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Getting to Grips with Literacy in Guatemala

The Guatemala Literacy Project is a key Rotary initiative, reaching out to clubs worldwide.John Stanton, International and Foundation Chair with the Rotary Club of Kenilworth, explains why his club got involved.

Back in 1996, at the end of a long civil war, American brothers Jeff and Joe Berninger set about trying to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala.

With a grant from a former employer, they brought books with them, helped a school, La Labor, to set up a system where students would rent books for a small fee each year.

This was the project’s very first revolving fund. Once enough money had accumulated, the school could buy brand new textbooks with no further investment needed from sponsors, making the programme 100% sustainable.

Initially, the brothers involved a Rotary club in Wyoming. Since then, the project and Rotary have grown as a partnership to become the Guatemala Literacy Project.

In 1997, the Berningers set up the Cooperative for Education, a non-profit organisation seeking financial support from corporations, foundations and individuals.

“Nearly 500 Rotary clubs in seven countries have become involved,supporting over 170,000 studentsin its 21-year history.”

This also provides all administrative and marketing services to the Literacy Project at no cost to Rotary funds.

And now, thanks to a long-standing partnership with Rotary clubs, this sustainable model for breaking the cycle of poverty through education has grown strongly.

Over the years, the textbook programme has branched out into computer centres, and a culture of reading programmes, which have fostered improved literacy while developing a love of reading.

With support from many sources over the years, that single seed, the textbook programme at La Labor, has grown substantially helping vital educational programmes reach many thousands of Guatemalan children.

To date, nearly 500 Rotary clubs and numerous districts in seven countries have become involved in a project which is serving 48,000 students this year, and has supported over 170,000 in its 21-year history.

The Guatemala Literacy Project is the largest literacy and education global grant in Rotary.

It was showcased as outstanding at the recent Atlanta Convention and serves as an excellent example of the power of international Rotary.

Nearly 500 Rotary clubs across the world have supported the project and provided textbooks for children

In 2016/17, 118 clubs from 25 districts in seven countries, combined with The Rotary Foundation and District Designated Funds to raise $435,583 (£333,831) – this was Rotary crowdfunding at its best!

At the Rotary Club of Kenilworth, we first heard about the Guatemala Literacy Project in 2014.

I travelled to Guatemala to see it in action and was so impressed that I persuaded my club to donate and then set about bringing this project to the attention of other clubs.

More than $51,000 (£39,100) was raised last year in the UK, including Rotary Foundation support, and now a new global grant is under way with a target of $500,000 (£383,200).

The global grant closes at the end of December, hopefully for approval by May next year.

This is a worthwhile project which has proved that it can dramatically change lives forever, helping to reduce poverty, illiteracy and inequality.

  •  First published in Rotary, the official magazine of Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland. Find out more at

  • Find out more about the Guatemala Literacy Project on their website:

  • The opinions expressed in this Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff

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