Dreaming big with your feet on the ground (part II)

with Patricia

When we first met Patricia it felt like talking to our own moms; she is sweet, affectionate, and treats us like her own kids even though she doesn’t know us. We knew little about her, just that she also belonged to one of the most wealthy families from Guatemala and that she had lost her husband, a very successful businessman in a tragic airplane crash, which was the kick-off together with her 3 children, of a Foundation which is improving Public Education throughout the country with technology.

Patricia painfully remembers the loss of Sergio 11 years ago and how they would struggle to find something they could do for Guatemala, something that would really make a difference. They thought about something that would represent him, so they summarized it in 3 words: teaching, kids and computers. Sergio was an ad honorem university teacher in the mornings, loved kids and was a huge computer fan, “He was kind of a genius,” says Patricia with a grin, “We needed something that would reflect him and this fell just into place: the idea was to recycle computers for the public primary schools; we never thought it would get so big because in fact it was something we were really doing from the bottom of our hearts for Sergio to help kids in Guatemala, but how far could we go? We didn’t know anything about the subject, or how many public schools there were, we didn’t start by doing the classic market study, but we dove into the project and it turned out to be an amazing lesson!”

The whole family started working together with Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, taking advantage of the research that had already been done. “The Minister loved the project, so she supported us from the beginning. This idea was originated in a Foundation from Colombia who is doing something similar, so we brought some of them as consultants and we got started ‘piano piano’ (step by step), obtaining computers from big enterprises when they are doing their renewal and taking them to a deposit where these young specialists open them up, disassemble them, fix and add components and assemble them up again. We were able to purchase licenses from Microsoft and that was when I said: ‘This has to be from God! They were actually looking for a company to be partners with regarding educational subjects and we were only starting it up, we were nothing; but the Minister believed in us and set us together. My eldest son is the Foundation’s soul, the one who has really been managing it always, he loves it, he is passionate about helping, he’s got all the charm, he’s a genius. So, you can imagine Microsoft was delighted; and with that they gave us the licenses to a nominal fee, that was a huge start, because between my kids and I we would support the funds for the Project. We had a dream, but nothing else.

FunSepa (Foundation Sergio Paiz) started up in 2005, trying to change the deep pain that the family shared, into something productive. “There were many more educational problems, far more than we had imagined; school desertion here is very strong, about 50% in 3rd grade (8 years old), and from the 50% left, half of them didn’t make it to 7th grade, so by 11 they were on the streets. Let’s hope that what we are doing it will help contribute minimize that risk. We started out with just one school and we have reached 915 countrywide, and that is only 5%! Even though this means 14,000 computers were handed out and 360,000 kids were benefited, we still have a long way to go. When we got a hold of what was going on, we realized it was really worth it.”

Patricia, together with her sons and daughter started with a small great idea which ended up being just the tip of the iceberg, taking them through unthinkable roads. One thing leads to the other, and they slowly realized that those schools’ professors really needed to learn in order to encourage their pupils and accompany them through the technology insertion process. “The Minister asked us to train them so we put together a program and they would come over with a lot of effort, but we realized that they didn’t have any computers to practise on! Thankfully they were given good opportunities to buy some, which we thought would be about 5,000 but they ended up being 50,000! Of course they also had to be trained, so I panicked: ‘But we don’t do that!’ Of course, until then! Salvador, my son, said: ‘Yes, Mom, we can do it! We’ll find the way.’ Therefore, we set up ‘Open future’ to be able to train professors in their own towns, and Microsoft helped us with a percentage of each computer sold. We have reached 90,000 teachers trained so far, you have no idea how thirsty they are about learning! We also give them moral and ethics formation and they always ask for more! It has been a huge success so far, because the schools that already have computers, now also have better trained teachers, very happy and motivated; we try to get them to feel again that empowerment, that pride in being teachers because they are really doing a much better job than they could have done. No doubt this was not in our plans, but it showed up! And where do you think that Providence came from?”

As years went by, they improved the model, adding some basic guidelines that the schools must accomplish in order to get the computers. They are asked to have the school equipped with solid ground floors, (not earthen floors), toilets (not latrines), classrooms with chairs and desks, a door with a lock, bars on the windows and no leaks on the roofs. So it is their responsibility to get all of this done in order to make sure they can get them using any means: raffles, charity fairs, etc. Inevitably, this has made them raise their level, so maybe they painted one room for the computers but then they get the rest of them painted too. We just ask them that in exchange they just have to fulfill these 5 parameters. As a result the school becomes a nice place, where they can sit on a chair and walk on solid ground floors, when maybe they don’t even have it at home.”

Therefore, it is a perfect circle, a business buys new computers, giving away the old ones to the Foundation, and they handle the recycling and leaving them in good shape. No wonder when the moment comes to hand them out everybody wants to go: “Going to the schools that special day is a heart touching experience, they wait for us as if we were Santa Claus, and we are only carrying 15 computers. The Beauty Pageant Queen will receive us, along with a coffee, tamales, and all the kid want to take pictures with us; it is really moving to see what an impact those 15 computers can make. When they confirm that the blessings really arrive, they are moved and commit to taking care of their own school. Now the parents are asking for computer classes, they want to know what all this fuzz is all about. We are silently crushing the barriers of language, making it possible for the indigenous people to learn a different ‘language’ without losing their roots, remember that we have 33 different dialects in Guatemala!”

Patricia’s family is getting stronger with each challenge, and even two of her children live in the USA, distance doesn’t tear them apart. “We keep ourselves together by helping others, fully committed to the project, but our greatest flaw is asking for help; we have to develop more abilities in order to be able to go on. Now I can talk about the Foundation filled with pride, but before it would be very difficult for me because everything would remind me of Sergio, but all this has fulfilled our expectations in every way and has really gone much further than we had imagined. In the name of truth, we know it is God who wants us to keep on, because with all the problems we have to deal with, He is still by our side.”

  • For more information: http://www.funsepa.org/

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