New Partner Update – Limitless Horizons Ixil

We recently added a new partner, Limitless Horizons Ixil, working in Chajul, a remote community in Quiche, Guatemala.  Here is the update we received after our October visit.

Dear Miracles in Action,

Thanks to your support this year’s school vacation (which is during the fall months in Guatemala) has been extra exciting for kids in Chajul!

The librarians got to attend 2 trainings in Antigua and used their new knowledge to create a full schedule of vacation time programming in the Chajul Community Library. The activities, which are held for 3 different age groups, include:  Fun with Math, Learn to Read circles, Spanish vocabulary games, and Story Hour followed by a thematic art activity, television program, or game. Very few kids have a television in their home, so the recent donation of a TV and DVD player from Miracles in Action is giving them a unique chance to practice their Spanish comprehension skills and learn valuable life skills through youth television programming.  Our creative and dedicated librarians are even matching the theme of the TV show episode with the theme of the Story Hour.

As the only provider of organized vacation-time services in Chajul, programming in the community library is providing a unique and invaluable opportunity for kids and their families. The only problem with all of this new excitement is that kids will be extra sad when vacation time is over! Luckily for them though, we are currently using a literacy curriculum developed by the organization Reading Village to develop some great new school-year programming.

The other exciting development of this Fall is that we’ve met our 2nd seasonal goal of completing the renovations of a new study space in the library facility. We installed a door and windows, fixed the bathroom, sealed and painted the walls and installed lighting fixtures. The extra space has proven invaluable for hosting the 45+ children that have been attending each vacation time activity. We are now in the process of contracting tables, chairs, and shelving from local carpenters so that the space will be ready when students hit the books again in January.

With your continued support we can further expand the impact of the Chajul Community Library. Together, we will develop a new generation in Chajul that is well-informed and greatly values education and literacy.

Warmest saludos from Chajul!

The LHI Team

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Miracles in Action School #31 Graduation of 1st Grade

Dear Miracles in Action Supporters,
I just received these photos and the message below from Pat Torpie/ Amigos de Santa Cruz at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala where Amigos de Santa Cruz held a graduation celebration for the children finishing preschool and 1st grade at our little school in the woods on the mountain. They warm my heart and remind me of why we all work so hard and donate time and money to support work like this.
Thank you all.
Penny Rambacher, R.D.

Hola Miracles in Action,
Today I had the great pleasure of attending the very first graduation celebration at Escuela Milagros in Tzanjomel. It was wonderful. The room was full of proud mothers and children. Each child was called up individually by the teachers, Marianne and Joel (for the first graders) and presented not just with a diploma, a beautiful paper necklace, a kite and a ball, but also with special words spoken to each of them from their teacher, acknowledging their individual achievement throughout the year. It was very personal and touching to see the pride in the faces of everyone. I wish you all could have been there. I know you are as proud as we all are for this grand achievement for this small little village.
I also want to acknowledge and thank Marianne, Elena and Joel, our teaching team, and our super volunteer, Shannon, for a job well done this year! Fantastic!
The second floor classroom is coming along nicely as you can see from the photo.
Pat Torpie, Amigos de Santa Cruz.
Miracles in Action School #31
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News from the Field

After several days meeting with partners in Antigua, our in-country project coordinator, Pedro Rodriguez and Executive Director Christie Brown headed west to Quetzaltenango and then visits to the small communities of Satakna, Nebaj, and Chajul in the departments of Huehuetenango and Quiche. Christie shares some thought from Satakna.

I won’t lie … yesterday was a long, hard day. We left Xela (Quetzaltenango) at about 10 am and didn’t get to Satakna until after 3 in the afternoon. Fallen bridges, detours, bumpy dirt roads, winding mountain passes high in the clouds with lots of fog … a difficult trip. But Pedro was fantastic with safe driving and positive attitude and our contact in Satakna, Magdy Pedro, met us in the nearest big city and directed us to her village.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon. The stoves arrived here the previous Monday. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Julio Mateo, the local coordinator for a stove project which was jointly funded by the safe stoves in Satakna GuatemalaEstero Rotary Club and Miracles in Action. Julio escorted us to several homes to see the stoves being installed and others already installed. We followed narrow slippery paths to these homes, and I envisioned the difficulty in carrying the heavy cement blocks, sand and other stove parts along these same paths that I was having difficulty navigating with no extra burden. We met a group of men and women working on an installation. Shaking many calloused hands and with many “mucho gustos” (please to meet you), I was in awe of the amount of hard work this community was putting toward improving their lives with these safe, fuel-efficient stoves. And I knew that their hands were calloused from work much more difficult than even this project. I asked if some of the women could share their thoughts on the stoves. They didn’t yet have much experience, but two of the women were confident enough to speak. One stood proudly and with all her front teeth missing, spoke of her deep gratitude for this help. Another shared that besides being safer and venting smoke outside the home, the families would also save a lot on the amount of firewood needed for cooking and boiling water.

