Georgetown citizens support education in Guatemala
An excited crowd of Q’eqchi’, an indigenous people in the Rio Dulce region of Guatemala, gathered around a tin-roofed, concrete building decorated with balloons last January. Many had traveled for by boat and on foot down muddy jungle paths to arrive in this tiny village. They came to share a celebration meal in honor of a recently finished school building. At the pinnacle of the celebration, a tall American, Ryan Eckert, presented the village leaders with the keys to the building that would house the first junior high school within walking distance of nearby villages.
The fathers from the surrounding eleven villages built the school with Eckert’s help to offer their children an opportunity to continue their education. Previously, families had to send their children to another region, paying for travel, room, board, and tuition—expenses many families couldn’t afford—in order to provide them with education past sixth grade.
“Most of the adults in attendance never even had the opportunity to finish elementary school,” Eckert says. “Now, their children will have the chance to study through junior high near their own homes.”
Eckert is the founder of Hope for the Rio Dulce, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes educational, social, and economic development of Q’eqchi’ villages. Eckert founded the organization four years ago when a missionary friend contacted him unexpectedly to tell him she was retiring and to ask him to take over her ministry.
Eckert works full-time but devotes nights and weekends to working on projects for Hope for the Rio Dulce. He keeps in contact with village leaders weekly by phone and visits the area several times a year.
“I help because the people need our help,” Eckert says. “I feel a connection to the people and am inspired by their struggle for a better life. It’s an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world. A lot of people dream about doing something in their lives but never get around to it. For whatever reason, I was presented with the opportunity to help people in Guatemala and decided I would give it a shot.”
The Q’eqchi’ are often overlooked and discriminated against because of complicated racial divisions. Most villagers live in dirt-floored huts with no electricity and have few clean water sources, very little government help, and limited educational support. Hope for the Rio Dulce promotes equality for the Q’eqchi’ by developing projects that foster ecotourism, provide clean water, promote sustainability, and expand education.
Members of Hope for the Rio Dulce infuse every project with a strong belief in community and Christian faith. Many of the several hundred donors hail from St. Helen Catholic Church in Georgetown.
“I think the members of Hope for the Rio Dulce would consider themselves missionaries,” Eckert says. “Everyone has a personal motivation, but whether they have gone to Guatemala or donated for a project, they did it for a reason—to bring a little bit of love and hope to people in need.”
For more information about Hope for the Rio Dulce, visit www.hopefortheriodulce.com.