The youths in our student centers face many challenges. Because of cultural paradigms, poor academic preparation by the national school system (especially in rural areas), and financial barriers, one of the greatest challenges for youths is learning how to dream.
Often it is difficult for children and students to pursue a vision to move forward. Many young women in Guatemala are forbidden to pursue a college education, and in some cases they are not even allowed to finish high school.
Young men are also faced with a similar challenge, as they are called to provide for their home at a very young age, which keeps them from finishing their high school education.
According to Guatemala’s National Statistical Institute (INE, 2002 Census), only 16.71 percent of youths in Guatemala receive a high school education.
Despite these challenges, our church partners play a key role in releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Poverty is defined not just as economic insufficiency, but when viewed holistically the poor tend to lack vision, trust, self-esteem and opportunities for a better future.
“It is a process in which we try to launch them as leaders. Many people say: ‘They are young. They are not competent.’ But if we do not let them lead, they will not be able to develop their leadership. We are there by their side to help them,” says Gerson, Dios es Amor Student Center Director.
The student center begins working with children to help them plan for their futures at age 12, which marks a significant time of change in their lives. The staff begins by sharing with the youths the opportunity that the Leadership Development Program (LDP) offers, and identifying and developing each child’s strengths, skills and talents.
“If they have an aptitude for music, we encourage them to use their talent for worship. Others develop their leadership by taking the responsibility of coordinating devotional activities for the children,” says Gerson.
The staff at the student center provides mentoring and other activities that teach valuable lessons to promote holistic development and preparation that stays with the students, even through their college years and into adulthood.
The student center also addresses age-appropriate issues, such as sex, diseases like HIV, vices, and peer pressure. In addition, due to the dangerous environment that the children are exposed to, the student center also invites the Communications Representative of the National Police to talk to the students. He discusses time management and creates awareness of the negative consequences of joining gangs and using drugs.
Moreover, the staff helps youths with their academic performance through tutoring, especially the areas in which they are struggling in school. However, the hard work of improving their academic performance cannot be done without additional encouragement from the staff and a deep understanding of the importance of education by the children.
Another is to invite LDP students to the centers so that they can be role models to the children. The LDP students serve as an example to the children that they, too, are capable of becoming leaders. After all, the LDP students were once in the children’s shoes, with similar backgrounds, and now they are in a place with unlimited possibilities.
“I always said ‘wow’ when I saw the LDP students. They motivated us and demonstrated a genuine interest in us. They taught us that we were able to achieve our dreams. I especially remember a graduate, Letty, who motivated me to dream, and today she is my mentor,” says Sindy, a former beneficiary at the student center who is now an LDP student.
The student center and the LDP students act as key agents of motivation and inspiration, teaching youths to dream. Yet dreaming is not enough. It is necessary that the children learn how to state their goals and have an action plan. Therefore, the student center uses an important tool called My Plan for Tomorrow, a blueprint of goals in every area of life, with specific actions to take planned by the students.
The most important preparation the student center provides, however, is to tell youths about Christ. Many children give their hearts to Jesus, transforming their lives forever. And the blessing does not end here, but salvation spreads to their families.
The student center promotes a lasting committed relationship with the Lord. The children not only are introduced to Christ, but persevere in His ways, even after they leave the center.
The student center also equips youths to be servant leaders. This has a powerful impact on their families and friends as they look out for the needs of others.
In some instances, the church provides food or staff collects food items from the students. Then, the staff and the children pack the food in bags and share it with the community or with the beneficiaries’ families who may be going through hard times.
Sindy is actively involved in serving the church and reaching out to her community. She is a Sunday school teacher. She helps as a sound technician in her church, is part of the church choir, and directs their presentations. She offers support for the deacons, takes care of the Sunday program at church, and helps with vacation Bible school, reaching out to the children of her community.
In addition, Sindy was very active volunteering at the student center, and every so often the center invites her as a guest speaker to talk to the children. Sindy also organizes sports activities that involve the community and represent the church as an active agent that blesses the youths in the area.
Nevertheless, many capable dedicated students are not able to achieve the goal of entering the Leadership Development Program.
In 2008, 108 students applied, and there was a quota of 30 to be selected. In 2009, 22 out of 80 were selected, and in 2010, 24 out of 80 were selected.
Many consider the dream of being an LDP student, receiving a college education, and becoming a leader almost unreachable. Many apply and are not chosen, but they persevere with hope.
“The first time I applied I was rejected. I felt that my world was over. I seriously doubted my abilities, but the church was there to motivate me to believe that I was still capable, and I applied again,” says Aury, an LDP graduate and one of Compassion Guatemala’s partnership facilitators.
Many students overcome major challenges to meet the requirements. For example, Juan Carlos applied to the program last year and was not chosen either. He had recently lost his father and absorbed part of his father’s responsibility in his home. This put a lot of pressure on him, which affected his academic performance. He is encouraged and eager to apply again, after improving his GPA.
Many are left heartbroken after applying. One young man, Carlos, got to the last stage of recruiting process but was not chosen due to quota. He got discouraged, and it affected his drive to serve and be involved in church.
Still, Carlos did not give up on his dream, and today he is a freshman in college. The church did not give up on him either. The church decided to pay the initial college expenses for Carlos so that he could have a new beginning.
Today Carlos works as a teacher during the week to pay for his expenses, and he studies on the weekends.
“The Leadership Development Program motivated me to go on, even though I did not get in. Education is an urgent matter for me. It is what I always wanted, and I love what I do,” says Carlos.
Yet, they all have something in common. They all have learned to dream and hope:
“My dream is to manage and own my business and help others,” says Aury.
“My dream is to become an architect and work for the state,” says Carlos.
“My dream is to go back and help the children in the student centers with their problems and to have my own business,” says Sindy.
“My dream is to study communications, and reach out to the youth through the radio so they can come to know the Lord,” says Juan Carlos.
“I want to help the children in the student center and provide laboratory tests to improve their health and teach the Word,” says Yajayra, a child at the student center.
These dreams are not only in God’s hands, but in yours as well.