We first heard about Casa Guatemala while looking for a cheap hostel to stay at while traveling through the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We hadn't traveled through the Caribbean coastline of Guatemala before and were excited to see this famed port and cruiser hang out. True to our style, we showed up starving and exhausted in the Rio dulce after a ten-hour day busing over mountains and down sketchy dirt roads, with no plans and nowhere to stay and most definitely needing showers. After finding a restaurant with WIFI and grabbing a bite to eat, we found a hostel near by called The Backpackers, run by a children's home called Casa Guatemala. Profits from the restaurant and hostel go directly to fund the children home, and the hostel and restaurant provided older children job opportunities as they transition into independent living and the full-time work force. We were told that The Backpackers was the best and cheapest place to stay along the river and during our stay we met the director, Heather Graham, who invited us to come and visit the home and meet some of the children the next day.
Casa Guatemala originally started out as an orphanage in the 80's during the civil war. Now less than 5 percent of the children are orphans. Many families in Guatemala have given up their children because they cannot provide shelter, food or an education for the child, but Casa Guatemala is trying to change that. They are providing a safe place for the children to sleep, eat and study, all while maintaining relationships with their families. Some children walk in daily from nearby villages for school and meals, while others stay during the week and walk home on weekends. The older children that have finished school are also given the opportunity to work at The Backpackers and restaurant on site for job experience.
For years they ran generators to power the home and school but have recently run in power lines, but it's still very expensive to power the facilities. Some cruisers have also donated old battery banks and solar panels to help with their electricity needs, but some of the solar panels were damaged due to lightning strikes this last year.
When we asked what the home's major needs were, Heather said they were hoping to replace the main roof on the boys home and get new screens and mosquito netting for the children rooms. They also wanted to purchase new and more efficient solar panels and battery banks so they could be more self-sufficient.
Heather also mentioned that they could use volunteers with experience in agriculture and farming. They have a large plot of land that they are already using to grow some produce that they sell at local markets and to cruisers. They use the profits for the home but they feel it could be better managed with some help of knowledgeable individuals.
Here is a little more information directly from their website: 'Casa Guatemala is a group of dedicated individuals and volunteers striving to make a difference, they are currently supporting more than 300 children. They're able to provide this care thanks to the generous contribution of 15 teachers, 20 employees, and approximately 20 international volunteers. Since 1987, Casa Guatemala has been helping change the lives of the children of Guatemala, all with help from generous people like you.
They are a registered NGO and receive no government funding. They rely on funds from individuals and groups around the world to provide care for up to 300 children at their village and in the larger community. These children have been wards of the State, but the majority come from families from the surrounding Mayan villages who live in cases of extreme poverty who, without Casa Guatemala, would have no other access to education.
They seeks to provide a safe home, love and nurturing, proper health care, and an excellent education to the children of Guatemala who are abused, abandoned, malnourished, or living in extreme poverty.
Casa Guatemala strives to equip the children in their care with the skills and education needed to become upstanding, empowered citizens in their community and to become fully self-sustained through the businesses that they run which provide financial support and meaningful job training for the older children.'
If you'd like to contact Casa Guatemala about volunteer opportunities, their current needs or how to support them monthly visit their website at http://www.casa-guatemala.org.