Julie Coyne, project founder and director, is originally from Norwalk, CT and has lived and worked in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala since February of 1994. She is responsible for overall project management and for all fundraising in the U.S.
My original intention in traveling to Guatemala in 1994 was to study Spanish in an immersion program, hoping to achieve proficiency in the language before going back to school for a Masters in Education and Social Work. Although it was never my intention to stay permanently, I quickly fell in love with the Guatemalan people and was welcomed into their communities as though I had always lived there. I began my time as a volunteer, first working on community service projects organized by a local Spanish language school. We built brick stoves for families who cooked over open fires and latrines for families with no public sanitation services. We also collaborated with a community-run hot-lunch program for children. Later I developed a program for preschool-aged children in a local domestic violence shelter.
During this time spent working together with Guatemalan families, I began to learn about the difficulties many faced in their day-to-day lives. They had worries I was not accustomed to thinking about on a daily basis: whether or not they would be able to put food on the table, providing shoes and clothes for their children, being able to send their kids to school, finding affordable medical care during illnesses. The issue I most clearly identified with was education. I could not believe that there were children in my community that had to drop out of school to work at age 10 or age 12, or that there were children who were never able to go to school at all.
As I began to be more intimately involved in the lives of so many people plagued by such degrading and life-threatening poverty, I realized that I wanted to be a part of a process for true and lasting change. I didn’t want my contribution to be merely a temporary relief. My dream was to create a foundation that would provide children with what I consider a fundamental human right: an education. I wanted to help this community that had embraced me as one of their own by giving their children the tools they need to help them make a difference in their own lives. Out of this dream Education and Hope was created.