OCEANSIDE — Realtor Edwin Villela, founder of the nonprofit Help for Schools, was honored with the Global Awareness award by the San Diego Peace Corps Association on May 12.The organization provides school supplies, and builds schools, for children living in rural areas of Guatemala.“We are thrilled to recognize an organization that is working hard with limited resources to directly assist children in need,” board president Sharon Kennedy said. “Help for Schools has a low overhead so they can put every penny toward building schools. They are very efficient and are doing a great job. Congratulations!”
The San Diego Peace Corps Association is comprised of veteran volunteers living in San Diego.
Social chair Sarah Fuhrmann, who served in Guatemala, first met Villela at a lecture at the Peace and Justice Center at the University of San Diego. She was a catalyst in bringing Villela’s work to the attention of the club.
“We considered several different organizations,” she said. “Edwin’s mission, to create a sustainable project that helps communities on a grass roots level, closely aligns with ours.”
Fuhrmann explained that 75 percent of the population in Guatemala lives on less than $1 a day. Consequently, education has not been a priority.
“People have to work, especially girls where education is not a huge tradition for them because it’s kind of a man’s world,” she said. “Edwin’s organization is changing things by giving school supplies and going out on the community level and helping people get an education. He needs all the help he can get.”
Villela was buoyed by the news of the award.
“I was very surprised and very happy when I got the call from Sarah about the nomination,” he said. “The only thing I could think of was to share the news with the rest of the San Diego support group knowing that they will be happy, too.”
He added, “Recognition for our work is encouraging the group to take on more projects.”
Since the beginning of the year, Villela’s organization has delivered school supplies and used clothing to 85 elementary school children in the mountains of Guatemala.
“We contacted two more villages where there were students and teachers, but no school buildings,” he said. “We hope to build in the area of San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, and have assigned this task to our San Diego support group. Responsibility for a third location in Chiquimula will be taken on by a group in Los Angeles. I will conduct meetings throughout the summer, and coordinate fundraising activities, and plan to visit Guatemala by the beginning of the new school year next January.”
One of Villela’s newest volunteers is Lynne Collins, a friend and property management colleague for almost 18 years.
Collins explained that her fascination with Guatemala began as a child growing up in Orange County, and continued after she moved there with her family in the 1970s.
“I’m passionate about the country and want to be part of the dream that began in 2006,” she said. “Finally, I can help and reciprocate what Edwin’s doing. The thing that we talk about that is most exciting is that these kids and teachers show up even though they don’t have proper desks. They want to learn, and their parents want to learn!”
Collins built a Facebook page for Help for Schools where supporters can make a $20 annual donation, and see how the money is being spent.
At some point, Collins hopes to relocate to Guatemala and get more involved on a hands-on basis.
Villela arrived in the United States 31 years ago after fleeing Guatemala during the civil war. He explained what drove him to establish his nonprofit in a story published Feb. 23, 2011, in The Coast News titled, “Local realtor’s nonprofit helps build schools in his native Guatemala.”
“Part of my motivation was seeing my own children in schools here in San Diego and comparing them to schools in rural Guatemala,” he said.
To make a contribution or for more information about Help for Schools, call (760) 522-5560 or visit fupegua.org or Help for Schools’ Facebook page. Opportunities are also available to sponsor a school in the name of a person or a business.