OCEANSIDE — Thirty years after fleeing Guatemala during the civil war, businessman Edwin Villela is building schools in his homeland through his nonprofit, Help for Schools, Inc.
Villela hopes North County residents and businesses will step up to the plate and consider making a donation so that he can build more.
“It takes a donation of $20 once a year from 1,000 donors to build one school in a rural village,” Villela said. Each school has three classrooms and a multipurpose room to serve 75 to 100 children, grades one to six. After graduation, children can continue their education at a middle school in a nearby community and go on to trade school and even university.
Villela was 28 when he came to the United States and moved in with relatives in Los Angeles.
“I was a factory worker and part-time student at Pierce College taking English and real estate courses,” he said. After getting his license in 1985, he kept his factory job while launching his real estate career.
When he moved to Oceanside in 1990, Villela’s business flourished. Now a husband and father, Villela was eager to show his family the country of his birth.
“My wife and kids joined me on various trips back and forth to Guatemala,” he said. “I noticed some progress, but rural areas were worse than before. There was a growing population but with no education.”
Many of the problems related to the fact that villagers are descendants of the ancient Mayans and speak their own dialect. Most live in communities that are perched on top of hills and can only be accessed by foot.
“In 2007 I got the idea of helping to improve rural education and, along with other Guatemalan-Americans, established the nonprofit organization Help for Schools, Inc.,” Villela said. “Part of my motivation was seeing my own children in schools here in San Diego and comparing them to schools in rural Guatemala.”
In 2009, Help for Schools assisted with the construction of a school in Tapazan, near the town of Chiquimula.
In 2010, the nonprofit built schools in Nuevo Progreso and Calvario in the region of Huehuetenango. During construction, children and villagers hauled cinder blocks, gravel, sand, cement bags and rebar up steep hills for hours until reaching the building site. Materials were provided by the government, the plans by Help for Schools.
“In 2010 we delivered free school supplies to the villages of Tapazan, El Conacaste and El Magueyal in the region of Chiquimula,” Vallela said. “I have requests from many other locations and have seen about 20 other schools around the country that I would like to help some day.”
Because the villages have no electricity, Villela also donated rechargeable, battery-operated amplifier systems to enable students to better hear and understand their teachers.
“I am grateful to the people of San Diego since their support has made this project possible,” he said. “God bless them all.”
Villela is also grateful to his children, Leslie, Edwin Jr. and George; stepdaughter, Shayla; and wife, Elvia for accompanying him on his mission trips and sharing his vision for empowering these schoolchildren with an education.
In addition to private donors, Villela has received financial support from businesses including Staples, Carlsbad; Unipac, Carlsbad; O’Brien’s Boulangerie of Delmar; Ochoas Auto Repair, San Diego; Restaurante El Salvador, San Diego; Q-Sports, San Diego; Sonican Trucking, Chicago, Ill.; and Mike Guardia, Galveston, Texas.
Edgar Escobar, owner of O’Brien’s Boulangerie in Del Mar, is a native Guatemalan and strong supporter of Help for Schools.
“Edwin stops by the bakery and shows me pictures of what he’s doing and it motivates me to want to help more,” he said. “These little towns really don’t have anything. I have Guatemalan employees and ask them to participate in any events that will help these people, too.”
To make a contribution or for more information about Help for Schools, call (760) 522-5560 or visit www.fupegua.org. Opportunities are also available to sponsor a school in the name of a person or a business.