Later today we will meet with Magdy to discuss a new scholarship program here. It is sometimes difficult to begin something like this from the bottom-up. We are supporting her with a scholarship to weekend classes at the university, and also training her to be the local scholarship coordinator. In preparation for today’s meting, I reviewed some of the scholarship applications again last night. Uniforms, school supplies, textbook, money to complete homework assignments – the total request is for about $87 per year per basico student (middle school). The application for Bertinia showed her family’s average monthly income was Q1400 (approx.. $180). Counting parents and some cousins living with them, that income is supporting 11 people. Bertinia may not be able to continue to 7th grade without our help.

During these visits I’ve noticed the beautiful children and their smiles and shy giggles, the pride of the people, their warmth and friendliness. Despite the poverty and tough conditions, this is a beautiful place with beautiful and joyful people. I am happy to be able to represent Miracles in Action and honored to be welcomed in this community. And reflecting on my initial observation that it was a long, hard day getting here …. well, let’s just say I’ve reevaluated what a long and hard day is, after seeing the hard work of this community.

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Malnutrition Solutions for Guatemala

Pedro Rodriguez, our new in-country project coordinator, shares his recent training experience at ECHO in Florida, and how this supports our efforts to improve nutrition in Guatemala.

More than half of the children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition, causing the future of this country and the lives of these little people to be threatened. Malnutrition may be due not only to the lack of food but also a poor diversity thereof. The staple diet of low-income people in Guatemala is based on corn tortillas and black beans, both unable to provide a balanced diet by themselves. The damage caused by malnutrition in a child under 5 years is irreversible.

• permanently impaired brain development
• increased morbidity and mortality from infections
• decreased growth.

In the past the country’s indigenous people ate herbs, fruits and vegetables of the season. It was always a major corn-based diet, but corn was never the only or second ingredient. We are learning that many native plants are no longer grown as a food crop anymore. This is the reason why we feel compelled to find solutions, understanding the importance of respecting the process of natural and healthy food from seed to plate.

But how to start? We decided to find a group of enthusiastic people willing to work on agricultural projects focusing on better nutrition for the most affected and especially their children. Miracles in Action invited four people to receive a one-week intensive training on innovative practices and sustainable agriculture for the poorest on the planet, in an institution that demonstrates and promotes these techniques in several countries fighting hunger and poverty.

ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization located on a demonstration farm in North Fort Myers, Florida. ECHO exists for one major reason: to help those working Internationally with the poor to be more effective, especially in the area of agriculture.

I was one of the honored guests, and after this week of training I can say that I am not only inspired but also prepared to work in the planting of suitable plants to improve the diet of the poor. This course allowed us to learn a lot about the importance of soil, economics of farming, techniques such as Zai Holes (planting stations), mulch (ground cover to save water), tree systems, indigenous plants, Moringa, Chaya, among many other things.

Knowing these options for alternative and innovative agriculture, we can present them to low-income people using crops that their ancestors knew and used with reverence, plus combining organic and very innovative techniques and practices appropriate in each case. Approaching people in need, working hand-in-hand, we return now to work together and make a difference for the future of our children.

Thanks to all those donors and people who have supported this initiative, to ECHO for presenting courses like this, and to all the participants and students who, with their acquired knowledge, make a big difference in the lives of many people and our planet.

ECHO - Fighting World Hunger

Miracles participants in ECHO Training: (L-R) Mark Arneson, Juan Pablo Echeverria, Pedro Rodriguez, Shad Qudsi

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Youth Leaders for Tomorrow

“In a country with greater than 50% of the population 18 years or under, it is obvious that the future of the country lies in youth. However right now, that future looks bleak. With a school system that punishes initiative, a bare 14.5% of public schools are considered adequate and the drop-out rate above primary school is 70%, how can we hope to be developing strong young leaders that will lead this country into a secure and sustainable future?”  — Project Seres website

We are proud to sponsor youth leadership training through Project Seres. The creative ideas of youth – when given a voice and a safe place to express them – are truly incredible. The Youth Leaders for the Pachamama program is a 3-day youth workshop for rural indigenous and disadvantaged youth. (Pachamama means Mother Earth.) In addition to engaging and educating these youth about the environmental challenges faced in the region, the project also works on empowerment and leadership. Project facilitators assist participants in creating an image of a strong leader, then help them to identify with the feeling of success and the power to create change, encouraging them to be role models for other youth in their communities.

