For the second time in four years, I was able to return to return to Antigua, Guatemala through the Maximo Nivel School, and I am tickled to say that Maximo Nivel set me up with the same childcare project as the last time that I was in Antigua, at Niños con Bendicion in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.
Niños con Bendicion, or "Children with Blessing" was created in 2006 by Lesbi Chavez and her husband, Juventino Guaran, so that the impoverished children of their village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes could stay in school and receive a quality education while strengthening their own cultural and familial ties. They began with their own 2 children and three others and Q300 in their own home. The program provides the children with a place to go after school, while their families are still working. The alternative is what the majority of kids in Guatemala do after the third grade, and that is work in the family business, or out in the farm fields.
Their dedication to the children is infectious, and Lesbi and Tino created this educational sanctuary and home for the children out of their deep spiritual belief that the direction for this program came to them in a dream from God. Thanks to sponsorship and donations, the children are able to attend local schools during the day, and then receive tutoring help with schoolwork and a nutritious afternoon snack each day. Financial support for the Program comes from yearly school sponsorships, calendar sales, donations, and other fundraising endeavors that Lesbi & Tino involve the children in. The children come from poor families, where the family business and putting food on the table is priority. Little support is able to be provided at home because the parents frequently do not know how to read or write or complete basic math problems. A local elementary school teacher and a music teacher are two of the permanent volunteers who work in the facility, and other volunteers are constantly needed to help gather and direct the energies of the 32 children who now attend Niños con Bendicion.
In the last 4 years since I was here, the program and the facility have grown immensely, as they have been able to include several more families of children, and assist some of the families financially when one or more parents were not able to work, and they began construction on their new facility. As well, 4 of the older children are now attending University or trade schools via scholarship programs with Niños con Bendicion. I am so proud of the kids for working that hard and staying in school in a culture where furthering your education and obtaining a degree is not necessarily the norm.
Maximo Nivel made this trip possible and I am grateful for all of their help and organizing, as well as the friendships with the staff, other volunteers, and project staff that this trip strengthened wonderfully!