It’s easy to fall in love with Guatemala – the country is beautiful, the people are charming, and the textiles are fabulous. But all that beauty belies a terrible truth: it’s one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and the indigenous Mayan people in the Central and Western Highlands suffer from severe malnutrition, poor health, high rates of illiteracy, racism, and crushing, systemic poverty.
In 1996, when Jeff and Joe Berninger took time off from their successful careers at Procter & Gamble and IBM to visit Guatemala, they fell in love with the people but more importantly, they saw the poverty and decided to do something about it. Jeff went back, volunteered in the school system, and began to understand some of the problem; students lacked access to the most basic tools for a good education – like textbooks. So he and his brother set up the first textbook rental program, basing their lending model on farm cooperatives they’d seen in their rural upbringing in Indiana.
Cooperative for Education was born, and soon the brothers realized this cooperative model could be applied to scholarships, computer centers, reading programs, teacher training, and literacy projects across the country. In 13 years, that single textbook program has expanded to nearly 200 schools—or about 10% of the Guatemala’s middle schools and CoEd has become one of the largest and most effective development NGOs in the country.
CoEd’s model of deep development is a testament to the dogged, patient practicality of these two Midwestern brothers – and it sets their organization apart. CoEd works only in Guatemala, not a dozen countries. It concentrates its efforts through schools in the belief that education has the power to change the future. And it’s passionately committed to building local capacity so the community can carry on the programs with or without outside help.
Sustainability, a word that is tossed around like a Frisbee these days, is built into CoEd’s very DNA. Each program is based on a revolving fund model where all participants make a small contribution to their school’s project, giving them a vested interest in its success as well as replenishing funds for further development. And because the Berninger brothers came from the corporate world, they are all about transparency, accountability, and a commitment to measuring the outcomes of CoEd’s work.
In fact, of the 380 total projects Cooperative for Education has implemented in Guatemalan schools since 1996, 342 are still going strong—and most operate solely on local funds. This translates to an astonishing 90% sustainability rate and why CoEd is helping to break the cycle of poverty in the beautiful Guatemalan Highlands, one child at a time.
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What Gives News Flash!
Since the It Gets Better Project started, (see post about this online compilation of videos offering a lifeline of hope and optimism to troubled gay teens) thousands of videos have been posted from people as diverse as President Obama, to a Muslim teen, to the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA. Here’s their beautiful song: