Ministry Highlight: Guatemala

We began our ministry in Guatemala in 1976 as a family help program run by missionaries. The Child Sponsorship Program started in 1980, and the Leadership Development Program began in 1997.

Mountain shrouded in clouds and fog.

We have one main office in the capital city and two satellite offices. We work with over 35,000 children in Guatemala, and we are serving 19 of the country’s 22 territorial units. We have responded to some of the country’s biggest crises including Hurricane Mitch and Stan, the Corredor Seco famine and the Agatha tropical storm.

Compassion Guatemala has established key alliances with organizations such as The United Children Christian Coalition, Healing Waters International and Fuller Seminary.

Country Director

Jose Carlos Prem joined our ministry in Guatemala as Country Director in 2008. Before this, Jose Carlos served in leadership roles in companies such as Kerns and Alimentos Naturales and SCENTIA.

Adult male.

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA from Rafael Landivar University, Jose Carlos also studied French and German and pursued a Bible teaching degree at one of the largest seminaries in Latin America.

He joined the Theological Latin-American Fraternity and is a Guatemalan delegate for The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.

Additionally, Jose Carlos is a part of the missions committee and preaching team at his church.

Implementing Church Partners

Implementing Church Partners are local churches with whom we work to deliver our child development program and ministry in the field.

  • Spiritual Climate
    The majority of the population is Catholic, 40 percent of the population is Protestant, and a small percentage hold to old Mayan religions or syncretism. There is a great deal of freedom regarding religion in Guatemala.

    We have the freedom to evangelize in parks and public centers in Guatemala and to reach out to people in all areas of the country. The church also has a large presence in the media. However, the church and the country as a whole face shocking levels of violence due to poverty, gang activity and drug cartels from Mexico.

    Violence has been a challenge in evangelizing and reaching out to the youth, especially those in need who live in the urban areas and in border towns. There are many victims of this crime and people die every day.

  • Unique Challenges
    The following are key challenges unique to Implementing Church Partners in Guatemala:

    • Because child development centers manage large amounts of money that are not part of the Implementing Church Partners’ budget, it is a challenge to define the center’s legal status to the government. They are not official non-profit organizations even though they receive funds from our ministry.

      In Guatemala, similar organizations receiving large donations without an established legal identity have served as headquarters for drug operations and money laundering.

    • Legal implication of having volunteer staff at the development centers is another challenge. Guatemala’s laws can misinterpret the volunteer status of some of our staff because some receive a small monthly stipend or “offering” but we still classify them as “volunteers.”
    • Most of the population has a low level of education, especially in the rural areas. According to the National Statistical Institute Census of 2002, only 16.71 percent of Guatemala’s youth received a high school education. It is very challenging for the ministry and our Implementing Church Partners to recruit qualified tutors who have an acceptable level of education for developing and teaching the curriculum.
    • Many churches are not focused on supporting children’s ministries. It is difficult to find churches that are committed to developing children and committed to a program that has a high level of complexity.
    • It is difficult for churches to generate other resources to help the children other than our ministry.
    • It is challenging to spend funds wisely and effectively due to the great amount of need that our Implementing Church Partners and children face.
  • Large water bottles being delivered to a church.
  • Typical Contributions
    Implementing Church Partners provide utilities such as electricity and water, the child development center facilities, and the time and effort of leaders and volunteers.
  • Partner Development
    We develop partners through training and meetings. We train the staff in their specific areas of expertise and provide leadership training for the development center leaders and pastors.

    In addition, we hold meetings with the pastors to strengthen our partnership, and Partnership Facilitators hold regular meetings with center leaders to discuss the children, topics related to partnership and resource management.

Child Development Through Sponsorship

Your sponsorship of a child in Guatemala provides a variety of benefits.

The 3 to 11 year olds meet after school and they only meet twice a week because of school work. The 12 to 19+ year olds meet on Saturdays because in the public school system, junior high school and high school classes meet in the afternoon.

  • Meeting Times
    • 3 to 5 year olds: 4 hours a day, 2 days a week
    • 6 to 8 year olds: 4 hours a day, 2 days a week
    • 9 to 11 year olds: 4 hours a day, 2 days a week
    • 12 to 14 year olds: 4 hours on Saturday
    • 15 to 18 year olds: 4 hours on Saturday
    • 19 +: 4 hours on Saturday
    Young children sitting at a table in a classroom.
  • Nutritional Support
    Each child is given a substantial snack every time there is an activity at a child development center. A typical snack might be pancakes and oatmeal with milk; vegetable soup with tortillas and pineapple drink; a bean sandwich with a warm drink made of rice, milk and cinnamon; oatmeal with milk and rice tortillas; or cereal.

