This month, we are celebrating the legacy of Sister Kris Schrader, who has dedicated 33 years of service to education in rural Guatemala! She is now returning home to the US.
Kris gave CoEd’s Founders, Jeff and Joe Berninger, and CoEd’s Director of Partner Development, Howard Lobb, an opportunity to volunteer at her school and first learn about education in rural Guatemala.
Meet Sister Kris!
For those who don’t know CoEd’s origin story, Sister Kris gave Jeff Berninger a chance to volunteer at her middle school teaching English in 1996. This experience motivated Jeff and Kris to find a way to provide textbooks to the students. From there, CoEd’s Textbook Program was born!
But the story actually starts before that.
Kris came to live and work in Guatemala in 1988. She was instrumental in helping her religious order, “the Adorers of the Blood of Christ”, to build a middle school in the rural village of La Labor called “el Instituto María de Mattias.”
This was not an easy time in Guatemala though, as the civil war would not end for another 8 years, and poverty and illiteracy rates were even higher than they are today. But Kris was a ground-breaker, and she and the others at the mission joined forces with the leaders in the village and found a way to acquire land and build a school.
In addition to being compassionate and spiritual, Kris is bold and funny. She’s got character. Actually, she’s down right courageous!
During Guatemala’s civil war, Kris would confront army officers demanding that they “return” the boy students from her school that the army had “recruited”, picking them up in a truck as they walked home from school.
Building the school
With much effort, the school started to take shape. Kris and the community found ways to add classrooms and hire and train more teachers to receive more kids. And as you now know, she gave Jeff an opportunity to teach, which led them to find a way to bring textbooks with a sustainability component to the school.
Students at Kris’ school holding their textbooks
Later on, nearby schools learned about the Textbook Program that was started by La Labor, and with that, CoEd began helping more schools.
In 1996, Kris and the mission also offered another young gringo by the name of Howard Lobb a chance to volunteer at her school. Kris had a dream to build a school library and she asked Howard to come and teach carpentry at the school, while building furniture for the library.
Howard, Kris, and other mission members at the school
With time, Kris would go on to spearhead other improvements like typewriters for typing class, sewing machines, a roof on the basketball court, eco-latrines for the students, a carpentry lab, and the list goes on and on. In 2010, Kris, the school staff, and CoEd collaborated on another project – this time implementing a Computer Center Program together!
Cutting the ribbon on the new computer center at Kris’ school
Under her leadership, the La Labor school has graduated thousands of youth from the surrounding villages. Sons and daughters of those graduates are now studying at the same school. Remarkably, 10 of the current 14 teachers are also alumni!
Teachers from La Labor celebrating Kris’ birthday
Joe Berninger said, “We have told the story SO many times of how Kris gave Jeff a chance to teach, and how she worked with Jeff to start the textbook project. Because of her leadership and guidance, Jeff and I were able to find our own way of helping education in Guatemala and in starting CoEd. I’m so blessed to have been touched by Kris’ example. I doubt she realizes how important her impact on us was.”
Kris and Joe taking a selfie together!
More than supporting just the school, Sister Kris and the other sisters that have served in La Labor — Dani, Margo, Joan, and others (who run a health project and pastoral support) — have received hundreds of volunteers and visitors throughout these 33 years, giving each person a chance to learn about Guatemala, its culture, and the challenges and opportunities it has faced in its development.
Howard said, “I don’t know the stories of all of the other volunteers that Kris and the sisters have received, but I DO know how they impacted MY story. They gave me a chance to live in their religious community; they guided me as I discovered this new country, and that experience allowed me to realize that I wanted to do something to improve human development in Guatemala. Kris introduced me to Jeff and Joe, and later, I would go on to work with both of them in CoEd. I consider Kris an important part of my life. She attended Lucy and my wedding, and now my boys have enjoyed visiting her in La Labor.”
Kris and Howard reuniting in 2012
Howard and his kids visiting Sister Kris
Sister Kris, your legacy will last a long, long time and your impact continues through the Maria de Mattias school. Everyone at CoEd and all of the other people in Guatemala that you have touched, will miss having you here in Guatemala. We love you. Que Dios te bendiga!