Education for Impoverished Guatemalan Youth

by Common Hope
Vetted
Ready for the ceremony to begin!
Ready for the ceremony to begin!

Hola, Global Giving family!

In our last report, you heard from Executive Director, Shari Blindt, about our excitment for Common Hope's largest graduating class in 2016. I was fortunate enough to attend the celebration this year and would like to share the experience with all of you!

I was so thrilled and humbled to join this year’s graduation celebration in Guatemala along with 50 guests from the U.S. and one incredible family who made the long journey from the Netherlands. Three weeks have passed since then, but the excitement of that day is still with us and I feel it multiplying – like ripples in a pond getting bigger and bigger as they spread outward.

Graduation Day represents the culmination of our work as an organization. These students are 164 living, breathing testaments of Common Hope’s desired outcomes. For the students, graduation is the day they have worked towards for so many years. Their sacrifices, and their parents’ sacrifices, have all led them here – to The Pathway of Dreams, where their names are literally set in stone. I’ve walked down that pathway many times before, but never understood its paramount significance until I watched students excitedly find a brick with their name on it.

EMOTIONAL TESTAMONIES, JOYOUS MOMENTS
Throughout the day I was witness to so many joyous moments, starting with the graduation picnic. To see the sponsors celebrating this long-awaited occasion with their student and family was truly heartwarming, like a big family reunion. Big smiles and jubilant laughter came from all around as everyone shared stories, memories, and plans for the future.

During the graduation ceremony that afternoon, we heard from staff, students, parents, and a sponsor–each one representing a different branch of the Common Hope family tree. We listened as Maria addressed the crowd on behalf of her classmates saying, “Thank you for the support you have given us, which has allowed us to reach one of our goals. To our sponsors, we will always have you in our hearts.”

We listened as parents Maria and Rigo gave emotional testimonies, telling everyone in attendance that their support helped them through difficult times and that those gifts will last a lifetime. Jose, a father from San Rafael, traveled to Antigua that day to say thank you on behalf of his family and present a very special gift to everyone who is a part of Familias de Esperanza.

Over the course of that afternoon I saw students, parents, sponsors, and staff members in tears. I had tears of my own. In that moment, the impact of what graduation means for our students and their families becomes so real that it’s overwhelming. You start to understand how that diploma will affect their lives, their futures, the future of their families, and the future of their communities– a ripple effect on humanity.

That ripple starts with you, our supporters. The generosity you show Common Hope allows our staff to deliver life-changing programs to students and families, and together we walk hand-in-hand on the path to success. So on behalf of everyone in this Common Hope family, THANK YOU for all you do to make milestones like graduation possible.

HOLD HOPE IN YOUR HANDS LIKE A LIGHT
I would like to leave you with a beautiful speech given to the students during the graduation ceremony by Flor, Common Hope’s Educational Support Programs Manager.

We’re coming to the end of the ceremony, and with that we are also concluding a journey that began with your affiliation, a path of a thousand dreams.

When you entered the Foundation [Common Hope], your parents brought you with the HOPE for a better future for each of you. Your sponsors decided to support you with the HOPE that education could transform lives. We, the staff at Common Hope accompanied you with the HOPE that you would achieve it. We saw you work hard, we saw you struggle, we saw you triumph, and at other times we saw you fall then get back up. We ALWAYS believed you could do it. 

Today, you will walk out these doors and carry with you not just HOPE, but also the preparation to face the world. Always hold HOPE in your hands like a light, and know that it’s made of love, of dedication, and the certainty that each of you us unique, important, and valuable. 

The doors of this house are always open to hear what you’re up to. It’s more than a brick with your name that you leave here; it’s a testimony that you can achieve what you dream. 

…and achieve, they will. 

Milton found his brick on the Pathway of Dreams
Milton found his brick on the Pathway of Dreams
Searching for their bricks on the Pathway
Searching for their bricks on the Pathway
We did it!
We did it!
Marco playing his guitar
Marco playing his guitar

¡Bienvenida! Here at Common Hope we are preparing for the largest graduating class in our 30 year history—164 students have achieved their dream of a high school diploma! Their achievement is the culmination of many years of sacrifice by their parents, encouragement from their sponsors, and dedication to their dream of a high school degree.  

