The scholarships program started in 1998, with just four students. It has since grown to between 80-100 teenagers each year, thanks to fund raising efforts by former students. By 2015, approximately 1000 scholarships have been given out.
The aim of the program was and is to help local teenagers and their families, by supporting their education and encouraging them to use the skills they learn to help their whole community, Students are encouraged to get involved with community organizations and community projects. We believe that education is a right that helps all Guatemalans and that it is also a path which must be followed in order to meet basic needs and support sustainable development.
When the scholarships program started, hardly any families sent their children to middle or high school. In fact many did not even finish primary school, because the cost of notebooks and pens for the children for six years was too much for the families, and because many believed that their children didn’t need much more than basic literacy and math. Also, children are expected to help their families earn money, working in the fields or selling things on street stalls. The girls are expected to help with housework and looking after their baby brothers and sisters, which has meant they would miss classes and leave school early. One of the problems has been that there weren’t middle schools nearby. For that reason to continue their education, the students had to go to the nearby town of Colomba for middle and high school, which meant paying bus fares as well as the tuition fees, on top of uniforms and school supplies – an impossible cost for the vast majority of families.
Now, because of increased demand and a growing population, there are several local middle schools, within walking distance, which helps to make studying at middle school a bit less costly for the families. The scholarships program has been instrumental in this, by helping to raise expectations as well as providing economic support. The successes of scholarships students in graduating from high school with a profession that allows them to find better paid and more dignified work have also demonstrated to many families that it is worth the sacrifice they have to make to send their children to secondary school.
Today, most families in the rural areas still can’t afford to send their children to middle or high school because – as then – there isn’t enough work for all, and workers receive very low pay. Also, many schools charge monthly fees. Even studying at public middle and high schools is a cost because families have to buy uniforms, study materials, and they have to pay their children’s bus fares to go to high school. Additionally, families are typically expected to contribute to the cost of school activities and help raise money for the under-funded schools).