Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth

by Common Hope
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth
Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth

Poor health affects how much children can achieve in school. Children who suffer from malnutrition and other health issues have poorer cognitive function, perform worse in school, and miss more days of school due to illness. This leads to higher dropout rates and repetition of grades. Furthermore, if a family member is ill, often a child will experience pressure to earn an income and forego their education. 

Health care in Guatemala  

To understand the health care situation in Guatemala, it is important to look at factors that influence the health care landscape like population, population density, government spending, and higher education amongst others.  

In 2021, the population of Guatemala was over 18 million people with eight million living in rural areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately nine doctors for every 10,000 people on average. This equates to about 16,000 doctors. In comparison, the State of New York has a similar population and there are more than 53,000 doctors registered in the state.  

What’s more, doctors are not evenly located throughout the country. The Borgen Project states that 80% of the doctors work in Guatemala City, leaving rural areas severely underserved at a great disadvantage. USAID states that overall, six million people in Guatemala lack basic health and nutrition services in direct conflict to Guatemala’s constitution, which states that every citizen has a universal right to health care. Unfortunately, health care spending in Guatemala and other Central American countries remains low compared to the United States which invests 7,000 dollars on health care per person.  

According to recent data from Macrotrends, Guatemala spends $260 on healthcare per person in comparison to Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, and Costa Rica which spend $176, $286, $289, and $910 on health care per person, respectively. 

The intersection of poverty and health care

Poverty affects every part of a family’s life. The average income for a family in Common Hope’s program is $200/month, or $2,400 annually. This level of poverty affects physical, nutritional, and mental health.  

Guatemalans living in rural areas often have to travel long distances to receive care which in itself is costly. A day of traveling to receive health care is not affordable when it means a day of work must
be missed. If a day of work is missed, it is common for it to be unpaid.

Fast Facts:

  • In Guatemala, 1 in every 2 children suffers chronic malnutrition. In rural areas, 70% of children under five years old suffer from stunting (low height for age) due to malnutrition.
  • Many Guatemalans die of preventable diseases and illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. It is common for people to live years with problems like dental pain or a hernia—conditions that can be easily treated. 
  • Infant mortality rate is among the highest in Central America 
  • Community health education, particularly in rural areas, is not typical. Many Guatemalans experiencing poverty do not have access to information in order to make informed decisions regarding their health. 

Common Hope seeks to reduce the risk of family health crises that threaten a child’s ability to stay in school through curative, preventative, and general wellness services.  

At Common Hope’s clinic and through health partners in surrounding communities, Common Hope students and their family members have access to quality curative and preventative health care including doctor visits and wellness exams, laboratory screenings, medications at the pharmacy, nutritional services, dental care, and prenatal care. Common Hope health care staff provide treatment from everything from common respiratory issues to infections to minor injuries and emergency care. Chronic disease treatment is provided for issues like hypertension and diabetes. Doctors also refer to specialists when necessary and treatment comes at reduced or no cost to the patient.    

Common Hope social workers meet regularly with each family and refer them to visit the clinic if any health-related issues are identified. Common Hope’s goal is to help families address short-term needs so they can achieve long-term goals of a better life. Together, we are working to make health care accessible for families in Guatemala. 

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At Common Hope, affiliation is just the beginning of a student's road to graduation and the partnership with their whole family. Affiliation can be compared to an application process for being admitted into college. The process ensures that fixed criteria are met and situations, where families that may need support, are identified.

 Over the next weeks, 259 families will be welcomed into Common Hope's program. This year, a family's affiliation process will be conducted through a personalized orientation day. Families are welcomed to the Antigua site, meet with the affiliation staff, then walk down the Pathway of Dreams where they can see the graduates who came before them, all of whom had dreams for their futures. Each student is asked, "what is your dream?" Families then meet with a social worker and visit various stations to be introduced to the staff members who lead each program. These programs include education, health care, housing, sponsorship, and others. The different stations all serve important functions–– 1) helping families become acquainted and comfortable with Common Hope's programs and 2) helping staff identify families' specific needs in regards to their health or living situations, like scheduling wellness check-ups at the clinic, for example.

The overarching goal of orientation is to help families learn what opportunities are available through Common Hope and to reinforce the requirements of the partnership. 