These graduates are entering the working world with a brighter future—made possible because of people like you who create opportunities for them in a place where there are few. They are grateful. And they are excited for their futures.  

Graduates like Marco.  

I met Marco and his family in San Miguel Milpas Altas a few weeks ago with members of our Board of Directors. Marco has big plans.  

Since he was a little boy he has been fascinated with machines and mechanical things. It was a natural choice to study to become a mechanic in high school, to follow his passion for making things work. “I’m someone who challenges myself a lot,” Marco shared, “I have many goals.” He’s achieved his first—graduating as a mechanic. He’s on to his next, as he would like to open a mechanic’s shop in his community. Mechanic services are expensive, and he sees that his
neighbors can’t always afford them. He intends to provide an affordable alternative. And he’s already planning beyond that, as he would then like to grow his business to serve other communities nearby.  

Marco also loves music and recently taught himself to play the guitar. He is grateful for his family, the opportunity he has had for his education, his sponsor, and his faith. He sang for us, and left us with no doubt he will continue to reach the goals he has set for himself.  

It was powerful listening to Marco. His words reminded all of us what it means to be part of this Common Hope family. It takes all of us to fulfill our mission of hope and opportunity, to make dreams like Marco’s a reality.  

Thank you for sharing our mission with your family and friends—whether it is through your own experiences here in Guatemala or through your financial gifts. We are grateful for each and every time you make a difference for those we serve.  

Thank you for making hope real every day for thousands of children like Marco.  

Gratefully, 

Shari Blindt
Executive Director

Youth participants at the annual summit
Youth participants at the annual summit

More than 200 Common Hope students gathered for the 5th annual Youth Summit at the Antigua site. This year’s summit was extra special, with youth from all four sites (Antigua, New Hope, San Rafael, and San Miguel Milpas Altas) participating in the activities. The main goal of the summit was to have a space for Common Hope youth from different communities come together to share their experiences and build a sense of community as part of one organization.

All of the young people who participate in Common Hope’s youth support programs receive similar forms of assistance, yet they come from very different backgrounds depeneding on what community and region they live in. Some live in urban areas, others in rural communities; some are indigenous and Spanish is their second language, others come from families living in more severe poverty. The space they shared fostered free expression, allowing all of the youth to talk openly about their different life experiences.

There was no discrimination or negative interactions between the different groups of youth. Instead, everyone supported each other during the team activities. The activities, which were planned by the Youth Leadership Group, included volleyball, soccer, basketball, long jump, board games and jewelry making. Sports were a great way for the youth to interact and build relationships. In each game, teams were made up of youth from all four sites compared to past years when there was a lot of separation and resistance to interacting with youth from other sites. This year everyone was very open and willing to participate and get to know one another.

About the day’s activities, Azucena, an Antigua Youth Support staff member said, “I felt really great about the activities because we achieved our goal unifying the youth from all four sites. The Youth Summit worked to break down barriers and helped build one unified Common Hope.”

As the first generation born after a long civil war, the youth of Guatemala have shown us that they are not afraid to move forward, and they are optimistic that all of Guatemala can move forward with them leading the way. The Youth Summit serves as a place for young people to talk about their shared goals and dreams for the future of their families and their country. The Antigua Youth Programs Manager, Rigoberto reflected saying, “We are all from the same country, but have very different cultures and experiences. The Youth Summit brought us all together as one organization, one common hope.”

This year’s summit showed that when youth come together, powerful things can happen. United by their ideas and goals, the next generation has the tools, skills, and optimism necessary to build foundations for lasting change. Thank you to our generous donors who make important programs like our Youth Leadership Group possible. 

In what ways have you seen youth come together to make a difference in your community? Please share your stories with us!  

Fun and games at the Youth Summit
Fun and games at the Youth Summit
Ready to play some soccer!
Ready to play some soccer!
Creating beautiful jewelry at the youth summit
Creating beautiful jewelry at the youth summit
Teambuilding!
Teambuilding!
Participants of the 5th annual Youth Summit
Participants of the 5th annual Youth Summit
A mother and daughter participating in the program
A mother and daughter participating in the program

Early childhood education is virtually non-existent in Guatemala, a country where half of the population lives below the poverty line. Books are a luxury that many cannot afford and for some children, their first year of school is the first time they have a story read to them.

