Provide a Critical-Thinking program for 40 teens

by Integral Heart Foundation
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Saul with his Grandma and dad - taken 2013
Saul with his Grandma and dad - taken 2013

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.

First photo of Saul on Jessica Roesmischer skype
First photo of Saul on Jessica Roesmischer skype
Saul with Jeff Carreira during Meditation Marathon
Saul with Jeff Carreira during Meditation Marathon
Saul wins his (first) computer
Saul wins his (first) computer
Saul with Terry Patten and Debora
Saul with Terry Patten and Debora
Saul on Russian Classics retreat with other Isa
Saul on Russian Classics retreat with other Isa's
Saul with the Isa
Saul with the Isa's Kids Teachers-in-Training
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul teaching younger students in La Academia
Saul and playtime at La Academia
Saul and playtime at La Academia
At a visit to a local school for the deaf - Lavosi
At a visit to a local school for the deaf - Lavosi
Volunteering with local pet rescue charity
Volunteering with local pet rescue charity
Saul visiting our families in a local slum
Saul visiting our families in a local slum
Saul organizing our library at La Academia
Saul organizing our library at La Academia
Representing IHF at a local event
Representing IHF at a local event
Gaby volunteering at pet clinic
Gaby volunteering at pet clinic

Ethics and morals form the basis of our values.

At the Integral Heart Foundation we think that although intellectual and academic achievements are important, they don’t have significant value if they don’t go hand in hand with moral development.

Our senior students are going through a 3-year full-time intellectual program, helping us in La Academia (our school in Guatemala) with the younger students in tutorial classes and they also participate and serve others in the community. In doing so, their hearts are expanding and so are their views and perspectives in life in regard to tolerance, other cultures, philosophies, ways of thinking and customs.

In the last three months theyhave also helped us with our families, not only at the school but also doing social visits with our social worker to the homes of our sponsored students. Seeing the homes of the little ones made them think a lot about what to expect of them when are in our classes and this is teaching htem to be more considerate.

The senior students have also visited a school in their own neighborhood, which they were not aware of, for deaf-mute children whose families have a humble background. Since that visit they have become interested in learning their language as they realized how difficult it was for them to communicate with their peers because they never thought about speaking with sign-language.

Our senior students are also volunteering in clinics that operate on Sundays by local charities specializing in animals, pets and street dogs; to neuter/spay animals who come from financially poor families or even directly from the street. They spend their Sunday’s helping to make these clinics happen.

We are so proud of these amazing students and all they can teach to the younger ones, not only with their own learning and experiences but also by example.

We think they are on a great path to make Guatemala a better place and they are the ones who are going to teach the younger generations how it can be done!

To all of you who are trusting us to make this happen, thank you so much, your heart and donations are making a big difference at all levels in this small community.

From the bottom of our hearts Thank You!

Our senior students at the Lavosi School.
Our senior students at the Lavosi School.
Our senior students at pet clinic
Our senior students at pet clinic
Felipe doing homevisits
Felipe doing homevisits
JC on a homevisit to our families
JC on a homevisit to our families
Helping at the pet clinic
Helping at the pet clinic
Sharing with the Lavosi students
Sharing with the Lavosi students
The Isa Students Teaching
The Isa Students Teaching

This year is full of great surprises for the Integral Heart Foundation. We could finally fulfill one of our biggest dreams which was to open our new learning center. As an outcome of this event, a second dream also came true; that our senior students began teaching the younger generation. Guatemalans teaching Guatemalans.

One of the programs of the Integral Heart Foundation is 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. Until this point and for the last year all they had to do was to study. But because of the opening of our school “La Academia” in honor of Plato’s Academy, these six superstars are also teaching and tutoring to the younger ones.

They help them with homework study, with difficulties they are having in various school subjects and also in meditation and philosophical questions. The senior student were a big part in the opening of the school. They are beginning to be what we have always dreamed for them to become and they are doing so which such love and dedication that we couldn’t be prouder of them.

