Limitless Laptops

10661876_1016522875025800_2146344040528504029_oGreat results from our donation of laptops from LabAnswer to Limitless Horizons computer lab in Chajul. Just check out the smiles on the faces of these young women!

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See the Difference These Youth are Making

While some people may think that youth today are not as focused, responsible, polite, fill-in-your-own-descriptor as previous generations, we have found just the opposite! It is encouraging to be contacted by young people who are working hard to make the world a better place through their actions. Young miracles in action! Here we highlight just a few recent examples.

SchoolStarterPageStory #1 SchoolStarter Project:

Ben Morales, age 15, has a younger sister, Bella, born in Guatemala and adopted by the Morales family. Ben and his family have been supporters of Miracles in Action for many years, and he decided to take on the ambitious challenge of raising $20,000 to build a school, in honor of his sister. Now, that is an ambitious goal! His campaign is structured like a KickStarter campaign, for those who have heard of that. Since KickStarter does not allow charity projects, he has a SchoolStarter page instead. Creative!  We hope you will support this project with a donation of any size.

Visit the SchoolStarter page to learn more and watch the 1.5 minute video he made about the project.

Story #2 From Sea Shells to Car Wash. What Next?:

Penny received a card recently from Madeleine Mauer, granddaughter of School of Miracles #12 donor Ann Fron Pravato. Several years ago Madeleine and her sister, Kirsten (then 3 and 5 years old) collected seashells on Marco Island and sold them to raise money for Miracles in Action. Penny was given a ziploc bag filled with coins from their sale – how cute! Now they are older and did a car wash, raising $200. I can only imagine what is next! Gracias, Madeleine and Kirsten, and we also thank Ann, for being an inspiration to teach her grandchildren about giving and helping others.

Pictured below: Ann Fron Pravato, with students in front of the school she sponsored in 2007 in Guatemala; Madeleine’s recent note.

La Pedrera school openingMadeleineNote

ASHA-ClubStory #3 Hope makes a difference:

The ASHA student group at Raymond J. Grey Junior High School in Massachusetts recently sent a check to support student  scholarships and water filters in Guatemala. This club was started in 2010 by two high school students whose vision was to bring education to impoverished children around the world. In 2012 a club was started with junior high students, which currently has 10 7th and 8th grade members. This year they reached a new milestone in their fundraising by raising $1200! The word “Asha” means “hope” in Hindi, and this group certainly is giving hope to the Guatemalan students they are helping!

We are so encouraged by these stories and salute these and all the other young philanthropists and fundraisers who support our work!

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Seeing the Highs and Lows of Guatemala

Debbie Effler is a professional writer who volunteers with Miracles in Action. We asked her to share her impressions of her recent trip to Guatemala.

Last month I had the chance to visit Guatemala and see firsthand some of the joys of helping people in this country, and also some of the heartaches.

Or, as Geoff and Rita Doppenberg say, the highs and lows.

Rita Doppenberg

Rita Doppenberg is a favorite of the local kids in Salitrillo. That evening they brought her a bouquet of flowers.

The Doppenbergs are a Canadian family who moved to Guatemala permanently last year with their sons Zach, Luke and Gabe. Their organization, The DIG (Doppenbergs In Guatemala), has been working in Salitrillo, a village of roughly 140 people, to install a water system, teach sustainable agriculture, provide health care and offer vocational training. 

Our Thursday Salitrillo highs: Watching healthy kids play soccer, when not long ago some of them were being sent to the malnutrition hospital nearby. Lows: Hearing that someone vandalized the new water line and many residents got sick from drinking dirty water. 

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This tin shack served as the school in El Silencio. It had a dirt floor and was completely open on some walls..

We spent Friday putting the finishing touches on a new primary school built by The DIG in El Silencio . On the drive in, we stopped at the current school, a crumbling, corrugated tin shack with dirt floor. Those of us with children tried to picture our own kids learning here. That had to be the low point of the day.

On the drive home, we visited the Pediatric Malnutrition Rehabilitation Center, another program supported by The DIG. We saw many children, some playing, some sitting quietly in little chairs. Many lit up when the Doppenberg boys come in to play with them.

patient at the pediatric malnutrition hospital

One of the patients at the pediatric malnutrition hospital.

One girl had just arrived. Her head was shaved and she was crawling on arms so thin I couldn’t believe they held her up. We guessed she was about five years old, but later learned she is 11. The low: Rita said it was doubtful the girl would survive. The high: Last year there were 56 kids in this center and now there are only 23.

