Empowering Guatemalan Youth to Promote Literacy

by Reading Village
Thank You Reading Village!
Thank You Reading Village!

This year, as we celebrate 10 years of work and the 10 building blocks of human capital that make our impact in rural Guatemala possible, it is with sincere gratitude that we acknowledge the powerful role that our generous network of partners have played all along the way. To create lasting, positive change in the world we have needed the commitment not only of the people on the ground where the change is happening, but also of people from all corners of the globe who believe in that change and want to be a part of it. 

In this Month of Gratitude, we give thanks to the 50 individuals who supported our work when we first started throwing “reading fiestas” in 2007 and to the 10 families who have donated every single year over the last decade. We are indebted to the 1000+ individuals and to the 20 foundations who have partnered with us throughout our journey. We are grateful to the numerous schools whose students have empowered indigenous youth and children in Guatemala with life-changing education and literacy. To the 60 world travelers who have joined us on a Learning Journey to witness the work firsthand, the 18 board members we’ve had over the years and countless others who have volunteered their time and expertise to help us train our staff, measure our impact, refine our program curriculum, host fundraisers, and so much more … to ALL of you, thank you!

Each of you has been integral to our ability to build human capital in a meaningful and sustainable manner. The program materials, literacy promotion activities, youth leadership development, scholarships, alumni support, strong community partnerships, highly skilled staff, research-based program curriculum and evaluation of impact all depend on a strong network of partners who want to help make all of those other building blocks possible. For the last 10 years, individuals like you with generous hearts, minds and spirits who want to be a part of something bigger than yourselves have empowered teens to eradicate illiteracy and lead their communities out of poverty. And for that, we are forever grateful!

It takes a village to build Reading Village, and we are so grateful you have chosen to be a part of ours.

Sending heartfelt wishes for the loveliest of holiday seasons,
The Reading Village Team

Informed by evidence and refined through ten years of experience, we work in rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala to leverage youth development, literacy and education to interrupt the cycle of generational poverty in rural Guatemala. Our interdisciplinary Leaders and Readers Program empowers teens to be a generation of leaders creating a generation of readers behind them, and in doing so supports communities to thrive under their own resources and creativity. 
We value the trust that our partner communities place in us and are committed to refining the very best research-based program curriculum. Building a world-class experience for youth leadership development requires both the rigor to subject our assumptions to leading-edge research, as well as, the courage to forge new ground and challenge social norms in Guatemala that limit what Mayan teens (particularly girls) can become. And, it is this belief which drives us as we move into the future and work to both deepen and broaden our impact. 
Some of the principles that guide us in how we work with teens include:

  • We begin with their reality.
  • We focus on strengths.
  • We create an affirming environment.
  • We make the act of community service transformational.
  • We facilitate experiential learning.
  • We ask questions more than we provide answers.
  • We entrust young people with power.

By focusing energy and resources on our program curriculum with these guiding principles in mind, we remain committed to the youth and communities we serve as we work to build human capital in Guatemala. As we celebrate 10 years of impact, we celebrate the 108 youth leaders who have participated in this program: attending high school, developing their leadership skills and collectively reading to more than 10,000 young children and countless community members in their mission to eradicate illiteracy and move their communities out of poverty. 

Thank you for your partnership in this important work,
The Reading Village Team

In order to successfully build human capital in Guatemala, we must have the right people on our team. In the past ten years, our staff on the ground has grown from 1 to 5 and our reach has grown from 6 teens to 67 reading to 3,350 children in 2016.  

The Guatemalan Team is trained to follow the principles of Popular Education in their leadership development workshops and mentoring. Quite different from the national teaching methods of rote memorization and dictation, Popular Education is a practice of freedom. Students and teacher are co-learners, reflecting on issues in their community and taking action to change them. It’s all about self empowerment.

Meet our Guatemalan Team:

  • Juan (National Director) brings decades of experience collaborating with the Guatemalan government and local communities. During those years, he realized how critical it is to empower young generations with literacy and education so they can more successfully govern their communities in the future.
  • Brenda (Community Facilitator) lives in Chaquijya, one of our partner communities. Her intimate local knowledge and deep network enables her to collaborate with local leaders while building genuine relationships with the youth she serves. 
  • Ismael (Community Facilitator) grew up in the Solola region during the civil war. With deep roots in the area where we work, he brings a rich understanding of indigenous communities, and their cultural, economic and social dynamics. 
  • Mayra (Community Facilitator) came to Reading Village with experience in Popular Education having previously worked on a community education project where she honed her skills working with youth.
  • Rosalina (Community Facilitator) is a linguist who speaks Spanish, Quiche and English, and brings diverse international experience which allows her to provide different perspectives to the youth and local leaders with whom she interacts.

