Giving a hand up, not a hand-out

We often use the expression when talking about our work “we give a hand-up and not a hand-out.” This is so important to our work because projects are most successful when the beneficiaries are involved. This is what creates a path to independence and self-sufficiency. Here is just one small example of this process in action.

We recently received these photos and update which followed up on our visit to dedicate a school in San Antonio el Cornejo in July. This is a perfect example of how our project partners engage the benefactors to do the work themselves and teach new skills in the process.  Marlon, from Hombres y Mujeres en Acción, purchased the wood and had the desk tops cut to the correct size and shape for the desks. He then arranged for the students to be present to do the work, taught them how to use a sander and drill, and how to varnish the wood.

Now students not only have new refurbished desks to go with their new school, but they’ve learned some valuable skills in the process!

Desk repair in San Antonio el Cornejo Desk repair in San Antonio el CornejoDesk repair in San Antonio el Cornejo

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ROCCA ON Dessert Evening Highlights a Legacy

The Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, Ohio is honoring the legacy of Gregg Rocca on September 26, 2013. Wyoming Primary  School Staff and  Wyoming Youth Services, joined by Miracles in Action, are inviting the community to help celebrate the opening of the Gregg Rocca Library in Guatemala. There will be pictures, a slideshow and a brief presentation of the opening event in San Antonio Sija, Guatemala. In addition, there will be an opportunity to donate toward books for Wyoming Primary School Libraries, in memory of Mr. Rocca. Lots of wonderful desserts will help all enjoy a memorable evening. Guatemalan jewelry and handicrafts will also be available for purchase in order to support projects through Miracles in Action.

The event will be held at Hilltop School, Wyoming, Ohio on Thursday, September 26th, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm in the gym.

Leave a Legacy – Make a Difference.

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A Legacy of Learning Lives On

Gregg RoccaThroughout his long career as a school counselor, Greg Rocca touched the 

lives of thousands of elementary students. When

cancer took his life at age 52, he was even able to help students as far away as



Greg became involved with a library fundraising project in Guatemala through his colleague

Pat Lehman, a fellow school counselor who serves on the Cincinnati advisory

board of Miracles in Action.  Gregg was the very first donor to the library. When it became clear that

Greg was in his final days, Pat, who helped spearhead fundraising for the

San Antonio Sija library, suggested dedicating it in Rocca’s honor. He died on

February 10.

On August 6, Greg’s wife, Mary Lynn Roca and several Miracles in Action volunteers took part in the dedication of the new library and computer center. Hundreds of students, parents, and community leaders gathered for the ceremony, sharing their songs and welcoming traditions. 

Making a difference … at home and in Guatemala … a legacy of learning lives on.

Photos from the library dedication:




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Limitless Horizons

Limitless Horizons – what an appropriate name! Our partners at Limitless Horizons work in the Chajul area, a very remote part of Guatemala, and their work goes above and beyond!  They recently sent us a final report with highlights on the projects Miracles in Action, along with other donors, have sponsored over the past year.

  • 2 full-time librarians for community library which saw 1386 registered users visiting an average of 4 times per week. Users are mostly between the ages of 7 and 16 years

  • Literacy programs including Story Hour, for beginner readers and Reading Club, for advanced readers, along with craft activities

  • Renovation of new study room 

  • Literacy and library promotion which resulted in 173 new users registered, to 1400 total

  • Youth development program which supported 52 youth with computer classes, a work-study program, career counseling, and 1-on-1 mentoring

  • Development of a community leader, Edilma Magdalena Hernandez Ijóm, who is also a staff member at LHI. Her growth and development have been an inspiration for the rest of the team.

Edilma wanted to share this letter of thanks (translated from the original in Spanish):

Edilma from Limitless HorizonsPlease receive this warm greeting on my behalf. I hope that all is well with everyone at Miracles in Action and that your work is going well.

I wanted to write to you to give thanks for the support you have given me to continue this work with LHI. Thank you for believing in me as a leader and someone who can help my community overcome our challenges and develop. Even though we haven’t met, and you may not have seen Chajul, your faith in our ability to build a better life is greatly appreciated by everyone and by me especially.

I also want to tell you that I will continue to work hard and take advantage of this experience I have been fortunate to receive. I feel proud to be a lucky member of this organization because I have seen first-hand the positive changes in myself, my family, and my work with the community of Chajul.

Edilma Magdalena Hernandez Ijóm

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Charity Sizzle Report with Fauna Hodel

Recently Penny Rambacher was interviewed by Fauna Hodel on the Amazing Women of Power Radio Network’s “Fauna’s Charity Sizzle Report.” Hear the Charity Sizzle Report here and add your comments.