Now, and because of them, our critical thinking class has expanded not only to just one day a week but to everyday. And not only that, they are reaching younger students and beginning to train them in this art. We are very excited to see how this unfolds and what kind of new philosophers will come out of these programs.

We would like to truly appreciate the input and support of all of our donors. It is because of you this training was and continues to be possible.

From the bottom of our heats thanks to you all.

The Isa Students Teaching
The Isa Students Teaching
The Isa Students Teaching
The Isa Students Teaching
Speaking with the Critical-Thinking junior teens
Speaking with the Critical-Thinking junior teens
The Isa Students speaking with the moms and kids
The Isa Students speaking with the moms and kids
At play!
At play!
The Isa Students is discussion over the Classics
The Isa Students is discussion over the Classics
The Isa Students with our support team
The Isa Students with our support team
Sitting in group with Renata and Kirstie
Sitting in group with Renata and Kirstie

The end of the year is here and with it the end of our Critical-Thinking classes. As we do for the end of each school year, we invite guests to give a full day workshop to our students on topics related to awareness and deep thought in a event we have been running since 2010 called the “Wisdom Speakers Series”.

This year we had the pleasure of having invited guests Renate Keller (Germany) and Kristie Simson (USA). They did an amazing event called “What moves you”. This was a full day workshop on dialogue through the body and conscious relatedness.

Below you can find what they wrote after their visit and class with 30 of our students and sponsored children.

Thank you all for your support and being there for all of our families. Please have wonderful holidays and see you next year. Much love from Guatemala: Mick, Debora, Marisol and all the families at the Integral Heart Foundation.

‘Renata and I landed in Guatemala City last Saturday morning and were met by Mick Quinn, who drove us west through the packed and polluted city streets towards the distant hills and Antigua.

The town of Antigua is deservedly a world heritage site, nestled in a valley surrounded by high hills and dense vegetation. Indeed the whole place is verdant to the extreme, at least it was when we saw it post rainy season. Dominating the landscape around the town are three volcanoes, two of which are extinct – the third can be seen, especially in the clear of the morning light, to be puffing smoke from it’s summit. Usually as the day progresses the clouds amass over the tops of the volcanoes and we experienced afternoon downpours the last couple of days we were there.

For the first couple of days we explored the cobbled streets of the town of Antigua, taking in the mixed population of indigenous people dressed in the most incredible colored and patterned fabrics, who are living alongside a large presence of western folks. Antigua is a place that attracts tourists from all over the world, as well as many who are helping the local populations through various NGO’s and church foundations.

There are a number of functioning churches in town, but more striking were the many remaining skeletons of enormous churches that once dominated the place, their ruins a result of the numerous earthquakes that have struck the region over the past few centuries. They are a constant reminder of the fragile nature of life in this area of Guatemala, a country that is seismically active. The many monasteries and nunneries that surrounded the churches seemed mostly to have been transformed into classy hotels, restaurants, and put to various other usages. They retain an air of tranquility that invades the town despite the hustle and bustle of the many street vendors, cars, motorbikes, women and families selling their home spun and richly embroidered clothes and fabrics. It is an enormously colorful scene and all the people we met had the same disarming warmth that has been characteristic of the people we have met so far on our travels.

We had come to Antigua to teach a day workshop with the children and young adults that Mick Quinn and Debora Prieto are working with through the NGO they founded called The Integral Heart Foundation. They told us their touching story of coming to Antigua on vacation 6 yrs ago and seeing a group of children returning home from school one day. They saw an incredible potential in these young spirits, yet they knew that, because of their circumstances, it was unlikely they would be able to realize it. These children’s lives are mired in poverty that they have little hope of transcending without a great deal of help. Mick and Debora decided there and then to return to Antigua to start an NGO with the goal of giving these youngsters the possibility to grow and learn.

