What it feels like to build a school for the kids in Guatemala

Guatemala

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS

Fondo Unido or United Way is a conglomerate both in Guatemala and internationally that helps other, smaller NGOs. Founded in October 2001, the organization has successfully managed to become an indispensable link between the communities that are in desperate need of help and the organizations and volunteers who have the money and manpower but don’t know where to invest it successfully. Ricardo Rossal, Director of the United Way in Guatemala says, “What we essentially believe in is building capacity, sensitizing communities, and trying to become that credible bridge between the haves and have-nots of this country.” Having completed a very successful activity called Voluntariado Gerencial (Management Volunteering), the whole team of United Way was beaming with its grand achievement. For the third year in a row, the main agenda of this activity was to find a project which involved a day’s worth of labor and to invite the CEOs and General Managers of some large multinational companies to donate a day of labor and salary. According to Ricardo Rossal, “There are two challenges that we face with Voluntariado Gerencial: one is to convince companies to be generous enough for what this activity requires, and the second is to find a project that justifies all this effort. There has to be something for everyone to do, so that at the end of the day everyone can return tired and exhausted but happy and satisfied.” The preparation began in January; arranging for the security is one of the biggest challenges as the event brings together some of the most prominent people in the country.

United Way chose a place 22 kms from Guatemala City called Villa Nueva. The goal for the CEOs was to build a new school out of wood, a play area using tires from the city dump just a few kilometers away, a kitchen and washrooms out of concrete, plant around 180 trees, and install water purifiers in each of the classrooms. The impact of this project is huge. Around 300 students will have access to the basic right of education and the project will bring dignity to this community of 2,000 people. For the event, 42 CEOs participated from the 80 companies that were invited. Denis Cristabel Chajón Arias, the current director of Nuevo Amanecer, the school in Villa Nueva, explains, “It was horrible before United Way proposed this project. The two small rooms, which we used to call a school, were made out of tin. When it rained, the sheer roar of rain on the roof used to make the teachers completely inaudible to the students. During the summer, the classrooms would bake the students, and many times we had to call off classes because we had no cross-ventilation for air circulation. And, since the entire floor was dirt, the whole school used to get washed out during the rains. The canyon behind us made it very dangerous for the kids to play.”

The former director of Nuevo Amanecer, Marta Lidia Tale, had tears in her eyes when she spoke of the horrors and the helpless conditions. Just the possibility of opportunity that the newly-constructed school will provide to the children makes her very emotional. “It’s a big day for me,” she said while looking around at the little kids running with paint and brushes in their hands in a rush to finish the construction as the sky became overcast.

Despite the success of Voluntariado Gerencial 2011, Ricardo Rossal said, “This event is no doubt important, but the biggest is yet to come.” Preparations for the Feria De Los Sueños (The Fair of Dreams) have already begun for the November event. This year will be its 10th year running. This year’s theme is Yo Puedo Ser (I Can Be). It is a one-of-a-kind project that listens to the dreams of underprivileged children – dreams of the future, dreams of new experiences. United Way attempts to fulfill as many of these dreams as possible. In 2010, 2,300 children participated in this event and 36 companies extended help in making 200 dreams come true. There are around 1,400 volunteers whose efforts help make this event successful year after year. Elaborating more on this, Alejandra Ramirez, from United Way tells us, “This fair is scheduled for 26th of November but the preparation begins in August. The companies that back the dreams of these children will have 30 stands at the fair based on the dreams that children have and what they want to become when they grow up. United Way plans to have stalls based on themes like: I want to be a policeman, the president, a teacher, a sports person, a carpenter, a journalist etc. There will also be different committees for transportation, reception, information, child supervision, food, support stands, games and entertainment, first aid, cleaning, and stage programs.”

Reminiscing about a unique dream request that came a couple of years ago, Ricardo says, “The child wanted to be the driver of a Coca Cola truck for a day. Instead, the company extended the offer to make him the General Manager for a day. He worked in the office and then went to stores selling the drink.” Speaking of a new idea he has on his mind, Ricardo says, “I would love to invite all the journalists from around the country and organize an event for them this year or next, and make it an annual affair.” The purpose of the event would be to focus on all the good things happening around the world. The idea of seeing, writing and popularizing good news isn’t an impossibility: “In fact, you can be the generator of good news yourself. I am a firm believer of the fact that good deeds beget more good deeds,” says Ricardo passionately.

[This article was first published in bilingual magazine in Antigua, Guatemala]

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