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Limitless Horizons sends letter of impact

We recently received this letter from our new partners in Chajul, in the Ixil area that was greatly impacted by Guatemala’s civil war. With the trial of former president of Guatemala, Efain Rios Montt getting international attention, Limitless Horizon’s executive director Katie Morrow sent this letter.  We are proud that we are supporting this area through our partnership with LHI.

Impact of work in Ixil

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Tanya Memme’s Visit to Guatemala helps Wells of Hope – Miracles in Action Partnership Projects

Tanya Memme, host of A&E’s “Sell This House – Extreme” does more than fix up houses on TV; she has a heart for helping to build houses and schools, plus bring water to impoverished families in rural Guatemala.

Tanya Memme, Penny Rambacher, and Frank Memme share photos of the first "eco-friendly bottle" school built in partnership with Wells of Hope, Miracles in Action, and the community of Laguna Seca.

Tanya Memme, Penny Rambacher, and Frank Memme share photos of the first “eco-friendly bottle” school built in partnership with Wells of Hope, Miracles in Action, and the community of Laguna Seca.

Tanya is the daughter of Frank Memme, who is a board member of our partner charity, Wells of Hope (WOH), based in Ontario, Canada (birthplace of Penny Rambacher, Founder of Miracles in Action). This father-daughter team was instrumental in initiating the construction of eco-friendly schools – where the walls are built from plastic bottles filled with plastic or non-biodegradable trash. “Bottle Schools” lead to a better understanding about liter, and how working together, families can clean up their communities and participate in the construction of their school.

To spread the word about this new eco-friendly construction, and create an understanding of the very basic needs of Guatemalan families, Tanya arranged for her camera crew to come to Jalapa, Guatemala to film a documentary. Penny Rambacher joined them, and was interviewed at Laguna Seca School, WOH’s first bottle school funded by our generous donor Shirley Lotz.

Penny Rambacher interview

Penny Rambacher being interviewed by documentary film crew in front of Laguna Seca “bottle” school.

In her interview, Penny shared, “Often I am asked why we don’t help poor people in the US. So I explain – Yes, there is poverty in the US, but there are also safety nets to help people who are poor – such as food stamps, United Way, Salvation Army, churches, neighbors, and numerous charities and social welfare programs. In Guatemala, the level of poverty is much greater and there are no safety nets. In his book The End of Poverty, author/economist Jeffrey Sachs calls this ‘extreme poverty’ – where every day is a struggle just to be alive. They do not have the basics to live – food, water, and shelter. Extreme poverty does not exist in the US, Canada or any developed country”.

Families carry water from the pond back to their homes to drink.  The large jug holds 4 gallons, or 33 lbs. on the woman's head, plus she carries the weight of her baby.

Families carry water from the pond back to their homes to drink. The large jug holds 4 gallons, or 33 lbs. on the woman’s head, plus she carries the weight of her baby.

In another scene, Tanya, Frank and Penny are filmed at the village water source – a pond in front of the school. Women and children are seen filling jugs with contaminated water, to carry back to their homes for drinking, cooking and cleaning. The water is brown in color. This pond is shared by animals and also used for washing clothes. Penny demonstrates how to use a water purification filter, as the teachers and students look on. Miracles in Action buys filters and distributes them at schools and in villages to bring clean, potable water. The filters are life saving, especially for children, who are most likely to suffer from parasites and bacteria in dirty water. Frank samples the purified pond water. But first, he asks Penny several times, “Now you are sure this is OK to drink?” We are happy to report, that yes, Frank tested the purified water, with no ill effects.

A teacher shared the school’s photo album with historical photos of the project, including the shack that once was their school. Penny contributed photos from the inauguration and ribbon cutting on February 28th. She shared that she felt her mother’s presence during the inauguration, and now again as they looked at the photos. Tearfully, she told Tanya and Frank, “My mom is smiling from heaven, and is happy that we are working with Wells of Hope to improve the lives of children through education and clean water – such basics that we all take for granted.”

Laguna Seca school - old and new

At left is old school made of tin, boards, and cardboard insulation. At right is the new, eco-friendly bottle school

Laguna Seca school - old and new

Construction of Los Cebollines eco-friendly bottle school. Walls in back show the bottles being tied to chicken wire.

If you would like to support education and water projects through Wells of Hope and Miracles in Action… you can donate online.


Students, teachers, Tanya, Frank and Penny gather in front of the Laguna Seca “bottle” school. children in front of their new school
Peek Hole in the school wall: See what is inside – plastic bottles filled with trash!
eco-bricks: plastic bottles filled with non-biodegradable trash

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Miracles in Action has been honored with a prestigious 2012 Top-Rated Award by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations.