    The development centers also provide special meals for celebrations and extracurricular activities. This food is provided to contribute to the children’s health because there are some cases in which families do not have enough food to provide lunch for their children.

  • Two young boys getting ready to eat.
  • Vaccinations
    When children are enrolled into the Child Sponsorship Program, our staff asks the family to provide their vaccine card. If the child has not been vaccinated, they are referred to a public health center which provides free services including vaccinations.
  • Extracurricular Activities or Community Service
    We offer various activities in the hope that we can get families involved. Many children are not able to celebrate special days in their homes due to a lack of resources. These activities include:

    • Camps and retreats, special devotionals, worship nights with bonfires, evangelism activities in the community
    • Celebrations for birthdays, Children’s Day, end of the school year, Family Day, rallies, graduations, Christmas
    • Soccer games, small marathons
    • Discussions on the rights and responsibilities of children, ceremonial activities teaching children about our national symbols and how to respect and care for our country
    • Informative meetings and activities with the community, parents and beneficiaries on health topics such as hygiene, HIV, etc.
  • Three young children playing with a soccer ball.
  • Vocational Activities
    Vocational training is offered to adolescents so each one can acquire a skill enabling him or her to be competitive in the job market and have an income-generating skill.

    Adolescents are involved in community service, organization of children’s activities, My Plan for Tomorrow, tutoring and vocational training. Child development centers offer vocational training based on need. Some trainings offered include beauty school, carpentry, pastry baking, seamstress training and handicrafts.

    INTECAP (Technical Training and Productivity Institute) is a government organization that seeks to train and certify individuals so that they are able to be competitive in the job market. INTECAP is the only other organization available in major towns that provides a similar training program to our ministry. They are the leaders in vocational training. In some cases, we have sought INTECAP’s services to train children.

  • Large classroom with students and sewing machines.
  • Parent Involvement
    We hold regular parents’ meetings to discuss the child’s progress and any special situations that need attention. Parents are also invited to meetings where staff members or guest speakers will speak on topics such as health or parenting.

    Additionally, every year child development centers host activities for the children and the parents to work on “My Plan for Tomorrow” together. Some development centers even host parents’ retreats.

  • Young girl learning to ride a bicycle.
  • Areas of expansion for the Child Sponsorship Program
    We are planning to expand into the Western region of Guatemala because it is an area that is very impoverished and in need of development. There are great growth possibilities because there are many Christian churches in that area.

Leadership Development Program

  • Universities Attended
    The students attend both public and private universities. The private universities can be classified as either Christian or secular, but most of the students attend private Christian universities.
  • Location of Universities
    All of the universities have their headquarters in a capital city. There are also university extensions or branches located in smaller towns. These branches have no dormitory facilities for students, so if a student is studying at a branch, he may need to travel up to three hours to get to his classes.
  • Young students standing in front of a building.
  • Working Students
    Some students work, but they have to have the Leadership Development Program Specialist’s permission to do so. We do not recommend that students work, but some students need to for various reasons. Some students need to help support their families, especially in the case of single-parent families or very large families, which is common.

    Other students want to work to gain experience so it will be easier to find a job upon graduation. And some students work because they attend one of the university extensions which only hold classes on the weekends, so the students take advantage of their available time during the week.

  • Service Opportunities
    Many Leadership Development Program students serve in their local churches as worship leaders and youth leaders. Some volunteer at their old child development centers, help with Vacation Bible School and promote the Child Sponsorship Program.
  • Leadership Development Program Meetings
    The larger Leadership Development Program group meets two to three times per year. At these meetings they cover curriculum topics and play games, have devotionals, celebrations and times of sharing with each other and the Leadership Development Program Specialist.

    Meetings have included on-site medical check-ups involving lab tests and HIV testing. The reason for this is that there are many poorly equipped healthcare facilities especially in rural areas. Sometimes these facilities provide false and inaccurate diagnoses and prescribe dangerous procedures and/or medications. So we started an initiative to provide medical and dental check-ups with qualified doctors.

