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guatemala04The path out of poverty in the most challenged areas of Guatemala is education, but public schools are overcrowded and private schools too expensive and religious.

We wish to emulate a successful project in Northern Guatemala, a lending library and science center that has helped hundreds of children complete their education, stay out of trouble, and find a love for reading and science.

This community center will inspire everyone locally to work together on neighborhood initiatives and to embrace science and reason through shared activities for kids and their parents.

We seek $14,000 in funds for our first year. You can help hundreds of children find a brighter future and embrace critical thinking.

The Challenge

Guatemala is among the countries with the world's highest rates of birth, poverty, and crime. Some areas on the margins of Guatemala City are shantytowns where the only housing comes from corrugated metal and cardboard.

guatemala03Education is the way out of poverty, but although the law requires children to attend school for six years, most don't make it. Government schools aren't sufficient and don't accommodate their students. Religious and private schools exist but no one can afford them. School only lasts half a day, so even kids who are attending school are left alone for long periods every day.

These kids need something to do, to keep them out of trouble but more importantly to create a culture of education. They should learn but also be inspired to learn.

The Opportunity

The Guatemalan Humanists (AGHS) is a secular group that is a year old, and we wish to emulate a successful project called Biblioteca “Lic. Bernardo Lemus Mendoza”, which is based in Purulhá, in the highlands of Baja Verapaz in northern Guatemala.

guatemala02This project was founded three years ago by Brenda Lemus in collaboration with the municipality of Purulhá, which provides a space and some services. It's a library and book club that is focused on science and reason. We are secular humanists, but instead of atheism, our focus will be on the easier but related topics of science and technical skills.

Our goals are:

  • Secular education: we want this project to be the spearhead for a larger education project involving formal education. High quality education should be available for everyone and it should be secular, without dogma.
  • Science promotion: We'll organize activities that are synergistic with the reading and the subjects addressed in the program.
  • Humanitarian work: as has happened in Purulhá, the library will bring opportunities to do some charity work, for example in providing poor families with school materials, and other types of aide.


The library in Purulhá that are emulating has had an incredible impact in the young population of which is mostly indigenous and agrarian, and with high levels of poverty, malnutrition, and lack of education. It is an area that felt the worst impact during the civil war in the 1970s and 80s.

The center:

  • Gives kids something to do, keeping them engaged and out of trouble
  • Is a safe space for watching the kids while their parents are working
  • Educates children, completing essential gaps in their schooling
  • A community center, a resource for meetings, socializing, and organizing
  • Fosters a love for reading, science, and reason

By replicating this successful project in Guatemala City, we can help hundreds of children.

Project Plan

We will rent a space on the outskirts of Guatemala City for our science center and library. We'll begin by helping 80 children, but there could be a lot more, with two shifts, one for kids that have school in the morning and one for kids who have school in the afternoon.

We have already identified a director.

With the understanding that we must take each step one at a time, building on our successes and not overreaching, we have three goals for the first year.

In Stage 1, we'll connect with community through the local school. We'll provide Internet access and books through our library, but we'll also have one teacher and one research librarian on staff. So we'll teach children to do their own research and explore topics of interest.

We anticipate that the first phase of the project should incorporate text books first in the process of establishing the library within the population as “useful”. As advised by Brenda, in order to be recognized by the community, the library must first concentrate on being useful, that is to help children with their official homework. That means advertising the existence of the library to the local schools and teachers. It is estimated that the one person working at the library can attend approximately 50 to 80 kids daily.

The recommended books to have available are text books from first grade (primary school) all through 11th grade in the main subjects such as math, language, social studies and science. But also it is important to have other subjects such as accounting, and more general texts such as encyclopedias, world atlas, and others.

Another important recommendation is to have school materials ready, such as pens and pencils, scissors, paper, etc. These are only to use in the library and cannot be taken home by the users.

guatemala01In Stage 2, we'll organize cultural, social and scientific activities on weekends, such as tree planting days where kids and their parents can learn about the environment and shared in an outdoor project. We'll also organize small theater shows, astronomy nights, and social events like foot races to raise funds.

AGHS has many members with a scientific background who will volunteer to run these events.

During Stage 2 we will also establish a Leaders Program, where children with leadership skills are trained to tutor other children and run their own activities. This not only helps children reach their full potential, but also empowers local people to help each other in their academic and intellectual development. It creates a sense of belonging and improves self-esteem in both the person helping and the person helped.

In Stage 3, the library will be a real day school. We'll begin a reading program to teach kids reading skills and encourage them to read recreationally in their spare time. We'll lend out books so that kids can read for pleasure. There is no library card or paperwork other than a promise to return the book. When it comes back the kids are given a little test designed to reinforce the lessons learned in the book.


We need $14,000 in funds for the first year, to cover:

  • Staff:
    • Director
    • Cleaning
    • Security guard
  • Utilities:
    • Space about 100 square meters
    • Water bill
    • Electricity bill
    • Internet bill
  • Capital:
    • Computers
    • Books
    • Secretarial table
    • Secretarial chairs
    • Plastic tables
    • Plastic chairs
    • Book shelves

We would be glad to name the center after a large donor. A full budget and detailed plans are available on request.


Organization: Atheist Alliance International
Contact Name: Gail Miller
Contact Email: gail_i_miller@hotmail.ca