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May 23, 2013

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May 23, 2013

I was in Guatemala in May of this year - the latest in many trips there over the past 9 years. During that time, I have been involved in 2 humanitarian projects and been exposed to several others. As a result, I have become convinced that one of the keys to helping the people of the rural areas (and in particular, the people from an indigenous background) is education. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in these areas knows that far too often, families cannot afford to have their children attend school past the sixth grade and sometimes not even that long. A friend (with similar experiences) had discovered Avivara through their website, told me about it and we were both quite interested. Based on information from the website, we felt that Avivara was a good project with the right intentions, very transparent in respect to their financial affairs, and with sustainable goals.

I contacted Gary (Avivara’s Executive Director) some time prior to my trip and he indicated he would be pleased to meet with me when I was in the Antigua area. I was travelling with my grand-daughter (a university student studying to become an art therapist) and called Gary from Antigua expecting to meet with him for a brief discussion. Much to our delight, he offered to pick us up and take us to some of the locations where Avivara is active. He and his wife Ann arrived early in the morning at the house where we were staying and off we went. After a stop to pick up Gustavo (who is the Guatemalan Project Director for Avivara) we were off to three of the rural villages to visit the schools there.

At the schools, we met the Directors (Principals) and several teachers, and saw some of the direct results of Avivara's impact. One initiative that struck me as unique was seeing a large banner on several of the school walls with that individual school's mission statement. I think it's very unlikely that the most of the schools would have thought of doing this without the urging and guidance of Avivara. What a great way to get the school staff focused on what they hope to accomplish with their students. Gary also spoke of sponsoring a forum at the end of each year where all the directors get together and compare notes. At this meeting, they are encouraged to examine their accomplishments over the past year and to set goals for the future. I can imagine how thankful the directors must be for this opportunity.

We spent most of the day with Gary, Ann and Gustavo and talked a lot about their experiences, successes, stumbles, lessons learned, etc. We were also able to witness first-hand how they were welcomed with genuine warmth and respect at the schools we visited and the obvious physical results of Avivara’s involvement with those schools (improved facilities, computer classrooms, etc.)

My impression after a day with the project is that Gary, Ann and Gustavo have taken the time and done the research (often at great personal sacrifice and hardship) to learn what the communities need and (more importantly) want. Then they have worked with the community to provide it. Bottom line - a great project, very well done! I have no hesitation recommending Avivara to anyone looking for a way to help those less fortunate.

Bob Goodwin

If you have any questions, you can contact me at senorskipper@hotmail.com.

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Will you volunteer or donate to this organization?

Definitely

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

A lot

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2013

May 16, 2013

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1 previous review
August 1, 2010

When I first traveled to Guatemala to volunteer, I expected to stay for three months. Struck by the natural beauty of the country and the warmth and generosity of the people, as well as the tremendous... more

May 16, 2013

Gary, Ann, and Gustavo's enthusiasm for sharing their passion is evident; they care tremendously about their students, scholarship families, and teacher colleagues. Their strength is in the personal relationships that their small size and deep, patient connections allow. For instance, they have seen Yalu school through a change of director and various upheavals now, providing support throughout to help students' education in various ways. No one said it would be easy, but they do a great job. Social justice takes time.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Help spread the word!

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Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Some

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2013

August 1, 2010

When I first traveled to Guatemala to volunteer, I expected to stay for three months. Struck by the natural beauty of the country and the warmth and generosity of the people, as well as the tremendous need, I found that three months was wildly insufficient to grow my understanding of this special place and establish the bonds of relationship that would allow me to function effectively as a volunteer. I called my boss at home and told her I wouldn't be returning within the year. Since that year, I have returned annually for a couple months each time, with plans to continue, renewing relationships forged over that first year, and getting to take advantage of Avivara's permanent presence. Ann and Gustavo's daily travels to the communities with which they work have built a strong a dynamic network of educators and students benefiting from resources to which they would not otherwise have access. I have seen a common pitfall among nonprofits - the imposition of external goals and worldviews on the people being "helped." Avivara's philosophy of service strives to avoid this. I have seen Gustavo and Ann facilitate many meetings with school staff or scholarship students, providing a platform for the interchange of ideas and inspiration among staff members, or the mutual support of high schoolers struggling through the same challenges of long walks and bus rides, homework, and the competing pulls of rural home and the new urban community. Sharing stories that otherwise would have gone unspoken, people gain strength and build community to help them through their challenges. I am proud and pleased to work with an organization that operates in this way. I have gotten to watch four of my shy English students from the town of La Trinidad be chosen for scholarships, begin school in the "big city" with trepidation, mature into well-spoken and confident young adults, and hold their own in conversation in a circle of a dozen parents and Avivara folks over plates of tamales and shared laughter. These are the experiences to treasure in working with Avivara. The small scale and well-considered philosophy of the organization allow personal connections to grow and flourish - the kind that change lives in deeply meaningful ways - both students and teachers in Guatemala, and those of us from abroad who are lucky enough to be involved.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

many layers of involvement both in Guatemala and the US. I have seen elementary students who never pick up a book on their own give up a sunny afternoon of soccer in the weed-fields to cluster around to hear the end of a chapter book be read aloud.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

grow the resources available to Avivara to allow the staff more regular visits to the US for fund-raising and storytelling purposes, while still maintaining a majority involvement in the daily workings in Guatemala.