“We are excited to be named a Top-Rated 2012 Nonprofit,” says Christie Brown, Executive Director. We are proud of our accomplishments this year, including the construction of our 41st school in rural Guatemala.

TopRated-GreatNonprofitsThe Top-Rated Nonprofit award was based on the large number of positive reviews that Miracles in Action received – reviews written by volunteers, donors and clients. People posted their personal experience with the nonprofit. For example, one person wrote, “What’s impressed me most is about Miracles in Action is the breadth of services they’re involved in–from building schools to providing clean water systems, safe stoves and nutrition education. I love that they work with local NGOs and seek sustainable, long-lasting solutions to the problems of rural poverty. And it’s all done in the most frugal ways possible, stretching every dollar to provide the greatest impact.”

“We are gratified by Miracles in Action for its work,” said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits, “They deserve to be discovered by more donors and volunteers who are looking for a great nonprofit to support.”

Being on the Top-Rated list gives donors and volunteers more confidence that this is a credible organization. The reviews by volunteers, clients and other donors show the on-the-ground results of this nonprofit. This award is a form of recognition by the community.

About GreatNonprofits
GreatNonprofits is the leading site for donors and volunteers to find reviews and ratings of nonprofits. Its mission is to inspire and inform donors and volunteers, enable nonprofits to show their impact, and promote greater feedback and transparency.

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Going Beyond Fair Trade

Miracles in Action supports a large group of “beaders” — Mayan artisans who make the jewelry we sell — by not only buying from them, but also by going “beyond fair trade.” What does that mean? In December, it meant giving food baskets to the women. In January, it meant providing school supplies for all of their children to be well-equipped for school. We are also visiting each artisan’s home to do a census, evaluating their needs to make sure they have a safe, vented stove and a water filter, to learn how many children are in the home and what their family and economic situation is. This way we can support them by connecting them to our other programs, making sure that they have the tools and support to continue on the path out of poverty.

Source of income, health, education — these 3 pillars need to be stable in order to succeed, and that’s why we call our holistic approach “going beyond fair trade.”

Enjoy these photos of mothers and students taken during our recent visits. Pedro (our in-country project coordinator) and Elvin (cottage industry coordinator) visited Santiago and San Jorge to distribute school supplies in January and holiday food baskets in December.

group group2

IMG_1845 IMG_1862 IMG_1866 mom with son IMG_2872 IMG_2869 IMG_2866 IMG_2860

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Literacy takes several steps forward…

We are celebrating some great achievements with our partners at Child Aid — the completion of our 7th library in Xojola, and also the culmination of a successful Adventures in Reading program in Patzun.

Child Aid administered an Adventures in Reading program in Patzun during the month of November, while the kids were off school. The program was held on Thursday and Friday each week, with about 40 children participating each day. Seeing kids enjoy reading, especially in a culture where reading is not common, is a tremendous joy to us!

Adventures in Reading in Patzun

In memorium - Flo CanbanaAlso in November, the Xojola library was completed and dedicated to Flo Cabana, a long-time Miracles volunteer and bead-seller. Flo died last April, and was a strong volunteer and ambassador throughout her time with us. We are honored to recognize her in this way. She would be impressed with the impact that the library is having on this village and would love to see the children reading and enjoying this wonderful resource in their community.

Child Aid was also our partner for this project. From Child Aid’s National Director, John van Keppel –

The inauguration also included a local dance by several children and then short presentations by the various groups of children showing what they had been doing in Adventures in Reading. One child recited a poem, one group reenacted The Three Little Pigs, and the third showed some arts and crafts items they made. After the cutting of the ribbon the library committee invited all of those involved to a wonderful lunch.””The inauguration was a community festival that included speeches by various dignitaries – the school director, the local mayor, the director of the local coffee cooperative, our staff member Graciela, and myself. The president of the committee presented to the community a short discourse on where the funds came from – Miracles in Action, land from the mayor, desks from the coffee coop, books from Child Aid, and donations of time and money from the community. He then shared how the money was spent. This was a very nice display of transparency, and how working together the community really can realize their dreams.

We are grateful for Child Aid’s partnership and leadership in getting this library built. It is very rewarding to see all the parts working together to make dream come true.  In closing, John added, “Besides providing a library, the project has instilled more confidence in the community, was a catalyst for various sectors to work together, and has given them hope that the future for their children can be better. Enjoy the reality that your work is making a big difference in this community.”

Xojola ribbon cutting at dedicationXojola community streaming into library
Child Aid’s Nat’l Director John van Keppel cuts the ribbon; the community streams into the library.

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