Suffice to say what we experienced in the two days we spent with them, both visiting the children’s homes, and working with them all for the day, is testament to the incredible work Mick and Debora are doing that is transforming young lives in and around Antigua.

Definitely the highlight of our time in Antigua was the two days we spent with them finding out about their work. We went with them on Tuesday to visit the families of the children we would work with the following day, in villages high in the hills surrounding Antigua. These families have very little indeed. For the most part they are large with anything from 4 to 7 children, often sleeping and living in one room, with an extra room for cooking. The poorest houses are simple structures created with corrugated iron, and dirt floors. Some of the ones we saw had an extra building that had been constructed for them by other NGO’s from town, affording them more hygienic living conditions. Despite their poverty the mothers we met had amazing warmth and dignity as they welcomed us into their basic homes.

On Wednesday we spent the whole day working with the young people in a large structure with a concrete floor, part of an American religious organization in Antigua. We had 35 children and young adults in ages ranging from 1 1/2 yrs, 5yrs, 7yrs, 9yrs up to 23yrs, some of whom we had met the previous day.

We were slightly apprehensive about working with such a diverse age group but we were in for a great surprise. In a word they were: extraordinary! I have NEVER in my life worked with a group of young people who were so seriously focused, open, receptive and willing to try anything. In the opening circle we asked them all what moves them and we got an impressive range of answers including; concern for the environment; animals; philosophy; studying; meeting new people and situations; Guatemalan traditions and culture; art; music; history; and wanting to better their country! We were so impressed and also deeply moved by these young people.

Even the younger ones joined in all the physical exercises and sat with us in the dialogue sessions, maintaining a focus that can be rare even in some adults. We wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that these children have had little exposure to television or other technologies to distract them from their lived experiences.

Again it was clear that Debora and Mick are doing exceptional work with them, giving them a safe space, encouragement, rigor and discipline that is supporting their learning and grow. And indeed the potential that they first saw in them six years ago is beginning to shine – we found them to be exceptionally bright, intelligent and engaged. It was an honor to meet and work with them.

And all of this is happening in the context of lives that are often fraught with suffering and pain. We heard some of their life stories that were traumatic to the extreme. This made the joy we saw manifesting in their faces as we moved together, and the attentiveness and respect they gave to each other as they listened to the dialogue sessions seem truly extraordinary and poignant.

All in all we had a fabulous day together, and we hope to be able to return to Antigua in the future to see how the foundation is progressing and what these young people are coming to in their lives.

We left Antigua yesterday at midday, saying goodbye to the astounding beauty of a very special place that had been our home for six days.'

Kirstie, Debora and Renata
Kirstie, Debora and Renata
Home visits the day before with Renata and Kirstie
Home visits the day before with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
What Moves You with Renata and Kirstie
Jessica paying attention!
Jessica paying attention!
Mario pays attention
Mario pays attention
Claire enjoying What Moves You
Claire enjoying What Moves You
Saida in practice
Saida in practice
Kirstie at work during What Moves You day
Kirstie at work during What Moves You day
Renata coaching the younger ones!
Renata coaching the younger ones!
Felipe
Felipe

FELIPE'S STORY

Felipe was born into the mountainside slum of Vista Hermosa overlooking the UNESCO city of La Antigua Guatemala. His life was rough. In his hometown The weather brings water shortages and then landslides, the streets offer the constant allure of drugs, violence and gangs.

But as we all know, education is the key to taking control of your future, and this is especially true for Felipe.

“I was angry, angry at life, at my parents, at myself and somehow that anger is what kept me safe. I could protect myself, as I always used to say in those days, punch first ask questions after. I became tough-boy.

Felipe’s father left them young, and as is a cultural norm in those forgotten areas of Guatemala, set his new family in the same slum on a pedestal far higher than his first, especially in Felipe’s case. “I hated my dad for telling me how well my ‘other’ brother was doing all the time – did he not see me?” With his mom overwhelmed with work and his younger siblings, Felipe fell behind in his schooling and eventually got suspended.