On Saturday we celebrated El Silencio’s school dedication (Miracles Schoool #45) and met the 22 kids who’ll now be more likely to finish their elementary education. (What a high!) For lunch we were served a meal of soup, tortillas, chicken and rice that was likely enough food to feed several families for a month. The people of the village didn’t join us, as there wasn’t enough food for all of them. We couldn’t turn it down, as that would have been a great insult. I have never felt so bad about filling my plate, and found every bite humbling.

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Celebrating with El Silencio at the school dedication. Each student received a backpack with school supplies.

All these highs and lows, woven together, make up the fabric of life in Guatemala. The great news about the work Miracles in Action is doing is that the highs are starting to outnumber the lows. And looking at the big picture, that’s what really matters.

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Más Pedidos

“Más Pedidos, por favor.” That was the simple refrain from many of the women who make the beautiful and unique handicrafts that we sell at farmer’s markets, craft sales and on our Beyond Beads website. This simple experience brought home to me an important part of our mission statement – helping people to help themselves. “Más pedidos, por favor” translates to “more orders please.” These women were not looking for a hand-out, they were looking for more work!

“From the Field” posts don’t often have my byline, but I’ve been fortunate to spend the past 10 days in Guatemala, working with our team and visiting some of our projects and partners first-hand.

Santiago ArtisansOn Monday we visited Delores and Maria, two sisters who have not ever attended school, speak only their indigenous language of Tz’utujil, and who rely on our orders to help support their family of 8. They were very appreciative for the work we are giving them, but wanted more orders.

We learned that the women who do the bead work in our program enjoy slightly higher wages and on-time payment for their work. But it is still difficult for them to afford even the basics of daily living. In our efforts of going beyond fair trade, we are surveying their needs and will provide a 10-year water filter for those who now must boil their water in order to make it potable. This filter ensures that the entire family stays healthier by not drinking contaminated water. We are also investigating doing nutrition and healthy home workshops and providing other tangible items to improve their quality of life.

Field work is so important because it helps me understand the realities of each situation.

My first reaction to learning that the women could not afford a water filter was that we should simply pay them more. From our North American perspective, that may make sense, but it is not that easy. The local coordinator explained that this would upset the bead-work economy which is built on much more than our orders. Also that paying more might mean people would buy a water filter – or it might mean they would buy more Pepsi and junk food, which seems to find it’s way into even the most remote villages. Being uneducated, many women don’t even know that giving soda to a baby is unhealthy! So our holistic approach of providing support for healthy homes with water filters and nutrition education will be much more beneficial in the long run. And of course this should be coupled with “más pedidos” so they can have financial stability as well.

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“Water is Life”

Tuizican

On Sunday March 9th, we set out for the beautiful department of Huehuetenango to celebrate the inauguration of another successful water system, this time in the community of Tuicicán. Teaming up with partner organization PEILE along with dedicated local government and community leaders, Miracles in Action has helped ensure consistent water access for Tuicicán’s 130 geographically-dispersed families after an arduous six months of planning and construction.

Tuicicán’s struggle for clean and consistent water dates back much further than that however. A particularly tight-knit community, Tuicicán’s local leaders recognized the importance of water long ago, protecting the area’s primary springhead and installing a basic pump over forty years ago. Despite the community’s best efforts to maintain the existing water system over the years, local population growth and increased demand long ago surpassed the original pump’s capacity, leaving families without water for days at a time. With little to no rainfall for six months out of the year and growing consumption, many communities in this arid highland region were finding the search for water more and more challenging each year. 

With families spread out over several peaks and valleys typical of the region, a high-powered pump and improved distribution network was deemed necessary in order to provide a steady water flow to family’s homes. This community’s exceptional unity and willingness to work hard resonated with us during our first visit to Tuicicán, but it was a speech from a local community leader that left the team inspired and committed to making a difference.

Tuizican Water “Water is life, without water we having nothing…” related the elder statesman at the time, urging the entire community  to collaborate in the project and take care of their prized resource for future generations. Leaders from PEILE recall seeing children and grandparents alike lugging construction materials down into the valley, only rarely stopping to take a break. The completed project includes two separate holding tanks complete with filtration equipment, a good-quality diesel pump and high-grade piping to help carry their spring water miles over the hills and into each and every family’s home. After the long wait, life with water access could resume.

