You'd Be Amazed at What One Woman Can Do

by 
Betsy Teutsch, for the Shuttle
Betsy Teutsch photo
Katie Korsyn (top, at left) with some of her young clients at Camino a la Escuela in Antigua, Guatemala. Like the other women featured in this story, she identified an opportunity to make a difference.

Here in sunny Guatemala, documenting textiles, I’ve witnessed a phenomenon: one-woman NGOs. There is a pattern. First, a visit, where she is enchanted by the vibrant, colorful, gentle culture — and shocked by the deprivation. On return trips, she leverages resources to expand opportunities for Guatemalans (usually kids). Ultimately, she creates a mini-non-governmental organization, complete with office, website and Facebook page.

One of the social entrepreneurs I’ve encountered is young, as you might expect, but others are mature women who use their talents and networks to have an impact here, where euros and dollars go far.

Katie Korsyn, a 26-year-old Masterman alum from East Oak Lane, attended one of the popular Spanish schools here during college and returned after majoring in development at George Washington University. In addition to her day jobs teaching both students and fellow teachers, she runs Camino a la Escuela, “Road to School.” Camino provides supplemental education for street children and their younger siblings, also reaching out to their families. (info: www.facebook.com/caminoalaescuelaguatemala.)

Cindy Schneider created Nueva Generación, based in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, not far from Antigua where I have been staying. She lives in Raleigh, NC, and comes to Guatemala every winter for a few hands-on months. NuevaGen provides school sponsorships for 90 students. (For more info: www.nuevagen.org.)

School in Guatemala is technically free, but the requirements for students — uniforms, books, supplies, backpacks, swimsuits — are beyond the means of low-income families. Active in her home Jewish community, Cindy organizes volunteer groups to visit and help out.

In addition to raising funds and organizing volunteers, Cindy knows her families’ challenges and is constantly problem-solving. I went with her to drop off a used laptop I had ferried from 19119. The recipient, from a family of nine kids, lives in a one-room compound. Wilson has aged out of her program, but Cindy knew how useful this laptop would be for his accounting studies, and also to his five younger sisters (one in Cindy’s program), who earn money by weaving and doing laundry.

Mieke Blankers, a focused Dutch woman, boards at the guest house where we stayed. Over shared meals, visitors report on their activities. I learned from the others that Mieke also runs her own NGO, Foundation Mimariposa, providing 90 of these wrap-around sponsorships to foster children. Additional funds provide families with water filters, food and health care. Ten months a year, she manages a cleaning plant in The Netherlands; the other two months (January-February, not surprising for a Northern European), she is on site. (For more info: www.mimariposa.org.)

Vicki Horsfield traveled to Guatemala to improve her Spanish and unexpectedly found a calling. As she puts it, “I realized I am a tool: I’ve been put to use here!” She returned to Canada, arranged early retirement, and moved to San Antonio to help Guatemalan children succeed in school. Her NGO’s name reflects her mission precisely: Creating Opportunities for Guatemalans. On a shoestring budget, she provides supplemental school classes and soccer programs, and has plans to build a library using one of my favorite materials — you guessed it — plastic bottle bricks. (Info: www.facebook.com/CreatingOpportunitiesforGuatemalans.)

I think if I asked any of these four dynamos why they do what they do, their answers would be the same: Because I can make a difference.

Betsy Teutsch is a Weavers Way working member and author of “100 Under $100: Tools for Empowering Global Women.”