By Elizabeth Alex, community outreach and media relations director for Unbound
“My name is Maria and my favorite thing in life is going to school.”
The simple, straightforward statement from a third grader in Guatemala represents the dream of children in the developing world.
Maria lives in a small house in a rural area of Guatemala. Her father is sick and hasn’t been able to work. Her family survives because of the kindness of neighbors, friends and their church. On most days, meals consist of salted tortillas and water.
Like many kids who live in poverty, Maria is lacking in nutrition. But she has plenty of energy for life.
“I like to sing and dance to marimba music and play hide and seek with my neighbors.”
She prays every morning for some “good food, like chicken or fish,” and for the chance to continue in school.
Unbound works in 21 countries, including many in Latin America, helping children find sponsors in the United States who are willing to donate 30 dollars a month towards their education and wellbeing. We serve around 76,500 school age children in Guatemala alone.
But in Guatemala, school is never a certainty.
Guatemala has the lowest primary school completion rate in Central America according to the USAID. More than 30 percent of students did not complete first grade in 2013. In addition, one quarter of primary school students did not complete the 6th grade. And an even bleaker statistic shows the enrollment rate for middle school is less than 40 percent.
Unfortunately, the educational situation in Guatemala is dire, especially in the rural and indigenous communities where Unbound has the largest concentration of sponsored kids. The average Guatemalan has less than a 5th grade education, and very little prospect for work.
But sponsorship helps change the story. Results from our recent study are encouraging. Nearly 64 percent of kids in the Unbound program in Guatemala complete at least some secondary education. More than 20 percent graduate from high school, and the percentage of Unbound students who attend university far exceeds the national average.
The key ingredient, according to Unbound President and CEO Scott Wasserman, is hope.
“Education not only develops minds,” Wasserman said, “it also creates hope. That hope spreads from the child to the child’s family; and from there, to the entire community.”
Maria has friends who are sponsored through Unbound. She sees they receive school supplies, food and letters.
“I hope I can get milk and letters from a sponsor,” she said.
Food and school supplies shouldn’t be the first concern for third graders anywhere. For Maria, it’s reality. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming.
“I want to be a lawyer,” she said, “and I want to help my family and my father so he will be healthy again.”
Maria has a simple, straightforward message for the person who decides to sponsor her:
“I wish you could see my happiness when I get the news that you have sponsored me. Thank you.”
Editor’s note: Since this post was published, Maria has been sponsored. Click here to see other children waiting for sponsors.