I met Yuri in 2016, when Sueños had been running for just a couple months under the name "Camino a la Escuela" (Road to School), and was 100% volunteer run. We had just been given access to an indoor space in the Palacio de los Capitanes, after spending two years working with students outside in the Central Park of Antigua. She was assigned to do her university graduation project with us by my mentor, Denisse Aleman. We met many times at the beginning of that year with a group of her peers to discuss potential projects they could help us with, and decided on writing a curriculum together. Yuri was deeply interested in Sueños' work and later that year came to Antigua from Guatemala City to see the project in action. She quickly became one of our most dedicated volunteers and would be in class with us every week, despite having to travel 3 hours in each direction to get there.
In 2018 Sueños hired staff for the first time, and one of our first staff members was Yuri. Yuri ran the program Sueños en Acción (Dreams in Action), for teens in 2018 and 2019. The program prepared adolescents ages 12-21 in life skills such as sex education, drug prevention, and self-esteem. She used her experiences with the teens to complete the curriculum for the program for her graduation project, and presented this project to Sueños in 2019. That work was approved by the university this year, in 2021, allowing Yuri to graduate with her Licenciatura, or bachelor's degree. We are so proud of this important achievement and the role that Yuri has played in shaping Sueños. In addition to being a past staff member, Yuri is also a founding member of Asociación Sueños, the legal entity that we operate under, and was part of the team that wrote our very first mission and vision statements.
Her words are below:
As children we have many dreams, and as we travel the road it becomes difficult to reach the expected goal. I came to Sueños as a girl full of illusions; my task: to carry out my professional Graduation Project was Camino a la Escuela (later named Sueños) the means to achieve my "sueños". I am so grateful that this space of pure learning was given to me, where I was able to explore affective and emotional skills, connect with a beautiful community that makes you feel like a family, where the protagonists are definitely the children and the lives we touch. My university (Universidad San Carlos) entrusted me to contribute to the country as a professional during my project, but knowing my country and its diversity there are many needs and it is likely that as an individual I cannot change the reality of the country; but if we get together individuals with vision like Katie Korsyn, the Founder and Director of Sueños, and the entire team, volunteers, community members and all supporters, will have a significant impact. I am sure that soon the fruits of this work that began with volunteers will achieve its vision and mission in a short time and we will be celebrating the achievements of those who are today Pequeños Soñadores (Little Dreamers). There are already excellent results because one of the current facilitators, Belmo, started as a member of the program, Sueños an Acción (Dreams in Action); the program to which I was entrusted to carry out a project to prepare teens for new opportunities. Another reason to celebrate is the fact that today more and more members of the community are joining the Sueños team as staff. I know that Sueños will not stop growing and transforming lives, I plan to be around to celebrate their achievements as they accompanied me on this day, my graduation.
Postscript: my first signature under my new title, which does not transform me as a person but does require me to exercise responsibly, in reality "Seño Yuri" from children is more gratifying every time they remember me.
Licda. Yuri Gabriela Merida.
Vice President Kamala Harris’s recent trip to Guatemala and Mexico was framed as a mission to stem migration by addressing root causes. President Biden intends to continue the Obama-era policy of providing aid to improve people’s lives in Central America so that they don’t feel compelled to make the risky, expensive, and illegal journey to the United States. An examination of past policies and present needs reveals that Sueños is well-prepared to be part of the solution.
Sueños directly addresses a root cause of migration: illiteracy. As Luis von Ahn, the Guatemalan-born founder of DuoLingo, recently explained on NPR, “One of the big reasons why people immigrate is just because there's no great job opportunities. But one of the reasons there's no great job opportunities is because there's low levels of education. And it all starts with being able to read and write.” By focusing on literacy, Sueños improves the chances that street vendors’ kids will be able to live with dignity at home rather than fleeing northward.
Sueños is a lean organization that uses all of its funds to further our mission. According to a recent report in the New York Times, the majority of U.S. aid money goes to American companies that end up using much of it for “salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.”
