Common Hope, Antigua Guatemala, el diecisiete de noviembre
School was school. Sheny and I talked: she wrote words and expressions I don't know on paper which I transfer into my notebook in the evenings. At coffee time, I visited with a Canadian couple and ate a tostada covered in guacamole, radish/onion/cilantro salad, cabbage salad, cheese and medium sauce. As if that wasn't enough, I also had a doblada, which is a folded tortilla filled with mashed potatoes, then covered with tomato salad (salsa in Canada), queso (cheese - but here it means white powder, kind of reminds me of Kraft Dinner cheese), guacamole and medium sauce. I was particularly hungry because breakfast was Special K and watermelon. That just doesn't hold me for 5 hours. It was my last class day in Antigua and I have to say I have learned a lot however I am very impatient and frustrated that I can't speak fluently. Dumb huh! I speak with others who have been here many weeks more than me and I can outtalk them so I know I'm doing well, it's just that I want to do better. Tomorrow we are going to San Cristobal for coffee and the view. It is the last thing on my list to do in Antigua so I'm pretty pleased.
This afternoon I went on a tour of an NGO called Common Hope. It was started in the 80s by Americans from Minnesota. Their initial goal was to provide education to children in Guatemala but as our government is having a hard time understanding, it was difficult to get the children to stay in school if they lived in poverty: they might not have a roof over their head or have enough to eat. Other issues include addictions, medical or mental health issues, so now Common Hope sponsors not only students but also their families.
The first stop of the tour was in a beautiful and new homework room-
Students come before or after school to complete assignments or play/work on computers as a reward for following the rules. Students either attend school from 7:30 - 12:30 or 1-6. This center is in one of the villages sponsored by Common Hope so people have access to help close to where they live-
These students have come to work on subjects they either failed during the year or have difficulty with because it is now 2 months of holidays.
Unfortunately none of the families that a potential sponsor can visit was at home, so our next stop was the main office and support area-
where students and parents come to read and study. 3600 books have been read by 231 families in the past 4 years. Many parents cannot read but they are taught literacy skills to get their kids to think about what they see in the book-
This athletic field just opened a couple of months ago-
Not only does Common Hope work in Antigua, they have schools in 20+ villages. In San Miguel Milpas Atlas, there are 3000 inhabitants and 213 families are affiliated with the organization. It is a farming community and one of the biggest problems is that they only get water once every 4-5 days for 2-3 hours! Common Hope began working there in 2010.
San Rafael El Arado is another community where Common Hope supports 181 families. The biggest issue in this village is that parents want their children to work rather than study and so the social workers have to try to convince parents and students about the opportunities that come from education. Because of the immense poverty and nutrition issues in San Rafael, every child in the family is affiliated.
Affiliation means sponsored. Interested parents apply to Common Hope to be sponsored. Sometimes only one or two children receive sponsorship but the whole family becomes eligible to access health care-
dental care, parenting classes, psychiatric help and if a family is in need, Common Hope will help them build a home that looks like this-
It takes a week to put up and families must contribute 100 hours. The land must be ready for development when the construction crew moves in. Walls are made of a cement like material-
If something happens to the land the home is on, it can be dismantled and moved. These homes do not have a 'forever' lifespan. They only last 10-15 years, but the hope is that by then, the kids will be well educated and able to provide for their family.
School is looked at in 3 stages: Grades 1-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Common Hope's goal is to get students to graduate from Grade 12. That is a huge challenge because students often have to leave their community after Grade 6 to continue learning. Of course, this is difficult.
In 1999, the village of New Hope was founded by Comon Hope. Hurricane Mitch devastated ravines surrounding Guatemala City where many lived. 42 families relocated to the village of New Hope where homes were built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Today, 250 families in New Hope are affiliated with Common Hope.
Graduation rates from Common Hope students in Grade 6 in 2012 were 97% compared to 70% nation wide. The curriculum centers on active learning and critical thinking using various classroom techniques such as standardized rules, consequences and rewards to create an effective and safe learning environment.
Sponsorship of 1 child is $60 US but the benefits are huge for all involved. The website charitynavigator.org rates Common Hope as a 4 star organization, scoring a 95.57% overall rating, a 93.74% financial rating and a 100% accountability and transparency rating.
It seems like a great organization to me, so tomorrow afternoon I will meet my family and the child I am going to sponsor! Looking very much forward to that!