Common Hope’s work in San Rafael el Arado began in 2008 and now serves more than 1,000 children and adults. Forty minutes from Antigua, the village is completely indigenous and endures a poverty more extreme than many of the villages we serve in the Antigua valley.
All 1,600-some residents are Mayan and speak Kaqchikel, one of over 20 Mayan languages in Guatemala. The women and girls wear traditional woven garments, called traje. Many homes have dirt floors with cook fires built inside, and families typically eat on the floor around the fire.
Common Hope provides the resources for more than 400 children to attend the local elementary and junior high schools. (Attending junior high is still very uncommon in San Rafael, and continuing to high school is nearly unheard of.) Common Hope also ensures access to affordable health care through our partnership with a local nonprofit clinic, El Faro. Families can earn home improvements through our Housing Program, and as a part of our Family Development Program, social workers meet with families to define their goals and ensure they are accessing the services they need.
Read on to learn more about the village of San Rafael as well as our first years of work and results in the community.
A community centered around agriculture
San Rafael is an almost exclusively agricultural village. Most of the adults work as day laborers, or campesinos, on large privately owned or rented fields called campos. Monthly wages range from $50 to $130 per worker depending on the season and crop. Children routinely help their parents in the fields, starting in elementary school. Many children have to miss school during harvest time to earn extra money for their families.
One K-6 school serves the community of San Rafael, called Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta San Rafael el Arado (Official Joint Rural School of St. Rafael the Hoer). Currently more than 480 students attend, with 15 teachers and a principal. Three of the classrooms are bilingual, taught in both Spanish and Kaqchikel, while the other classes are mainly taught in Spanish.
A foundation of trust and respect
While Common Hope has big dreams for the children of San Rafael, we want to respect the families’ culture and traditions as we work on providing quality education, health care, and housing. This means that we started slowly, working to build trust within the community.
Our initial focus was to get kids into school and distribute a school supply package for each student. Common Hope staff and volunteers, including affiliated youth from Antigua, helped clean, repair, and paint the school. Upgrades to the school kitchen were also provided to enhance the school lunch program.
Another important objective was to guarantee health care access for all affiliated families, helping facilitate use of the clinic in the community, operated by El Faro, a partner non-profit organization. In addition, several social workers began work in the village, visiting each affiliated family to get to know them and their particular needs.
In 2009, we created a formal partnership with San Rafael’s public school and began educational support activities like reading activities, closer monitoring of students who are struggling, and more interactive educational activities.
Promising early results
Results of our work thus far have been promising: school attendance increased by a record 57 percent in 2009, and six students graduated from elementary school, a feat few in their community have accomplished. When we provided construction materials, community members rallied to build a new classroom, security wall, and kitchen, donating their time and skills.
The El Faro clinic partnered with Common Hope on a school nutrition program, so students are guaranteed at least one square meal a day. The first families completed sweat-equity hours to earn new homes, latrines, and water hook-ups, and more families have begun their community service work to do the same.
As we build on our work, we anticipate that the village of San Rafael will continue to engage more deeply in the long-term process of improving education, access to health care, and housing conditions in the community. It is an opportunity to make lasting changes in the lives of children and their families.