The Otto René Castillo Institute for Sustainable Education

This project comprises the establishment and daily operation of an educational institute that will grant bachelor’s degrees in sciences and letters with an accompanying certification in gastronomy and ecotourism. Targeted at youth in the municipalities of Colomba and San Martín Sacatepéquez, both in the department of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, it is a project that places social and environmental education at the center of the curriculum. In this way, we empower our students to value their lives, families, communities, and environment, and to graduate with the skills needed to continue at university as well as to develop projects of their own design.

Young Leaders Scholarship Program

Our scholarship program supports the studies of students from more than 15 neighboring communities by paying a monthly scholarship to help with their school fees and expenses. The scholarship recipients commit to maintaining passing or higher grades and to demonstrating leadership through participation within their communities. Participation might include involvement with local youth groups, grassroots organizations, church youth groups or activities at the Escuela de la Montaña such as leadership training sessions or the Arte en el Campo courses in music and art.

Scholarship students are also required to participate in regular Youth Encounters held at the Escuela de la Montaña where speakers have covered topics such as children’s rights, the Peace Accords, HIV/AIDS, gender issues, alcohol and drug abuse, politics, domestic violence, and how to respond to gang activity. Our intention is to promote a sense of leadership and community responsibility among the youth, stressing their roles as future leaders in their communities and in Guatemala.

Help us raise funds for next years program

The need for scholarships grows every year as unemployment rises. We normally give out 80-100 scholarships each year, depending on the number of applications received. The cost of the annual program ranges from $16,000 – $25,000 U.S., depending on how many scholarships there are and the breakdown between middle school and high school students.

Even a small scholarship can make the difference between staying in school and early entry to the labour force. The scholarships range from Q100 per month (US $13.35) for básico to Q225 per month (US $30) for diversificado. (Grades 7, 8 and 9 are called básico. Diversificado includes grades 10, 11 and 12 and often has a career focus, such as bookkeeping, computers, elementary teaching, secretary, etc.). We also give an extra amount in January to help with inscription fees – Q100 for básico and Q200 for diversificado.

If you or your organization would like to help raise money for this much-needed program, please email us. You can donate online through our secure click and pledge.

Behind the scenes

We would like to say a big thank you to Michele Seipp, a former student of the Escuela de la Montaña for her continuing work on behalf of the scholarship program and other projects of the school. Michele Seipp has coordinated our fund-raising efforts for many years now, and most recently formed our dedicated non profit La Montana Fund in the U.S. In the past, Michele has worked hard to raise money for the scholarships programme, the community library and for many projects in the community of Fátima including the projects to get water and electricity in 2007.

Huge thanks are also due to Lynn Haanen, founding coordinator of the Escuela de la Montaña. It was under her leadership that the scholarships program began in 1999. Bob Hilliard has also played a significant role in ensuring the success of the program.

Otto René Castillo Community Library

The Escuela de la Montaña works closely with local communities to support educational projects. We have a scholarship program to support families who cannot otherwise afford to send their children to secondary school (many middle and high schools in Guatemala are privately run and charge tuition fees). However, the scholarship program alone was not enough to significantly boost literacy and education in this area. Local families are very poor. In most houses there are no books and no access to study materials. Also, most families have little space in their homes for their children to read or study. Most homes are two room houses, built of concrete block, and house up to 15 people, and even with electricity- which is very expensive – most rooms are dark, with only one light bulb.

Sadly, local schools also have minimal resources. There is very little governmental support of the schools, and many children leave school without ever having read an entire book. Even in the classroom, children and teenagers have no access to dictionaries, encyclopaedias, nor other reference materials, and even less access to reading books and literature.

For this reason, we decided to raise funds to build and set up a community library. Thanks to the support of several institutions and individuals, we opened the library in June 2012. It is now open daily Monday through Friday February – November (to cover the school year) for students of all ages and everyone in the surrounding communities (in total about 5,000 inhabitants). Primary school groups visit the library for reading and literacy promoting activities, and local children and teenagers also come to read and study here. The library offers daily activities for children, and a weekly activity for youth focused on learning about the ecology. Often Mountain School students volunteer at the library, reading to local kids, helping kids and teenagers with homework and organizing fun and educational activities there.

Fátima Casa de Salud

In rural areas, residents have little access to health care. Because of this, local health houses were built and run in nearby communities. Unfortunately, funding to support these important projects ran out, and the government in recent years has also failed to support rural health care. For that reason, many of the local Health Houses have been closed, even as public hospitals and clinics in cities nationwide have also experienced grave funding cuts.

In 2015, a former student at the Mountain School offered to provide support so that the community in Fátima could open their health house once again for a few afternoons each week. A trained health technician sees patients. Patients can check their blood pressure, weigh and measure their children, get diagnosed for common illnesses, and purchase common medicines at reduced prices.

Additional donations to Community Health helps build the supply of medicines, provide community talks on subject such as hygiene, nutrition, and prenatal care.

Computer lab

Equipment has been donated for a computer lab on the upper floor of the Otto René Castillo community library. Children and teenagers who are studying at primary or secondary school are often expected to investigate and find out information about specific topics for their homework. This means that their parents have to pay for them to go to an internet café, a cost that the majority of families can’t afford. This extra cost can prevent them from continuing at school. In addition, teenagers studying at middle school often have to pay extra tuition fees for computer classes, and so some do not take these courses and are denied the chance to learn vital skills- or drop out of school altogether.

Arte en el Campo

In mid 1998 we started giving informal free art and guitar classes to two talented local children.

This grew into the Arte en el Campo programme (art in the countryside), which started in 1999 as an extension of the work of the Luis Cardoza y Aragon Cultural Centre  run by PLQ (which provides free art, music, computer and English classes). Classes are held on Saturdays and are free, and all materials and instruments are provided. We employ two local teachers, who teach local children and teenagers art and music (guitar, keyboard, marimba) classes. Offering local children the opportunity to learn art and music enables them to express their creativity, a human right long denied under the military regimes of this country. We hope to provide the children with a love and appreciation for their art and culture. This programme is jointly funded by PLQ and the Escuela de la Montaña from proceeds from Spanish language tuition (plus occasional donations).

Coffee

Since the Escuela de la Montaña opened, we have been able to provide some employment to local people to harvest the coffee grown here. The Escuela de la Montaña was formerly a small coffee plantation and so still has a small hillside planted with coffee.

At the beginning, local people from our neighbouring community of Nuevo San José worked on the coffee area, and also from another nearby community called Los Angeles. When the community of Fátima was established in 2001, they began to work with the coffee, as a community project. For several years, the Escuela de la Montaña paid a lump sum to the community of Fátima on an annual basis, which they used for community projects. At the beginning, families used the money from the coffee contract to pay for their housing. Since then the coffee money has been used for a variety of projects, including most recently the project to pave their street.

Now that most of the projects to establish the community have been completed, the Escuela de la Montaña pays the workers in Fátimasemi-annually, and they divide the funds depending on who has done the work during the year to weed, prune, fertilize and pick the coffee.

Our coffee is shade grown and  we do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, for everyone’s health and for the environment. We have recently started replanting coffee and shade trees, with the hard work of people from Fátima and also with the help of Jorge and Mountain School students. As of 2016, the cafetal is beginning to show signs of regrowth as the first set of new plants begin to bear fruit. The 2015-2016 harvest was 585 pounds.