The transformation is amazing.Take Sucely – 18 years old, teen pregnancy, living on the outskirts of the city’s largest rubbish dump. On the first day, she is too shy to even eat with the group and giggles into the shoulder of her friend. On the second day as we start to talk about our concerns, she talks about constantly smelling rubbish everywhere she goes, of seeing garbage on the streets throughout the community, of people that come in from outside to throw rubbish in the streets, too lazy to drive all the way to the dump. And by day three, Sucely stands tall and proud beside her friend, presenting to a roomful of people their plan to clean their community, educate the people and mount a citizen campaign against the illegal dumping of rubbish.

Corrina and Antonio, the co-facilitators, sit proudly on the sidelines giving each other a smile. The results – the transformations in these youth – are staggering. Corrina states, “Never before have I witnessed such profound change blossoming before my eyes. It fills me with hope.”

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Developing a Love of Reading

Developing reading skills and a love of reading is not a basic fundamental in most of the schools we work with.  Teachers need to learn skills to promote reading for both understanding and pleasure. We are sponsoring a teacher training program in Patzun, which includes 2 all-school trainings for the teachers and director on how to promote better reading skills in the first year, plus 2 follow-up sessions with each teacher. Our partner organization for this program, Child Aid, is working with 4 schools in Patzun (Chuiquel, Cojobal, La Vega and Sakiya) with enthusiasm and good results. Participating teachers also receive books and materials to use in their classroom which enables them to implement the skills learned in the trainings. Child Aid also offers a Traveling Book Box program that enables schools access to more books. Child Aid has been a wonderful partner in offering this program. Our Teacher Resource Center in Patzun is being used to conduct this training.

The Teacher Resource Center is located in a courtyard along with a small community library and the CECOPA program. Child Aid also provides librarian training, and gave this recent report, “I stopped in the Patzun library on Tuesday because the librarian wanted to meet with me. I have to say, I am very impressed with her. She has started a reading hour for all of the 125 scholarship kids that receive funding from CECOPA. She has also started a lending program with the books that we have donated to them. We are donating more books to her so that she can build that program. She also asked if she could get help from us to catalog the library so we are working on that. The librarian is also very eager to help run the Traveling book box program that Miracles in Action supports. We are having our second librarian training tomorrow. This librarian is really on fire to make things go well and CECOPA allows their secretary to work in the library to attend users who come during the times the librarian is running her reading programs.

Teachers from Cojobal, La Vega and Sakiya at training session and checking out resource materials.

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Meet a Few of Our Scholarship Students

The school year begins in late January/early February in Guatemala, and we’ve recently received a report on some of this year’s scholarship students.

Karina Hernandez Castellanos is 16 years old and is from the community of Valle de Oro in the department of Chimaltenango.  She is the fourth daughter in a family of 8 children.  She has 4 brothers and 3 sisters. She attends Liceo Cristiano Jerusalem in a weekend program because the school is too far away to travel to each day.  She is the first woman from her community to attend basico (middle school), and this is her first year in our scholarship program.

Scholarship student Karina Hernandez Scholarship student showing her work

Amanda Elizabeth Rax is 18 years old and is from the community of Chuisac Varituc.  She is the fourth daughter in a family with 3 brothers and 2 sisters.  She also attends weekend classes at the Liceo Cristiano Jerusalen school.  Her father did not want her to continue school because of the expense of transportation, so this scholarship enables her to continue her studies.  Her and her sister were both born with cleft lips but with financial help, they were able to have reconstructive surgery.  This is  Amanda’s third year in the scholarship program and she has very good grades.

Scholarship student Amanda Rax           Scholarship student Amanda Rax

Myra Adelina Castellanos Culpatán is 15 years old and is from the community of Tierra Colorada.  She is the second daughter in a family with five children.  She has 2 brothers and 2 sisters.  She studies at the Escuela Norma Bilingüe Para Maestros Nim Na´oj  in San Martin Jilotepeque. She was selected for the scholarship program last year because she received good grades at a Miracles-sponsored school in her community.

Scholarship student Mayra Castellanos

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Through the Lens… Part 3

This is the last in a series of posts on the experiences of photographer Paisley Dee, who traveled around Guatemala and shares her stories and photographs with us.

What is a home?  I think about this question often.  For me it is a place of comfort, it houses my family and all of my material possessions.  It is a structure that not only serves a physical but emotional purpose as well.  The structure and interior of a home has always been something that I find interest in because I feel that a home is a direct reflection of the way in which people live.  For this woman who I visited in Santiago, Guatemala, her home consisted of one room with one bed.  The room was filled with bags of things that had been accumulated over the years.  Torn clothing, broken baskets, tied garbage bags.  The walls were made of wood strung together, and the bed, which was made of sticks, had garbage bags on all sides to keep water and insects away. The roof was rusted.  Pictures and mirrors were hung lopsided and placed around as means of decoration.  It was dirty, and crowded. There was virtually no place to move around.  The woman sat down on her bed, and she looked into the abyss of “things”.

