A helping hand up from poverty

Maria and Juan Tacaxoy, from Guatemala, were through the area to talk to groups and schools about sponsoring education for Guatemalan kids, for $70 a month. They both graduated high school and college, thanks to scholarships from Cooperative for Education,

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Juan and Maria Tacaxoy love their parents, but they don’t want to follow them on that long, hopeless slog into the fields to work for $2 a day.

Like most Guatemalan kids, Maria and Juan know how misery and poverty feels, but thanks to several groups around the Central Rockies, they also know how hope feels.

Juan and his sister Maria were through the area to show those local sponsors of Cooperative for Education how their money is changing lives.

“My sister Maria and I are very grateful to all of the people who support the Cooperative for Education, because for us, they have changed our lives,” Juan said. “If we had not received a scholarship through the generosity of people here, we both would have dropped out of school. Without an education I would be illiterate and working in the fields in Guatemala.”

Because of their scholarships — $70 a month — they get to stay in school, they get to have a life.

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“It really is true that one person can change one other person’s life,” said Jennifer Sands, senior marketing coordinator with CoEd. “Not only can one person change their life, but also the entire trajectory of their family.”

Juan and Maria’s father had a couple years of school. He works in the fields earning $2 a day. Juan works in a hotel, thanks to his education. At 23, he earns three times as much as his father.

“They can survive on that. It’s a good living wage. It puts them firmly in the middle class in that community,” Sands said.

Working in the fields can be a beautiful life, Juan said, but it’s hard and it does not pay well.

“Thanks to my education, I now have one of the best jobs in my town and I earn three times what I would earn working in the field. One person changed my life because they gave me an education; you can change the life of another child who is like me.”

Rising above poverty

Guatemala is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The World Bank’s 2010 data puts Guatemala’s average annual income at $1,619 for the lower middle class and $2,740 for the national average, in U.S. dollars.

The average Guatemalan lives 71 years; most years are tough.

Only 20 percent of Guatemalan kids reach high school. Most don’t make it to the end of primary school, Sands said.

Juan and Maria reached high school graduation and earned two-year university degrees.

The Guatemalan government is supposed to pick up the tab for education, but it often doesn’t. The further kids get in schools, the higher the fees get.

Families often pull their kids out of school because they can’t afford the prices of a used uniform, Sands said.

“As fees escalate, families pull their kids out of school to work in the field, shine shoes in the market or something to help the family,” Sands said. “They have to leave school to work in the fields because their families need the money so desperately.”

Some families designate a chosen one, most commonly the oldest son. Educating girls isn’t considered as important, Sands said. They’re trying or change that. Of CoEd’s scholarship recipients, 70 percent are girls.

A mother will educate her children to the level she reached, so if the mothers make it through high school, then they’ll usually figure out a way for their children to go that far, Sands said.

Seeing it with his own eyes

George Hart with Alpine Bank went to Guatemala a few years ago after a presentation at his Rotary Club meeting. CoEd asked Rotary International for some help, and 10 Rotarians made the trip. They visited two schools each day to deliver books.

It’s one thing to send money, which always helps, but it’s quite another to see the children’s faces, Hart said.

“It was a great opportunity, a great experience and my wife and I are considering going back,” Hart said.

CoEd is trying to make the program self-sustaining. The parents who get involved pay a monthly fee to cover the cost of their books.

“It seems like a small amount to us, but it’s a large amount to them,” Hart said.

The books are supposed to last three to five years, and usually do. After a few years of paying these fees, they have enough money to replace the books, Hart said.

The Snowmass and Aspen Rotary Clubs are active supporters, as are the clubs in Summit County, and one in Denver. Eagle County’s Rotary Clubs are getting involved. The Summit County Rotary Club raised more than $260,000 with Rotary International.

Changing lives

The scholarships are $70 a month per student and it’s a year-long commitment. For the kids it’s a lifetime commitment. For that they get tuition, uniforms, school supplies, books and supplements with a youth development component.

“These are rural kids and they’re exposed to the kinds of jobs that are available if you have an education,” Sands said.

It’s not just a scholarship, they’re being developed into leaders through workshops about leadership, confidence and being an entrepreneur, Sands said.

“After seeing the kind of poverty, I know I can do something to help these kids,” Sands said. “Your life is changed when you see what education can do for these kids.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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