María del Carmen, whose family has been affiliated with Common Hope for over ten years, graduated from high school in 2006 with a degree in accounting. After graduation she was determined to get a job to support her family, but her degree could only take her so far in her search. María knew she would need to be proactive, but as she puts it, “some of us are very shy about those types of things.”
Shortly after graduation, María attended a workshop put on by Margarita Díaz, coordinator of Common Hope’s employment program, PODER (Programa para oportunidades de empleo y realización). “They taught us how to look for jobs and we did [practice] interviews,” she says. “They told us where we made mistakes and how to improve.”
With her new skills and a recommendation from Margarita, María was able to get a job at a bank in Antigua, where she has been working for the past two years. “It’s so nice to see her working in the bank,” says Magarita. “It’s great to see these young [graduates] working in positions in the Antigua community.”
PODER was founded in 2001 by Common Hope staff person Cesar Valle and long-term volunteer Ron Macklin. In the nine years since then, 387 affiliated family members have found jobs through the program. “Each person has a success story to share about how their day-to-day living has improved economically,” says Ron.
Yet Ron says the benefits stretch far beyond the financial. “These participants have expressed humble pride in how their family members look at them as role models to follow,” he says. “Hope does truly abound when a son sees his father get up, get dressed and go to work to earn a living for his family. Daughters feel empowered seeing their mothers independently succeed outside the home.”
Studies by the UNESCO and the World Bank illustrate the importance of children staying in school instead of dropping out early for low-paid manual work; a high school degree can as much as double a person’s lifetime earning potential in a developing country like Guatemala. Common Hope’s Education Program provides support during a child’s educational career so s/he can stay in school and get the degree. PODER helps young graduates find that good, higher paying job. Together, the programs provide opportunities for people to work themselves out of their current economic poverty.
Since his volunteer term ended, Ron Macklin has continued to spread the word about the promise of PODER. In 2006, he spoke about the program at the Conference on Honduras, presenting to more than 50 NGOs in attendance. Common Hope’s brochures were distributed and some of the attendees even visited Common Hope’s Antigua site a few weeks afterward. Ron currently lives in Mexico and has reached out to a new NGO called En Nuestras Manos, or In Our Hands, to see if Common Hope’s PODER success can be applied there.
As for María del Carmen’s plans for the future, she would eventually like to go on to college to study business administration. “[At the bank] they give us opportunities to grow,” she says. “With a degree like that it would give me the chance to move up.”