In January of 2008 a primary school in Canton, San Antonio in the region of Huehuetenango in Guatemala was opened and I was honored to have my name on that school. 

About a year prior to the school opening I had gone on a humanitarian/ mission trip with Lois Werner. She was a board member for Miracles in Action, a non-profit based in Naples, FL. We were there for several weeks and volunteered our time in several orphanages, spent a considerable amount of time in remote villages, and toured a variety of projects Miracles in Action had completed including water projects and schools in very remote areas. I was changed forever by the first hand experience of seeing what extreme poverty looks and feels like. Extreme poverty meaning, living on less than $1.50 a day per person.  These people in the rural villages are indigenous Mayans who speak their own dialect and typically live in dirt floor huts with no running water and no electricity. Furthermore, there is no school in most of these villages which means the children won’t learn to even read or write. It is hard to get beyond survival mode, when you can’t even get an elementary school education. I saw a number of these villages and hundreds if not thousands of Mayans living in these types of extreme poverty situations. I knew that I wanted to make a difference and help these people long term. I wanted to help them help themselves. An old Chinese Proverb says- “If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish he will eat for a lifetime”. I believe in helping others so that they can empower themselves longterm. What better way than through education?

Penny and Magdalena with some of the elder women of Canton San Antonio.

Penny and Magdalena with some of the elder women of Canton San Antonio.

In 2007, I donated the funds to construct a 5 classroom school  in Huehuetenago. I had never been to this area of Guatemala, as it is very remote and difficult to get to. However, for the school opening a group of volunteers and donors trekked out to Huehuetenango for my school opening. It was a long bus ride (like 8 hours) through areas not considered especially safe for tourists at the time. However, we were always in good hands with our In-Country non-profit partners and our drivers with their hidden arms. Everyone on the trip was also instructed to basically dress as Peace-Corp workers to not draw any attention to our group. If it were known that we could be kidnapped for ransoms we would definitely all be in danger.

I have done a total of 5 trips to rural Guatemala for Humanitarian-Mission trips. They have changed me as a person for the better. I am also an emphatic patriot for America and all that we have going for us here. That being said, we do have a responsibility to help others, as we are so blessed. Even the poorest in America are no comparison to the poor in Guatemala. Are there people in the US living in dirt floor huts with no electricity, no schools for their children, no running water, and having to drink out of dirty ponds and rivers their whole lives? No. We do not. We are not a third world country. Yes, millions are living like this across the world. We are blessed as Americans, even the poor.

So how can you help? We can’t all afford to build a school, but there are other ways to help. You can donate to a reliable charity (one that gives over 90% back to the people). You can sponsor a child, you can become a foster parent, or you can partner with a charity like Miracles in Action that is truly is making a difference.

I feel blessed that I was able to be a part of creating a school that will educate thousands. I personally sewed 180 backpacks/satchels for the students. My sister Rachel donated most of the fabric for these backpacks. I also purchased toys, basic school supplies, and hygiene products to distribute to these students. Little did we know that there were actually over 200 children of elementary school age in the community who would now attend school since there was an actual school and teachers.

One of the bags I made from my sister Rachel's fabric donation and one of the over 100 toys I brought to give out. The kids were thrilled. Their faces are deceiving. Most had never smiled for a camera before, let alone stood next to a white Gringo like me before!

One of the bags I made from my sister Rachel’s fabric donation and one of the over 100 toys I brought to give out. The kids were thrilled. Their faces are deceiving. Most had never smiled for a camera before, let alone stood next to a fair skinned blonde like me before!

How it works in Guatemala….at least when I built my school there- if there was a school built, the Government would then provide the teachers. Once my school was built, the Government then sent 5 teachers to work there full time. Miracle in Action provided the funds (via donor- Me for this particular school) to build the school via specific architectural and engineering designs. For the actual construction of the project the people of the village had agreed to provide the labor to actually construct the building. Children carried concrete blocks up the hill daily, as the adults did the construction of the building as overseen by a masonry and other professionals. The goal was for the community to actually construct the project and provide the labor. Therefore they value the project and school in the end. I merely provided the funds to purchase the raw materials and Miracles in Action coortionated all the efforts. What is even more remarkable about the non-profit I chose was that 100% of my funds went to the project. Penny Rambacher (who is the red-head in my photos) did all the work FOR FREE. She has such an incredible heart for the poor. 100% of my donated money went toward the project and not any overhead. How do I know this is true? I became a board member for Miracles in Action from mid 2008 through 2014. My school was Miracles in Action school #15. When I had to resign from the board in 2014 because I was overwhelmed with my 6 month old twins and 2 year old daughter, we were undergoing construction of Miracles in Action school #50!! Miracles in Action does even more than schools. They build water projects, vocational schools, provide college scholarships, provide pigs and chickens to villagers, and so much more! I am so grateful for my time with Miracles in Action. I may have helped some very poor people, but the experience changed my outlook and compassion for others for a lifetime!