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Guatemala Literacy Project - Part I

by Joni Ellis


Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP) is an initiative to provide greatly needed textbooks, teacher training and computer centers to underprivileged children in Guatemala. The GLP has been supported by over 400 Rotary Clubs in 60 plus Districts.  "It's not just about giving books away.  It's about empowering the local people to take charge of their future.  The idea that Rotary buys the first set of textbooks, then the parents buy the next, is a perfect model of a sustainable and community-driven Rotary project," said Jeff McElhattan of the Rotary Club of Summit County, a participant on the 2013 GLP project tour.

Sustainability is key. Every program participant "rents" four books for a small fee (about $1.50 a month). All fees collected go into a fund managed by Rotary's partner organization, Cooperative for Education (CoEd). After five years, enough money has accrued to replace the books. Once the GLP makes the initial investment, each Textbook Program becomes 100% self-sustaining. The GLP customizes the revolving fund to suit each community's unique circumstances, with impressive results: 96% of schools that have had a Textbook Program for more than five years have renewed their books through the revolving fund. (About a third have even replaced their books more than once!) The same model is used in the Computer Program.

Since 1998, the GLPs programs have been brought to over 220 impoverished rural communities.  There are over 25,000 students using textbooks at 185 schools.  The GLP has also founded 54 self-funding computer centers, 25 literacy programs, and 49 school libraries.  The project already serves 10% of the country's neediest secondary schools and is working with the goal of ensuring that no child in Guatemala grows up without the gift of both traditional and technological literacy.


Rural Guatemala

In developing countries like Guatemala much of the population lives in poverty with little access to adequate jobs, medical care, and housing.  Education offers the best hope for these countries to advance and to sustain that advancement into the future. 

As in most countries, there is already an educational system in Guatemala basic infrastructures are in place such as school buildings, desks, and teachers.  However, the quality of education is very poor.  The greatest reason for this is the lack of textbooks and other learning materials.  Often as much as 80% of each class period is wasted copying text and diagrams from the blackboard information which could be provided much more efficiently in textbooks.

Furthermore, many students fail to develop proper study skills because they have no books to take home for further reading and investigation.  These factors result in low enthusiasm, poor performance, and high dropout rates.

GLP programs serve rural Guatemala, mainly in the country's Central and Western Highlands.  Program regions are inhabited primarily by indigenous Mayan Indians and marked by systemic poverty, illiteracy, and inequality.  The school systems in these communities are under-resourced and typically neglected by government support structures. 

Often the parents cannot afford to have their children away from work in the fields where they contribute to the family's small income.  Others may be skeptical about the value of education having had no education themselves.   Other parents simply cannot afford the cost of school or may have to choose which child they can send.

At a 2013 textbook inauguration, a junior-high student spoke before a crowd of parents, educators, community members and Rotarians, expressing his gratitude: "Thank you to our parents for allowing us time out of the fields to study.  Thank you, Rotary, for our textbooks." 

"An indirect benefit is that our daughters will not be on the street.   God bless you 100 times over for your help." - Parent of a junior high student


Participating in a GLP Tour

Open to members of Rotary International, the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP) Tour offers a week of celebrations and opportunities to interact with the children and families served by the GLP and the not-for-profit Cooperative for Education (CoEd).  The partnership with CoEd and Rotary is highlighted by sharing the experience with over 30 Rotarians from various clubs around the United States, Canada and Guatemala.

On the annual trip, this year starting on January 31, 2014, we deliver greatly needed books and inaugurate brand-new computer centers and literacy programs at impoverished Guatemalan schools.  We learn about Guatemalan history and culture, as well as the challenges faced by people in the developing world, all while sharing in Rotary fellowship.

"My experiences in Guatemala have far exceeded my expectations.  One gentleman, I don't know if he was a father or grandfather, came up to me after the textbook re-inauguration ceremony.  Maybe because I'm a grandmother, but it seemed he selected me from our group.  I don't speak Spanish, and he didn't speak English yet we exchanged more than words ever could.  With tears in his eyes, he presented me with a brightly wrapped package, including a bow which must have cost far more than he could afford.  Inside was a beautiful hand-woven scarf.  I don't know who made it - likely his wife or daughter.   A textbook re-inauguration means the parents have purchased the set of textbooks after our Rotary clubs purchased the first set 5 years ago (beautiful sustainability).  This grandfather saw what education had done for his grandchildren.  The scarf was his way of thanking us, of thanking Rotary.  It was one of my most memorable moments." Mary Anne Johnston, Rotary Club of Summit County

"I will be joining the Rotary GLP tour this January for my 3rd time.  Other Rotarians have participated in the Guatemala trip 7, 8, 9 times or more.  For some Rotarians it will be their first time.  Volunteering for the GLP has given me the opportunity for international service in a way that fits into my busy life.  I can serve on a Rotary project, with Rotarians, on a meaningful, impactful, community-driven project.  The need is great and the Rotary fellowship superb.  The GLP will be giving Guatemala children the gift of education for a long time to come and I plan to be a part of it." Joni Ellis, Rotary Club of Summit County




  • Joni Ellis is a member and Past President of the Rotary Club of Summit County. Joni is also on the board of the Guatemala Literacy Project Advisory Board.
  • The Rotary Club of Summit County, Colorado, USA is the lead club on Rotary International Global Grant 1412387 poised to be submitted in December 2013.
  • Mary Anne Johnston, Rotary Club of Summit County Community Service Director and incredible Summit County Literacy Chair, is the project champion. 
  • The GLP is one of many literacy initiatives that Mary Anne has introduced in the past few years.

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