Evanston Rotary improves Guatemalan student outcomes, water access

Tim and Katie Beppler have sponsored a group of Guatemalan students for six years through the Guatemala Literacy Project. Pictured are the Bepplers posing with the children at their graduation. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The Evanston chapter of Rotary International is well-known for providing aid to Uinta County students and hosting community events, but their largest projects are nearly 3,000 miles away.

In 2010, members of Evanston Rotary joined a book delivery program in the Central and West Highlands of Guatemala. Nowadays, the club sets up computer systems, trains teachers and sponsors students. It does all of this alongside more than 800 Rotary clubs through the Guatemala Literacy Program (GLP.)

The GLP website calls the project “one of the largest grassroots, multi-club, multi-district projects in Rotary.” It has been underway since 1997, using four sustainable programs to serve over 261,000 students. Evanston Rotary Club member Tim Beppler believes these programs are crucial. “Most students in rural Guatemala drop out after the third grade,” he said. The website corroborates this, stating that 90 percent of impoverished students do not finish high school.

The Spark Reading Program boosts literacy in students involved, teaching them vocabulary, creativity and critical thinking. Those involved score 49 percent higher than the national average in first-grade reading. Teachers benefiting from the program receive intensive instruction and from 60 to 192 children’s books, depending on class size.

The Textbook Program supplements this, having provided 197 schools and 22,500 students with nearly 84,000 books. Using a revolving fund, students pay a $1.50 monthly fee toward the nonprofit Cooperative for Education. Every five years, these funds are used to pay for new textbooks. Ninety-seven percent of schools with a Textbook Program older than five years have successfully renewed their books using a revolving fund.

According to the GLP, 60 percent of entry-level jobs in Guatemala require computer skills. Few students in rural areas have these skills, but the GLP’s Computer Program is rapidly changing that. Ninety-five percent of students with Computer Programs go on to find a job or continue their education in high school. There are 55 computer centers so far, and the program has served 13,553 students.

Of the 22 communities involved, 820 students have graduated from the Rise Youth Development Program. The GLP states that 10 percent of impoverished students graduate from high school. When students have a Rise scholarship, the rate becomes 80 percent.

Beppler has seen the effects of the project firsthand. “My wife and I just flew down for the graduation of students we’ve been sponsoring for six years,” he said. “We’ve been sponsoring students on a regular basis for 11 years.” He and other members have also spent time on the ground in Guatemala facilitating the project. “Several of us have gone to help set up computers and book stations.”

The GLP, despite being prominent, is not Evanston Rotary’s only project in the South American nation. “We also have multiple other programs with another Rotary Club,” Beppler said. One of these is a water sanitation program in the north of Guatemala. “In the northern mountains,” he said, “many indigenous people live without clean water or sanitation. We’ve been involved with that project for 10 years.” Beppler added that Julia Murray, a local psychologist and former Rotarian, was the driving force behind club involvement in the water and sanitation projects.

Despite a tremendous leap forward, Guatemala still has room to improve. “We’re always looking for more sponsors,” said Beppler. “We have quite a waitlist of kids in need of sponsors.” Those interested in sponsoring or learning about the project can find information at guatemalaliteracy.org.