This year it was more important than ever for new families to feel welcome and supported as many have experienced significant challenges during the last two years. Typically, it's uncommon to see fathers present in the affiliation process, but this year was different. Complete, unified families were there to participate in the orientation. 

 "It is really exciting to welcome families. Each family has their own goals, dreams, challenges, and joys, but they all share a future vision that includes education. I love to see complete families and how dads are even coming and getting involved," Alma, Community Liaison, stated.

 One of the fathers shared, “I want a better future for my daughters and to have them be established professionals one day.” Many families expressed similar sentiments along with feelings of gratitude for the opportunity to join Common Hope.

When families share the same educational goals as Common Hope, it creates a foundation for a successful partnership. With teamwork and collaboration, graduation can be more than a dream, but a reality.


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Since New Hope School opened its doors 15 years ago, it boasts a strong academic record and is regarded as the best academic institution in the area.

“What makes New Hope School special is its essence, its nobility, its heart of service and its mission to generate hope and opportunity for everyone, not only the children but also for the families, teachers, and administrators.” – Elsa, Director of New Hope School

In 2020, 269 students in grades pre-k through 6th grade attended New Hope School. Common Hope supported an additional 236 students attending junior high, senior high, and vocational schools in the surrounding communities. In stark contrast to the national graduation rate of 18.6%, New Hope students are graduating at an average rate of 77%. Despite all of last year’s challenges, 30 New Hope students graduated from high school!

Leslie, New Hope Educational Support Programs Manager, has worked at New Hope School for nearly 14 years. She explains what sets New Hope School apart from others. “You enter the school and see it is not a normal school. It is a second home for some of the children. Every educational activity feels like a collaboration between the school and the community, which makes us feel like a family,” she commented.

The education system was, and continues to be, greatly affected by the pandemic. The community of New Hope is located in a “red zone,” which indicates the highest amount of pandemic restrictions. These restrictions significantly affect the ability to deliver programs in the usual manner. Leslie said that she misses the in-person classes and activities like art, sports, and interacting with students in the homework center. Fortunately, teachers and administrators at New Hope School have been working diligently to continue to adapt and develop new strategies to keep kids learning. These include weekly Zoom classes, utilizing WhatsApp to deliver daily lessons, and delivering printed learning guides to families’ homes. “It has been a challenge, but also a time when Common Hope families have come to life and exemplified a unified community like never before. The families have shown that we can count on them at all times,” said Elsa.

Common Hope has seen first-hand that impacting a child’s understanding and value of education, particularly at the beginning of their academic career, can influence lifelong success. New Hope School has built a strong reputation for academic excellence due in part because of a focus on Early Childhood Education. From the age of four, the New Hope Early Childhood Program works to stimulate the brain and engage parents in a child’s development from the start, creating a culture of exploration and learning both inside and outside the classroom.

In primary school, New Hope students receive an education rich in literacy and math––the school’s curriculum encourages active, engaged learning and critical and creative thinking, often not the case in a typical public school. Elsa, who started at New Hope as a teacher and now serves as school director, has helped impact the curriculum. “Over the years, the teaching methodology, along with being sensitive and attentive to the needs of the students, has improved. We have been identifying the diversity in learning required for our students to be successful,” she said.

Once in secondary school, New Hope students continue to have access to a variety of academic support programs like tutoring, after school homework help, a library and computer lab, and youth programs.

In spite of the pandemic, New Hope School exceeded its promotion rate goal. Of the 510 total students from New Hope, 99% were promoted across all grade levels!

What’s Next For New Hope

The parents in the community of New Hope embraced education from the very beginning and as a result, the community has seen growth and prosperity over the last 20 years. The first students who attended New Hope School now have children of their own and there are marked differences between the generations.

“I knew their parents and the biggest difference between these kids––now adults––and their parents is that they have choices,” said Renato, Director of Education. Continuing, Renato observed, “They can choose where they want to live, what jobs they want, and where they want their kids to go to school. Their parents never had these opportunities…the opportunity to choose. This is what an education provided to them.”

Looking forward, one of Common Hope’s long-term goals for New Hope School is to expand the number of secondary students supported by its programs. A long-term study demonstrated that graduates earn more, get better jobs, enjoy a higher standard of living, are in better health, and are more optimistic about the future.

The school and its secondary programs will continue to foster a culture of exploration and learning that delivers long-term sustainable change by equipping students and parents with the tools and resources they need and desire for success. By supporting and growing e opportunities, the community will continue to thrive for the next 20 years and beyond.