Although Sueños is small, its structure ensures that programming is based on a grassroots understanding of community needs. The Times describes several pricey, poorly planned programs such as constructing outhouses which were “quickly abandoned or torn apart for scrap metal.” Another effort involved creating an app to track local government spending even though “many residents didn’t have smartphones, and they couldn’t afford to pay for the data to use the app even if they did.”
Furthermore, Sueños works with members of the K’iche community. According to a 2021 Brookings Institution report, “In Guatemala, especially, poverty is a major driver of migration. This is particularly acute among indigenous populations, who suffer from higher rates of malnutrition and insufficient access to health care and education. In Guatemala, the exploitation of indigenous groups, including suspected human rights abuses, has exacerbated income inequality.”
Stemming migration is a complex challenge, and a small organization like Sueños cannot eliminate government corruption, end the drug trade, or erase the appeal of the U.S. as a land of opportunity. Sueños can, however, make a positive difference and is well-placed to fulfill the role described in a Vox article: “The best way for the U.S. to help, experts say, is to support the civil society organizations and local groups on the ground that are already working to improve their societies — find the organizations or activists that are doing the right things and that are effective (or have the potential to be) and help them succeed.”
As Sueños applies for grant funding and Friends of Sueños seeks additional support from individual donors, we should highlight how our work in Antigua fits into the bigger picture of the relationship between the United States and Guatemala.
In Asociación Sueños, I work with a specific sector in Guatemala, which I would like to call the "deep" Guatemala. It does not appear in the advertisements, and its crude reality is often hidden. There are so many elements framing this Guatemala, like toxic masculinity (machismo), poverty, migration, violence, and lack of opportunities.
Many of these elements were my reality, a part of my childhood, which is why I identify strongly with the children and adolescents of our organization. I lived through many of these realities: a very macho father, family disintegration, poverty, violence, and of course migration to improve opportunities.
At the beginning of 2019, Sueños moved into our new home - The Sueños Educational Center! The center is located just one block from the central park (where our students and families work) and is on the second floor of a lovely cafe. We have two small classrooms and a small outdoor patio to use for all of our classes.
Amy Cohen taught Sueños' director, Katie Korsyn, 7th and 9th-grade geography and African American history at Masterman, in Philadelphia, PA. The Cohen family has been supporting Sueños for the past year and has had a huge role in establishing Sueños as a nonprofit in both the U.S. and in Guatemala, and in harboring a community of Sueños supporters. Amy Cohen, her husband Michael, her daughter Chloe, and her niece Dylan, visited Sueños in Guatemala this summer for the first time. They attended Spanish classes in the mornings and spent their afternoons with our students and facilitators. Below Amy and Michael discuss some of their experiences with Sueños.
Amy Cohen enseñó a la directora de Sueños, Katie Korsyn, en séptimo y noveno grado, geografia e historia afroamericana en Masterman, en Filadelfia, Pensilvania. La familia Cohen ha apoyado a Sueños durante el último año y tuvo un papel muy importante en el establecimiento de Sueños como una organización sin fines de lucro tanto en los EE. UU. como en Guatemala, y en fomentar una comunidad de apoyo para Sueños. Amy Cohen, su esposo Michael, su hija Chloe y su sobrina Dylan, visitaron Sueños en Guatemala este agosto por primera vez. Asistían a clases de español por las mañanas y pasaban las tardes con nuestros estudiantes y facilitadores. Abajo, Amy y Michael cuentan algunas de sus experiencias con Sueños.
Happy Children's day!
This year we were happy to celebrate children's day with our Second Annual Children's Cultural Festival. Every year, at the end of September, we celebrate both Children's Day and Guatemala's month of independence with this special event. We combine the fun games that characterize Children's Day with the cultural celebrations of September in Guatemala for a day of meaningful fun.
Este año nos alegró celebrar el Día del Niño con nuestro Segundo Anual Festival Cultural para los Niños. Cada año, a fines de septiembre, celebramos el Día del Niño y el mes de Independencia en Guatemala con este evento especial. Combinamos los juegos divertidos que caracterizan el Día del Niño con las celebraciones culturales de septiembre en Guatemala para un día de diversión significativa.
