Breaking the Cycle of Poverty Through Education


SEATTLE, Washington — Two brothers, Joe and Jeff Berninger, started the nonprofit Cooperative for Education (CoEd) after they witnessed a shortage of educational materials in rural classrooms in Guatemala. Today, one out of every three indigenous Guatemalans cannot read or write, and only one in 10 poor Guatemalans graduates from high school. Part of the problem is that 90 percent of classrooms in rural Guatemala lack textbooks. Cooperative for Education works to change these numbers. The organization is breaking the cycle of poverty through education in Guatemala. Ann Dempsey, who has been working with the organization for 12 years, spoke to The Borgen Project about CoEd.

Cooperative for Education

Cooperative for Education first started in 1996 with a self-sustaining textbook rental program. Since then, the organization has expanded into four different programs.

  1. Textbooks: The textbook rental program provides textbook rentals in core subjects like math, science, social studies and Spanish to students for a small fee each month. Because of the small fee that students pay, the program is completely self-sustaining. This means that the school can replace the textbooks every five years at a very low cost, according to Ann Dempsey. The textbook rental program is CoEd’s oldest and most widespread program. It has reached 207 schools and 26,400 students, reducing the average school dropout rate by 16 percent.
  2. Spark Reading Program: The Spark Reading Program trains teachers on how to effectively teach their students to read. It also provides them with 60 to 144 books based on grade level and reading difficulty. The Spark Reading Program helps increase literacy rates of young children all over Guatemala, making children enthusiastic about reading and writing and helping them escape poverty through education. The program has reached 94 schools and 24,000 students.  
  3. The Computer Program: About 60 percent “of entry-level jobs in Guatemala require computer skills,” but sadly, many children living in rural areas have never touched a computer. The Computer Program establishes computer labs in schools in the Western Highlands areas of Guatemala to teach children basic computer skills in order to help them get better jobs and higher wages. Families pay about $3 per month for students to receive at least 60 minutes of computer instruction each week. Currently, there are 53 computer centers that have provided access to 13,800 students. 
  4. Rise Youth Development Program: The Rise Youth Development Program provides academic scholarships and support from mentors, counselors and psychologists in order to encourage children to stay in school and graduate. On average, one child out of every 10 in Guatemala graduates. However, through the Rise Program scholarships, eight out of every 10 children graduate. High school graduation increases their chances of escaping poverty tremendously.

Part of the Rise Youth Program is the Thousand Girls Initiative, a program to encourage more female Guatemalans to stay in school. Currently in Guatemala, for every girl in school, there are one and a half boys in school. The Thousand Girls Initiative seeks to “help 1,000 girls and 250 boys rise out of poverty…” CoEd is currently more than halfway towards its goal with at least 730 kids in the program. However, Ann Dempsey says that the organization will not stop after it reaches that goal. She believes that “as more students graduate from high school, that is basically creating a middle class and bringing a whole generation out of poverty.”

The Successes of Cooperative for Education

CoEd’s programs have been extremely successful over the years. Guidestar, Great Nonprofits and The Center for Sustainable Development have given the organization high ratings. But, what Dempsey says really inspires her is hearing the individual stories of students in the program. She shared the story of one of those young students, a girl named Ancelma Monroy.

Monroy is a child who was about to drop out of grade 5 because she did not have the support of her parents. She received a scholarship through CoEd. She describes the day she found out as exciting but also a little scary as she did not know if her parents would support her. Monroy ended up continuing with the program and finally graduating high school, escaping poverty through education.

Because her school had textbooks and computers, she was able to learn technical skills and get an internship with a company that taught her English so that she could work at a call center. She was earning four times what her dad was earning as a subsistence farmer. She now has two kids of her own that will not have to worry about struggling to receive an education because they were born outside the circle of poverty.

Ancelma Monroy now hopes to become a schoolteacher and still keeps in touch with CoEd. In October 2019, she attended the Obama Summit where she got to meet and speak with former First Lady Michelle Obama. Monroy describes the experience as “something extraordinary.” Monroy is just one of many students who have been helped by the Rise Program.

Getting Involved

Ann Dempsey pointed out that there are many ways a person can involve themselves with the program. People can follow them on Instagram (@cooperativeforeducation), spread the word and even sponsor a student’s education through the Rise Program. Sponsoring a student provides donors with biographies and photos of the students, progress updates and even the opportunity to write letters back and forth to the students to encourage them and let them know that someone cares about their education. The organization also offers trips to rural Guatemala where participants visit local villages and meet new students in CoEd programs. Overall, Cooperative for Education is a great organization that is breaking the cycle of poverty through education. The organization has reached many Guatemalan children but hopes to keep expanding and improving lives.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr


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