Charity group helps Guatemalans break poverty cycle

Charity group helps Guatemalans break poverty cycle

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -

A young woman has risen out of poverty from one of the poorest corners in the Western Hemisphere thanks in part to an Alpharetta dentist and his family.

Ancelma Ortiz, 22, is from Santiago Sacatepequez, a small town in the highlands of Guatemala. It's a village outside Guatemala City where most girls work in the fields like their parents. They're subsistence farmers who live on about $1 a day.

For 17 years, the charity Cooperative for Education has given children like Ancelma access to textbooks and computers – and a way out of crushing poverty in Guatemala.

"In my case, I had to help my mom to go to the market and sell different types of vegetables and some flowers as well," Ortiz said.

Alpharetta dentist Dr. George MacMaster and his wife, Michelle, are big supporters of the charity. The MacMasters and their children have traveled to Guatemala several times to see the work in action.

"The impact of providing books and computers to children who have zero -- we're not enhancing a library, we're providing the very first books they've ever had in their lives, and it's also been pointed that sometimes it's the first book the family has ever had," MacMaster said.

The gratitude of the children is overwhelming and lasting because they and their families invest in the success.

Jeff Berninger and his brother Joe quit the corporate world to establish CoEd, but they brought their business savvy with them.

"We've found that in all of our work -- over 20 years -- that if you give people something for free, they don't appreciate it. They don't involve themselves in it," Berninger said.

So the families pay about a dollar a month for a set of four textbooks.

"That money goes into a fund and at the end of five years, there's enough money in the fund to start replacing the books," Berninger said.

It work: 120 communities have replaced their own books at least once -- a blessing for Ancelma and thousands more like her.

Ancelma said she now does customer service for an international company.

"Every single day I take calls on the phone," she said.

The MacMasters and their staff recently welcomed Ancelma as their honored guest with a banner and a bed of pine needles – a Guatemalan tradition.

Ancelma said she was eager to take what she learned in her visit back home.

"It's a really good experience that you can improve yourself and actually you can support your family and you can be an example in your town," Ancelma said.

The average family in the Guatemalan highlands has six children. Boys, not girls, typically get what education is available, but success stories such as Ancelma's are changing attitudes.

For more information on Cooperative for Education, visit: http://coeduc.org/

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