  • Students in a classroom.
  • Specialty Curriculum Topics or Resources
    Part of Guatemala’s cultural mindset is to live in the present. There is not a clear concept of the future or concern for future generations. Therefore, some curriculum topics are more of a  challenge, such as Christian worldview, savings as part of your budget, and having a vision.

    In order to contextualize these topics and make them relevant for Leadership Development Program students in Guatemala, we have to help the students think about their future in specific ways. We help them plan for life after college, prepare for their careers and set up goals for the next five to ten years.

    Mentors play an important role in the students’ vision and planning. In addition, we have emphasized the importance of setting aside a portion of their income for savings. Finally, we’ve adapted an ecology elective course for our curriculum to reinforce the students’ concern for our planet and future generations.

  • Young student sitting with a lady.
  • Mentors
    In order to help students find mentors, we ask our staff and Leadership Development Program alumni to become mentors. We also ask former mentors if they would be willing to volunteer again. If necessary, we ask the field office staff for recommendations of people they know who  might be qualified mentors.

Complementary Interventions

Our core Child Sponsorship Program, while comprehensive, does not address all obstacles to a child’s healthy development. The Complementary Interventions program was created to work with our holistic child development model to provide additional services, such as our AIDS Initiative, funds for Bibles for All Children, disaster relief and water projects.

Typical Complementary Interventions in Guatemala include: disaster relief, famine relief, potable water, Bibles, nutritional aid for children, scholarships helping students finish high school, entrepreneurship training, medical help for specific emergencies, and vocational training.

Complementary Interventions also benefit our Leadership Development Program students. We offer funds for The Academy Camp, a two-week camp for students who are in the last phase of the Leadership Development Program application process. We also help students in the Leadership Development Program with dental needs.

Toddler standing next to a metal building.

Highly Vulnerable Children

In Guatemala, highly vulnerable children are usually children who suffer from abuse in their homes, children whose guardians are extended family and can barely afford to provide for the basic needs of the child, or children who are severely malnourished.

For children who suffer abuse, we refer to International Justice Mission for follow-up.

In a few cases, International Justice Mission intervention has resulted in placing the children in Christian children’s homes. For those whose guardians cannot provide for them, the Implementing Church Partner will provide bags of basic food items.

Sponsor gifts also play a key role in providing for basic needs, such as a bed.

For children who are malnourished, we use famine relief Complementary Interventions to provide assistance.

8 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Grace Paynter January 5, 2022

    Hi, my name is Grace,
    God bless you for the work you do in ministering to children. I represent Greg Von Tobel, president and founder of Prisoners for Christ Outreach Ministries from America. We are a ministry dedicated to taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the jails, prisons, and juvenile institutions of the world. We have field offices in 19 different countries, including Russia, India, Nepal, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and many more African countries. We are very interested in expanding our PFC outreach into your country of Guatemala. The reason for this email is to see if you know of any pastors or lay leaders that are currently going into the prisons of Guatemala. I would love to chat further with them if possible. We have many tools and services that they could find useful in their service to Kingdom. I hope to hear from you soon.
    Blessings and peace,
    Grace Paynter

    1. Amy January 5, 2022

      Hi, Grace! Thank you for your heart to reach so many people in need around the world. It is wonderful to hear about the work you are doing for the Kingdom! We will be happy to speak with you further about your request. Can you please send us an email at [email protected]?

  2. Estuardo December 12, 2011

    Amaizing information, thanks to give us a piece of Guatemala

  3. Felix Aboagye December 7, 2011

    Great article. Very thorough and insightful indeed. This motivates me to think or more ways to reach out to the poor and find lively yet sustainable ways to engage children and youth in service to their own communities. God bless Guatemala!

  4. April December 2, 2011

    Thank you for this insightful and informative article. Keep up the hard work! God Bless!

  5. Otto La Paz December 2, 2011

    My best regards for Compassion Guatemala. I can’t forget their gentleness, attention and the hard work they do for partners and children. Be blessed Guatemala! How I long to visit you again with my family!

  6. Katie Axelson December 2, 2011

    Having been to Guatemala on a non-Compassion trip and having seen the poverty and need first hand, this hits very close to home. Thank you for your work in Guatemala (and worldwide).


  7. De December 2, 2011

    Wonderful post! I’m heading to Guatemala on a non-Compassion related missions trip soon, and this gave very good insight to the issues and challenges faced by those working in-country.

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