In 2007, we took a group of 18 individuals to Guatemala with the goal of helping a friend—a friend who had a dream.
Daniel Galvez is a native Guatemalan. We first met him while living in Panama with our family of 4 children in 1996-97, where Daniel quickly crawled into our hearts and stayed. With his humble do-anything-in-the-world-for-you personality, he almost became part of the family. I remember the day when I asked this talented and intelligent young man when he was coming to the United States to live the American Dream. Surely, he didn’t want to return to one of the poorest country in Central America when he possessed the skills and abilities to have success and wealth in the US. He simply smiled at me and said, “I think I was born in Guatemala for a reason. I need to help my people.”
When we parted ways and returned to our own countries, he warned us that he wasn’t good at writing letters. He was right and we lost contact. Nearly ten years later a mutual friend gave us Daniel’s email address. Coincidentally, or providentially, we were leaving in a few weeks on a cruise that had a port-stop in Guatemala. We emailed Daniel, told him the day and time we’d be at the port, and said we’d love to see him again. We waited for a response, but heard nothing. But as we debarked the cruise ship with our group of friends, and to our delight and surprise, saw Daniel, now married with two little girls, holding a sign that said, “Welcome Whiting Family.”
We spent the day with Daniel. It was a quick visit, but long enough. Long enough to see that Daniel was doing what he said he would do 10 years earlier—helping his people.
In San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala, Daniel’s home town, there are 80,000 people, 1 public Jr. High, and NO public high schools. The average Guatemalan lives on less than $2 a day and has less than 3-years of schooling, and nearly the entire population seems doomed to repeat a pattern that has existed for generations—work in the fields to provide only enough food to survive.
UNICEF stated that “education is the most effective way to break the poverty cycle” and we all know that giving a man a fish only feeds him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
So, our friend with a dream started teaching his people to fish, so to speak, through education. His solution: a school for the poor. His problem: funding.
Back home in the most prosperous country on the planet, we came up with an idea. We knew dozens of people who could afford the monthly tuition to help ambitious Guatemalan youth have the opportunity to go school and a real chance to break the poverty cycle. We started talking. A year later (2007), we were back in Guatemala with 18 friends and a goal to sponsor 30 kids. When we left, 35 of Daniel’s students had committed sponsors—nothing earth shattering, but it was a beginning. The following year we repeated the trip, and doubled our sponsors.
Then came Yuda Bands.
In the fall of 2008, while wandering in the marketplace in Antigua, Guatemala, an idea came from a couple of ladies in our group. It was simple. We’d take back some bracelets, sell them for a profit, and sponsor another student. Before leaving the country, we had come up with a name for the bracelets—Yuda Bands, derived from aYUDA, the Spanish word for help. Back in the states, our high-school-age daughter picked up a bracelet and said, “These would sell really well at my school.”
She was right.
Tied with tags that challenged “Wear a band. Change a life”, the Yuda Bands sold like hotcakes. With Daniel’s help, we shipped bracelets up from Guatemala three more times, and each time the result was the same. It was like magic. These kids wanted to help, and they were passionate about it.
What began that day in our daughter’s high school was a vision of youth empowering youth.
We often, if not always, take life for granted—all of us. We sometimes call youth today the “entitlement generation”, and hear complaints of lazy, spoiled teenagers who only know how to communicate through texting and Snapchat. But as Yuda Bands projects have spread across this country in hundreds of colleges, high schools, jr. highs, and middle schools, we’ve seen a different side to American teenagers. We’ve seen young people with vision—who know who they are and believe they have the power to make a difference. They are our future, and when they reach out to help others, we guarantee they will stand a little taller themselves in the process.