Chapter 1: Beginning “The Godchild Project”
You’ve probably heard of it before. It could be through one of the many fundraisers the school does or maybe it’s from your own experiences with the program. Everyone at Totino-Grace has at least heard of Common Hope. But what is Common Hope? Every year we raise a lot of money for this group, but many of us do not know what it is that we are raising money for.
To answer this you first have to go back to 1986. Dave and Betty Huebsch were a couple from Minnesota who wanted to help the poor. This led them to Guatemala where they were able to ask families what would help them the most. These families responded saying that what they wanted most was a quality education for their kids. The Huebsches then returned and began a sponsorship program so people in the US could sponsor a kid and pay for their education in Guatemala. This began The Godchild Project, now known as Common Hope, and this sponsorship program is still one of the key pieces of Common Hope to this day.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Common Hope truly began its full outreach. According to marketing & communications manager at Common Hope, Lizz Peterson, “In 1991, actually, is when we started offering our four core programs.” What started in education has now expanded to healthcare, housing, and family development. The main reason for this expansion Peterson said is that they realized “In order to get the kids into school you need to support the whole family unit in a variety of different ways.” These four pillars are what the help families with on the ground in Guatemala.
Education is where Common Hope started and it remains of paramount concern. In Guatemala only 32% of people will complete their equivalent of a Junior High education. Only 17% will complete High School. On Common Hope’s own information they state “We believe education is the key to long-term change.” This is why they are so willing to go through what many would consider the burden of going through the education system in Guatemala. In Guatemala even the public schools are not free so in a country where so many live in poverty it is very hard to go to school and most families will have to choose which child will get an education if not none of them. Common Hope works with these families and now they provide more than 3,400 students with the resources they need in order to go to school. Their help also goes beyond the classroom providing tutoring for students as well as partnering with the area schools to help impact the quality of education kids are receiving.
No matter how much assistance you provide a student if they are sick they aren’t going to be able to go to school and this is where Common Hopes healthcare programs come into play. Clinics operated by Common Hope in Guatemala provide services such as yearly physicals to all members of a student’s family and provide access to any low cost medication a family may need. When someone in the U.S. thinks to major causes of death they think cancer, or some other complex hard to cure disease, but in Guatemala to leading causes of death are still simply malnutrition and very treatable diseases such as diarrhea. So providing even just this basic level of service to families can make a massive impact not just on one person but on entire communities.
The ultimate goal for almost any charity group such as Common Hope is that some day they are no longer needed. To try and improve conditions for a better future in Guatemala Common Hope also provides housing support to certain families. In Guatemala over half of the population lacks utilities in their houses and don’t have enough space in their houses, many families even use cornstalks as walls and it’s rare to find a house, especially amongst the families Common Hope works most closely with, that has anything other than a dirt floor. Common Hope will build houses with a concrete floors as well as provide running water and electricity so that the families and students can have a clean and healthy place to study and live.
Finally Common Hope assists the families of their students by pairing each family with a social worker who works very closely with the family so that Common Hope can provide the best service possible to those families. These social workers also tailor Common Hope’s efforts based around the goals of the family so that they never feel like they are working for two very different end goals.
A question that many are probably asking is how is all of this paid for? Most of that is through the sponsorship program that was mentioned earlier. There are different commitment levels to this program, but the general idea of the program is that through monthly payments someone will pay for the services received by one of the students. Common Hope does more than this however and they do not turn away families simply because their aren’t enough sponsors. Of the 3,400 students Common Hope serves about 700 are not sponsored but Common Hope continues working with them.
Sponsorship is a very unique experience to Common Hope. This is due to how you get to know the child you are sponsoring on a personal level. There are many programs that offer a similar function, but with Common Hope you get to begin a relationship with the student you are paying for. Sponsoring through Common Hope isn’t blindly throwing money at a faceless name, you will be provided with the ability to write them letters among other opportunities so that you become more of a mentor than a sponsor.
For those who do not know what Common Hope does it is also very important to know that through all of these programs are a “partnership and not a handout” said Stacey Minnick, Common Hope’s Director of Strategic Relations, “every family is partnered with us when they become affiliated and they have expectations that they have to meet in order to continue to receive the benefits of the partnership.” This is something she believes is unique to Common Hope and something that truly helps promote sustainable change so that families do not become stuck in a cycle of poverty. Some of these expectations are required service hours so that the families are not just improving their own lives but the lives of everyone in their community. They are also required to make it as easy as possible for the children to go to school and stay in school. There are also ways that the families can receive perks. For example doing a certain amount of service beyond the basic requirements is what earns a family a new house as well as many other features such as stoves that they can earn to add onto their house.
