Why Small Guatemalan Nonprofits matter – the story of Sueños

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Informal workers in Antigua’s central park are invariably indigenous children. In order to support their families, they don’t go to school. Instead, they work selling a variety of items to locals and tourists. They receive support from the small Guatemalan nonprofit, Sueños.

Sueños is one of many small Guatemalan nonprofits. We operate in a bright yellow building in the center of Antigua, less than two blocks from the central park. Inside, children and parents gather daily to participate in classes and activities focused on education and empowerment.

Our name Sueños, or “Dreams” in English, describes our vision for our students and families. We strongly believe in their dreams and their ability to accomplish them.”

Our students are part of an important community in Antigua. They form a group of indigenous families that come from all over Guatemala. The families live in and around Antigua to work as street vendors. Parents and children spend their afternoons and evenings selling ice cream, textiles, and shoe-shines to tourists and locals in Antigua’s central park.

Like many latino towns, Antigua is designed around a central park. Bordering the park is the cathedral, the municipality, banks, and cafes. These are the most important elements for all of those living in and visiting Antigua. The park’s informal workers are a daily reminder to the prosperous, that Guatemala is a place of harsh inequalities, and intricate, ancient culture. 

How Sueños got started

Above, Katie playing with the street vendor children in Antigua’s central park.

Sueños was born from the idea that everyone in Antigua deserves a safe space where they are recognized and represented, especially children. Our connection grew out of the relationships we held with our stakeholders: the children of the street vendor community.

When I moved to Guatemala in 2013, I was introduced to a few children street vendors . At the time, a friend was hoping to coordinate some activities for these children. They wanted to capitalize on the abundance of volunteers in Antigua with various skill sets. I started as a dance teacher teaching latin dance classes to a small group of kids once a week. The classes would take place in a corner of the central park.

Every week I would come to the park and round up kids with my wireless speaker in hand. Often, they would choose the music, the most PG-rated reggaeton we could find, and we would spend an hour or so practicing the basic steps of merengue, salsa, and bachata. One-by-one, students brought their friends and they introduced me to a new family working in the park. 

From Dance Classes to Education Programs

Over time, dance classes turned into educational classes, and our space in the park slowly became more formal. In 2016 a space was lent to us in the government buildings around the park. Then in 2019, we moved into our first home – two small rooms on the second floor of a cafe in central Antigua.

Now, in October 2019, we have spent just two months in our brand new building. It has multiple classrooms and open space where we hope our programs and students will continue to grow. 

Founder Katie (left) coordinating the classes in Antigua´s central park at the beginning.

Students and staff enjoying a snack at their new premises.

This year we are running three programs:

  • Soñadores / Dreamers – an after school program for elementary-aged children
  • Sueños en Acción / Dreams in Action – a life skills and entrepreneurship program for teens
  • Mujeres en Acción / Women in Action – a women’s empowerment program for mothers and teens. 

Our programs are modeled around project-based, culturally-relevant, interdisciplinary education. For example, students may discuss why their family migrated to Antigua from the highlands while practicing their math and reading skills. We believe that education has to be both fun and meaningful for children to learn. We focus on building self esteem, critical thinking and literacy skills. These skills are often overlooked in the public school system and are vitally important for children’s success. We aim for children to complete their education, and beyond that, to form and achieve meaningful long-term goals. We ultimately want them to find a way out of the park and the cycle of poverty.  

A beneficiary family of the Sueños programs.

Why are small Guatemalan nonprofits are so important?

Small Guatemalan nonprofits like ours are important because of the relationships we have with our community. Sueños is so much more than just programming. It is walking through the park and being charged by a group of 5 year olds thinking you are bringing them to a class.

Sueños is stopping to say hello to a parent and having an hour pass as they tell you about something going on in their family. Sueños is creating community and letting every member know that they have a voice, and that we’ll listen to them. 

We look forward to continuing to work with families to help them achieve their dreams, and value that having someone believe in them is the first step on their transformative journey. 

Pionero Philanthropy vets and visits every nonprofit member and is proud to represent Sueños.

Sueños is a shining example where even small a contribution goes a long way in their community.

To find out more about Sueños visit their website HERE

To find out more about Pionero’s nonprofit grassroots nonprofit members, contact us!

By Katie Korsyn
Sueños Founder