Paisley Dee's Guatemalan home with woman

I asked her who lived in her home, and she told me her husband and three children.  I looked her in the eyes and hugged her. When I originally asked if I could photograph her and her home, she was fearful and wanted to know why. I explained that I wanted to spread awareness to people who are unable to understand a lifestyle unlike their own. Now, I thanked her for trusting me, and I told her that because of her, people will begin to open their eyes.  As I began to walk away, she grabbed my arm and turned me around.  She looked at me with a deep emotional stare and said, “God is with you.  Thank you.  May you fly with God.  With God you will go.”  I resisted the urge to do anything else than smile at her.  I looked at her with dry eyes, turned around, and walked away with tears.

To read about Paisley’s other experiences and see more of her photos, visit her blog.

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Stunting Epidemic in Rural Guatemala

The girl on the left is 5 years old. She was adopted from Guatemala and has grown up in the U.S. She has received good food and medical attention since she was born.

The other little girl was born and raised by her parents in Tierra Linda, Guatemala. She is also 5 yrs old.

Example of effects of stunting

Two 5-year-old girls, both were born in Guatemala.

Example of stunting with 5 year old Guatemalan girls

Left: girl raised in US; Right: girl raised in Guatemala

You can see the difference in the height and weight. The shorter 5-year-old girl has not received good food or medical attention (probably no medical attention would be more accurate) since she was born.

Several charities help preschool children with feeding or snack programs, targeting 4-5 year olds. But, actually it is a little late to provide good nutrition. The 5-year-old has growth stunting, and she will never be able to catch up. Worse is that brain development and IQ can be effected. When malnutrition starts at age 6 months to 3 years (the most important years for growth and development), a child will never recover from the damage done. This is stunting from malnutrition. It is not genetics that indigenous Guatemalans are short in stature. It is estimated that 80% of rural Guatemalan children suffer from stunting and chronic malnutrition.

The sustainable solution to malnutrition is to educate mothers on what to feed their children, especially during the critical years – 6 months to 3 years. Mothers don’t know that a corn tortilla softened with Pepsi or coffee is not food for infants. Programs need to teach mothers to select healthier foods like eggs, avocado, bananas, soft cooked vegetables like chaya, carrots, and sweet potatoes, chicken soup, beans and rice, soft white cheese, oatmeal or Incaparina. Children (and parents) need to be educated to avoid sodas, candies, Tortrix chips, and junk foods, and instead eat fruits like frozen coco-banana or papaya, peanuts, yogurt and juices. To help break the cycle of poverty and malnutrition, the key is always education.

Miracles in Action is currently developing and implementing nutrition and agriculture education programs, and we are testing and promoting chaya, an indigenous, spinach-like vegetable. If you would like to support our efforts to provide sustainable solutions to malnutrition in Guatemala, you can target your tax-deductible donation to our Nutrition Projects.

Contribute online, or mail your check to:
Miracles in Action
2244 Park Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45206

Thank you,
Penny Rambacher, R.D. (Registered Dietitian)

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Through the lens…. part 2

Life-Saving Stoves by Paisley Dee

Miracles in Action has wonderful stories on their website, but until you experience it first hand, you really can’t understand the impact and scope of their work. I hope to share my experiences, so you can see miracles in action, and travel along through the lens of a photographer.

Miracles in Action works with partner charities in Guatemala who facilitate the projects they support.  One of their like-minded partnerships is with People For Guatemala, a charity implementing their stoves project.  Penny shared with me that, “When people think of sponsoring a stove, they think of a modern electric stove like we have in the US.  But, these are a very different type of stove, and one that saves lives and the environment, plus time and money.”

In my travels with People for Guatemala, I learned that much of a Mayan woman’s day is taken up with the chore of making meals for her family.  This includes either buying or collecting wood to make an open fire inside their house to cook tortillas and beans.  The open fire creates toxic smoke inside the house which the woman and her children breathe – the equivalent of 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day in smoke inhalation.  Also, children are seriously burned by these fires.  Their use of wood is so great that much of the family’s income is used to buy wood and the result is deforestation.

I was fortunate to tag along and photograph one solution to this dilemma – the installation of a $115 chapina, safe, vented stove.  Miracles in Action has funded over 1700 of these life-changing stoves in rural villages – an accomplishment resulting from generous donors who wanted to help women by sponsoring a stove.  The stoves use about 75% less wood, and they vent out the smoke, and contain the fire – saving lives and forests.

To see more of my work, please visit

Wood-burning stove

This is Juana, a woman needing a stove… as you can see from the thick smoke in her house.

New chapina vented stove

This is a home with a vented stove, making a sustainable difference for an entire family.

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