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The Guatemala Partnership

Lasting relationships across borders

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la Presbyterio Union Maya Quiché Boca Costa

Since 2003, we have partnered with a presbytery in the Boca Costa region of southwestern Guatemala to share in Christian fellowship and address the root causes of poverty for Mayan families in this group of churches. 

The relationship between la Presbyterio Union Maya Quiché Boca Costa and the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County was formalized in 2003 with a Covenant of Support and Fellowship. Since that time the compañerismo (partnership) has evolved into a strong and lasting friendship between our church and the eight Presbyterian churches in the rural southwestern part of Guatemala known as Boca Costa (Spanish for “mouth of the coast”).


Ours is an equitable partnership, built on the shared belief that we all have equal standing in God’s eyes, and with the knowledge that God has endowed each of us with gifts and talents that should be put to work in God’s service. Our Mayan brothers and sisters identify needs and opportunities in their community, and we jointly determine how First Pres can most effectively help and empower them.

Four major projects have evolved around mutually agreed-upon priorities: economic development, health, education and fellowship.

Economic Development

Coffee Microgrants

The Coffee Microgrants are the partnership’s most direct investment in economic development. As a result of the peace accords that ended the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, many Mayan men and women were granted small plots of land, typically in the mountains, that are suitable for growing coffee. Others have land that their families have owned for years. But the start-up costs of clearing the land and purchasing plants, fertilizer, fungicide, and insecticide are well beyond their means. The microgrants were created to fill that gap, enabling families to turn these small plots of land into productive assets that can change the trajectory of their lives.

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Members of our partner presbytery who own land are eligible to receive a one-time microgrant of approximately $415 (the equivalent of about two months wages for the average man; women earn even less in rural Guatemala). The grant recipients receive a portion of their grant as cash, which they typically use to hire people to help with clearing their land and planting the coffee seedlings. The remaining funds are used to purchase the coffee plants, fertilizer, fungicide and insecticide in bulk. These items are distributed to the recipients by local church leaders, many of whom are experienced in coffee agriculture. The recipients attend classes on the proper care of their coffee fields to increase their chances of good harvests for the life of the trees, which is typically 16-20 years, after which they should be able to afford to replace the plants as needed. The impact of the Coffee Microgrant project reaches beyond the families receiving the grants. The recipients generally hire their neighbors and relatives to help clear the land and plant the coffee seedlings. They also hire these same people to help harvest the coffee each year, which spreads the money through these communities on an ongoing basis.

 

Thanks to the generous support of members and friends of the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, through 2023, 297 Mayan families in Boca Costa have received a microgrant to establish a coffee field.

Coffee Run & Fun

This annual event raises funds for coffee microgrants. In the 14th version of the event in 2023, participants came to the church to play pickleball, cornhole, mini-golf, and scrabble, twister and a myriad of other games - all while enjoying hot dogs and other picnic fare.  Between our corporate sponsors and donations from individuals, enough funds were raised to award 24 microgrants in 2023.

Health: ONIL Stoves

The traditional Mayan method of cooking - an unventilated open fire inside the home - is dangerous, inefficient, and environmentally harmful. ONIL stoves create new economic and social opportunities for women and girls while changing the way families live in their homes. The stoves:

  • Reduce wood consumption by 70% - a long-term benefit to the environment;

  • Save women 16-20 hours each week in time spent gathering wood, allowing them time for social and economic activities; and

  • Improve health outcomes for women and children by reducing smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide, eye irritation and cataracts, and burns from open flames.

 

Starting in 2016, First Pres members began working side-by-side with members of the Boca Costa presbytery to install efficient, vented wood-burning cooking stoves in homes where meals have been cooked for generations over open fires. The ONIL stoves eliminate smoke in the homes, thereby decreasing the incidence of asthma and cataracts. They use only 30% of the wood required to cook over an open fire, so families aren’t spending as much time collecting firewood, nor are they spending as much of their income purchasing that firewood. Some reports suggest that families may spend about 40% of their income on firewood each year, so the stoves are a very real blessing to the families that receive them.