Together, this is the team that is transforming lives on the ground in Guatemala. Each of our staff members believes that literacy, education, and leadership are integral to empowering marginalized populations to express themselves critically, creatively and effectively. They are passionate supporters of these populations and strong partners for them as they work to find their voices. For all of these reasons and more, our highly skilled staff is a critical building block of human capital. 

Thank you for your partnership in this important work,
The Reading Village Team

P.S. We want to make sure you can put the faces to the names. In the photo above you see Mayra, Ismael, Marcella (Colorado based Development Manager), Rosalina, Juan and Brenda.

Community Leaders at the Opening Ceremony
Community Leaders at the Opening Ceremony

For the last 10 years, we’ve focused our work in rural, indigenous Maya communities in Guatemala where only 50% of the adult population is literate, only 25% of children reach the sixth grade and only 10% of youth go to high school. Working in partnership with these communities, we have leveraged youth development, literacy, and education as mechanisms to help them break free from a cycle of generational poverty.

Since we began our work, we have invested time in cultivating respectful relationships between our staff and local leaders, parents and teachers so that we can co-create a better future. Because our staff are locals living in or around the villages where we work, they know the customs, values, traditions and native languages of our partner communities. This core knowledge allows our Community Facilitators to be seen not as imposing outsiders, but as natural liaisons between Reading Village and the communities, youth leaders and families who have committed themselves to breaking the cycle of poverty. The trust that has been established allows us to build the solidarity and cooperation needed for youth to discover their full potential and, ultimately, to empower them to become agents of change.

Last April, when we were in Chuiquel for our first Learning Journey there our strong community partnership was clearer than ever when a handful of local leaders joined the festivities on opening day. We usually expect to have one community leader participate in such an activity, but due to our growing relationship and the excitement about the work that is going on, they all showed up. And, as you can see in the photo above, they jumped right in to participate in the ice breakers that the youth leaders had prepared for the group!

Deep and thoughtful community partnerships are integral building blocks as we work to build human capital in rural Guatemala. The network of relationships that we have fostered over the past decade - relationships that start in Guatemala and extend all the way to you - provides a foundation for our impact today and our growth tomorrow.

Thank you for your partnership in this important work!

I'm sending this note from Guatemala, where I'm spending two weeks working with staff, alumni, and youth leaders to refine our program and continue to grow our impact. During my visit I've had the joy of reconnecting with some of our very first youth leaders, the brave teens who helped launch our work so many years ago.

Rosmery was one of the six original youth leaders back in 2009 when the Leaders and Readers Program began. When I first met and interviewed her for acceptance into the program she said she wanted to become a teacher and I asked her why. She said that she wanted to help the children in her community have a better life and she saw education and literacy as the most promising ways to make that happen. To our devastation, Rosmery's mother died in the first year of the program. When I saw her just the other day - more than 7 years later - I asked her where she would be today if she didn’t have the benefit of the Reading Village scholarship at that time. No longer a reserved albeit ambitious teen, Rosmery answered with the eloquence of a young woman and community role model. She said she’d be working in the fields or married off or making tortillas, whatever she could do to make a living. She painted a picture of a life in a single room home, a dirt floor, manual labor. But instead of that being her reality, at 26 years of age Rosmery is the school teacher she dreamed of becoming; she has a fiancé she has chosen herself. She is a brilliant educator in a system that literally puts children last, and she attributes her passion and effectiveness in no small part due to the leadership training she received with Reading Village. 

We couldn't be more proud of the impact that our program has had on the trajectory of Rosmery's life. Nor could we be any more impressed with how she has leveraged her strengths to transform the lives of the children in her village. Rosmery is a perfect example of why investing in alumni and supporting them to remain connected to our work is our sixth building block of human capital. Their talent and contribution - both to our program as well as to their communities - remain integral to our success, every step of the way.

Thank you for investing in Rosmery all those years ago, and thank you for your partnership in this important work,


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Organization Information

Reading Village

Location: Boulder, CO - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.readingvillage.org
Project Leader:
Linda Smith
Boulder, CO United States
$244,500 raised of $350,000 goal
1,552 donations
$105,500 to go
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