It’s often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But when that journey for George Roller was based on his Christian values to make a difference in the lives of children in Guatemala, he started it with a giant leap of faith—a leap of faith that includes an educational model never before used in the region.
Roller wanted to build a vocational school in a rural town in Guatemala called Joyabaj. He was drawn to Guatemala through his church in St. Louis, where the youth pastor had been working with a missionary in Guatemala. But the seeds for this idea were planted over a decade earlier when Roller and his wife began supporting an orphanage in India after he worked as a consultant to set up a printing company in Bangalore. He had previously owned a printing company in St. Louis and liked the idea of putting his knowledge to work as a consultant for a new venture.
Roller was emotionally moved by the abject poverty he saw in Bangalore and wanted to help give children at the orphanage a step up in life through his financial support. After struggling through a failing U.S. economy, it was difficult, but necessary, for him and his wife to end their monthly contributions to help the children at the orphanage.
But Roller and his wife never lost their personal passion for living their Christian values. After going back to St. Louis University to earn an executive masters degree in international business, he and his family began serving the community of Joyabaj—he has now taken eight trips to this town of 125,000 about 75 miles from Guatemala City.
“I had led six teams and made seven trips to support education and build homes for widows,” Roller said. “My wife and I learned that many women, whether widowed or married, often suffer through physical abuse from drunken husbands, or a complete lack of income because the men would drink their financial support away. It only takes one look to see hopelessness in the eyes of a man asleep on the street.”
As a result of witnessing the poverty he saw on his mission to build homes for widowed women, Roller came “face to face with my past, present and future,” he said. “Jose, a local worker we hired to help us build widow homes, is 17 years old and makes $4.20 a day swinging an ax and busting rock when work is available,” Roller said. “He dreams of owning his own business to help support his brothers and sisters. Jose’s story was similar to the men of India. Both need viable incomes. The pieces of the puzzle formed into a plan of action; Jose and men like him need practical life-skills training,” he said.
Moreover, what Roller also learned was that most children in the rural areas of Guatemala never receive education past the sixth grade, which is what is funded by the government of Guatemala. After the sixth grade, many children simply “fall off the cliff,” Roller said “becoming unemployed, addicted to drugs or just depressed” without a promising future worth believing in and working for. For those children fortunate enough to go beyond the sixth grade, their education usually ends in the ninth grade. Getting a college education, however, in the rural areas of Guatemala is almost non-existent, as most of the country’s colleges and universities are located in Guatemala City, 12 hours away by bus.
What crystallized in Roller’s mind was a goal with a project plan complete with a budget of over half a million dollars to build a vocational school with five different majors to teach both economic and life skills to children in Joyabaj.
With this goal, Roller began formulating a practical plan to build the “Life-Cycle Training Institute” in Joyabaj to give children a better life with the skills they would need to earn a living. “Laborers must have skill, work experience or an appropriate education to be employable in any region of the world,” Roller said. “Because general populations within third-world countries are often located in geographically remote sectors, industry has been largely unsuccessful; agriculture is challenged; education is undercut; and inequities among various groups are exacerbated. They not only lack marketable skills, but they lack the aptitude and ability to prepare themselves for opportunities without intervention,” Roller said.
And, with that in mind, Roller decided to become the intervention needed by building a new vocational school in Joyabaj. The mission statement of the school is as follows: “The Life-Cycle Training Institute is a Christian organization that pursues life regeneration for those suffering through poverty and inequality by providing skills, resources and behavioral adaptations to transcend circumstances and create and employ a confident and skilled workforce.”
The training center will provide two two year instructional programs to high school graduates through vocational skills that are regionally relevant for employment opportunities, such as automotive mechanics, construction trades, computer training, cooking and carpentry. As community skills develop, training courses will be modified and expanded. In some cases, remedial education for reading and writing may be needed and will be provided as part of the coursework.
The vocational curriculum will be taught in Spanish and will emphasize entrepreneurial skill sets, such as small business development, pricing, marketing and business best practices. The instruction will include hands-on laboratory training through work experience programs that provide opportunities to develop business proficiencies, as well as a modified work-study program that will serve as a “laboratory” to help students pay the cost of their education. The project plan for the school indicates there will be a course curriculum that may grow to as many as 16 courses over a two-year, four-semester program for an associate’s degree. Moreover, each graduate is expected to become debt free and active, productive members of their community.
Roller’s project plan estimates that the school will become self-sufficient within three to five years. The revenues earned by each student working part time in the evening and on weekends will pay their tuition, which will fund 100 percent of the school when at enrollment capacity. Roller hopes that the school will become a model that can be replicated in specifically chosen areas favorable to economic development in Guatemala.
The plans are already taking shape with the formation of a Missouri non-for-profit corporation with a tax exempt status. Roller would like to invite anyone wanting to truly make a difference in the life of a child to consider making a contribution, or, as Roller likes to say, “an investment” to the success of the next generation through the Life-Cycle Training Institute.
There is a saying that a pebble thrown into a pond never sees the ripples from its original impact. Each of you has a chance to be a pebble thrown into the pond of the Life-Cycle Training Institute. More than simply helping Roller build a school for the children of Joyabaj, Guatemala, you will be impacting the lives of every child who attends the Life-Cycle Training Institute. You will never see all the good that can result from your support, but you can have faith it will change a life.
You can pick up a pebble by contacting George Roller at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about this noble cause by visiting the website, www.sendme.org.