The Mothers’ Club is a women’s empowerment group that provides encouragement through weekly classes to over 500 Guatemalan women. Members of the Mother’s Club learn about everything from nutrition, health and wellness to self-esteem, spirituality and human rights. Mothers’ Club attendance is the ticket to collecting fresh produce in the Dreamer Center’s Friday food distribution. For many women, this opportunity to learn, laugh and play together is their only break from the male-centered machismo culture that engulfs the rest of their lives.
Of the 30,000 reported complaints of domestic violence in Guatemala in 2009, less than 80 resulted in conviction (0.25 percent conviction rate). In 2010, the organization hired a second attorney in Guatemala to address this injustice against women. As with our other programs, the newly-created domestic violence program will use a holistic approach that includes this attorney, a social worker, a psychologist, and a private investigator to increase Guatemala’s conviction rate and send a real message to men in this culture. Working in coordination with the Mothers’ Club and Social Work Department, the Domestic Violence office aims to increase Guatemala’s conviction rate by 20 percent this year alone.
The Institute for Trafficked, Exploited, and Missing Persons (ITEMP) addresses human trafficking and child labor through investigation, rescue, rehabilitation, prevention and advocacy. In many parts of the world, children work from an early age, missing out on educational and developmental opportunities. Some are even sold into forced labor or prostitution. We estimate that 6 percent of children in the Project classify as “trafficked” or “exploited.” ITEMP also rescues and rehabilitates trafficking victims and enrolls them in our programs, providing them the tools to build a better future. Coordinating with our social and legal departments, ITEMP wins custody of exploited children and places them with carefully-screened foster families. The program also focuses on international public awareness and education, as well as government advocacy.
With the help of friends in the legal profession, the Project has provided free legal assistance since its founding in 1991. Historically, GOD’S CHILD lawyers focus on custody cases of exploited, abused or neglected children. These children are then placed within The GOD’S CHILD Project’s growing network of carefully-screened local foster families. In 2009, the organization hired an attorney to provide more regular assistance with custody cases and to protect victims of forced labor and prostitution coming through ITEMP. In 2010, the organization hired a second attorney to handle domestic violence cases.
ServiceTeams are groups of volunteers, typically from North America or Europe, that build homes for families that desperately need a secure place to live. Since 1991, ServiceTeams have built nearly a thousand homes for very poor families in Guatemala and El Salvador. Whether homeless or living in cardboard shacks, many of our families cannot dream of a better future while living in such demeaning conditions. The simple homes built by ServiceTeams have concrete floors, which immediately decrease stomach parasites, skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory infections by 70 percent. ServiceTeam-built homes are sturdy enough to withstand the torrential rains and frequent mudslides of Guatemala’s rainy season, and have a 40 year anticipated lifespan. ServiceTeams fundraise the cost of construction materials, approximately US$1,500 per home, and travel expenses. Over the past three years, this program increased its annual yield from 55 homes built to 95 homes, slashing the Project’s five-year housing waiting list to just one year. ServiceTeams have also built wells and schools for our programs in Malawi, Africa.
The Atkinson Family Clinic provides affordable healthcare to Guatemalan children and families associated with The GOD’S CHILD Project and its many programs. The clinic also serves walk-in patients from the greater community, who travel several hours by bus after hearing of the quality care available. The Clinic serves as many patients as possible. Patients must prove they are of very limited economic means and are asked to make a small donation based on what they can afford.
The GOD’S CHILD Project has two dental clinics that provide care to children and families who would otherwise not dream of accessing such services. The Presentation BVM Dental Clinic is located at The Dreamer Center, and the Scheel Center has its own, as of yet unnamed. Clinic staff educates patients on the importance of oral hygiene and provides toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash when these donations are available.
Many of the children participating in our programs have suffered physical, emotional or sexual abuse, while others have been forced into labor or prostitution. The psychologist counsels those children and anyone requiring emotional or mental assistance in dealing with past or present situations. By working through their problems, participants have a better chance of completing their education and effectively breaking out of poverty. The psychologist also runs the Mothers’ Club.
Every Friday morning at the Dreamer Center, mothers congregate to receive donations of fresh, local produce and dry goods. This ensures their families have nutritious meals for the coming week and helps offset food costs. To participate, women must simply attend their weekly Mothers’ Club meeting. Throughout the week, the donations department collects fresh produce and dry goods from restaurants, farms, plantations and farming cooperatives in Guatemala.
Our families are assigned a social worker who conducts monthly home visits and serves as the bridge between families and The Project. Called guias, which means “guides” in Spanish, they are entrusted with the important task of guiding families down the road to breaking out of poverty. They do this by referring individuals to counseling and legal assistance and encouraging them to take advantage of the support available through The Project. Families who have broken the chains of poverty remain with their guia, preventing relapse into poverty through unemployment, illness or other developments. The social work department also coordinates special programs like food distribution, clothing drives, disaster relief efforts, and our new solar energy program.
A lot of our outreach into more remote communities takes place at clothing distributions. Each year, The GOD´S CHILD Project gives away thousands of pounds of clothing, bedding, shoes, and other essentials to some of the poorest communities in Central America. Families walk for miles or ride buses for hours to attend our clothing drives, which team with local medical and dental clinics and our own Casa Jackson to form large field clinics.
When disaster strikes, our staff and volunteers are never far behind. Whether responding to heavy spring flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota or landslides and hurricanes in Central America, communities rely on The GOD’S CHILD Project to be there in their darkest hour.
Sponsorship is a unique opportunity to connect and support one very special child. Sponsored children receive money for education costs, clothes, shoes, food and medical care every month. The families of sponsored children also benefit from access to a wide variety of GOD’S CHILD services. Currently, there are over 800 children being sponsored by almost 1,400 padrinos, or godparents. It costs US$150 to care for and educate a child each month. Many sponsors donate less than this, requiring multiple sponsors for each child in the program. Children maintain written contact with their sponsors, exchanging cards and holiday presents. Many GOD’S CHILD alumnae remain with their sponsors into adulthood, when they become fully self-supporting and request to be removed from the list…a proud moment for everyone involved.
We recently began an exciting new partnership with Quetsol, a Guatemalan solar energy company that manufactures low-cost, high-performance solar power units. Families slowly pay off their unit at an affordable rate based on their income, creating a self-sustaining cycle. The GOD’S CHILD Project is seeking funds to provide a Quetsol solar unit for each home built by ServiceTeams in the coming year.
Dreamer Center School
The Dreamer Center School is a private, accredited elementary school providing free education to 200 children ages 5 through 12. Children attending the Dreamer Center School are from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds and would not be able to afford even the minimal costs associated with public school attendance in Guatemala. The school reaches out to the most vulnerable children in the Antigua area; the same children who would otherwise be farm or domestic workers, beggars, prostitutes or street gang members.
Each year, our schools turn away many prospective students because of limited space or geographical distance. When possible, The GOD’S CHILD Project provides children a monthly scholarship to attend public school. Through scholarship incentives, students earn their educational assistance through good attendance and good grades. Students see their hard work pay off, and their families proudly support them in a venture that pays more than pennies and promises long-term rewards. The GOD’S CHILD Project is currently providing scholarships to over 900 children.