Luckily, at the base of the mountainside slum there was a non-profit school for kids is such challenging positions. That is where we met Felipe in 2010. A showoff, a rebel, a bully by need, who certainly showed potential, but could not seem to get himself out of his own way.

We were offering a philosophy class at this school, and it soon became clear that Felipe, amongst others, had great interest, potential and a love of wisdom. So, working together over the following two years we made every effort to allow his inherent desire to learn to poke its head around his macho, funny-man persona.

We found Felipe a sponsor to help with his education after he graduated high-school. He seemed unusually appreciative of this, as did his mom, since part of the education sponsorship also includes a dignified monthly food basket for the family. “I can’t believe someone I hardly know is paying for my studies” he said.

In 2011 we were lucky enough to be able to start our own foundation. As part of that formation we created a weekly Critical-Thinking / Philosophy class for all of our sponsored teenagers.

In the second year of these classes we spent the entire year working on a module called Ego/Shadow. This is where we learned the true meaning for Felipe of what he had told us years earlier “… punch first, ask questions after”. His base emotion, anger, rode prominently on his knuckles and the whole world was paying for his suffering, and as he later realized, so was he.

The Ego/Shadow module is based in part of Freudian and Jungian theory of unconscious drives, yet it adds the power to access and allow the expression of particular aspects of the self (such as authentic and shadow anger) using a process developed by a Zen Master. Felipe’s comment: “It calms me down, it helps me think more clearly, it makes me a better man.”

Of course we played games with the class to help them get their minds around this complexity. The outcome for Felipe was that after about six months in this class, he was beginning to identify emotions as they arose and he could ask himself whether they were his own shadow, or if they were authentic. “This is huge!”

Then he told us a story about a kid in this technical drawing class; “The teacher was scolding him, the whole class was behind the teacher, and the kid was mortified yet I noticed I felt compassion and sorrow… this was the first time in my whole life where I noticed I did not run with the crowd and become the unconscious condemner. I was shocked to see the Ego/Shadow process working inside me. It really helped me take the perspective of this poor kid, I felt sorry for him, even though there was nothing I could do for him.”

Felipe continued to attend our classes and as his macho persona softened to reveal a young man of great humility. We were offered the opportunity to start a full time, three-year, teaching-training for six of our top students. We had seven to pick from, one of whom was Felipe. But during the qualifying presentations, Felipe slipped back a little into his old ways and heckled two of the other students as they were speaking. “I assumed since I was a senior student that I would get one of the places”, he later told us.

We decided that, though his heart was in the right place, he was not suitable for this long-term program. When we told him he was devastated, and he cried right in front of us, the rebel melting in the face of opportunity lost.

However, just before the kick off date, one of the other boys we selected had to move away to the south of the country so we had an opening… this was one more shot for Felipe. Needless to say, he was overjoyed, and once again, cried, yet this time, tears of joy and potential rolled down his cheeks.

Fast forward to mid-2015, Felipe is now four months into the full time, three-year, teaching-training. He is excelling, as are his peers, with the Russian classics, the history of Guatemala, philosophy, Spanish, English, and in his work with our part-time staff psychologist. He graduated with a technical drawing diploma. Felipe now holds his head high, a confident young man, who knows that potential, when seen and cultivated, can be grown and harvested for the great benefit of his fellow countrymen and women.

He still lives with his mom in that slum. He carries pepper spray and has learned to channel that fountain of energy into kickboxing and soccer. And it’s been over two years since he came to class with a bruise.

We expect him to be a great teacher and a powerful living example of transformation.

Felipe
Felipe's Graduation 2014
 

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Organization Information

Integral Heart Foundation

Location: Panorama, Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez - Guatemala
Website: http:/​/​www.integralheartfoundation.org
Project Leader:
Mick Quinn
Antigua, Guatemala

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