Hundreds of people gathered for the dedication and to celebrate the culmination of partnership, persistence and hard work. There were fireworks. There was food. There were smiles. There was music and dancing. But most importantly there was life-giving water again in Tuicicán.

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2013 Year in Review

Spend 2-1/2 minutes viewing this summary of highlights for Miracles in Action’s work in 2013. The slideshow tells it all (or at least a lot!) 

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Ecoladrillos: A Win-Win Building Idea

Whether it’s the lush green hillsides and volcanoes, ethereal lakes, miles and miles of cloud forests or the thick jungle that comes to life at night, nearly everyone that comes to Guatemala finds themselves impressed by the country’s natural beauty. Unfortunately, that beauty has been increasingly spoiled by the nation’s struggle to properly dispose of its waste.

Thanks to ever-present cheap bags of chips and the soda industry’s move to plastic, non-returnable bottles, more and more areas have become dotted with a trail of inorganic trash. The common thinking is, “What difference does it make if I throw one more bottle into the pile?’”

Cuesta DelAire 2There is a solution that can help clean up Guatemala’s pueblos and promote environmental stewardship while also providing its people with safe and affordable schools and housing. It utilizes Ecoladrillos, aka bottle bricks, in place of traditional cement blocks, and it’s catching on rapidly all over Guatemala. It involves filling plastic bottles with scraps of inorganic trash, then sealing and stacking them to create a stable and secure wall. Architects and occupants alike have praised bottle construction, which offers structural integrity and safety equal to that of traditional building materials. 

Collecting and filling bottle bricks is a time-intensive process that encourages community participation and planning, something we at Miracles love to see. IMG_5208Children in particular can be great bottle finders and fillers. More importantly, their role in this important communal process is empowering and teaches them that they are capable of influencing and caring for the environment.

To recap: A community using bottle brick construction gains a sturdy, new building while also cleaning up its streets and walkways. As an added bonus, it inspires a generation of children to get their hands dirty to protect the environment. Talk about a powerful solution!

Miracles in Action has created a brief video that explains how to make ecoladrillos. Take a look and share it with your friends and organizations to help spread the word about this ingenious construction process that can benefit Guatemala’s beautiful people and places.

ECOLADRILLO from Miracles in action on Vimeo.

Ecoladrillos

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Chalk Art Festival: Beyond Beads Major Success

On January 25, Miracles in Action participated in Naples-Pelican Bay Rotary Club’s 2014 Chalk Art Festival in Naples, Florida. We are proud to declare that we beat our record from last year by $1,000, with a grand total of $9,633 in sales, all in one day! Thank you to everyone who came out to help sell and tell the story of the Guatemalan fair trade artisans that Miracles in Action supports. This enormous success means that the women who make our unique beaded products profit from the sales, while the people of Naples, Florida are beautifully ordained in Guatemalan necklaces, bracelets and purses that have a global impact. Not only that, but 50% of the proceeds will go toward buying more than 40 safe, vented stoves for families in Guatemala.

We were honored to have Marta Sicajan with us during the event to demonstrate to customers and passersby how each of the products are made. Marta is a Mayan artisan that came to show off her impeccable skills in the beading processes. She was instrumental in helping visitors understand how to make the beaded friendship bracelets and handbags: needle and thread, bead by bead.  It was a big hit for people to see first-hand how these products are crafted. Gracias, Marta! And thank you to the Naples-Pelican Bay Rotary Club for your support in this event. Check out the related story at NaplesNews.com.

If we want to duplicate this success, we need any and all volunteers for the Sanibel Island Rotary Arts and Craft Fair on February 15th and 16th. Anyone with interest should email Penny Rambacher (penny@miraclesinaction.org). 

Marta and Penny

Marta and Penny

Wonderful Volunteers

Wonderful Volunteers

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More great volunteers!

Marta is all smiles

Marta is all smiles

Thumbs up, great day!

Thumbs up, great day!

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Eyes on the ground: An introduction

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Hey everyone! As many of you guys know, Miracles in Action supports a wide variety of projects in Guatemala that aim to make a lasting impact and in my role as our new Project Coordinator here in country I thought it might be a good idea to give you a monthly update from my perspective here on the ground. First off, I should probably introduce myself: My name’s Michael Estill (pronounced Es-tell), and I’m originally from the eternally damp Great Northwest, specifically Portland, Oregon (SOUTHEAST Portland for anybody wondering) and I figure to a part of the Miracles team for as long as they let me stick around. I’ve been living and working in Guatemala for nearly a year and a half now, although I’ve long been puzzled and intrigued by how to effectively address the issue surrounding “development” in Latin America, and more recently Guatemala. Today I celebrate my first month working with Miracles, and while there has been no shortage of things to do or interesting stories I still find myself settling into my new role.

