FAQ’s Strategic Plan 2020

FAQ’s Strategic Plan 2020

Frequently Asked Questions – Strategic Plan 2020


What do the changes in the Strategic Plan mean for my student sponsorship?

Even as we celebrate the bold step into the future that is our new Strategic Plan, we very much value and cherish the supporters whose role has been critical in bringing us to this important opportunity and whose gifts have impacted the lives of thousands of families in our program. We honor the personal connection that you have with your sponsored students, and whilst we will not be accepting new student sponsorships, we will continue to support your direct sponsorship if you choose, with just a few changes that we think make it more meaningful and also help us to spend more time and resources mentoring, supporting, and assuring that students succeed.

We want to make sure that more of your sponsorship dollars go to directly supporting children to succeed in their education, and less to administration, so that the children you care about so much get more workshops, mentoring, and family support. Our new guidelines are operationally viable, respect the student’s personal privacy and dignity and inject creativity and more proactivity/responsibility on the part of the student and their families, while still fostering your connection and direct communication.

Please read on to find out more about the exciting changes to the program.


What will the sponsorship program look like going forward?

While Mayan Families will continue to support and honor existing sponsorships (with minor changes), in lieu of starting new ones, we ask donors to support our powerful education work as an entirety. This you can do by making a monthly or one-time donation of any amount.

We are so grateful for the sponsorships that we currently carry, and are also excited to transition to a more sustainable model with maximum impact: supporting more students and communities in a fair and equitable manner.

We will continue providing scholarships to students through a system of “conditional cash transfers.” This means that we will give students a lump sum of money four times throughout the year, conditional on them still attending school, giving us updates on their progress and completing the age-appropriate expectations of the program. Students and families will be free to spend this money on whatever facilitates being able to send children to school, which we know is different for every family.

This system not only gives more flexibility to the students and their families (not every student wants/needs a backpack, and some would prefer to buy them in local shops themselves, for example), it also instills both agency (empowerment and self-determination) and responsibility. We know that cash transfers help families with needed educational expenses more flexibly, reduces waste on school supplies and equipment that not every student may need, and assures that more money reaches small businesses around the community and helps the local economy. This system also greatly reduces administration, unneeded trips to the office which cost families precious time and travel expenses, and allows both staff and students to focus on the important business at hand – helping students succeed in school, improving the education system for everyone, and implementing community projects that will create positive impact for years to come (like leadership trainings, teacher trainings, mentoring of students, etc).


Why is Mayan Families moving away from accepting new individual sponsors towards a more general education model?

We are incredibly grateful for the thousands of sponsors who have made our work possible, and who have changed the education and life outcomes of students in our program. Your contributions have been impactful and appreciated, and this change is not a reflection of anything but respect and gratitude for your generosity and care for the students in our program.

All organizations should self-reflect and evolve regularly, which is the sign of healthy organizations that learn through their work. Many organizations have moved away from direct sponsorships and towards more general education work, recognizing that individual sponsorships, while impactful for those individual students, often have some unintended consequences and don’t impact much-needed systemic improvements to the education system in a deeply underfunded national education system.

This article published in a 1989 issue of the New Internationalist has been cited repeatedly throughout the International Development community as the seminal argument to move away from direct sponsorships. While not everything in the article is true for us, too much of it has hit close to home for staff and families, and we have worked over the last 18 months to assure that we limit the unintended consequences.

For Mayan Families, assuring that we are improving the education system as a whole in the communities where we work so that all children within the community have access to high quality education is very important to our future work. We believe that we can do that well alongside the current individual sponsorships that we manage, but want to put the focus of our future fundraising efforts in the direction of holistic educational development work. We are proud of the breadth and depth of our education work as a whole, sponsorships being one important part of a larger, impactful plan which includes managing the highest quality early childhood education centers in Guatemala; training and support of educators at every level; subsidizing books and materials for entire schools so that no families have to pay the extra costs which pose a barrier to public education and lead to 50% of Indigenous students dropping out of school by 6th grade; offering workshops,  trainings and leadership development opportunities to students, parents, and educators; and working with cohorts of students to prepare them to lead and change their communities well into the future.


Can you give me an update on Mayan Families’ sponsored students? 

Schools have not been in session since mid-March when the Guatemalan government decreed a “State of Calamity” (like a State of Emergency)  and imposed lockdown.  Regardless, learning goes on at home, either online, through classes broadcast on local radio or TV stations,  or through assignments sent on WhatsApp or physically dropped off.  Given the remote locations of the majority of our students and the need to be stringently careful of hygiene protocols, we have prioritized supporting our students with needed funds and food support and focusing our efforts on setting up a system to make safe cash transfers so that sponsored families can receive funds from the sponsorship directly.

We have restarted the Tutoring Program in order to support students who are struggling with school at home, providing materials through text and video.

Our preschool students are receiving food support, educational materials and toys, and small group training and support for parents for the rest of the year, to help children stay on track and to encourage more at-home learning within the communities where we work, to the benefit of children in the family.

With in-person school effectively cancelled for the rest of the year, we are concentrating our efforts on creating a system for reporting grades that is sustainable, effective and meaningful, but it is not safe to ask families to travel to our office at this time.


Where are the sponsored students’ grades this year?

While the beginning of the school year in 2020 started pretty much as usual, from mid-March, all the old normal went out the door.  It is not possible for us to send out the grades of our students this year, either because they are not being graded or because it is not possible for them to report their grades to us.

To guarantee school assistance and monitoring students’ performance, we will continue collecting grades when it is safe to do so, but safety and health have to take the priority in many ways this year. We do expect higher rates of school interruption this year because of the pandemic, and will work with students as best we can to get them on track.


What communication will I now receive from the student that I sponsor?