Knowing that the most crucial and influential years of education occur very early on in a child’s life (ages 2-4 years old), Common Hope’s Early Childhood Reading Program addresses the need for early childhood education.

Started in 2011 with only three families, the program has grown to serve 52 families from Antigua and the village of San Miguel Milpas Atlas in 2015. A program evaluation done in 2014 showed an increase in the frequency of parents reading to their children – parents went from reading with their children two times per month to two-four times per week. 

In addition, the program evaluation showed that parents are:

  • more likely to have a regularly scheduled reading time with their child
  • more likely to be able to name their child’s favorite book
  • more likely to have an affective bond
  • twice as likely to ask their child to look for a figure in the illustration or predict what might happen next (rather than just reading the story)
  • increase their use of the seven techniques for “reading through images,” from one to three.

This year, Common Hope will be making early childhood reading programs available in every community where we work. Not only will this ensure that children begin school with the skills they need, directly increasing first grade promotion rates, but it will also build a culture of reading in Guatemala.

The larger picture

By encouraging families to visit the Common Hope library and continue reading after they complete the program, Common Hope presents new opportunities to entire families and communities. In 2015, there were more than 2,700 visits to the library and over 3,600 books were borrowed or checked out.

Social workers who work very closely with the families are seeing the benefits of this program for the children and the parents. So much so that one mother who participated in the program was inspired to go back to school and is working to finish her primary school education.

“The program changes the way our families think about reading from something that is a chore to something that can be fun and creative,” said Alma, a social worker in San Miguel.

Ultimately, the program exposes every child and family to a new way of thinking about reading and getting ready for school. It’s MORE THAN just reading a story – families begin to see the world in a different way, creating a deeper, stronger, and more loving bond between them.

Your support makes it possible for Common Hope to deliver this critical program to all the families we serve. Thank you to all of you who have donated! You are helping to prepare children for scholarly success at a young age. 

Do you have questions about Common Hope's early childhood education programs? Send us your questions and we will respond as soon as possible. 

 

Father and son reading together
Father and son reading together
Jose and his mother Maria
Jose and his mother Maria

Jose is 13 years old and was born with Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome, a neurological disorder caused by tissue attachments that limit the movement of the spinal cord. When Jose was 4 months old he received an operation to repair the spinal cord, but this caused secondary symptoms of other neurological issues, including deformations in his legs and feet. When Jose was five years old, he became affiliated with Common Hope and was able to receive support from our medical clinic. Specifically, Jose needed special leg braces called ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to help him walk. Jose’s mother, Maria, said that these AFOs were very expensive and without medical support from Common Hope’s Healthcare Program, they would not have been able to get them.

In the fall of 2015, Jose came to the Antigua medical clinic for a checkup and the doctors realized that he had grown out of his AFOs and was having trouble walking as a result. Common Hope helped get Jose fitted for new AFOs and ordered special shoes tailored specifically for his condition. Now Jose is walking without any problems. Dr. Walter Estrada, the Antigua Clinic Director, described the day Jose received his new AFOs;

“It was indescribable to see the happiness on Jose’s face now that he can walk well again, and Jose’s response of gratitude was to give me a big hug. These are the priceless moments.”

The medical care Jose has received is helping to remove a barrier that might otherwise have kept him from staying in school. Jose has been affiliated with Common Hope for eight years and just started 7th grade in January. Jose’s favorite subject is math and he wants to be an agricultural engineer when he grows up. Thanks to new AFOs, he’s well on his way to achieving his goal.

Donations from supporters like you make it possible for Common Hope’s Healthcare Program to provide MORE THAN routine checkups and medications. You have allowed us to go beyond, providing specialized medical care for students like Jose. Thank you for helping students and their family members stay on the path to reach their dreams for the last 30 years.

We receive many questions regarding the extent of services our Healthcare Program provides to students and families. Do you have any questions for our Antigua Clinic Team? Please feel free to leave a comment or question! 

Jose
Jose's new AFO
 

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Organization Information

Common Hope

Location: St. Paul, MN - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.commonhope.org
Project Leader:
Lizz Peterson
Marketing & Communications Manager
St. Paul, MN United States

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