There are 13,000 people living in Guatemala City’s garbage dump communities, and 50 percent of them are children. Those living in these communities face immense social, political, physical, and psychological challenges. However, hope exists in the communities, with many NGOs and activists taking action to address this humanitarian crisis. The Borgen Project interviewed Courtney McGovern, the president of Hope’s In, to learn more about what the organization is doing in these communities.
The Borgen Project: How did Hope’s In get started?
Courtney McGovern: I met Monica interning at Potter’s House Association (PHA) in Guatemala City. PHA is an amazing organization that works with families living in the communities that surround the city’s garbage dump in Zone 3. Most of the families living in these communities are either completely or partially reliant on the garbage dump for means of survival.
Monica was only eight years old the first time I met her; I was just 15. We quickly became friends and I instantly felt like she was a little sister. Monica was living in a 10′ by 10′ tin shack with her four siblings, mother and grandmother. It had a leaky roof and a dirt floor. Upon my return home from Guatemala, PHA informed me that one of Monica’s sisters, who’s my age, was pregnant. I thought about the lack of security Monica and her family had known in those tin walls. I remembered the rat bites Monica and her sisters had been treated for that invaded their home at night.
My twin sister and I decided that we had to do something. There had to be a change for that baby. We didn’t want her sister’s baby to know the fear of rat bites in the night or the instability of doors with no locks. So, we pooled our friends’ talents together and created a fashion show fundraiser called Hope’s in Style. Our goal was to raise $7,500 for Monica’s home. However, with miraculous success, we fundraised enough money for two homes. My family, having a background in international service trips, decided it would be impactful for families from our community to go to Guatemala and build the second home we fundraised for. That first summer. we took 27 families to Guatemala City to serve with PHA. Now, six years later, we are a formal 501(c)(3) organization, Hope’s In NFP.
TBP: What’s the purpose and mission of Hope’s In?
CM: Hope’s In’s mission is to empower families living in Guatemala City as well as develop the next generation of humanitarians leaders. We do this through building homes and running medical clinics in the communities of Zone 3 with Potter’s House Association. This year we are on track to build our 30th home and beyond in Guatemala City, host our ninth week of medical clinics, as well as welcome our 400th volunteer to serve in Guatemala City.
TBP: What has the organization been able to accomplish thus far?
CM: We have seen some amazing impact in Zone 3 and in the lives of our volunteers. In Zone 3, we have welcomed 29 families into their new homes. The families in the communities have to save for generations to purchase and build a cinder block home. In the meantime, their children suffer from respiratory problems from methane gases omitted from beneath the dirt floor, family members that work lose income as they have to rush home during every rainstorm to make sure their homes don’t flood from leaky roofs, and the whole family feels the indignity of no running water or privacy. These homes are more than four walls, they are dignifying, safe places for a family to flourish.
However, our work has expanded beyond houses. One of our volunteers, Dr. Dale Coy, came on our trip as a house building volunteer. However, after several, literal, taps on the shoulder to come see a sick family member or neighbor, he decided the next time he came to Guatemala, he would come prepared. Five years later, Dr. Coy has created a Medical Mission through Hope’s In. We now run medical clinics each summer in the communities and have launched a medical endowment that will help make PHA’s medical clinic sustainable.
In regards to developing humanitarians, we have welcomed volunteers young and old on our annual service trips to Guatemala. We like to see ourselves as a bridge for people to connect and realize their value in a global narrative. We believe that engaging with service transforms lives and evokes empathy. Over 300 people have shared this experience with us.
TBP: I’ve heard you talk about the concept called “the intersection”, can you expound upon that?
CM: The intersection of passion and compassion is a concept I first started to create in high school but had experienced at a much younger age. It was an outlet and way for me to describe the purpose that I found in engaging my skill sets and interests in a manner that helped others and made an impact. It’s the idea of taking your passions like a hobby, skill or lifestyle and engaging them with something or someone you feel compassion for. When you intersect your talent with the dreams you have to make the world a better place, that’s when you become a dynamic humanitarian. It’s this pairing of heart and hands that makes life purposeful.
I always think of a friend of mine who did this with her love for education. She loved teaching and would light up when she saw someone grasp a new concept. As she pursued her teaching degree, she time and time again had her heart broken by seeing young people incarcerated in her city. So, she took her passion for teaching and began using her compassion to start emphatically teaching on Riker’s Island in New York. I was able to give a TEDx talk about this idea in 2016.
TBP: If there was one thing you could express to the world about empowering the poor, what would it be?
CM: I would say that poverty is multifaceted and very complex but human connection isn’t. Everyone has their Monica and empathy is the best way to begin empowering others.
– Ashley Quigley