One of the biggest questions concerning on-the-ground non-profits and charities is what is going to happen when the founders step aside or can no longer do the work. At the Integral Heart Family we have a solution to this question already manifesting through a group of six senior students who are carrying on our mission and vision in the best way imaginable.
Today we will tell the story of one of our senior students, Saul, and how our Critical Thinking and Philosophy classes made him one of our brightest stars and also changed his future. Saul is 21 years old and currently studying to be a psychologist. He lives in Jocotenango (a dangerous slum area) which is about three miles from Antigua, with his dad, grandmother, two aunts, one cousin, his girlfriend and his little dog Rex.
When Saul was 9 years old, his parents divorced and his mom decided to completely abandon him and his two brothers. Saul has also a sister, but when she was born she was adopted by a relative of the family who couldn’t have children. Although the mother would come once in a while to visit, she never supported any of the needsof her other children. This left Saul’s dad with all the responsibilities for food, health, clothes, housing and school. Nonetheless the father, a mason, always wanted his children to study and to have better opportunities than he did.
But at that time Saul had a very different opinion than that of his father.
He did not like to go to school and even had to repeat some school years. When it came time to attend high school, Saul suggested dropping his studies and going to work, but his dad would not allow him to do so.
But then, in the middle of his first year of high school the expenses were too much for his dad so Saul had to stop in the middle of the year.
So his dad brought Saul with him to work as a mason's helper. On one hand, Saul began to understand the sacrifices his dad was making in order for him to continue to study; he didn’t fully understand it but thought that if he was going through so much trouble there must have been a good reason to do so. On the other hand and after months hard work, Saul decided that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life doing manual labor and that the only way out was to get a college education.
He also didn’t want his dad to feel that he had failed Saul for not being able to give him a proper education. So, over the next year and with some effort and money saved he began studying again.
This is now 2012, the same year that we met Saul for the first time. He began studying at a school run by another local charity in which he didn’t have to pay monthly fees, only books, uniforms and materials. But, as he tells us, he was just going through the motions with little genuine interest. At that same school we were teaching philosophy and critical-thinking concept to the students of the graduating class. Saul came into this class and, in his own words, was fascinated about the “crazy stuff” we were talking about and how he never in his life had thought about any of this before.
He joined the class and we quickly noticed his great interest. His curiosity and interest in the philosophy class helped him to develop his interest in his other subjects and he went from not wanting to attend to school to wanting to go to college, and even beyond that. Because of the generosity of Sustaining Sponsors of the integral Heart Family, Saul could find sponsors who paid for his studies and he has been with us constantly since 2012. Today he is studying to be a psychologist; he quit an earlier idea to be an auto-mechanic because of this love of philosophy. He is also a part of an intense program run by the our foundation called the Isa’s Kids. In this program six of our philosophy superstar students have embarked on a three year journey of intensive, full time training to be teachers. As part of this training, they also tutor the youngest students of the Integral Heart Family and also help them with their homework since many of their parents don’t know how to read or write.
These changes in Saul, his sense of responsibility, reliability and courage has far exceeded our expectations and this year he has represented us in some official events here in Guatemala. In his own words:
“Now I realize that life offers us many options and we only have to find out what is it that we really want for ourselves and others. I understand now that in the same way I am being guided through this healthy path and I, too, can eventually guide others too.
In Integral Heart I found a way out towards a different way of living. I learned that in this life we are the only ones who place our limits on ourselves and others. We are the ones who prevent ourselves from doing great things. I also learned that in order to achieve something we need to act.
I have received psychological, nutritional, and financial support. And now I am even more eager to keep learning as many things as I can (because you never can stop learning), to keep growing as a person and to help others as much as I can.”
Thank you so very much for making this possible because without you Saul would probably be working as a masons helper today. And there are many other ‘Sauls’ that you are helping, so thank you very much.
Because of you, yes you, we have the perfect space, a safe container where the magic of learning can happen.
A space in a country where even moderate success is difficult, especially if you haven’t been born into a “good family”. Where the threat of extortion, drugs, and gangs is rife—we have created together an oasis where children and teenagers can learn, play, dream and be at home.