 

Through 2023, the church has purchased and installed 200 stoves in homes of members of the presbytery. First Pres members work alongside local church leaders to install the stoves.

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Education

Scholarships

Government-supported education in Guatemala extends only through the 6th grade. First Pres provides approximately 90 scholarships per year for middle and high school attendance through a program administered by the executive committee of the Boca Costa presbytery. In Guatemala, high school prepares graduates for entry into careers such as business management, auto mechanics, accounting, nursing, food service, and general contracting.

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The school year in Guatemala runs from January through October. Once the Boca Costa Presbytery Executive Committee knows how many scholarships can be awarded, they begin to work with the eight churches that make up the presbytery. Each church’s Session will identify the scholarship students. Typically, once students start the program, they continue until graduation, but there are usually a few unfilled slots for new students, too. The Executive Committee assures an approximately equal mix of girls and boys and gets everyone enrolled in the school and program of their choice. The Executive Committee also pays the school fees for each student, purchases the necessary supplies and meets with the scholarship recipients and their families to explain expectations. The curriculum for grades 7-9 in Guatemalan schools are similar to that of middle school in the US, but students are free to select the program of their choice once they get to 10th grade.

 

In 2024 our 94 scholarship students are spread out over more than 20 different schools. Those in grades 10-12 are studying a variety of academic, technical and trade school curricula including (roughly translated), agriculture, automotive and diesel engine repair, bookkeeping, business administration, computer repair, culinary arts, early childhood education, technical drawing, pre-med, nursing, bilingual secretarial training, dress making, and music education. Even if they don’t all find work in their field of study, their education represents a brighter future for themselves, their families, communities, and churches.

 

Church members and friends donated enough money for 94 students to attend middle and high school in 2024. 174 students have graduated high school through our scholarship program as of 2022. Our scholarship fundraising campaign takes place each fall and a full scholarship is $485, but donors are welcome to donate any amount at any time. We have also begun a pilot program to offer university scholarships.

Fellowship: Annual Visits

First Pres delegations visit Guatemala at least annually - often twice per year, thanks to stove installation trips. Trips to Guatemala are arranged for members and friends of First Presbyterian Church. These visits are opportunities for us to deepen friendships with our Mayan brothers and sisters and to explore the work God is doing in our individual and corporate lives. We worship, eat, and laugh together for several days, celebrating together God’s goodness and faithfulness, and take time for activities with the scholarship students, visits to coffee fields to check on the plants, a mini-vacation bible school for the children, and Bible study with the women. A variety of cultural activities and daily devotions round out the itinerary.

 

On ‘small visit’ years, a delegation of a few members of the church’s Guatemala Project Leadership Team travel to Guatemala for the purpose of fulfilling and strengthening our covenant relationship with our partner presbytery. In addition to reviewing the documentation for the scholarship and coffee projects, the group meets with the current scholarship students and several graduates.

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Become involved in the Guatemala Partnership:
  • Pray for the compañerismo and for our Mayan brothers and sisters, most of whom live in poverty.

  • Support the educational scholarship program.

  • Participate in or volunteer for the Run & Fun for Coffee.

  • Participate in a summer mission trip to Guatemala. Participants are asked to pay their own expenses, but financial support is available if needed

  • Help raise funds for the purchase of ONIL Stoves.

  • Join a stove installation trip. These trips typically take place in January (the dry season in Boca Costa)

  • Shop at the Alternative Gift Fair the first Saturday and Sunday in December. In addition to being able to make donations to a variety of mission activities and non-profit organizations, proceeds from the sale of fairly-traded items directly benefit the Guatemala Project.

  • Join the partnership’s leadership team. There are plenty of opportunities for involvement in this complex and rewarding project.

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