Lan Vwa offers hope but still needs funding

Fred McCormick

The end of the 2015 school year in Joconal, Guatemala brought a sense of accomplishment and hope to students in the small, coffee-producing village. Some celebrated another successful academic year, while nine were proud to have made it through classes for the first time.

All were treated to fried chicken, a new treat that made the occasion all the more memorable. And it can all be traced back to the small nonprofit organization Lan Vwa, which started Project Joconal in 2012 by setting up internet access for students.

Kelly Waugaman, a bartender at Black Mountain Ale House, founded Lan Vwa, which means “the voice” in Haitian Creole, to provide children in central America and the Caribbean access to education, something the organization has continuously done since its creation.

“The first-ever graduating class in Joconal is going to be next year,” Waugaman said. “And two of the kids there are looking into the possibility of going to nursing school.”

Lan Vwa’s work to create opportunity in Joconal is done via the Internet, which allows students access to valuable resources. The concept is simple, but it hinges on the support of those willing to give.

“All of the money goes directly to Joconal,” Waugaman said. “One hundred percent of our administrative costs are covered by private donors and events. The school itself, on the other hand, we need to keep funded.”

The costs for a program like Project Joconal are minimal, Waugaman said, but meeting those needs is critical for Lan Vwa.

“I want these students to be educated,” she said. “If I can find funding and if I can find people that care about what we do and connect with those people and turn that desire to help into dollars, then we will continue to grow and build our capacity.”

Lan Vwa is structured so that people in various income brackets can contribute. One person has given $10 every month since 2013, which itself is more than enough to buy art supplies for a school year.

“Our project does not cost a lot to run. We’re a small non-profit, and that means a small budget,” Waugaman said. “The small budget allows one dollar to go so much further.”

One donation of $38 is enough to pay for one school year for a single student and Lan Vwa’s website allows potential givers to make monthly contributions. But Waugaman wants people to give whatever they can afford.

The most recent school year in Joconal ended Oct. 30. Each child earned passing grades, Waugaman said. In the weeks before the school year ended, Project Joconal welcomed visitors with an open house.

“Anybody could walk in from wherever they work (in the village). A couple of students read poems and others performed a song,” Waugaman said. “Other students said they learned how to spend and save money, and a couple of them said that they felt comfortable using a computer and emailing now. Until we started working there, they had never seen a computer.”

The school has already exposed students to possibilities outside of Joconal, a fact that Waugaman takes great pride in.

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