While I will be doing a little bit of everything, my primary duties figure to revolve around assessing and providing follow-up to the many different wonderful projects that we currently have going on while also keeping an eye to the future to make sure that we continue to be as effective as we can be. The work that Miracles has done to date has been nothing short of amazing, and I mostly hope to blend in with our amazing team and facilitate in any way that I can. With that said, as somebody that’s paid close attention to international development both in the classroom and on the ground, I feel like I bring a unique perspective to the team that can hopefully push both Miracles in Action and Guatemala to new heights. That all sounds ambitious enough, but what’s the point if you ain’t got a dream?

While I hope to have more concentrated updates in the future, I did want to bring up a particular moment from a somewhat impromptu visit with some of our sponsored scholarship students from the municipality of San Martín Jilotepeque in the department of Chimaltenango. While I feel that looking at the issue of development requires to consider all the factors at play, be it the local and greater economy, policy, environmental issues, health, etc., I have found education to be a particularly critical and powerful component to the equation and one that gives me the most hope for the future. After being a scholarship student myself and years of working in schools and with troubled youth I have a pretty unique appreciation for the opportunities that a solid education can provide and feel certain that there is a certain amount of potential in all of us just waiting be unlocked. With that said, the situation here in Guatemala is less than ideal as families are expected to pick up the often times exorbitant tab for a less than stellar educational experience throughout the entirety of their educational years. The economic sacrifice asked of families, the lack of employment promised at the end of the road and a shortage of facilities would seem to have the cards stacked pretty high against us at this point. While I like to do my homework and can recite just about all of the disconcerting numbers associated with Guatemala off the top of my head like most of my peers in the nonprofit world, I still can’t help but view Guatemala as a country of tremendous opportunity. In a system devoid of so many essentials, the smallest of changes can have truly amazing impacts.

Over the course of my brief time working with Miracles I have already seen the impact that building a school in a previously unserved area can have upon a community; of how promoting greater consciousness and leadership can open up a new world of imagination and possibility for children previously tasked with menial tasks like toting firewood back and forth for their families; of the stealthy impact of what sponsoring, training and placing new educators within the system can have on the future generations of tomorrow. While it might not set the world on fire overnight, all of these projects do add up to make a real difference. While all of us adults feigning expertise scramble to try to come up with a magic solution for all Guatemala’s ills, the safest bet to figure it out and change the future are the children all around us -provided that they’re given the same keys.

In spite of those same stacked odds and the unimaginable adversity that student after student recalled having experienced during our visit in San Martín Jilotepeque, each and every one of them wanted nothing more than to better themselves and help those closest to them and felt that the best way to do so was via education. Wipe away the tears and the glint in their eyes remained. They weren’t ready to resign themselves to migrating up north or to a life shining shoes in town like their parents before them did. They wanted more; they deserve more.

To slightly modify a quote from one of my favorite television series, the most dangerous thing in the world is not an atomic bomb or whatever military monstrosity you may conjure up, but rather a child with a library card. Let’s keep at this and get Guatemala’s children signed up.

Michael kids

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Preschool Graduation in Sapito, Guatemala

On October 19, sixteen preschool children graduated from Sapito (Little Frog is the village’s name) receiving diplomas from their Let’s Be Ready teacher, Blanca.

Blanca attended Tierra Colorado (our 7th school) and is a graduate of a Miracles in Action scholarship.  The parents really love having Let’s Be Ready (a Miracles in Action funded project) and Blanca to teach their children so they will be ready for 1st grade next year.  Backpacks were given to each child as a gift from Blanca for their completion of the year.  It was wonderful to find that Blanca had more self confidence since the last time we saw her when she was first offered this job. Nora, Director of LBR, supported Blanca with training and visits to be sure she was also ready.  

We are now working with LBR to train and hire one more scholarship graduate teacher, Lebia, from San Antonio el Cornejo (school #1).  She will be going out to Tzanjomel to work with Montessori teacher, Marianne.  Lebia joined us at the graduation and she is excited about this training opportunity which could lead to her first teaching job.

Another memorable day and a reminder of how we are making a difference.

Let's Be Ready PreschoolPreschool Graduatiopn

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