Education Equals Empowerment

Orphanage prepares children to change their country's future

By Caitlan and Luke Smith

Above, a student at the Casa Para Los Niños Aleluya draws a picture for Luke Smith.
The orphanage provides education for children through high school.

Casa Para Los Niños Aleluya (CPNA) is located just outside the city limits of Antigua, one of the richest cities in all of Guatemala.

The orphanage, which appears as one giant structure from outside its security walls, houses numerous buildings: a school, cafeteria, dental and health clinic, and 350 children. Our guide and worker at CPNA, Jamie Stewart, showed us the complexity of the orphanage.

Casa Para Los Niños Aleluya began as an orphanage caring for children of all ages. Jamie very simply explained how the children came to the orphanage, saying, "Every kid’s story is different … some parents drop off their children because they are too poor to take care of them; some are court ordered here and so on."

Eventually the orphanage realized they could truly help these children by providing them with an education, hopefully better than that of typical public schools.

Upon entering the elementary school area of the orphanage, we could hear the squeals of children playing and giggling. The principal of the school, Victor, spoke with me briefly about the quality of education he tries to provide to the children. Victor recruits Gautemalan teachers who have university degrees or who are in the process of obtaining a degree. Contrary to the norm, where a Guatemalan can become a teacher with a simple high school diploma, Victor sees those with college degrees as better suited for the job, no matter their subject field.

Although we only visited the elementary school, CPNA also has a junior high and high school program. Victor and Jamie also stated that the staff of the orphanage keeps track of all the students’ grades to make sure they are doing their homework and understanding the concepts; if students begin to fall behind, they must attend a study hall to receive help with their assignments.

As is common in most of Guatemala, students are behind in school according to US standards, and the case is no different within the orphanage.

According to Stewart, because many of the students enter the orphanage with little education, "We will have a 12-year-old in the first grade, but we still work with them."

It is the belief of CPNA that these children have the ability to learn even though they are stereotyped to fail.

As at many other schools in Guatemala, students attend school for half a day. Although this is different from the American education system, it works well since these kids have a heavy homework load, much more than is assigned in Guatemalan public schools.

Stewart said that the dining hall, when not in use, is a place for the older students to tutor the younger ones.

Even children like this Mayan girl, who has a family to support
her, rely on support from NGO's to provide supplies and
healthcare to help them succeed in school.

Once students complete their high school degrees, they are then encouraged to attend university. With its numerous donations, CPNA pays, either in part or full, for each student’s tuition and books. In conjunction with paying for university expenses, CPNA is also in the process of building a new structure to house their college students, giving them a place separate from the orphanage but still on campus to provide them with more freedom than the younger students.

How does an orphanage manage 350 children, a complete school system and upkeep of numerous buildings? Stewart said that around 1,200 volunteers, from all corners of the globe, come to CPNA every year to help, clean and build.

On top of this incredible figure, all of CPNA’s funding comes from private donors, both Guatemalan and international, instead of the federal government.

Stewart also said that many of the students who grew up there come back to help out new generations to learn and persevere against what some would say is an endless cycle of poverty.

Casa Para Los Niños Aleluya is much more than a simple orphanage, it is a place for children to become educated adults and change the future of Guatemala.