by Richard N. Ely

My recent trip to the western highlands of Guatemala left me amazed by the changes that have been made by one man’s vision and by the supporters of a small but dedicated organization, Pura Vida Ministries. 

In October, 2011 Pura Vida scholarship sponsors Jana, Ray, John, and I traveled to see our sponsored students graduate from twelfth grade– a significant accomplishment in the mountains of rural Guatemala.  We also planned to tour the nearly completed school funded by Pura Vida, visit other students that we sponsored, interview potential new scholarship recipients, and meet with Pura Vida in-country staff.  While I returned with a picture of how much Pura Vida has physically accomplished since starting in 2002, more importantly, I saw the relationships that have been built between people from two distant and diverse countries and cultures.

Jana visiting with the family of her sponsored student

Jana visiting with the family of her sponsored student

We attended the very first 12th grade graduation of the new John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiche.  The three-story, 12-grade school is being constructed with funds provided by the church groups and individuals who have confidently and generously supported Pura Vida’s primary mission of helping others through education. We shared the excitement of 8 young people – all of them Pura Vida scholarship recipients – as they reached a milestone that is very rare among the indigenous people of the small mountain villages where Pura Vida works. 

At the graduation we saw bright-eyed, confident, young people – ones who now have the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty that traps so many Guatemalan children.  They now have the education to find good jobs and to contribute positively to their communities and their country.  With Pura Vida’s continued scholarship assistance, some will go on to college and could return as business leaders, educators, ministers, physicians, or government leaders.

12-grade graduates

12-grade graduates

Words can’t really convey the sense of excitement, anticipation, pride, and gratitude expressed by the graduates and especially by their family members, many of whom have little or no education and may even be unable to read and write.  Many were the words of thanks, handshakes, hugs, and even tears of joy offered by family members to their sponsors and to Mark and Lesly. 

Cesar with his family

Cesar with his family

The future promises many more graduations with the completion in January, 2012 of the John Wesley School.  The school will have the capacity to educate hundreds of children that are consistently overlooked by the public school system, specifically: children living in extreme poverty, children of poor rural pastors, and children with mental or physical handicaps.

So much has changed since I first went to Guatemala in 1999 with Mark to help build a new orphanage in Lemoa so the two dozen or so children could be moved out of the ramshackle facility in Santa Cruz.  What I saw on this trip was a beautiful new school in place of the old orphanage, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes.  Instead of ragamuffin kids with hand-me-down clothes, dirty faces and runny noses, living in a decaying, barely sanitary orphanage there are now hundreds of bright, healthy children in neat clean school uniforms.

Students at the John Wesley School

Students at the John Wesley School

Pura Vida scholarship sponsors and financial supporters are making a difference every day for the children of rural Guatemala.  I have seen firsthand the fruits of their gifts and their labors.  Sitting next to me on the airplane coming home was a young Guatemalan businessman.  He owned modern vegetable processing plants and exported broccoli and other food products to the U.S.  When he heard what Pura Vida was doing in his country he shook my hand and said “please thank your people for what they are doing for my countrymen”.  Thanks to all of you who are “Pura Vida people”!

Richard with his sponsored student Alejandra

Richard with his sponsored student Alejandra

Richard Ely has been a member of the Pura Vida board of directors since 2002.