As Leslie shared, “If the walls of New Hope School could talk, they would tell so many beautiful stories.” Elsa added to this sentiment saying, “Whoever comes does not leave the same. It touches your mind, your heart, and your spirit. It changes your way of seeing life, processes, and people. Best of all, it gives you the opportunity to truly become an agent of change.”

Common Hope looks forward to many more wonderful years of stories shared by agents of change in Nueva Esperanza.

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Carmen and Aracely
Carmen and Aracely

Affiliation is Where the Partnership Begins

"To serve is my passion. To listen, to be respectful, and to be kind is something I learned from my parents," said Aracely 

All great partnerships must have a starting place, a beginning. At Common Hope, that great partnership starts with affiliation. Affiliation is the beginning – that moment when a partnership is born between parent, student, and Common Hope. One could liken it to an application process for being admitted to college. The process begins with forms, ensures fixed criteria are met, continues with interviews and home visits, and culminates in acceptance or affiliation. This is the beginning of a partnership that will put educational health and achievement as a priority. 

Ensuring the right fit, that Common Hope is the right partner, and that families are ready and understand the partnership is critical to producing successful outcomes. Thankfully Common Hope’s rock star duo, Carmen and Aracely, have been leading the affiliation efforts for a decade and are as committed today as they were on day one to help everyone that becomes part of the Common Hope family.

It’s easy to understand their passion and why they are so good at what they do. Balancing need, criteria, and potential is delicate, sensitive work. It requires understanding, history, and trust – all skills both Carmen and Aracely have mastered during their combined 37 years of work at Common Hope.

Meet Carmen. Carmen’s success is a testament to what hard work and perseverance can accomplish. Today, she boasts 27 years of service to Common Hope, and her humble beginnings prove that you can change your life with an education. Even today, Carmen’s upbringing resonates with many girls in Guatemala.

As a young girl, Carmen dreamed about working at a hotel. She loves to make conversation and thought working at the hotel would bring lots of opportunities to meet people. Unfortunately, she’ll openly share that her father struggled with alcoholism, which impacts the entire family. Like so many fathers in Guatemala, he also did not think Carmen needed to study. Why? Because she was a girl.

Luckily for Carmen (and Common Hope), her mother didn’t share this same belief. She supported Carmen’s desire to learn and go to school. Despite the difficulty, Carmen found her way and graduated high school. (According to UNESCO, the female literacy rate is 10% lower than that of their male counterparts in Guatemala.)

It happens that, at the time of Carmen’s graduation, her mother came to the Common Hope campus to sell fruits and vegetables. She overheard there was a receptionist position available and told Carmen to apply. Carmen did and got the job! Imagine being hired as a receptionist in a time before phones were commonplace in Guatemala. Carmen explains, “There was no phone back then. I had to run from place to place to deliver messages.” On many of these “runs,” she had the opportunity to talk with families and hear many of their stories. She loved it. It is what lead her to become a social worker and eventually to her position as Affiliations Manager.

When you meet Carmen, you soon realize why this job is perfect for her. Even though she admits that it is hard to listen to families’ struggles, she knows that her work can make a difference. Carmen is a great listener, and it is no wonder families feel compelled to share their lives with her.

Carmen is one half of this great affiliations team, and Aracely is the other half. Aracely, too, is a testament to what a partnership with Common Hope can mean. “To serve is my passion. To listen, to be respectful, and to be kind is something I learned from my parents,” she says.

Meet Aracely. Aracely knows all sides of Common Hope. Once an affiliated student herself, she graduated in 1999 as a secretary and soon came back to work at Common Hope. “I love seeing the family’s commitment to the education of their children and the development of their family.”

She knows first hand that family involvement in a child’s education is a powerful influence. For a partnership to be successful, it requires mutual collaboration, support, and participation. She has lived this experience. A struggling family, she and her siblings used to sleep in the same room before their affiliation with Common Hope. But that all changed. And, now, she is helping others’ lives change. “My parents are hard-working people who have taught me the value of education. I want to share that.” In fact, Aracely laughed, saying, “in the early days, people in town were skeptical about Common Hope because they thought they would send their children to the United States if they became a part of the program.” Her parents gave Common Hope a shot anyway.