This month, due to a donation of medical supplies from The Great Commission, Sueños was able to provide medical consultations, medicine, vitamins, and glasses to 55 members of our community.
The Great Commission brings American doctors to Guatemala each year with thousands of dollars worth of medicines and treatments. Over the course of a week they distribute medical services and medications free of charge to thousands of patients. This year they decided to donate their remaining medications to Sueños so we could treat the members of our community.
Sunny Reardon is a volunteer from the University of Pennsylvania / Sunny Reardon es una voluntaria de la Universidad de Pensilvania
Last summer I spent six weeks as a volunteer with Sueños, and I don't think I could have possibly had a better experience. My friend Hannah and I had just finished our freshman year of college at the University of Pennsylvania, and we were looking to do something meaningful while still getting the opportunity to travel. When I discovered the organization, I was so excited to be a part of it because I really believed (and still believe!) in what it stands for.
On a daily basis, Hannah and I took one-to-one Spanish classes 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, and twice a week we would meet Katie in the Central Park to gather the children for the class. The most powerful part of this experience was seeing how much the children really benefitted from a structured learning environment. Although the project was still in an unofficial format, with all ages in one class and lessons conducted on a small white board, it was clear how much potential this kind of initiative has.
Since we left, Katie has been able to grow the program immensely, and I know that as Sueños continues to grow, the greater the impact will be on the education and lives of the children Katie works with. I am so proud of this organization which is now officially a non-profit (!) and I cannot wait to see in which direction it goes.
El verano pasado pasé seis semanas como voluntaria con Sueños, y no creo que podría haber tenido una mejor experiencia. Mi amiga Hannah y yo acabábamos de terminar el primer año de la universidad en la Universidad de Pensilvania, y estábamos buscando hacer algo significativo sin dejar de tener la oportunidad de viajar. Cuando descubrí la organización, estaba tan emocionado de ser parte de ella porque realmente creía (¡y sigo creyendo!) en lo que representa.
Todos los días, Hannah y yo tomábamos clases de español de cuatro horas, y dos veces a la semana nos reuníamos con Katie en el Central Park para reunir a los niños para la clase. La parte más poderosa de esta experiencia fue ver cuánto se beneficiaron realmente los niños de un entorno de aprendizaje estructurado. Aunque el proyecto todavía estaba en un formato no oficial, con todas las edades en una clase y las lecciones conducidas en una pequeña pizarra, estaba claro cuánto potencial tiene este tipo de iniciativa.
Desde que nos fuimos, Katie ha podido hacer expandir el programa inmensamente, y sé que a medida que Sueños continúe creciendo, mayor será el impacto en la educación y la vida de los niños con los que trabajan. Estoy muy orgulloso de esta organización que ahora oficialmente es una asociación civil en Guatemala (!) Y no puedo esperar para ver en qué dirección va.
Alex es un chico de 18 años, lustra zapatos, no sabe leer ni escribir, pero eso no le impide que pueda imaginar un mejor futuro. Asiste a nuestra clase todas las semanas, acompañado de su hija pequeña, de 3 años. / Alex is an 18-year-old boy, he shines shoes for a living, and can not read or write, but that does not stop him from imagining a better future. He attends our class every week, accompanied by his 3-year-old daughter.
Byron is the educational facilitator for "Sueños en Acción" and "Mujeres en Acción". / Byron es el facilitador educativo para "Sueños en Acción" and "Mujeres en Acción".
The project Sueños was built from the bottom up, and I like to think that I grew up with it, both professionally and personally. It was chance: I came, I grew and I stayed.
I studied to be a high school teacher and I always liked education, however, I knew little about the development of the national education system and did not want to practice. I'm now a psychologist, and I've always liked working in the area of social projects, more on the street and less in the office.
Here I found both; the opportunity to teach, with a humanitarian model, personalized and comprehensive. And also to be able to create new ways of thinking to break with the circles that have tied us to an inefficient system.