Because of you, we are proud to call La Academia not a school, but a home. That is the feeling you get when you visit La Academia, a place where all of us; founders, staff, volunteers, teachers, students, donors, and parents feel at home, surrounded by their huge family.
In this late summer newsletter, we are going to mention some of happenings at La Academia that make it such a home!
Our language teachers are doing a wonderful job with our senior students. For Spanish, ‘Profe Arturo’ is like a grandfather figure (I hope he forgives me for this) and although it may seem silly, he teaches grammatically correct Spanish; the average language level in State-schools is pretty bad—and we have even found typos in legal contracts. These classes will greatly aid our students as they move on to university and eventually to their own careers.
“Seno Andrea”, as she is known, is our certified English teacher and is from the United States. She is the ‘adventurous cousin’ who takes the students to the local central park to practice their English on unsuspecting tourists. “Moma Sonia” is actually a great-grandmother at the age of 53, she runs the home and is responsible for the production of 1,500 meals every month.
Marisol, our social worker, and a grandmother herself at 34, is known warmly as ‘Dona Mari’. Her constant presence at La Academia and in her interactions with our sponsored families provides a loving and stable presence—the moms like to chat with her so we can glean so much more information about where to offer help as sometimes they are afraid to ask.
Then of course there is “Tio (uncle) Orlando”, the father of one of our sponsored girls who comes in every day before his own job as a pastry chef to help out in food preparation.
In addition, we have Tasha, Pito, Pinky, Sparky and Muneca, for what family is not complete without canine companions (no group photo available!). And, as a another sign of our caring family and the great work that the teachers are doing, the senior students are teaching the younger ones at La Academia. This means that they learn and they share what they have learned with the younger generation. In this group of seniors, we have the ‘wild son’ Felipe, the ‘go-getter’ Saul, the ‘thinker’ JC, the ‘quiet one’ Conal, and the ‘tough career girl’ Gaby. The younger ones are Ingrid known as ‘Ta-ta’, no one knows why, and we have Stephanie and her daughter, also Stephanie who are an example to all, that education can continue, even with an unexpected pregnancy.
We couldn’t feel more proud of them and we are deeply grateful to all of you for supporting our wonderful home and family. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much!
PS: for the last quarter, the ‘numbers-man’ Mick underestimated the operating costs leaving us about $6,000 short for this period, so if there is anyone in your family who can help us close this, please forward this newsletter on to them.
A big hello from Guatemala,
In this report we'd like to tell you how we are using a part of your sponsorship to provide our sponsorsed families with comforts that go beyond just a full belly. Your support also gives a sense of peace and trust and now also place where all of the families can come and forget about the hash struggles of their daily lives for a while.
Another great improvement has been the opening of our own school. Not only did this allow us to have a place where we meet the families, and where they could find us, but also an oasis, a safe container for their children to learn, to play, to share and socialize, but a safe container in which to relax and in doing so, giving and receiving love.
Our new school, La Academia is managed and operated entirely by Guatemalans - with huge hearts -and it is also a haven for all our families. At our school, each of our 60 sponsored students are well fed with a healthy and varied diet, recieve tutorial classes and are getting the chance to love reading and playing together as a one big family. And all of the children of the families are welcome, whether they have sponsors or not.
Surprisingly, what we are beginning to find out is that the kids and the students are now more and more eager to learn, grow, and to prosper. Their curiosity is expanding and this is compelling us to make more and more new materials available to them. They are beginning to love wisdom, and that is just beautiful.
There is also a room just for the parents and grandparents. Once a month we invite the adults of each of our sponsored children to come to the school to enjoy the space, to get know each other, to share their difficulties at home, with work or with relatives. We give them workshops on health, empowering women, the importance of hygiene, diet, violence (whether it is verbal, physical, sexual, or any other kind), and we play together as a big family. And, they are really loving this!!
We also have psychological help available for staff, students, teachers, parents, and relatives. All of this together is creating a wonderful and inviting atmosphere that, as an outcome, is bringing more and more people to us who are asking to be a part of The Integral Heart Family.
In short. the new addition of our own space to the foundation, is building a brighter future for all of us.
A great big thanks to all of you who for depositing your trust and funding with us to make this happen. We wouldn’t be able to do it without you.