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What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

the friendships with good people I would never have met without Avivara. The enthusiastic teachers of El Yalu, for example, who hike the mountains and share a homemade meal with us on a day off, and make tornadoes in a bottle with their students...

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

committed and passionate, graceful and sensitive in their cross-cultural dealings, flexible with the inevitable challenges of the dynamic nature of the work.

Ways to make it better...

I could somehow live in Guatemala for more of every year. The connections and opportunities for involvement just compound with time; at every departure I leave more English students, more workshop possibilities, more friends.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

balancing the sharing of stories and experiences with us from the US who can contribute, while maintaining the personal connections with people that enable the work, and the trusting relationships with the communities that they have established.

How frequently have you been involved with the organization?

About every month

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

March 17, 2013

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March 17, 2013

I learned of Avivara through my sister and brother-in-law, who have been working with and supporting this group fo more than 7 years. My wife and I met Gary, Ann and Gustavo in 2013 when we visited Guatemala and had the opportunity to visit a couple of schools that Avivara works with. Avivara is committed to partnering with and supporting local rural schools, as opposed to coming in and telling them what they need to do. This truly is a committed group.

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Would you volunteer for this group again?

Likely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A little

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2013

February 11, 2013

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February 11, 2013

I found Avivara while searching for an internship in which to conduct field research for my masters' research/thesis. My research is on teacher perceptions of bilingual intercultural education in Guatemala, cultural identity of indigenous children and language as influential to cultural and academic development. When I read through Avivara's website and saw their mission, I knew instantly that I wanted to work with the organization. Their mission to improve access to and quality of education for rural communities in Guatemala couldn't have aligned more perfectly to my passion and future career as an international development practitioner in the field of education. After initial contact with Gary and Ann, the rest was history and I worked with them for two months last summer (2012).

I worked as a teacher's assistant in San Jose El Yalu, and although challenging, the experience was fulfilling, fun and life-altering. I worked extensively with one first grade teacher, learned every student by name and where they were academically, and spent more time with the children who needed extra attention. Although I was only in the school for a little over a month, the progress made by one little girl in particular was so rewarding. She was an introvert and did not speak, read or write much, but after working with her a little each day, she eventually could pronounce and write a few letters!

What I love the most about Avivara, is Gary, Ann, and Gustavo's true dedication and commitment to improving the quality of education for every school, teacher and child with whom they work. Their love for what they do is infectious and evident in how well they know every family and teacher. The schools aren't just numbers or projects, they are individuals, families, communities. Quality is more important than quantity. Additionally, Gary and Ann were extremely supportive in helping me become acclimated to Antigua and the surrounding communities, and were always available for any questions or concerns. I would without a doubt recommend working with Avivara, and hope for the opportunity to work with the organization in the near future!

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Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Quite well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

August 21, 2012
1 person found this review helpful

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August 21, 2012
1 person found this review helpful


I first came into contact with Avivará two years ago while studying Spanish in La Antigua, Guatemala. Before arriving, I had searched the internet for a non-profit organization with education as its main focus and was directed to Avivará. When I responded to the "Communicate with Us" with my
email address, I was pleasantly surprised to hear back the next day from Ann Austin, one of the founders of the organization. We quickly worked out the arrangements so that we could meet when I got to Antigua. Being an ELL/ESL teacher, I was delighted to learn that I could volunteer in the after-school program that Ann and Gustavo Valle, both teachers, were running in a nearby village. I loved my time with the children in La Escuelita, but Ann and Gustavo also brought me to several rural schools supported by Avivará. This experience touched my heart in a very powerful way because I saw the harsh realities of life- and school- in the Guatemalan countryside.

I also learned about Avivará’s scholarship program, and how they provide supplies to schools based on what the teachers themselves rate as their most urgent needs. While Ann and Gustavo do most of the teacher and school interaction, Gary Teale, Ann’s husband, is in charge of financial oversight and accountability for Avivará. Together, the three have created a highly effective organization for achieving their mission to support the needs of rural schools. This was a short but very powerful introduction to the mission of Avivará, and I knew that this was just the kind of organization I wanted to support financially, as well as with more volunteer work in the future.

This summer I was privileged to return to Guatemala for five weeks and again work with Avivará. During my first week, I helped in the after-school program and attended scholarship meetings with Gustavo and Ann, the students, and their parents. These meetings were emotionally very moving as both students and parents shared their hopes and dreams for the future as well as the hard work, the challenges, and the sacrifices required to pursue an education that we in the United States often take for granted. I saw clearly how valuable the scholarship program is, and also the student accountability mechanism that Avivará has built into its program through these meetings.

