If you’re anything like me, you’re breathing a sigh of relief as 2020 comes to a close. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to putting this strange and challenging year behind us once and for all. Yet there’s also a sense of apprehension, as we wonder, “What more could this year possibly have in store?” As individuals, as a nation, and as a global community, we’ve faced challenge after challenge this year. This is especially evident in the rural communities in Guatemala that Cooperative for Education (CoEd) serves every day.

Luckily, our dedicated staff members in Guatemala are no strangers to adversity. In our organization’s 20+ year history, we’ve faced everything you could imagine—and kept on ticking. Demonstrations blocking the highway? We’ll find a way to go around. Roads washed out by landslides? We’ll figure out how to get those books to the kids. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tropical storms…they slow us down, but they don’t stop us.

And now, a pandemic. In addition to the public health threat posed by COVID-19, this year also represents the most vexing challenge for Guatemala’s education system in recent history—six million children who have to learn from home. Yet this is where our team shines, once again figuring out ways to be there for those we serve even in the hardest of times. We’re going to keep fighting to make sure these kids don’t get left behind. But we can’t do it without you. So, will you help us keep fighting for these kids?

“CoEd is the only one who cares about us this year,” says Marili, the principal of Centro América JM in Santa María Cauqué, Sacatepéquez. When government orders closed her school, Marili had no idea how her 900 primary students would continue learning this year. But thanks to supporters like you, CoEd’s Spark Reading Program team is providing guidance to Marili and her teachers in how to get books and study guides into their students’ hands so they can read at home every day.

Kids throughout rural Guatemala are still reading at home every day thanks to CoEd’s Spark Reading Program.

Dire as this pandemic is, the kids we serve have always been isolated. Take Yesenia, for example. For this 18-year-old, life has always been a challenge. Growing up as an indigenous girl in rural Guatemala, she was already isolated from the opportunities available to her urban peers—and her male peers, for whom families prioritize access to education. Her aging parents had trouble finding much work in the back-breaking day labor that provides the sole income for so many rural Guatemalan families. Eventually, there just wasn’t enough money to put food on the table for the family’s five children AND send Yesenia to high school. She was out of school for a year, pursuing every opportunity she could find to get back on the path towards her dream of being a lawyer. Finally, she found the opportunity she’d been looking for—a scholarship through CoEd’s Rise Youth Development Program.

But in March of this year, Yesenia found herself out of school yet again. And again, it was due to circumstances beyond her control. This time, it was an attempt by Guatemala’s government to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus by closing schools and limiting travel between towns. Unfortunately, this put many villagers in a situation where they couldn’t access enough food to feed their families. For Yesenia, the situation was even worse. A member of her extended family had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and her whole family had been placed under quarantine, unable to go out and buy basic food and supplies.

Thanks to CoEd’s quick response, 85 families in an isolated community received food and supplies to help them weather the pandemic.

But thanks to Yesenia’s status as a Rise scholar, she wasn’t alone. Her local facilitator was checking in on her frequently, and when she became aware of Yesenia’s situation, and that of several other Rise families in her community, she sprang into action. CoEd partnered with a church in Guatemala City that was putting together food donations and provided on-the-ground resources to deliver the food to these isolated communities. In all, we handed out 85 bags of food that day to families in the San José Poaquil region. For Yesenia, the delivery was just what she needed—her family is now out of quarantine and she is continuing her studies remotely.

Your support is critical in enabling us to perform this kind of rapid response. It equips and empowers our team to keep serving, no matter what. It allows our program staff in Guatemala to be agile and nimble in our response, shifting gears to best serve the needs of these students during challenging times. This year, we need your support more than ever.

Beyond her basic needs, the Rise Program also ensures that Yesenia—and 732 other Rise students—have the moral support they need to weather this challenge. Local facilitators have been checking in with students regularly by phone, sending messages of encouragement and providing academic guidance as they complete schoolwork from home. This frequent contact helps fight the feelings of isolation and despair that the pandemic has introduced all around the world.

Yesenia also knows she’s not alone thanks to her sponsor, Diane. The two even had the opportunity to meet in person during a CoEd tour this February, right before the pandemic hit. In the best of times, sponsors like Diane motivate their students to continue studying, to not lose hope. In the worst of times, these sponsors are a lifeline, proof that while students may be isolated in their rural villages, they are never alone.

YOU can bring that same hope to students throughout Guatemala. YOU can be the reason these kids know they aren’t alone. 

Sponsors like Diane remind Rise scholars like Yesenia that they’re not alone, giving them hope even in the most challenging circumstances.

Your support is more important than ever this year, because the challenges are greater than ever. But COVID hasn’t dampened our spirit. If anything, it’s helped us to double down on the mission and make sure that the kids we serve are fully empowered to overcome all the obstacles this year has thrown at them.

THIS is the moment 2020 turns around. Thanks to this letter you hold in your hands, and the hope you hold in your heart that we CAN overcome. Together, our outpouring of love and support in the last months of 2020 can turn the tide. Despite the unprecedented challenges this year has brought, the good that you have the potential to do right now—today—is what will make this a year to remember. It will make this the year that Yesenia stayed in school, even when she was attending classes over WhatsApp and submitting her homework via photo messages. It will make this the year that Marili’s 900 students spent countless hours engaged in reading and learning, curled up in their reading corners at home.

A generous donor is willing to match every dollar you give by the end of December, up to $25,000—making your gift go twice as far and helping twice as many students. 

Will you make a gift by December 31 so that more deserving students like Yesenia will have the hope that they can endure and overcome this pandemic?


Joseph Berninger
Co-Founder and Executive Director

P.S. Remember, your gift will be matched up to $25,000, making it go twice as far!