Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hope 4 All

Now that I’ve put in close to 2 months at my new “volunteer” job, I feel comfortable enough to share about the mission of the organization and specifics of my position with Common Hope. (It’s also good practice for the community tour that I give twice a week as a part of my position!) Prepare yourself – this is a long one, but so very worth your time.

Common Hope was founded in 1984 by Dave and Betty Huebsch, a missionary couple from Minnesota who were residing in the area of Lake Atitlan (specifically Santiago Atitlan). Dave and Betty fell in love with the culture and people of Guatemala and quickly began asking the locals what they could do to help. The people all responded with a resounding answer – Educate our children, so the Huebsch’s began a simple sponsorship format of writing letters to their home church in MN and asking for donations. Soon enough they came to understand that education isn’t enough when the children are coming to school hungry, sick and often not coming at all due to the impoverished circumstances in which they were living, so the areas of housing and health care were eventually added to the goal of the “Godchild Project”.

Dave & Betty Huebsch

Unfortunately about 23 years ago, during the Huebsch’s time there, it was the height of the civil war in Guatemala, and the Lake Atitlan area was in the center of the warfare. One evening in 1988 Dave and Betty received a very credible death threat and they were forced to shut the doors of their program and leave the country immediately.
Reluctantly they went back to MN, but remained hopeful that one day they would be able to return to Guatemala. Sadly though, during their time at home, Betty passed away, due to circumstances unrelated to their time in Guatemala. However, keeping the dream alive, Dave and his son John were able to return to Guatemala a few years later in 1990. Because of the continued instability of the Lake Atitlan area, they sought a safer location to rebuild their project and ended up in Antigua, an area that has always remained fairly safe. They started by renting offices in Antigua proper, but the project soon outgrew the space and when they had an opportunity to purchase land (a coffee farm) just a few kilometers outside of Antigua in 1993, they jumped at the chance.

Over the next few years with the help of volunteers and affiliated families, the Family Development Center (the largest site of Common Hope) was constructed and continues to operate from the same location today. While there have been a few changes (the name as well as the fact that the organization is no longer religiously affiliated), the philosophical center of the project continues to be education and housing, healthcare and family development (social work) programs have been added. Additionally the Heubsch family no longer runs the organization, but they do continue to be supporters.

Common Hope (or Fundacion Familias de Esperanza as they are formally known as in Guatemala) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) comprised of about 150 paid staff and long-term volunteers. Of the 150 only about 15 are foreigners. When Dave & Betty were forced to leave the country back in the 80’s, sadly no one was left to run the organization. This is something that Common Hope has worked hard to change, so that if there is ever a time when it is not safe for foreigners to be in Guatemala, the project will not have to come to and end. The employees are spread out over 3 sites in Guatemala and 1 in the US. St. Paul, MN functions as the main fundraising site. The Family Development Center outside Antigua is comprised of a primary health care clinic, dental clinic, educational offices, construction site, social worker offices, psychology department, national administration, sponsorship offices, human resources, and the hospitality department (that’s me!). Throughout these departments many programs are offered, such as occupational/speech therapy classes, nutrition clinic, job training, a youth group, mentorship program, day care, pilot school, legal services, and many more. In 1993? After devastating Hurricane Mitch hit Guatemala, New Hope (located north of Guatemala City) community development and relocation program was founded and now consists of New Hope Village as well as a Common Hope school. More recently Common Hope began assisting with education in an indigenous village called San Rafael el Arado, about 45 minutes from Antigua. Common Hope strives to not duplicate services already existing in communities and for this partners with the public school system as well as other existing programs to meet the needs in the 4 areas of the project.

Family Development Center & New Hope School

Today Common Hope supports 2,707 affiliated students, however upon a child’s affiliation their entire family is able to receive services. That’s 1,398 families helped for a staggering grand total of approximately 8,000 Guatemalans served! It’s a truly amazing organization and a really inspiring organization to work . I feel completely privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of it all.

There are so many other aspects of the work that I want to share with you including my job specifics, but considering this is already one heck of a long blog entry, I’ll save it for another day! If you're hook and you just can’t wait to hear more, check out their comprehensive website at

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