EVANSTON — The Evanston Rotary club held a luncheon meeting on July 17 at the Legal Tender restaurant, where members Tim and Katie Beppler gave an inspiring and moving presentation on the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP). The GLP is a network of individual Rotarians, Rotary clubs and districts, and the nonprofit Cooperative for Education (CoEd) with a common interest in improving education for underserved students in Guatemala.
“Why Guatemala when there is so much poverty around the world?” Tim Beppler asked. “Let me show you and tell how we became involved and our lives were changed.”
Since 2003, the couple has sponsored a child in Guatemala through their local church, so they were already connected to the country. In 2005, they attended the Rotary International Convention where they learned about the literacy project. The GLP is one of the largest grassroots, multi-club, multi-district projects in Rotary.
Over the past 20 years, the project has included 608 Rotary clubs, 80 districts, 46 U.S. states and eight countries. Last year, 137 clubs, 25 districts, and a $150,000 match from the government of Canada contributed to the largest grant to date for a total of more than $694,000 to the project.
After visiting the project in Guatemala with other Rotarians and seeing in person the serious need for programs to educate the children in Guatemala, they were convinced to join. Guatemala is one of the poorest and least educated countries in the western hemisphere.
In rural areas, three out of four live in poverty and drop out of school after just four years. Sixty-two percent of children never make it to middle school. Many drop out of school in the third grade to work and help support the family. One-third of rural Guatemalans cannot read or write.
“Why is literacy important?” Tim Beppler asked. “Literacy is the foundation of all later learning, it is the basis of economic development, there is a direct correlation between illiteracy and crime and literacy is a basic human right.”
The Bepplers went on to explain how the GLP works. The program has four major components: the elementary school Culture of Reading Program (CORP), the middle-school Textbook Program, the Computer Program, and the Rise Youth Development Program (RISE).
In CORP, teachers receive 60 hours of training and an average of 150 books for their classroom. They learn many different techniques to engage their students in the reading process. This program helps to transform the students into enthusiastic and lifelong readers. CORP teachers often share their knowledge with other teachers and it becomes a sustainable program.
The Textbook Program provides books to middle schools in the core areas of math, science, social studies and Spanish, and it trains teachers to use the books effectively in the classroom. This program uses a “revolving fund” model, where parents pay a small monthly fee for their children to use the books or computers. This designated fund then goes on to purchase new books and computers when the old ones wear out. The programs are 100 percent self-sustaining.
“However, when the books are passed on,” Katie Beppler said, “they are in pristine condition. The children take extra care with them.”
The Computer Program gives the youth the opportunity to use technology to solve real-world problems while developing the computer skills needed to secure better jobs after graduation.
The Rise Youth Development Program provides opportunities to students who have demonstrated great potential but have no resources. Through youth development, support services and scholarships, RISE scholars can break the cycle of poverty.
The results for the Guatemala Literacy Project are: 95 percnet of Computer Program graduates find employment or further their education in high school; the Culture of Reading Program has reduced failure rates by one-third; 90 percent of RISE Program graduates find employment or further their education beyond high school; and the Textbook Program teachers spend 56 percent less class time dictating or writing on the chalkboard when they receive textbooks and students spend less time copying information down.
“Another exciting fact,” Tim Beppler said, “is that 53 percent of the graduates of the RISE program are now paying for their younger siblings’ education.”
The Bepplers concluded their program by asking the local Rotarians to contribute to the Global Grant and to sponsor a scholarship student. The Rotary Global Grant helps to pay for the cost of books, teacher training and computers. The scholarship fund helps to pay for the individual student’s education.
In response, the local Rotary Club surprised the Bepplers with a check for $2,000 for the project. The couple anticipates that the Rotary Foundation will match the gift with another $1,000 and bring the amount to $3,000 for the Guatemala Literacy Project.