mothers. It’s inspiring to me. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of opportunities and I learned mathematics and science through a non-profit organization, so I know how important non-profits are for many Guatemalans.

What are you studying at university?

I study Systems Engineering. We go to classes every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  When I started learning about programming, we were only given basic classes. It was too easy for me and I wanted to learn how to create a big database and more complex apps. So I started doing research and teaching myself  how to develop my own apps.

app developer showing his app
Tell us about the apps you have created.

At university, we were given the assignment to create a simple game. I wanted to do something bigger so I set out to create an app that had ten different levels, just to see if I could do it. I did a lot of research on the internet and was eventually able to create my very first app. It’s called Ch’oboj (the Tz’utujil word for “thinking”). It’s an app to help people learn and remember Maya words, specifically in Tz’utujil, which is the native language spoken in San Pedro La Laguna. My classmates and my teacher were really impressed. Every week, I worked with my teacher on improving it and after about four months, I was able to upload it to the Google Play store for others to try it out. I noticed that more than half of the downloads came from children aged 16 years or younger, which made me really happy. Since then, I have created four more apps. Three of them are language games, where you learn to write numbers and words in Tz’utujil.  I also created a Tz’utujil dictionary app. That one took a while. I used seven different dictionaries to learn and input all the words!

What would you like to do in the future?

I want to create more apps that offer free education to the people who need it. I also would like to create an app, or a database, for Mil Milagros which the entire team could use on their phones. For example, our Community Coordinators could use this app to see all their files, enter data and statistics, and manage their schedules.

What is your favorite part about programming?

When I was growing up I always looked at programmers as superheroes. They were creating systems and databases that could really help people. I never thought I would be one of them. I like being able to use my skills to do good. I see so many children who can’t speak Tz’utujil. They don’t know their own identity. My apps are helping to preserve Tz’utujil so the younger generation knows where they come from.

Lea la versión en español aquí.