This year, Common Hope the pleasure of welcoming 47 visitors to our 2015 graduation celebration in Guatemala. Visitors came from all over the United States, many traveling to Guatemala for the first time. In fact, there were a lot of “firsts” over the course of the week! In Antigua, we hosted our first-ever Sponsorship Carnival, the mother of one student played a game for the first time in her life, and sponsors Gary and Mary Doten met one of their sponsored students, Clara, for the first time. Santa Catarina celebrated their graduation from Phase 1 of our Partner School Program, and will be the first school to begin working with us on improving Math and Reading instruction. Our visitors celebrated with their teachers and school director, and were excited to learn more about our work in public elementary schools. Sharing moments like these makes Graduation Week even more special for students, visitors and staff!

Sponsorship Carnival brings students, family members, and visitors together

The first-ever Sponsorship Carnival was a fun, lighthearted way to kick off the week’s activities. There were many smiles and laughs as the sponsors, students, and the students’ families had a chance to play games and get to know each other better. What better way to “break the ice” than over a game of giant checkers? The carnival also included mini golf, giant tick tack toe, bean bag toss, foosball, arts and crafts, and a reading corner. Perhaps the biggest hit of the carnival was a photo booth where sponsors and families could take silly photos with costumes and props.

For those who sponsor multiple students, the carnival provided a space for them to spend time together with everyone. This was the case for Patrick Walters and Sergio Medina, who were able to visit with the six students they sponsor, along with the students’ families. For sponsors like Gary and Mary Doten, this interactive environment was the perfect place to meet their sponsored student, Clara, for the first time while also getting an opportunity to spend time reading with their other student, Diego. At the end of the day, many of the students who shared a sponsor ended up becoming friends. It was a great community and relationship building experience!

Sponsorship visits in San Rafael help bond students and sponsors

Sponsors Rose & Charlie McMurray playing a game with their sponsored student

The following day, a similar visit was held for sponsors of students in San Rafael at the community center. These visits were equally special, as the students and sponsors played games and put together puzzles. Lesbia Marroquin, San Rafael Coordinator, said that “the activities allowed sponsors to get to know their students better and gave the parents an opportunity to join in the games as well.” Cid Blasé and Fritz Ferrante met their new sponsored student, Maria Marina, and although she was very shy at first, working on a puzzle together helped break the ice. Cid and Fritz also saw first-hand some of her learning needs and the importance of the Early Childhood Education and stimulation programs in San Rafael.

Visitors get an interactive look at Common Hope programs

Throughout the remainder of the week, visitors participated in cultural activities like a Guatemalan cooking class and a tour of a coffee farm. They also had an opportunity to meet with Common Hope staff to get in-depth views of our Early Childhood Reading, Youth Leadership, Educational Support, Nurturing Parenting, and the Family Development Programs. As part of the experience, visitors didn’t just listen–they were actively immersed into the programs as if they were a participant. For instance, during the Youth Leadership activity, our youth leaders led a typical activity focused on goals and dreams, and the difference between them. While the activity looks like a game, the discussion that results is an in-depth look at how our youth interact and build rapport. Our visitors and youth leaders shared their dreams and goals, and how they differ. They talked about goals or dreams met or unmet, and how they overcame obstacles. This not only allowed visitors to connect with the program, but it also connected them to the students in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Visitors participating in a Youth Group activity

The Nurturing Parenting Program, or Crianza Con Cariño, was another program that visitors participated in. During their in-depth look, visitors were asked to participate in the same discussions and activities as the families who take the class. Visitors shared things they remembered from their childhood that were good memories, and some that were not.  Sandra Ortiz, our Antigua site director also shared examples we hear from our families – some very traumatic. It’s the first step in understanding how parenting approaches are learned from the past. In order to change those, parents need to view how their own childhoods inform their parenting. Visitors then moved to a spot on a continuum that represented their childhood. One end of the line represented a very loving, happy childhood, with the opposite end representing an absence of love and support. Visitors who are now parents themselves were then asked to move to where they thought their children would stand. For parents in our program, this activity is the first step in defining how they want to parent, which is sometimes in contrast to how they may be parenting. Many parents are unaware of ways to nurture their children because their own parents could not communicate in a loving way. It was a tremendous demonstration of the important training provided for parents of the children that we serve.

Each of the program overviews gave visitors a glimpse into the depth of work we do in service of our Guatemalan students and families. They had a chance to look at the world from their perspective and see the challenges that many face. Deepening this understanding also led to an “Aha” moment for many visitors who were then able to connect to Common Hope’s work in a very concrete way.

A joyous celebration of achievements 

To conclude their week with Common Hope, visitors shared in the graduation ceremony as graduates walked across the stage alongside proud families. The ceremony was a joyous celebration as we listened to students, staff, family members, and sponsors share what graduation meant to them. During graduation week, 147 bricks were added to the Pathway of Dreams. That’s 147 students whose futures are brighter thanks to the support of their sponsors and family members who encouraged them throughout their educational journey. Click here to see additional photos and read more about the 2015 Graduation ceremony.

In total, Common Hope facilitated 79 sponsorship visits during graduation week! Thank you to all the sponsors who traveled great distances to spend time with their sponsored students and family. It was amazing to share many joyous moments with those who make our work possible.