Life-long friends and moms Maggie Gieseke and Erika Barnes were recently blown away by a Guatemalan mother who welcomed them into her home during a CoEd tour to Guatemala.
“Being in the room with her, speaking to her mom to mom—it was so powerful,” says Maggie.
Picture this: You’re on a Cooperative for Education (CoEd) tour and you see on today’s itinerary that you’ve been invited to visit the home of a rural Guatemalan family. You and your fellow travelers tromp down a dirt path, led by a local CoEd staff member. You are linked arm-in-arm with the quiet, bright-eyed teen that you sponsor in CoEd’s Rise Program—it’s the first time you’ve met each other after years of exchanging letters and pictures. After a minute or two of passing low buildings made out of scrap metal, mud, or concrete, you arrive at a rusty, metal door that looks just like all of the others. But your student stops, opens the door, and sheepishly holds it open for you to walk through.
After a minute or two of passing low buildings made out of scrap metal, mud, or concrete, you arrive at a rusty, metal door that looks just like all of the others.
This is what Maggie Gieseke and Erika Barnes—life-long friends (since the first grade!), CoEd supporters, and mothers to a collective total of eight (Hail, ye patient women.)—recently experienced on a CoEd tour to Guatemala.
There under the low metal roof, the mother of that bright-eyed teen welcomed them inside and handed them each a cup of Pepsi. The single bulb above their heads shed soft light on a dirt floor covered with pine needles, and balloons bobbed gently from the ceiling as the group squeezed inside the single-room home.
“One of the things that struck me the most was that she had done such an amazing job to show us her gratitude,” says Erika. “They gave us flowers and a woven cloth that you could line a basket with. In my own head I was thinking: If I had foreign visitors and I had welcomed them on financially the same scale, I would have spent hundreds, at least. That pure selflessness that she showed to show her gratitude was incredible.”
“In my own head I was thinking: If I had foreign visitors and I had welcomed them on financially the same scale, I would have spent hundreds, at least.”
As Maggie and Erika’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, the CoEd staff began to facilitate a conversation between the visitors and the family.
“In her life, the day-to-day struggle was very apparent,” says Maggie. “Just trying to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. She sold stuff in the market, but there was no steady income. She was doing whatever she could. Her husband was a farmer—there was a little garden plot outside. It was a difficult situation, and she expressed that. She wanted her children to have a good life—freedom of choice—so that they didn’t have to live with the day-to-day concern of not having food to eat. Being in the room with her, speaking to her mom to mom—it was so powerful. We share so many of the same values and are so passionate about our kids’ future. We share the same dream for our children.”
“We share the same dream for our children.”
“I have four daughters, and I wanted to sponsor four girls in honor of them,” says Maggie. “Those four girls and two of my daughters were with us that day, and the mom directed her attention towards them. She just zeroed in on them and gave them this heartfelt, from-the-gut talk about the importance of education and how they had to stay in school.”
“She just zeroed in on them and gave them this heartfelt, from-the-gut talk about the importance of education and how they had to stay in school.”
“Yes!” Erika recounts. “She said: You cannot leave school. Your love right now is education—men come later! You do not want to live a life without education.”
Every visitor in that single-room home was in awe of the mom who stood before them. “She was acting as their mom,” says Maggie. “It was a really wonderful expression of community.”
So, how can you help out a hardworking mom like this one?
When you sponsor a student in the Rise Youth Development Program, you are helping their caregivers (be they mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or grandparents) give a better future to the child they love. You are providing an academic scholarship, personal and professional development, and a team of support staff to help them graduate, make their moms proud, and break the cycle of poverty forever.
“I can’t give you just one word to describe sponsorship,” Maggie says. “It’s not often in life where you can meet a need in a very specific way to change the course of another person’s future: when that kind of opportunity to offer support occurs, it’s completely rewarding. They are doing all of the work, but if you can just provide them with an initial boost—just a little boost, a little bit of financial encouragement—then they will take it from there.”
“It’s not often in life where you can meet a need in a very specific way to change the course of another person’s future.”
Maggie Gieseke (middle left), two of her daughters (right and middle right), and one of the Rise Program students who they sponsor as a family (left).