The highlight of my stay was volunteering in the school in El Yalú. I spent one week in a first grade classroom assisting the classroom teacher and familiarizing myself in general with the teachers and students and the school day. After my orientation week, I began teaching English classes in the third through sixth grades. Students and teachers were very friendly and eager to participate and made me feel very welcome. The teachers also showed me the areas in the English curriculum in which they wanted me to focus, which made lesson planning much easier. I felt that the school community, including the director, the teachers, and the students, had enthusiastically embraced me and made me feel welcome. I can honestly say that my experiences in the classroom were joyful, and I felt a real sense of sadness when it was time to say good bye.

For me, the heart of successful volunteer work is knowing that we receive much more than we give as we meet new people, different cultures and languages, and enter into new situations. I experienced a dedicated teaching staff working in a remote location, enduring a lengthy daily commute by bus, working with meager resources and students who have huge learning obstacles to be overcome, and doing all of this with a cheerful, loving, and positive spirit. They taught me, not only strategies for keeping students engaged and the power of handmade teaching materials, but the power of the human spirit to transcend difficult circumstances. For all that I received this summer, I say a heart-felt thank you to the El Yalú community and to Avivará for bringing us together. I know that I have grown so much, not only as a teacher, but as a person, and I hope very much to return next summer and continue what I have begun. ¡Muchísimas gracias!





More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

June 9, 2012

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June 9, 2012

While on an educational research trip to the Antigua area I had the chance to meet Gary, Ann, and Gustavo, Avivara's co-founders.  I was Immediately impressed with their inspired dedication to their mission of serving the indigenous rural areas with much needed educational supplies and infrastructure support. After observing Ann's multi-level homework-helper after-school program in San Pedro, I joined Ann, Gary, and Gustavo on a field trip to three of the rural schools Avivara supports. This experience left an indelible impression of the way beauty and poverty coexist in rural Guatemala.  The children and teachers were kind and generous and gladly extended open arms to our somewhat disruptive visits. It became obvious that Avivara's help in these impoverished places was lovingly appreciated and is making a significant difference in these student's lives and in their teacher's ability to more effectively promote learning in the classroom. With Guatemalan public school system drastically underfunded, particularly in the indigenous impoverished areas, Avivara has stepped up and provided crucial supplies, support and hope for a better future for the most needy. Education can be a way out of impoverishment and Avivara is in place and in a place to make that happen. There's much more work to be done. 

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How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Very Well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

June 8, 2012

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June 8, 2012

I found Avivara while conducting field research for my master's dissertation. My dissertation is on education for impoverished children within Guatemala.

In the United States, we are told that if we work hard in school we can become anything. We also believe that education opens doors to
a fantastic life. In guatemala however, many children, especially from impoverished rural areas can only hope for a few years of basic schooling before embarking on a lifetime of manual labor in the farmlands of guatemala. Projects like Avivara are now in place to help these children dream beyond their present means. 

Avivara is an excellent nonprofit that tries its best to help children in complete poverty have better schools where there is a lack of funding. It was through Avivara that I was able to really understand the bigger picture. They connected me to several people for interviews and tours of three of the schools that they work with -- El Yalu, El Rosario, San Jose Pacul.

I am truly thankful for their help and the opportunities they provided me for my research. I hope in return my research can help the organization and the children which I have met while being here in Guatemala. 


More feedback...

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Very Well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 12, 2012

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April 12, 2012

My daughter and son-in-law (Kristin and Danny) visited AVIVARA a couple of years ago. They have wonderful reports about the dedicated staff and the impact they are making on the disadvantaged children in the area. Donations made to this organization are utilized efficiently and effectively.

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Was your donation impactful?

Definitely

How likely is it that you would recommend that a friend donate to this group?

Definitely

How likely are you to donate to this group again?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

April 11, 2012

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April 11, 2012

I met Gary and Ann of Avivara through a friend and ended up visiting their headquarters while traveling in Guatemala in 2011. While visiting their home I was struck by their dedication: rooms filled with supplies being packaged for distribution to schools, photos of the children they serve, and a clear passion for their work. Furthermore, I was very impressed by the amount they accomplish with limited funding. Avivara is a great example of the difference that two dedicated people can make in improving our world. I highly recommend this non-profit and hope that they are able to expand their work in the future.

More feedback...

Will you volunteer or donate to this organization?

Definitely

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

A lot

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

March 10, 2012

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March 10, 2012

My first trip to Guatemala was 3 wonderful weeks in Jan/Feb of 2012. Recommended by a friend of my traveling companion Avivara was our choice. The website is full of all kinds of vital information and Gary was always available to answer questions and make suggestions. They arranged our homestay, travel to and from the airport, walking tour of Antigua, accompanied us on our first chicken bus ride, and supplied us with cell phones with their contact & emergency numbers. Based on our limited spanish (none for me) Gary suggested that the hospital may be the best volunteer place for us. As it turns out we were also welcomed with open arms at the Escuelita in San Pedro that Avivara operates and were touched by the 20 elementary aged kids that attend 3 days a week. The last 3 days of our trip were dedicated to visiting some of the villages and schools that Avivara serves. I'm happy to report that our Parish and Parish school is now entering into a partnership with one of these schools. We look forward to many years of partnering with Gary, Ann, and Gustavo on their journey of Avivara's mission. Please explore their website which details their mission and approach to their success!

More feedback...

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

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