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Bold Action in Guatemala by Esperanza Juvenil

Our President and CEO reflects on her recent visit to Boys Hope Girls Hope of Guatemala and how the affiliate nimbly adapted through a 2+ year national school shutdown

Bold Action in Guatemala by Esperanza Juvenil

Kristin Ostby, President & CEO, with Lucas Pinzon, Executive Director of Esperanza Juvenil

After being away for a year, I was so happy to spend a couple weeks in Guatemala and back at Esperanza Juvenil (Boys Hope Girls Hope of Guatemala)! The experience has been very inspiring, and I want to share the work of this incredible team and group of young scholars.

In March 2020, the Guatemalan government shut down all schools from operating in person.  At the time, Esperanza Juvenil had 100 young scholars living in our residential homes near our schools.  Another 80 scholars, who continued to live with their families in very poor neighborhoods in Guatemala City, attended Esperanza Juvenil classes every day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.   

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During the pandemic, the well-resourced private schools in Guatemala shifted to a virtual model with students studying on their computers from home.  Public schools either closed or gave students worksheets and study guides each week to work through on their own. Many of these young people’s parents have very little formal education, much less the time to devote to this endeavor, regularly called away to work in the fields or at their jobs in the city to make ends meet.  These circumstances have led to a devastating learning loss in Guatemala over the last two years. 

In the case of Esperanza Juvenil, thanks to the help of critical in-kind donations, leveraged through Boys Hope Girls Hope, from Cisco, Dell and HPE, and the support of SISAP, a major Guatemala-based tech company, the team was able to super network the facilities and make sure all of the scholars and teachers had laptops.  At first, the team provided the scholars, who lived with their families, laptops so they could connect with the classes virtually from their homes.  But the team quickly realized the scholars were finding it very difficult to connect and stay on task given the humble, and often chaotic, conditions in which their families liveOne scholar was climbing a banana tree each day to get enough Wi-Fi to submit his homework. Another, whose family lives in the jungles of Coban, walked thirty minutes each day to get to a spot with Wi-Fi. It became clear that something more needed to be done.

That's not all...

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When the pandemic was still at its height, Esperanza Juvenil partnered with multiple organizations and sent out bags of basic food supplies to the scholars’ families, who live in cities and remote villages across the country!

And....

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Despite the challenges, all scholars stayed on track, and 33 Esperanza Juvenil scholars graduated from high school and started college over this two-year period!

The Esperanza Juvenil board and team took a very bold course of action!  Reasoning that the government wouldn’t allow schools to resume in-person any time soon, the board decided to invite the scholars who lived with their families to “temporarily” move into Esperanza’s school facilities.  With the help of the Guatemalan architectural and construction company AICSA, classrooms were converted into dorm rooms with the installation of showers, toilets, lockers, and bunk beds.  To stick with the Boys Hope Girls Hope model, boys and girls were in different buildings and grouped in pods of no more than 12 by age group, each of which was assigned a residential staffer.  The Esperanza Juvenil board increased the budget, donated and raised funds to make sure the scholars were all in great care.  Over 40 scholars took advantage of this opportunity and moved in for what turned into a 27-month national school shutdown.   

Some amazing things happened during this time!  First and foremost, all the scholars stayed on track!!  The scholars who had previously lived in the residential homes and those who moved in due to COVID, formed learning groups, held each other accountable, and supported each other with assignments.  While many young people suffered a sense of isolation and depression during this time, the Esperanza Juvenil scholars engaged in TikTok dance competitions across pods, cooking competitions, and other activities to stay active, laugh, and create.

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Another great benefit was that the residential staff, who are referred to in Guatemala as “tias” or “tios, translated to aunt or uncle, worked very closely with the teachers, who had to teach from their homes.  What was once two teams with different focuses, one on the daily care, cooking, cleaning, and health of the scholars, and the other on the educational work of the scholars, became one team.  In many ways, this represents the greatest learnings of our times.  Education, health, mental health, and community are intricately linked and dependent on one another. 

In early July, Esperanza Juvenil was once again able to resume in-person schooling.  Most of the scholars who live with their families moved back home and are now coming to class every day again.  A few realized the residential program better fit their needs and have continued to live on campus.  The energy of the scholars and entire team couldn’t be more electric about being in person again, and there is great pride in the collective effort to weather the storm with innovation, a nimble spirit, and lots of love.  I have the deepest respect for this team and board, who focused on what was needed for the young people first and worked together to pull off a very challenging task, and to the scholars who adapted, worked hard, and made sure they didn’t miss a beat in their path to an education and life of impact! 

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