In her role, Aracely oversees the process for when a family leaves the program or disaffiliation. Today, the most common reason students and families leave Common Hope is because they have moved out of the area or decided to go to work to provide income for the family. Maintaining the requirements of the partnership is a critical element of the Common Hope model. Aracely’s work ensures that a dignified, respectful, collaborative partnership is at the core of all relationships.

Together, Carmen and Aracely make a dynamic duo. They are the face of the beginning of a family’s partnership with Common Hope, literally. And they are the ones that help families move on to the next part of their journey when their partnership with Common Hope ends – be it graduation, moving, or sometimes choosing to leave school. Carmen and Aracely play a critical role in starting and transitioning a family’s success at Common Hope.

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The Becas (Scholarships) Team
The Becas (Scholarships) Team

Just a small part of a network of programs that make a student's journey a successful experience." -Nineth Garcia

One barrier to education for families in Guatemala is the cost associated with going to school. While public school can be “free” through 6th grade, once in 7th grade, parents must pay annual registration fees and monthly fees, among other miscellaneous fees.

As a part of the Common Hope model, the scholarship department (Becas) was developed to administer financial resources, school supplies and uniforms to schools and families, regardless if the student has a sponsor or not. Common Hope pays between 80-100% of of tuition and fees depending upon the family's financial capabilities.

One of many important departments at Common Hope, the Scholarship team is critical in maintaining and building partnerships with every school Common Hope students attend. Nineth Garcia, Gerente Administrativa de Becas (Manager of Scholarship Administration) leads the team to do this important work. The relationships the Scholarship team has with both families and schools are essential to their success and to achieving their dreams of a high school diploma.

Nineth joined Common Hope in 1998 as a receptionist. She not only advanced her career at Common Hope over the years, but she attended university while working. Today, she holds a Master’s Degree in Management and Analysis Reliability. Her skills and 22-year history make this program one of Common Hope's best.

The Scholarships team is four strong including Nidya Gonzalez, a Common Hope graduate and staff member for 15 years, Luis Pichilla, a ten-year veteran, and Victor Martinez, new to the team but not Common Hope––he has been with the foundation for 14 years. All in, that makes for a combined 61 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE helping students and families navigate the school system.

This team works closely with 110 different schools to make sure that fees/tuition, uniforms, school supplies, books, and transportation needs are met. Nineth will tell you that their work is just one piece in the puzzle. She says scholarships are "just a small part of a network of programs that make a student’s journey a successful experience."

When asked, Nineth will quickly share with pride that there are many stories that inspire her every day.  Recently she told a story about Miguelito, a Common Hope student that wanted to become a teacher but suffered from a vision impairment. His mom had doubts about helping him pursue his dream because she thought it would be too hard for him. Nineth was able to work with the school and Miguelito's mother to find a solution to the challenge. Miguelito started taking his tests verbally. And, guess what? Miguelito graduated! And he now teaches at a school for the blind. Nineth still remembers the day she saw him walk on the Pathway of Dreams to receive his teaching degree. These stories of inspiration are her motivation for continuing to work hard for Common Hope students.

“What motivates me is being able to support the people of Guatemala. It isn't always easy, but the love and commitment of the students and the team is what keeps me going,” Nineth said.

Nineth is also excited to offer additional help to a special group of 35 students in 2021. This year, in response to increased financial insecurity for students not in the Common Hope program, the team is ready to help.

After learning from teachers in partner schools that some students who had only one year left of school were planning to drop out because they could not afford it, an idea took shape. Because of Nineth's strong relationships with schools and quick thinking, Common Hope is stepping in. This year, Common Hope is helping 35 students by providing scholarship-only support for one year––their senior year––so that after years of hard work they don't miss out on getting their diploma. "This is a great way for Common Hope to help in the face of a pandemic," Shari Blindt, Executive Director shared. "We're glad to deepen our partnership with schools and support families in local communities to make a better Guatemala."

The Scholarship Department's work is more than just a piece of the puzzle––it could be said it is the four corners––and thankfully, Nineth and team and their 61 years of experience have created the foundation for great things.

Nineth, Manager of Scholarship Administration
Nineth, Manager of Scholarship Administration
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Common Hope

Location: St. Paul, MN - USA
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Twitter: @commonhope
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Lizz Peterson
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St. Paul, MN United States
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