PROJECT: ESTUDIA CON AMOR (Study With Love)
DIRECTOR: SANDRA ALONZO PAC
In a country like Guatemala, there are no safety nets like welfare, food stamps, free healthcare services for the poor… So when a woman is abandoned by an abusive, alcoholic husband, life gets even harder. Not only must she face the emotional pain of rejection, she must somehow survive and care for her children. Does she leave her children home alone where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse by neighbors in order to find work? Does she beg for food from strangers because no one will give her a job if she must tote young children along? How does she care for a sick child when she has no money for even the simplest of medicines to control a dangerously high fever? Even harder than the physical suffering is the sense of abandonment and despair that comes from facing life’s struggles alone.
Life is even harder for mining families who work dawn to dusk with a sledgehammer breaking rock into gravel. They must work in the winter cold, the heat of summer and drenching rains. Even then, there isn’t enough money to feed the family unless women and children also work. Certainly, there is no money for the required uniforms and textbooks if children want a chance to break free from this poverty.
Hardest of all is the life of a street child. Some children are abandoned, but most run away from abusive households. Life on the streets is dangerous for a child, and they suffer from cold, hunger, and fear. Boys typically earn money shining shoes, but the younger the boy, the harder it is to find a customer who will trust them. One young child summed it up very simply when he said, “We feel sad.” Overwhelmingly sad!
Estudia Con Amor is primarily an educational scholarship program for children in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (also known as Xela) and surrounding communities. Most of the children come from single parent households, mining families, and street children. Tuition is free through middle school in Guatemala, but children must buy their own uniforms, proper shoes, school supplies, and even textbooks, and educational costs rise sharply after middle school because tuition is no longer free. Uniform and textbook companies have “convinced” school officials to change uniforms and textbooks every year, which means high costs every year and no passing items down to younger siblings! This is prohibitively expensive for these families. In fact, in most cases, the children must also work to help provide for the basic needs of the families. Estudia Con Amor steps in to provide a child with an education and a chance for a better future.
After middle school, tuition is no longer free, so educational costs jump up by more than double. We continue to support children as long as they want to stay in school – even through university – but our sponsorship stays at the same level as middle school. By the time children are in high school, we expect them to raise the additional funds required to bridge the gap in costs, and, if they wish, we help them set up small businesses – we built chicken coops so they could raise chickens, provided sewing machines so they could tailor… These businesses not only generate income, the girls are learning key skills, like production, finance, and marketing… skills that will serve them well throughout life.
Sandra, the Project Director, has a tremendous heart for the children and mothers in the program. The program doesn’t just provide an education, it provides the whole family with hope – hope that that there is a better tomorrow waiting and a support system so the mothers and children no longer feel alone. The families in this program are desperately poor, and they often need basic help beyond just a scholarship. A blind mother needed help finding and relocating to a new rental – a one-room shack with a roof pock-marked with holes. Sandra helped her find the new place, and she and her husband replaced the woman’s roof with new tin. A lame girl who was rejected by her mother for being a “useless invalid” needed medical care for an eye infection, which Sandra helped provide. A girl struggling due to sexual abuse needed counseling, and Sandra arranged free care from the psychology department at the University. Street children need food and warm jackets and… Sandra works tirelessly to help these families in a myriad of ways.
Sandra evaluates each new scholarship candidate to ensure her scholarships are going to the neediest children, buys their needed school supplies, and helps them enroll in school. She continually monitors their progress, advocates for them in the schools, and motivates them to study hard. She also provides great emotional support to both the children and the mothers, as they often confide their problems to her because of their great trust in her. She is enormously grateful for the donations that allow her to serve these precious young children.
Don’t miss this video! You will love meeting some of the families in the scholarship program. Just click this link: