When most people from developed countries like the United States think about Guatemala, they think about crime, drugs and poverty. But many of us go there and fall in love with a country of extraordinary beauty and a welcoming people. Count among those visitors Salina Duncan, Nancy Kuster, and Pete McManus, the founders and officers of Together We Can Guatemala. We came to Guatemala, fell in love with it, stayed for a long time (even years), and continue to be drawn back.
Though we fell in love with this beautiful country, it's impossible to be blind to its problems. Illiteracy is common. Crime and violence are rampant. Unemployment is high. Poverty takes its toll, with its attendant problems like malnutrition and poor healthcare. Women particularly suffer within this machista culture. The rate of femicide is one of the highest in the world.
So along with our love for the country came our desire to help. But where to begin? We believe that one of the solutions to Guatemala's problems lies in developing its youth through better education, job training, and better health. The three of us have long been involved in a number of non-governmental organizations with those aims, including Las Manos de Christine, Nuestros Ahijados, Hospicio San Jose, Garden of Hope, and Robert Muller Life School. And when we realized that some of the efforts we have been involved in needed extra support, we decided to work to provide that support.
In 2018, we founded Together We Can Guatemala (TWCG), a 501(c)(3) corporation registered in Pennsylvania, and, at the same time, Asociación Juntos Podemos (AJP), a nonprofit association in Guatemala. The two organizations have the same mission and work together to achieve that mission. TWCG helps with fundraising, but also helps manage projects and provides logistical and technological support for AJP. AJP carries out the programs: it hires people and manages operations in Guatemala.
After founding TWCG and AJP, we folded two existing, successful projects into AJP: the El Hato Literacy Center and the Garden of Hope. These two projects had already been helping innumerable children in El Hato and Jocotenango but were in danger of losing their funding and managerial support. Under TWCG/AJP, they had new life!
The pandemic was a huge calamity for Guatemala. Businesses closed; the international airport closed; tourists stopped visiting; and public schools closed. Most of those things gradually returned to normal, but the school in El Hato didn't open again until the very end of 2022. This made it exceptionally difficult to run our programs during the pandemic. For example, we were no longer allowed to use school grounds to run our tutoring program, as they were closed. When the return to normalcy still did not arrive in early 2021, we realized we couldn't wait anymore for the school to open. We teamed up with two other NGO's, Las Manos de Christine and SERNiña, to rent a house in El Hato for running programs that were in greater demand than ever. Since then, we have been providing tutoring services to many students in El Hato and this tutoring has been indispensable for these students. In late 2022 we felt we needed even more space to provide our literacy programs to even more children, and so, starting in early 2023, we moved to another house dedicated completely to the El Hato Literacy Center. There we provide a wide range of free services, including tutoring, internet and computer access, and library lending.
For years, the Garden of Hope resided in borrowed space on a coffee plantation in Jocotenango. Unfortunately, in 2020, the owners of the plantation could no longer support the Garden of Hope, as they needed the space for their own expansion plans. And so we embarked on a search for a new home and, at the same time, started an ambitious fundraiser to pay for the move. Both efforts achieved their goals! (In fact, the fundraising campaign exceeded its goal!) After considering many options, we decided to relocate the Garden of Hope to El Hato. The funds enabled us to build a new garden and start up our programs once again! We are thrilled that we are now helping families in El Hato learn about the environment, nutrition, healthy cooking and growing their own food.
We hope that you, like us, will be inspired to help in our mission to make this world a better place, one step at a time.