Working to break the cycle of poverty and empower local communities around La Antigua Guatemala.
Marten Dressen, his sister Annemiek Dressen and their friend Sander founded Niños De Guatemala (NDG) in 2006, in collaboration with Carmen Paniagua, a resident of La Antigua Guatemala. Working to break the cycle of poverty and empower local communities around La Antigua Guatemala, the NGO now operates three schools, providing education to 430 children, ages 4 to 14.
The first school is Nuestro Futuro in Ciudad Vieja, about a 10-minute bus ride from Antigua. Visitors to the school are surrounded by a wave of noise, then by children, as they rush to investigate the newest guests. The smiling faces shine against a backdrop of colorful buildings, decorated by the students’ paintings and drawings.
NDG’s newly constructed middle school, across the street from Nuestro Futuro, eventually will house all graduates from the two elementary schools, providing them with the key next step in their education.
The second elementary school, El Porvenir, is in San Lorenzo el Cubo, a rural suburb of Ciudad Vieja, with even less access to public education. The school opened in 2012 and will be at full capacity in 2017. Tours are offered at both schools.
Well-trained Guatemalan teachers conduct classes in all the subjects that are required by the national curriculum. Studies also include computer classes, English lessons and instruction in a Mayan language. The kids also receive education in a variety of other subjects taught by volunteers who work at the school.
Workshops include photography, yoga, art, zumba and languages. The idea is to foster a love of learning by expanding their creative and curious minds while preparing the kids for success in the modern, high-tech world.
In order to set new students up for success, the organization’s social workers visit families, explaining student responsibilities, including homework assignments, also if there are extenuating circumstances there is psychological support. As well, families are provided with empowerment and social enterprise, for example, the mothers are learning to weave and bake pastries that they can then sell.
Students receive one healthy snack and one full meal every day. A nutritionist designed the menu to be as tasty as it is healthy, and it provides the students with over 80 percent of their daily nutritional needs.
Realizing that not all academic problems can be solved in the classroom, NDG also provides psychological support and therapy in areas such as behavior, adolescence and violence prevention. There’s also support for students with learning difficulties.
The psychology program also works with students and their parents in a compulsory family nurturing program. There is a self-help group for women and a support group for spouses dealing with the effects of alcohol addiction. A program specifically for their children starts this year.
One of the founding principles of the organization is to involve and therefore empower the local community. NDG manages this by maintaining open, two-way communication between the families and the schools. Parents’ representatives can voice concerns and help the community understand the organization’s decisions.
The organization is funded in large part through the sponsorship program. “Padrinos” and “Madrinas” make a monthly contribution to the organization and are matched with individual students. The sponsors receive regular updates on their students’ academic progress, and make a personal, as well as financial, investment in the kids’ education.
NDG is looking to expand its volunteer program with people who are living in Guatemala and can commit to a few hours a week. It’s a rare opportunity to work in a growing organization, build up valuable experience and start lifelong friendships with wonderful students.
ninosdeguatemala.org or take a tour of one of the schools,
REVUE article on EDUCATION by Matthew Meehan