Transforming the Futures of Participants and Volunteers Alike: The Family Support Center
By Adam Kinross
On April 13 of last year I arrived in Guatemala by pure chance. When I arrived I had never heard of Xela, let alone Pop Wuj. But it turned out that I was going to spend the better part of the next year and a half working with the amazing people of this organization, who do so much for others. I am not only speaking of the people directly affected by their projects in the Western Highlands, rather I speak of everyone that comes into contact with them, and above all myself.
I first started at Pop Wuj as the Family Support Center Coordinator in the beginning of May 2013. My very first day was the Motherâ€™s Day celebration in Llanos del Pinal. To say I was nervous to meet the kids and their mothers is an understatement. However the moment I walked through the door, I knew right away I had made a very wise decision.
Over the following three months I got to know and shared so much with the kids and staff at the Centerâ€”and very quickly I fell in love with them all.
My role as the coordinator was to help with homework, organize activities, and coordinate special events. Most importantly, I felt my role was to support the staff in supporting the kids. With limited resources, the staff provides exceptional educational support, as well as support of their general growth and welfare. Each year the number of participants grows, yet the budget remains the same.
Despite it occasionally being stressful, a little frustrating, and extremely draining, I loved every minute I spent with the kids; their smiles, their laughs, their games, their jokes. Therefore when it came time for me to leave in August, 2013, it was an extremely difficult thing to do, with many a tear shed.
Thus I could not have been happier when I was able to come back to Xela in late March of this year. Not only was I ecstatic to see the kids again, but returning enabled me to see firsthand the true benefit of the work being done at the Family Support Center.
It gave me so much joy to see Roxana, Brandon, and Cristobal attending â€˜Basicoâ€™ (middle school) in Xela; to see Veronica in high school in Xela; and Eric Santos and Yolanda having graduated. This is the ultimate objective of the Center: to give the kids the best opportunity to continue studying and to succeed in school.
The story of Carmencita is one that truly highlights this objective of the Family Support Center. Carmencita is the oldest of her four siblings. More often than not, their upbringing and care is left to her. Despite being 14 years old and only in 6th
grade, she is one of our brightest and most dedicated students. Given the cultural context and her age, another girl in her situation would likely stop going to school after graduating primary school. However this will not be Carmencitaâ€™s fate. Instead she has just taken exams to attend a middle school in Xela next yearâ€”something that would be unthinkable if not for the support of the Family Support Center and the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program.
In addition to better job opportunities and an increased level of education, continued education:
- Substantially decreases the likelihood of teen pregnancies, a very serious and common problem in Guatemala;
- Helps empower women to avoid and/or leave abusive relationships;
- Decreases the likelihood of gang activity; and
- Enables women to better care for their own children, avoiding problems of malnutrition and neglect due to ignorance.
The short-term benefits of the Family Support Center, including nutritious meals, homework help, development of social and personal skills, a head start for the younger kids, and attention they often do not receive at home (the things I reveled in each day with the kids), are only the tools that enable the long-term success. This is why I am so proud to be part of Pop Wuj and the Family Support Center
Although it is not over, my time at Pop Wuj and the Family Support Center has changed the course of my life immensely. I used to be an accountant and this experience has shaped my decision to return to school for a master's degree in international development. With this, I hope to one day contribute even a fraction of what Pop Wuj does for and with others.
Adam found Pop Wuj and the Family Support Center via Pop Wujâ€™s partnership with Entremundosâ€™ Internship Program. Pop Wuj offers five distinct long-term volunteer positions (internships): Family Support Center Coordinator, Environmental Projects Coordinator, Education and Scholarship Program Coordinator, Assistant Medical Projects Coordinator, and General Projects Coordinator. For more information and to apply, please visit Entremundos.