The GSSG was founded in 2003 by John Bodoh, a retired university administrator who travelled widely in the rural, impoverished areas of Guatemala. Dr. Bodoh recognized that the best and most sustainable way to improve the lives of people living in these areas was to provide better educational opportunities for their children. At that time (and still today), most villages had, if anything, only a small elementary school which provided a minimal education. The few high schools available to village children charged tuition that was beyond the means of most families, and college was an unattainable dream.
While most non-profits that work to improve education in Guatemala focus on the elementary, middle, and high-school levels, Dr. Bodoh had bigger dreams. He envisioned an organization that would aim higher, by first identifying high-school students that showed exceptional academic and leadership qualities, and then by providing them with scholarships not only for high school, but also to attend college. He felt that by developing university-trained leaders from this underserved population, the positive effects of education would extend not only to the family and local levels, but all the way up to Guatemalan society as a whole.
Our scholarships cover a wide array of expenses, depending on the need of the student. The total costs vary depending on the need.
To maintain their scholarship, students must maintain a certain grade-point average. write three letters a year to their sponsors, and give back to their community by volunteer work, etc. As in the USA, some students take longer than others to graduate, but as long as they are progressing, their scholarship will continue until graduation.
Up until 2021, GSSG offered primarily college scholarships to promising high school seniors and occasionally first-year college students. However, recent events in Guatemala (primarily the effects of Covid on the educational system) have caused us to re-evaluate our selection process and focus on students about to enter high school. There are several reasons for this: First, this gives us three years of high school to prepare the student for the rigors of college. Second, it also gives us three years to evaluate the student as to whether we think they can succeed at the college level. Even if the answer at that point is no, our feeling is that the student will still come out of our program with the economic and social advantages of graduating from high school, which only 5-10% of the Guatemalan population achieves.
Every year, one of our staff members in Coban, the main city in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, notifies principals of all of the middle schools in the surrounding towns and villages that GSSG is interested in awarding scholarships to their top graduating students, particularly those whose family finances would not be able to support the burden of high school tuition. The recommended student’s grades and educational records are reviewed, and if they are satisfactory, the student, the student’s main teacher, and the student’s family are interviewed by a member of the GSSG staff.
Particular attention is paid to the following criteria:
Once the interviews are finished, a report is written and a staff member presents the report to the full GSSG Board, who makes the decision whether to support the student or not.
A GSSG scholarship covers all expenses related to the student’s education. In addition to the usual tuition and fees and room and board, students are also reimbursed for a computer, transportation costs, etc. Also, once admitted into the GSSG program, students are monitored closely. Workshops addressing such topics as time management, public speaking, leadership skills, etc. are held several times a year. In addition, social events where GSSG students from different schools can mingle and meet each other are also held. Each year every student has to reapply for their scholarship and meet several criteria in terms of grades, community service, etc. As mentioned previously, financial support is continued as long as the student can show appropriate academic progress.
The educational system in Guatemala has some similarities and some differences from the one here in the US. Like the American system, education is divided into primary (grades 1-6), middle (grades 7-9), and secondary (grades 10-12). Unlike the US, only primary school is mandatory, and is the only level of education supported by the government.
Despite being mandatory, in reality many Guatemalan children do not complete primary school, much less continue on to middle school. The reasons for this are several: First, despite being government-supported, primary school students must still pay for uniforms, books, school supplies, and transportation to and from school. This is beyond the reach of many Guatemalan families, especially rural, Indigenous families. Second, the primary language of almost 40% of Guatemalans is not Spanish, but rather one of more than 20 Mayan dialects. Despite a law passed in 1996 mandating that classes be taught in both Spanish and the local dialect, this has yet to occur in many schools, requiring Indigenous children to struggle with Spanish in addition to the usual first-year problems. Because of these and other factors, at present Indigenous children average only 2.5 years of education, compared to 5.7 years in non-Indigenous children.