We are a group of donors dedicated to working together to reduce the amount of suffering experienced daily by impoverished Guatemalans. Suffering, that stems from the lack of access to education and adequate nutrition, can be alleviated with surprisingly small investments.
Project Quetzal’s programs are located in the rural highlands of Guatemala. Our goal is to find solutions for improving the lives of indigenous families through education and nutrition. We focus on being partners with and listening to what the families in the communities need, all the while maintaining the greatest respect for the Mayan culture. We believe this approach is one that best serves the indigenous community and the best way to use the money we receive from our donors.
We aren’t trying to re-invent the nonprofit wheel. We recognize there are many very good nonprofit organizations working in Guatemala. Project Quetzal, utilizing the generosity of our members, funds our own projects as well as collaborating with other nonprofit organizations on carefully vetted and viable projects.
Project Quetzal supports preschools (and after-school tutorial programs) in rural indigenous Mayan communities. We hire the teachers and outfit their classrooms with the necessary materials. The teachers are from the communities where they will be teaching, and they are bilingual (Spanish and local Mayan language). They receive a weeklong training three times a year in a research and activity based curriculum. All students receive a daily nutritional drink that contains vitamins and minerals, and parents are encouraged to bring a nutritional snack. The children are excited to be in school and increase their opportunity for success in first grade. A coordinator visits the schools each month to act as a mentor to the teachers and to meet with the mothers to discuss important issues such as nutrition and the importance of education.
Many indigenous children speak a Mayan language at home and enter first grade when they are 7 years old. They are already at a disadvantage because they are not fluent in Spanish. By attending Project’s Quetzal’s preschools, they learn the academics and also Spanish. Because of this, they enter first grade well prepared for success. If they finish first grade, they are most likely to stay in school, complete sixth grade, and have a better chance of gaining employment or continuing with their education.
We also have a weaving group with 7 women. It is a small project, and the focus is still education and nutrition. The women are all expert weavers, and they take orders to sell their weavings to people in their village and surrounding villages. They save some of the money to buy weaving materials and the rest goes to pay for books and materials that their children need to go to school, buy healthy food, and help support their family. And, of course, it promotes the ancient art of incredible Mayan weaving.
We select our teachers through an interview process. They are required to submit a report each month with attendance figures, general lesson plans, and themes. The preschool children are tested during the year to see how they are progressing. The tutorial teachers are required to evaluate students in the after-school program each trimester and send us an update. When a child is on grade level, and no longer needs the help, another child can enter the program.
Our coordinator administers academic tests to all students at the beginning and at the end of each year. They also weigh and measure the children and take a blood sample to ensure that they are growing and receiving proper nutrition. She also gatherers statistics on how many children stayed in the program, how many went on to 1st grade in public school. We also keep track of how many students in the tutorial classes were able to catch up and be promoted to the next grade. So far, all of the statistics show excellent results!!
Areas of Focus
- Education – Our main interests are in the areas of preschool programs and after-school tutoring programs at the elementary school level. We support these programs by paying for a teacher’s salary (approximately $1500 per year), plus materials and training for the teachers and monthly meetings with the mothers. If students do not pass first grade, they often stop attending school. Going to preschool provides an opportunity for children to achieve success in the first grade. Also, tutoring is essential for indigenous students who speak a Mayan language in the home. Spanish is their second language and many struggle with academic subjects. Many parents did not receive adequate education and are unable to help their children with homework.
- Nutrition — Another principle focus is in supporting small rural schools with nutrition programs. All of the children in our projects receive a nutritional drink each day (called Chispuditos) that contains vitamins and minerals. The mothers attend workshops where they learn about good nutrition, and they are encouraged to bring healthy snacks to school.
- Community projects – Projects for economic development are also considered such as a weaving cooperative for women. The Mayan weavers are renowned as textile artists and this keeps them connected to their heritage. It gives them the possibility to earn money, develop pride in their skills, contribute to the family income, provide for their children, build sustainable futures for themselves and their families, and empower them to change their lives by working together.