In the Beginning was the Idea -- 1973-1975
In the summer of 1973 the small worship group of the Society of Friends in Guatemala decided to start a scholarship program for very poor students. It was a modest beginning, and ten families pledged $10 a month to cover the cost. A young man in an orphanage was chosen to study computer programming, and when he graduated, three more students from the orphanage were accepted, as well as some students from a cooperative in San Juan. One of the latter graduated as a nurse and at the present time, 23 years later, works with the program as a representative from her area.
In 1975 the program decided to help a Catholic (Maryknoll) group in the western part of the country in a community hygiene project, and accepted a Nicaraguan medical student of the Miskito ethnic group, whose education was interrupted by the revolution which eventually overthrew the Somoza dictatorship there. Today he is a doctor in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.
The Earthquake -- February 1976
This most destructive earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere brought with it big changes in the course of the program. The day following the quake, members of the committee went to San Juan, where the students from the cooperative lived, with food, water, and clothing, and decided to use all available funds from the scholarship program to help the victims there. Tom and Trudie Hunt had worked in Quaker relief efforts in Germany following World War II, so they had experience and international contacts for this type of work. Immediately they sent out requests for help.
They found an especially sad situation in San Juan, where landlords did not want to rebuild houses, and former renters had no hope of housing. The committee decided to buy land and build houses for 64 of these families. A great deal of help came from German Friends and to this day the neighborhood is called German Colony. (By chance, reconstruction of all of San Juan was the responsibility of the German Red Cross! ) The agreement with the former renters was that they would repay half the cost of their homes and the refunds would be used for scholarships, with preference for students from San Juan.
With the good experience of the San Juan agreement, which maintained many students for ten years, the committee decided to change the university scholarships into repayable loans, the high school scholarships into half-loan, half-scholarship, while the primary and middle school level remained a complete scholarship. Little by little the policy changed toward technical and university level entirely.
Violent Clouds on the Horizon -- 1977-1979
Because of the international donations after the earthquake, the program grew greatly. There were more funds for more students. From 1975 to 1979 the number of students increased from 8 to 24. In addition there were small grants to 30 students in an all-indigenous normal school and ten students in student housing projects. The students in the program elected student leaders to help the committee plan two conferences in 1979--just as the long smoldering civil war was flaring up.
At the second conference, the student president handed out cartoon fliers to all the students at the conference. In the name of ¨The Friends¨ it called for armed conflict against the army, government and the wealthy oligarchy. Not only was this scandalous because of the Quaker commitment to non-violence, it was also very dangerous. In the following tense and heated meetings between the committee and the student leaders, one Quaker resigned and the student leadership dissolved itself. For some time the entire program was in peril.
The Difficult Years -- 1980-1984
During these years of genocide, coups d`etat and total military dictatorship the activities of the program were severely limited. Because travel was impossible outside the capital, especially in the Mayan areas of the western highlands, students could not leave the city even during summer vacation. Although donations remained high and students began to repay loans, contact with other parts of the country was very limited, so the student population was concentrated mostly in the capital. We cannot begin to describe the suffering, fear and uncertainty of this period, but in spite of it all the program survived. In 1984 there were 53 students in technical and university programs, ten more than in 1983.
During this period an anonymous donor gave materials to build a school in a rural area. The Hunts were unable to attend the opening because of a massacre that happened along the highway on their way to the ceremony.
It was during this time that the personnel changed considerably, as many of the founders left the country, leaving only Tom and Trudie Hunt. After quitting her job as a college librarian, Trudie devoted all her time to the program, as Tom had already been doing, and the administration changed from a group to a couple. Because of the situation at that time, in many ways it worked better in the hands of fewer people--but always with the worry that it all might end at any moment.
Better Times -- 1985-1996
In April 1985 the conferences were re-initiated with the first one held in a suburb of Guatemala City. Its theme was: "Higher Education: Is it Worth It?" With few exceptions the conferences have continued to this day. In 1988 the committee organized the first student excursion, paying for special buses to take students to an archeological site on the south coast. The guide was Dr. Fred Bové, who also acted as guide during many other excursions until 1996.
Also in 1988 "El Boletín," a newsletter to former students, appeared for the first time. At present it is mailed three times a year. The "Update" also began that year, which has continued to the present as a means to keep friends and donors abreast of events in Guatemala in general and the program specifically.
During the `80s the Hunts were helped by a North American, Frank Fairchild, who worked in Guatemala for US AID and volunteered his time to the program. The Hunts could see that the program had grown greatly, along with the work involved. Because they were getting older, they needed to plan for their retirement from the program. It was decided that Frank Fairchild would continue their work after he retired from government service. The day he returned to Guatemala to begin his volunteer work, he mysteriously disappeared. After months of investigation, his body was found in Mexico. The cause of his death is still unknown. This tragedy was a heavy blow to his family, friends, the Hunts and the future of the program. With the help of other members of the Guatemala Meeting , Friends in the United States, and the efforts of the Hunts the program continued.
In 1992 Loren Lacelle, a retired teacher from California, began to help the Hunts as well. Because of changes in the U.S. tax laws it became obvious during 1994-1995 that changes were needed in the way the program was administered. Funding had been handled through Orange Grove and Redwood Forest Meetings in California, and for years the help of Helen Perkins in Santa Rosa had been absolutely essential. Helen, the Hunts and Loren began to investigate ways to make the program more legally sound and financially secure. In September 1995, the program was put under the joint care of Guatemala Monthly Meeting and Redwood Forest Meeting. Guatemala Monthly Meeting continuing continued its administrative responsibility for the program and Redwood Forest Meeting assuming assumed financial responsibility.
The New Administration -- 1996 to the present
In May 1996, Tom Hunt died in Guatemala and two months later Trudie moved to Friends House in Santa Rosa and joined the Redwood Forest Committee of the Guatemala program. Loren Lacelle immediately formed an administrative committee to finish the 1996 school year and begin 1997. The initial committee consisted of Loren, Martha Dugan and Mary Thompson (meeting members), Miguel Angel Costop, Manuel Romero (who had helped Loren with program details), and Ramille Gonzolez (consultant who administered her own scholarship program).
The committee initially continued the same policies, rules and goals as before, while slowly making appropriate changes. Most important of these were: (1) the direct delivery of checks to avoid losses in the mail and (2) the increase of funds for special needs of students. For several years, a committee of former students served as representatives in their towns, helping publicize the program and encourage appropriate students to apply.
In the years that followed, the program hired and trained several former students and, over time, increased their responsibilities. In 2005, Miguel Angel became Program Director. Guatemala Monthly Meeting oversight was provided by Loren and Martha (in-country) and Mary Thompson as an out of country consultant. Currently the office staff, Jaime Torres and Karina Sic, also former PROGRESA scholarship recipients, administer the program under Miguel̈́'s direction.
In mid 2006, Loren initiated an effort to determine if the program might gain legal status in Guatemala while remaining under the administrative oversight of Guatemala Friends Monthly Meeting. By the end of 2007 the program became a legal association in Guatemala, with a functional board of directors, the majority of whom are Quakers. This allows the program to be tax deductible for donations within Guatemala too. The new official name for our program in Guatemala is: Asociación Programa Estudiantil de los Amigos Cuáqueros, which can be abbreviated as PROGRESA.
In October 2012 Loren passed away. Martha continues to work with the program directly as a volunteer, assisting program operations, and providing the interface between the program administration and Guatemala Friends Monthly Meeting. Martha is also a member of the PROGRESA board of directors that has expanded to include Quakers from other parts of the United States who have become involved and wish to support the program.
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