Over the past three years, I have started a project for funding education in my village in Northern Guatemala. I heard some teachers talking about schoolchildren whose parents were unable to buy them shoes, which are mandatory to go to school. A primary-school girl needs around $20 to buy shoes, a uniform, a backpack, the necessary reading textbook, and a few notepads and pencils. Twenty dollars was what stood between them and the start of an education.
Trying to Educate on a Tiny Budget
The older ones weren’t much better off. The kids who graduated middle school in the village had no way of going to high school in Flores, the bigger town 20 miles away, because the bus cost $3.50 round trip, and most fathers only make $8 a day, when they're employed at all.
How can you send your kid to school if half of your paycheck goes to transportation?
The middle school kids had to go once a week to the next town – five miles away – to use a computer lab for an hour. The middle school teachers didn't know a word of English, yet had to teach it as part of the curriculum. They used Google Translate to try to understand what they were teaching, and had to guess the rest – from pronunciation to grammar.
What I'm Doing to Help
I pledged 10 percent of my online income – around $600 a month – to improve learning conditions in my village. I started several projects:
First, I gave a full-ride scholarship through three years of high school to the best students in middle school. They're going to boarding school 200 miles away.
In addition, I bought a dozen computers and started a local computer lab. I travel a lot, so I pay a Spanish girl who lives there to teach. The kids can each go once a week, and since we don’t have a landline, we use a SIM card for internet and a RACHEL – a $150 device made by World Possible – for schools in remote areas. RACHEL stores the entirety of Wikipedia for example, so you can browse offline.
Over 120 kids go to the computer classes that I fund.
I also bought about 200 books – mostly comic books and fairy tales – so that the kids could match words with images and learn to read through fun stories. They take home a book after computer class and bring it back the following week.
And I bought uniforms for primary and middle school girls. When there's money to send one kid to school in a family, they’ll send the boy, so I focused on helping the girls.
Crowdsourcing Education & Resources
Finally, the last step in funding education in the village: I brought in volunteers to teach English. I put an ad online and am now hosting volunteers in my guesthouse. In exchange for free room and board, they teach 20 hours of English a week. I usually have two guests at a time. One helps the middle school teachers and the other one does crafts and fun games in English with the smaller kids.
Thanks to my blog, I received over $4,000 in donations from readers.
Some people also sent their old laptops and even bought books and school supplies, which has been a great help. I used my blog to contact another non-profit, as well, asking for free or discounted books. As luck would have it, they were getting rid of 300 textbooks, which they gave to me. They were 25 copies of the four books required through the three years of middle school, so now the kids don’t need to buy them.
I'm happy to say my donations and efforts currently help over 200 kids. I can’t think of a single other item in my budget that makes such a big difference!
You may wonder if those $20-per-month sponsor-a-child ads you see on the subway or on TV have a similar impact. In general, yes. I know of one such project in Cambodia. But they pay expat teachers and directors, and have big marketing budgets. The $20 per month partly goes to pay the family a “salary” to make up for the child not working in the fields while at school. In my case, I have zero overheads. As a result, I get to see exactly where my money goes, and what it does for the kids.