Sponsors form family ties with children in San Pedro

Photo provided: Children in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, pay tribute to medical missionaries during a recent visit.

COLUMBIA—Students in Guatemala are getting a good education thanks to the generosity of South Carolinians who donate to an initiative called Project San Pedro. 

The project provides funds for the education of children in San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala. This is the region where mission teams from the Diocese of Charleston have visited twice a year since 2008 to help with medical and dental needs. 

Deacon Gabriel Cuervo, director of international ministries for Catholic Charities, said the school project started in the very beginning when women religious from the Sisters of Bethany, who run the local Catholic school, told mission workers that many families in the poverty-stricken region could not afford education for their children.

“Many of the classrooms were half empty,” Deacon Cuervo said. “That is why we decided to set up this program where people in the U.S. could help fund education and other basic needs for these children.” 

Project sponsors pay $25 a month, which provides a child in San Pedro with tuition and helps pay for uniforms, textbooks and other needs. Now the school — Colegio Guillermo Balboa — is at full capacity with 320 students. 

Deacon Cuervo said 246 children are currently being sponsored, while another 100 or so still need sponsors. 

The project has many success stories already. A young man who was sponsored is now in seminary, and another student is pursuing a vocation with the Sisters of Bethany. Ten young adults are in college in Guatemala City, and two others have completed education degrees and returned to San Pedro La Laguna to pay it forward by teaching there. 

Sarah Robbins, a member of Divine Savior Church in York, became a sponsor after her first diocesan medical mission trip in 2012, where she served as an interpreter. She is currently sponsoring a 14-year-old girl in the eighth grade. 

They keep in touch regularly thanks to the internet. Robbins said when the medical missions started, the San Pedro area did not even have phone lines available, but once cell towers stated popping up, many residents were able to buy inexpensive cell phones, and students have access to computers at school. 

“She updates me about her assignments, about what is going on with her family,” Robbins said. One interesting part of the curriculum is a focus on good handwriting, and the girl is learning calligraphy along with her other subjects. 

Robbins was deeply honored in late 2018 when the youth asked her to be her confirmation sponsor, and she flew to Guatemala in December to attend the ceremony.

“Many of the children at San Pedro consider their sponsors to be the godparents of their education, and now I have been able to become her true godmother,” Robbins said. “It is so special to be able to develop a relationship with these students and to help them prepare for their future.” 

To learn more about Project San Pedro, contact Deacon Cuervo at gcuervo@charlestondiocese.org or visit www.missions-doc.org.