We are excited to share meaningful changes to the way that sponsors and students communicate.

Donors will continue receiving photo updates of sponsored students at the start and end of the school year, as well as photos every time a food basket is donated to the family. It’s important to us that the pictures are more creative and natural, and our goal is to take photos of the students and their families that they would love to put on their own walls, which highlight the beauty, culture, and dignity of each family. Mayan Families Smug Mug galleries will soon look more like art galleries!

We will also implement an annual art contest for students to create special projects for their sponsors, in place of receiving letters. Staff will support students at all levels to create art, photo and even video projects to share which are age appropriate and allow students to share more about their lives, community, hopes, culture, and family through art. Donors are still welcome to send letters to the students that they sponsor, and we of course very much look forward to donor visits!

Sponsors will no longer receive copies of grades, however, because families have told us that it causes a lot of stress and worry that the donor may cancel their sponsorship when kids are struggling in their classes– we don’t want 7 year olds worrying that their future is over if they struggle in a class. Staff will continue to collect grades in order to provide extra tutoring and support to students when needed, but those reports will no longer be posted on SmugMug. We hope you understand that this was important feedback that families shared with us about their children’s privacy that we feel compelled to honor.

In addition to the art project and pictures at least twice a year, we will be providing general updates relating to education in Guatemala, as well as relevant topics to different grade levels. It may not be the same, but it will be infinitely richer and more comprehensive and we can’t wait to bring you along with us!


Can I still come and visit my sponsored student?

We would love to have you visit! Conditional of course to strict adherence with government regulations in place post-COVID.  As a non-governmental organization that works in a region where many people are immunocompromised because of malnutrition, we have a huge responsibility to be extra careful when it comes to protecting the health of our beneficiaries, our sponsors and the public in general.

We look forward to updating you on this front as soon as travel seems safe and reasonable. Realistically speaking, we do not expect visits to resume until 2021. But when travel is safe again, Mayan Families, the families that you have connections with, and the wonderful small businesses that rely on tourists, will be here with open arms!


Will I still be able to log onto the sponsorship portal?

We´ve had to completely rebuild our database, which as you know was outdated and broken.  One of the most important changes is the conversion to Spanish, so that our local staff can more effectively support the families and students that we work with and provide better service here on the ground.  In the wider context, this means that we’ve had to make the difficult choice to no longer use the sponsorship portal from the website with the new database, so that the functionality of the database is more robust and allows us to follow, track, communicate with and support the children and families in our programs more effectively.

Therefore, there will no longer be a sponsor portal or bios on the website, but we will deepen our use of SmugMug and make sure that updates are fast and interesting, and focus on more proactive email updates to assure sponsors are kept informed. Save your SmugMug link! There, you will be able to see information about your sponsored student.  We send you your SmugMug link regularly with updates.

We are grateful for your understanding that service to students and improving our support to families on the ground is so important, and we commit to improving our other communications platforms.


What donation options are still available for families?

Currently, the economy in Guatemala has been really hurt by COVID and the shutdown of tourism and the economic sphere. Food support is the most effective way to help the families in our program in the aftermath of the COVID shutdown, and our sponsored (and unsponsored) families are so grateful when a food basket arrives, providing needed nutrition and alleviating food costs that can then go to something else. Your recurring food donations will still be delivered to your student/family in a timely manner. You can check the SmugMug link of your student to see a photo record of the deliveries.

We encourage you to make general donations of water filters, stoves and food baskets, which will go to the beneficiaries who are most in need, identified by the socioeconomic studies led by our local staff. However, you are still able to send these items and designate them to a specific family if you wish.

As part of our new exciting changes, we reevaluated the impact of every item available for donation, so as to ensure our focus on long-term impact, and the level of the community rather than the individual.  We have many new items on our page relevant to the Nutrition & Health Program, with a major focus being the prevention of malnutrition.

Furniture items are no longer a part of our mission, but you can still help – in a great variety of ways – to empower the communities where we work. Click here to find our updated list.


How can I best support elders? 

We have a wonderful new program which supports the elderly population. Our focus is at the level of the community rather than the individual, so we ask new donors to support the incredible work of our Intergenerational Center in Santa Maria el Tablón, as well as the seniors that we continue to serve in Panajachel and San Jorge la Laguna, by making a general donation to support our entire elder community. Your donation provides meals, activities, medical care, and intergenerational learning so that Mayan elders can share their history, knowledge and wisdom with youth in their community.

If you are currently sponsoring an elderly person, things will continue to be the same. You will still have access to their SmugMug link, where you can find the delivery photos.


How can I support the Artisan and Trade School programs?  

When you buy artisan and wood products sold by Mayan Families, you are putting needed income, education, and cultural affirmation directly into the hands of 190 women and multiple graduated students from our carpentry shop, who in turn support their families to live with greater dignity. You enable artisans and students to put healthy food on their tables and to send their children to school. You receive beautiful, hand-made products and do good in the process- win/win! 

You can make purchases of face masks, wood products and artisan products, either wholesale, through our Etsy Shop and Novica Shop, or by helping us connect with other possible clients. You can also donate directly to our Economic Development program, which helps us bring training and markets to more families. 


I am passionate about Mayan Families! How else can I help?

There are so many ways you can get involved! We are so grateful for donations towards our work. We are always looking for creative supporters who are eager to share our work with others in their community, such as groups from your school, church, Rotary club or other organizations. You can also support Mayan Families by holding an online fundraiser through Facebook or our fundraising platform Classy. We are so grateful to our friends around the world who inspire others towards supporting positive change in Guatemala.


Still have a question?

On our website, you will find lots of information about our programs, community work, and how you can get involved. If you still have any questions, drop us an email at communications@mayanfamilies.org and our team will be happy to help!