Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in statistics, larger societal trends, and fundraising concerns, and we forget, for just a moment, that the work we’re doing is about individual people, and how we can support each other and find a better way together.
Then we are reminded.
Vivian Vanesa Quiñonez Tubac is a friend of ours who lives in El Tejar, Guatemala. We got to know her through her participation in a program that PEG funds, Brillaguate. Vivian is fifteen years old. She lives with her three younger siblings and her mother, who makes tortillas by hand all day, every day, for which she makes about 30 quetzales per day. That’s about $4, to support herself and four children.
Like many girls in Guatemala, Vivian does domestic work to help her mother support the family, and, in spite of all of the challenges she is up against, she is still in school. In Guatemala, poor families often send boys to school, but not girls. Vivian’s mother never had the opportunity to study, so she cannot read or write, but she wants more for Vivian, and supports her dreams.
It is not uncommon for Guatemalan women to be illiterate — when we spoke with twenty mothers at the primary school we support in another town, Tzanchaj, we found that only six of them could read or write, even a little. It is remarkable when parents support their daughters in their studies and their dreams to become professionals. With just a little bit of financial help, some encouragement from two mentors, and the support of a team of peers who are also struggling to make their way, young women like Vivian are achieving their goals.
We got to know our friends Aracely and Sara through their work with the music school in El Tejar that PEG and LEAF helped to launch in 2007. These two women saw many girls in town who were struggling against long odds, becoming young mothers, quitting school, and suffering in abusive relationships. They began to reach out to some of these girls in 2015, conducting assessments of their situations and putting together a report. Then they asked if PEG would be interested in supporting a mentoring program to work with a small number of girls.
The initiative born from their vision, Brillaguate (bree-yah-WAHT-ay), is now two years old. Currently, 8 young women, age 12 to 15, are in the program. At the beginning of the year they are given approximately Q500.00 ($70) to buy their school supplies and each month they are given a further Q100.00 ($13) to support their studies. They all attend monthly meetings on topics such as self-esteem, healthy relationships, leadership, and self-care.
Over the last two years, all of the girls in the program improved their grades and stayed in school, and two were recognized as the best students in their grade. That’s the kind of impact we can have partnering with Guatemalan leaders like Aracely and Sara. Their capacity to do so much with so little is a testament to the power of community and to the strength and resourcefulness of Guatemalan women.
Brillaguate grew out of the relationships that have formed over our years of working with the El Tejar music program. We never would have seen this project coming, but these relationships and this partnership allowed this idea to be born. Now Brillaguate is having a significant positive impact on the lives of girls whose options would be much more limited without it.
Long-term relationships are the heart of our work, and it is amazing to see the ripples that come from them. Sara and Aracely have been volunteering in this program for the last two years. Their dedication and strong leadership are clear, but if the program is going to be sustainable, it will be prudent to begin paying them in the near future. Brillaguate is only one of our partners in Guatemala, though. Most of the folks we work with in Guatemala are growing their programs in one way or another, so we are, too!
Here is a bit of news from a few of our other partners:
El Tejar Music Program, El Tejar – In partnership with LEAF International, the music school of El Tejar serves around 50 teens and tweens each year, teaching them to play a musical instrument of their choice, music theory, music history, and rhythm classes, as well as providing kinder-music style classes for many more small children in the preschool where the music program is housed. Next year will bring the final phase of a three-year expansion for the music school, including licensure by the Guatemalan Department of Education. That expansion will bring increased costs of $3,200.
Recently, students from the music program visited a nearby retirement center to play for residents, and encountered a musician in the crowd.
Escuelita David LaMotte, Tzanchaj – This small preschool has grown in the past 12 years with support from PEG Partners and a few other small donors. The school now serves around 60 kids from age 3 through first grade. In 2017, we supported this program with $4,900 to pay for teachers’ salaries and a food program. This year, salary costs are growing, and we are actively pursuing the possibility of buying the land that the school sits on, at a cost of $30,000, spread over the next three years.
La Puerta Abierta, Santiago – This small school and library serves hundreds of kids through its rich and varied programs. PEG Partners has funded several projects there, including teacher training, a traveling library serving small regional schools that have few books of their own, and classroom construction as the school expands to serve kids through fifth grade.
UPAVIM, Guatemala City – Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (United for a Better Life) is a women’s cooperative in Guatemala City. Their handicrafts are sold internationally and can be found in stores such as Ten Thousand Villages. The profits from the craft sales finance a daycare and school which serves hundreds of local kids. They also run a medical center and library. In 2017, PEG supported their English program, which provides students with a safe space to be after school and gives them a step up with English skills.
So there is quite a lot going on in Guatemala!
And this year, friends from Guatemala also traveled north to see us here. In October, students and teachers from the music program in El Tejar once again traveled to the United States to perform at the LEAF festival in Black Mountain. While they were here, local friends and supporters had the opportunity to spend time with them informally, and we treasured that time together.
If you would like to spend time with our Guatemalan friends, too, we have good news! From June 24 to July 1, 2018, PEG will be hosting its first open trip to Guatemala. If you would like to learn more, or would be interested in joining us, click here. We look forward to hearing from you!
We remain deeply grateful for your partnership with PEG Partners. This year, several long-time supporters have stepped up their involvement and contributions, and the timing could not be better. Our annual budget runs in the neighborhood of $25,000, and, as mentioned above, this year there is significant need to grow that amount.
As of now, closing out 2017, we have about half of that on hand. If you would like to help us get there, we welcome your partnership! And if you would like to see the impact for yourself, first hand, we would love for you to join us in Guatemala next summer. Donations can be made through www.pegpartners.org, or by mailing a check to PEG Partners, P.O. Box 551, Montreat, NC 28757.
Thanks again for being part of this essential work, and for changing the world around you for the better.
David LaMotte, Co-founder and President, and
Sarah Robinson Bryan, Director