Pencils Of Promise

Source: Pencils of Promise.

Last winter's Motley Fool Foolanthropy campaign blasted through fundraising goals, providing more than $125,000 to Pencils of Promise (PoP). The organization provides education for children in countries where it's needed the most, and with the help of The Motley Fool's generous community, it funded five schools in remote Guatemalan communities.

We're at it again with a new Back to School campaign that is currently active and growing. If you're on the fence about donating, take a look at the following account of eye-opening educational impact.

Pencils of Promise invited eight Motley Fool employees and members to journey to Guatemala on an intense trip to see exactly what this remarkable organization does on a daily basis. The Motley Fool's mission is to help the world invest better, and helping organizations like Pencils of Promise is another route to accomplishing that mission.

Motley Fool member Brian Withers has shared his detailed, day-by-day account of this moving trip with our Motley Fool members, and we'd like to share that more widely. Read on to get his summary of this fact-finding trip and see how donors' funds are used on the ground and how this organization helps children across the globe.

Embarking on the Guatemalan adventure
PoP invited a small group of Fools to Guatemala to see their work and learn more about how PoP operates. I was so excited to be picked as one of the eight Fools invited on the trip. Here's a little bit about the trip and my experiences.

During the flight, I was able to read Adam Braun's book The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change from cover to cover, and I finished just as we were landing. It was an incredibly awesome book! Adam knows how to tell a great and impactful story and he is an amazing leader of an amazing organization. This book will be on my Christmas giving list for friends, colleagues, and relatives this year.

Children

Schoolchildren at a newly completed school in Patzite Centro. Photo: Anna Sergeant.

Friday, June 20
After breakfast, into the van! We rode for about an hour and a half into very rural Guatemala, then we had to stop and get out of the van into two pickup trucks. The crazy ones (myself included) got in the back and held on to the rails that were attached especially for passengers. Everyone else got into the second row of the PoP pickup truck.

Truckride

The truck ride to the remote school under construction in the Patzite Costa and Patzite Centro regions. Photo: Brian Withers.

We drove for another 30 minutes over what could barely be called a road. Then we arrived at the PoP school in Patzite Centro. It was a teary moment when the kids greeted us in the Mayan language. I felt very special at this point and would love somehow to share that feeling with all of the Fools who made building five schools in Guatemala a reality. We spent some time in the classroom, and the director of the area schools talked with us about how appreciative he and the community are for our generosity and PoP.

Then we got to participate in the lesson for the day. This is a PoP day where the "wash" team comes in and gives a lesson in hand washing. The reason that PoP does this is that waterborne illnesses keep kids from attending school.

Wash

The WASH lesson teaches hygiene in order to reduce the possibility of illness, which can interrupt education. Photo: Anna Sergeant.

We all had the chance to "practice" our hand washing before the local moms served us a special lunch of a type of chicken soup with fresh, warm tortillas. We also had a type of coconut drink that was incredibly sweet, so most of us were unable to drink it.

On the way back, we stopped at one of the schools that was built with the money that the Fool gave. It was another great moment to feel special and get a little teary-eyed. PoP's Susie Harrison reminded us that they needed to have a dedication ceremony, but first had to know what the plaque on the school should say. It's a wonderful touch that every PoP school has a plaque for the people who helped build it.

We then traveled back to the PoP Guatemala central office in Xela, where we met some of the PoP staff and talked about what they did. There are 35 PoP employees in Guatemala, and only four of them are from outside the country. Guatemala Director Jesse Schauben is actively interviewing for a local to take over this job in the next six months.

Some New York City PoP headquarters staff were present, on assignment to perform what PoP calls monitoring and evaluation, or M&E.

PoP measures just about everything from attendance rates to the number of kids moving on to 7th grade (PoP schools are only for elementary students) and many other stats. PoP is very unique in how it engages the community and doesn't leave when the school is complete. Jesse tells every community in the dedication ceremony for a new school that this is just the beginning, not the end. These M&E numbers help PoP and the community ensure their school will be on the path where the community can be self-sustaining over time.

We got to share some of our stories, and Motley Fool member Kent Buell talked about how his donation was "just a click," but in seeing the schools and communities, it was so much more than that.

Saturday, June 21
Back in the van!

We don't need to ride in the pickup this time, but we were told to wear clothes that we didn't mind getting dirty. When we arrived at the community in the Boca Costa region, the community was waiting for us. We were greeted with music from the schoolchildren and had empty seats in the outside auditorium-like area. There were a number of speakers who thanked us (in Spanish), and Jesse gave his "it's only the beginning" speech, which earned applause.

There was a girl all dressed up in a beautiful costume who sang, and then was joined by a number of other small children who dressed up in other costumes and put on a musical for us. It was incredibly moving that the community did this entirely on their own as a celebration of us! The Fools and I were incredibly moved.

Dancing

Cultural presentation at construction site at San Bartolo Mixpillo. Photo: Anna Sergeant.

We then got to see the school that was under construction, and we helped move cement to finish the walkway in front. I really enjoyed being a small part of the construction process. We spent some time talking with the community leaders and the community provided us with some fruit after we had finished our part of the construction. As we drove away, I saw the people who were doing the construction back at the building process.

Cement

Helping cement the foundations at San Bartolo Mixpilla school site. Photo: Tamsin Green.

Before PoP builds a school in a community, it has to get a commitment from the community to provide 10% to 20% of the "cost" of the school in building materials and/or labor. This engages the community early on in the process. Four men and four women from the community are chosen to be on the advisory board for the school, to make decisions for the community. This is a practice that has worked over and over again, as PoP has built 120 schools in Guatemala.

Last Foolish thoughts
PoP is an amazing organization. The Motley Fool and the Foolish community's donations have made a huge difference in children's lives and remote communities in Guatemala. I was incredibly proud to represent The Motley Fool, a fantastic organization, which makes helping others a priority and part of the yearly schedule.

Check out The Motley Fool Back to School donation page, which has been on fire with active matching and efforts by Fool members like Brian, John Sergeant and Mike Huber, as well as the generosity of The Motley Fool community. In fact, it has achieved our original fundraising goal. However, it's still an active campaign that could become another record-breaker like last winter's Foolanthropy campaign for PoP, and it could provide even more scholarships to needy but eager and motivated students in places like Guatemala. Please join us in boosting educational opportunities for young people across the world.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.