Project Somos: Helping to break the cycle of poverty

Project Somos Founders with Señora Marte and Spanish Students
Project Somos Founders with Señora Marte and Spanish Students

Earlier in the year, Project Somos Co-Founders Heather Knox and Greg Kemp visited York House to talk about their progress to date and share more about the upcoming Spanish Service Trip to Tecpán, Guatemala, being organized by Senior School Spanish Teacher Colleen Marte over Spring Break.

Project Somos is still in its early days but they have made significant progress in their efforts to help Guatemalan families stay together. When they founded Project Somos in 2011, they originally set out to provide foster families for the many orphans of Guatemala. But soon they soon realized that they would have a better chance of helping to break the cycle of poverty if they focused on helping families stay together.

YHS in Guatemala
YHS in Guatemala in Spring 2014

Starting in 2014, Project Somos has offered homes to young widowed or abandoned mothers who were living in extreme poverty, and were at risk of losing their children. Two or three mothers and their children live in each house, share housework, and learn skills to help them become self-sufficient and able to move back into the community within two to three years.

While more impactful, this approach does require more resources to help the mothers move on from the very difficult circumstances they found themselves in. They now have a Guatemalan therapist and psychologist, as well as a “mama’s mama” to mentor them in the basics of nutrition, literacy and parenting. They also have an on-site preschool, and older children attend the local public school. Staff members are all Guatemalan in order to help the mothers maintain and live by their own culture and traditions. The results are significant as they see the children start to thrive and the mothers grow in self-confidence. The children and their mothers benefit from a stable, caring environment, healthy food, life skills and vocational training, and education for the children.

On 145 acres of donated land in the Guatemalan highlands, Project Somos has built two family homes using eco-friendly technology, housing up to six families of widowed or abandoned mothers and their children. The property is enclosed in a security wall, encircled by fruit trees and food plants, has a playground, preschool, soccer field and a vegetable garden.

In an effort to provide ways to be self-sustaining, Project Somos has adopted a social enterprise model that provides additional revenue streams to support the mothers and their programs. Comfortable “glamping” accommodations have been constructed just outside the property for rental. Somos Mamas’ beautifully handcrafted ornaments are being sold at Fiestas, local fairs and online. A community hall with panoramic view terraces, showers, and big kitchen serves as a gathering place for the families or volunteers, and can be rented for weddings, retreats and meetings. After several crops of corn, the Guatemalan staple, more nutritious quinoa and black beans are now being harvested to provide food for the families living there as well as additional revenue.

Voluntourism is bringing in students, families and other groups of volunteers to help with onsite building and maintenance and also engage with the children. And that’s where our York House students come in. This is the second Service Learning trip that York House will make to Project Somos. The first was in the spring of 2014 and we are still conversing with some of the Somos Mamas on Skype.

There are 12 York House girls, plus chaperones, who will be travelling to Guatemala from March 11 to March 21, 2016. Tasks will include anything from painting, cleaning, planting and playing with the children that live there and teaching the mothers basic English. While they won’t know exactly what they will be doing until they get there, they can be sure that they will be doing something meaningful that will have a lasting impact on the families that are trying to build a better life.

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