For those looking to get involved through volunteering with Common Hope beyond just a remote sponsorship they also offer Vision Team opportunities where groups of around ten people go and do very hands on work in Guatemala. Vision Teams get to meet no just the families helped by Common Hope, but also the wonderful people that work with Common Hope and provide all these services. Some even use it as a great opportunity to meet in person the student they either sponsored in the past or are sponsoring now. Both Peterson and Minnick emphasized just how essential the Vision Teams are to Common Hope’s success. They “built everything,” meaning that all of the buildings that Common Hope uses, especially around the city of Antigua were built by Vision Team members and without them what Common Hope provides would not be possible. TG will be sending a mission trip to Guatemala this June and everyone, myself included, that will be going on this trip will be one of these Vision Teams.
Common Hope is a charity that also shows great results with those that go through their programs. According to a study published by the University of Chicago in 2011 students that go through the Common Hope programs are much more likely to graduate from high school. The general population graduates at 17% the Common Hope students graduate at 95%. This is even more incredible considering most children Common Hope works with receive a lot of pressure to begin working full time before they could even begin high school.
All of this wonderful service started from one family in Minnesota and now extends to help over 13,000 people every year.
This is also the 30th anniversary of Common Hope and they are doing many special events to celebrate what they are describing as a full generation of helping Guatemala.
Chapter 2: Totino-Grace’s Connection
For most people at this school Common Hope is just another charity that we donate to, but Totino-Grace’s connection to the program runs far deeper than that. Many people in this community have brought it beyond the walls of the school and have great experience from their own time helping with Common Hope.
In 1992, just 6 years after the founding of The Godchild Project, TG first got involved with Common Hope. It began with someone that most who read this will never have heard of before, but still someone who made a lasting impact on the community at this school. Marcia Wiger, a former science teacher that left the school in 2009, is who it all began with.
For her the original goal was simply to immerse students with a foreign mission trip opportunity so once she received the go ahead from Brother Milton she began looking for many different services TG students could get involved in. Contacting her parish priest she was but in touch with Fr. Greg Schaffer at San Lucas Toliman Mission by Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and with John Huebsch (Dave and Betty’s Son) of The Godchild Project which was based in Antigua. The school began going on recurring trips to both places and many students have since received the opportunity to go.
Guatemala has had a very memorable impact on her life. She described in an email interview just some of the incredible things that have now become a part of her life,
“I cannot tell you of the countless blessings and experiences I have had. From assisting in abscess surgery, attending funerals, being asked to go pick up a person’s body after his death to attending family and parish gatherings. My greatest blessing of all was spending a month in Guatemala in 2012 and going back to all three places. In Santo Tomas we had a fiesta with the families I knew and whose children I sponsored. We cooked indigenous food, played with the kids, now grandchildren to the ladies who showed us how to make tortillas. We whacked a piñata for my birthday and attended a school where one of the parish workers is now headmaster. One of the “kids” I sponsored has now graduated from nursing school and is specializing in Guatemala City.”
Although she has not been back down in a while she maintains her support for those who have affected her life. Her and her husband are still in touch with many that they have sponsored. They have seen them grow up and now all have families of their own. Wiger also recognizes just how much of a blessing what her work has been, “Going to Guatemala and meeting these people has been one of my life experiences that has given me the greatest joy. I cannot tell you the things I have learned about the country, the violence, the martyrs, the music, the poverty, the joy and generosity of the people, the sheer beauty of the country, my life long friendships. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have gone there so many times.”
However, as I said Marcia was only beginning. There are many people at Totino-Grace, both past and present that have taken part in serving the people of Guatemala.
Ms. Broadhead remembers how after going with TG on a trip to Guatemala she was able to return for Common Hope’s 10th anniversary, with her family. She described it as “A wonderful opportunity to introduce the Guatemalan culture to my family.” Ms. Broadhead also expressed how effective Common Hope is in Guatemala, “the dignity that people feel when they have their own home is incredible.”
Totino-Grace does a lot of things to help out with Common Hope. There have have been many fundraising events, we have raised money to sponsor students, and like we are in June, we send people to Guatemala to gain that hands on experience of actually being there and helping.
Some get started with Common Hope before they even come to TG. Mr. Million remembers back when he was around age 8 his family began sponsoring a student at Common Hope. He looked to continue this connection to Common Hope at TG and was able to go to Guatemala through the school’s mission trip. While he was down there the group went to the house of the boy his family had been sponsoring for years.
For anyone who might wish to get involved with Common Hope the consensus place to begin from everyone I interviewed was to talk to your family about sponsoring a student. This will allow you to learn more about what sort of things that these kids go through when trying to get an education. However, they also recommend to not stop there, so much is needed from volunteers both in Guatemala, but in the States as well. Common Hope has a large need for volunteers. Whether it’s translating letters, or stocking supplies to be sent down to Antigua, there is always something you can do to help.