Take a moment to reminisce with me. What was your childhood like? Was it anything like mine? I grew up in your typical Midwest, middle-class home with my parents and four siblings—two brothers and two sisters. Our parents worked hard to provide for us, but we were very fortunate. We never worried that our family wouldn’t have money for food or that we’d have to drop out of school and find a job to help support our family.

Yet every student I meet in the Rise Youth Development Program is constantly up against struggles like these. Poverty robs them of opportunity, because they have to focus on just getting by. Our program team in Guatemala hears heart-wrenching stories day-in and day-out and quite frankly, these kids and teens are overcoming difficulties that would have knocked most people down—blatant sexism, illiteracy, alcoholism in their families, pressure to marry young or quit school to start working. Many hear from their own parents that their education isn’t a priority. The more rural, indigenous, and female you are, the less you are expected to stay in school.

So what can we do to help? Extreme poverty is a deeply rooted problem that feeds directly into global issues like immigration, economic decline, gender inequality, and increased gaps between social classes. But here’s the thing—we DO have the power to effect change. Because where poverty robs these students of opportunities, education gives them back.

So, will you give the gift of education this holiday season to give students in Guatemala the opportunity to succeed?

With large families to support, kids like Yesica often feel pressured to drop out of school to work and help provide for their younger siblings.

Yesica, whom I met for the first time last year, has experienced first-hand, the opportunities that a quality education can bring. She grew up in a large family—one of eight children with only their mother to support them. Yesica’s mother could barely put food on the table, let alone pay for school supplies or tuition. This is an all too common reality in rural Guatemala, where four out of five indigenous people live in poverty.

To add to their hardship, when Yesica was in the 9th grade, she became pregnant. She was just 15 years old. She recounted, “My life took a 180 degree turn.” Too many young girls in Guatemala find themselves in this situation; forced to drop out, unable to work, yet with another mouth to feed.

With Rise, Yesica continued school and paved the way out of poverty for not only herself, but for her daughter too.

But Yesica’s story took a 180 degree turn different than most in her situation. She had been a part of Cooperative for Education’s (CoEd’s) Rise Youth Development Program since the 7th grade.

In addition to a tuition scholarship, the Rise Program gave Yesica comprehensive support services from mentors, tutors, and psychologists, and she participated in workshops, community service, and field trips to local businesses and universities that transformed the way she thought about her future.

During her pregnancy, Yesica recalls that, “Even though I let everyone down, CoEd still continued supporting me with my studies. Without their help, I would have been forced to drop out of school.”

Four years later, Yesica became a graduate of CoEd’s Rise Program, making her a part of the 80% of Rise students who were destined to repeat the cycle of poverty but defied the odds by graduating high school. With a high school diploma in hand, Yesica has been able to start working towards her college degree at Mariano Galvez University. She even used her knowledge from the Rise Program to start a career at CoEd as an Administrative Assistant!

The Rise Program doesn’t make these students’ problems disappear. It gives determined students like Yesica the support system and resources they need to rise above their circumstances and face their challenges head on.

When Yesica shared about her experience in CoEd’s Rise Program, she said, “I am so grateful for CoEd because they helped me accomplish my dreams of finishing school, having a career, and thanks to God, attending university.”

Yesica is now a CoEd staff member and is working toward breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala for future generations too!

As a featured charity of the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance (GOA), CoEd was asked to nominate a Rise Program graduate to be highlighted in a GOA video. Yesica’s story was selected. Keep an eye out for the video release!

Generous people like you are supporting students like Yesica, but our work is far from over. Many more students are on the verge of dropping out of school right now. They’re losing hope of ever reaching the milestone of high school graduation that would permanently break them out of poverty.

They need your urgent help.

A generous donor who recognizes that urgency is willing to match every dollar you give by the end of December, up to $25,000. Will you help unlock this generous match and double your gift at the same time?

Because when we empower young people to rise out of poverty, not only will they determine their own stories, they will shape the destiny of their country.

Will you make a gift by December 31 so that more deserving students like Yesica will have a chance to finish their education and rise out of poverty?


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!