Alum raises funds for Guatemalan orphanage

Madison Martin

For most Americans, living a life devoid of books and education would be unthinkable. But for many children growing up in Guatemala, this is their reality.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, only approximately three-fourths of Guatemalan children complete primary education up to sixth grade, with under 40 percent enrolling in middle school.

“It changes your perspective, for sure, and it shows, I think, just how blessed we are as like Americans that have been given a free education and have had access to books and paper and pencils,” Megan Skaggs, a WKU alumna and Brownsville native, said.

For Skaggs, working alongside children who fell within these statistics helped guide her to the path she is on today: raising funds for Casa Shalom Orphanage before setting off in January to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Guatemala.

During the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Skaggs completed a six-week internship at the Guatemalan non-profit organization. The orphanage cares for more than 100 children, employs a staff of over 50 people and receives no funding from their government.

According to co-director Jessica Hanson, who oversees the orphanage with her husband, Casa Shalom’s children “have all either been orphaned, severely neglected, abandoned or abused in some way.” Many come in with a history of undernourishment, sexual abuse and working as young as 5 years old.

Hanson said most of the children they welcome in have never had the opportunity to attend school.

“They can be 12 or 13-years-old and completely illiterate. We send them to school, teach them to read and write – and we teach them to be book lovers,” Hanson said in an email. “Our goal is to instill in the children a life-long passion for reading and for learning.”

During her internship, Skaggs tutored and assisted with their child sponsorship program. The children’s academic levels varied markedly, with some enrolled in school and using extra help afterwards, while others were learning in order to prepare for entrance into a school environment.

That summer, Skaggs noticed the orphanage had only a small selection of books and hoped that someday they could have a more extensive library. When Hanson told her it was a project they had begun to work on this year, Skaggs offered to raise funds through running.

Skaggs’ fundraising campaign, called Paces for Pages, has a goal of raising $1,000 for the purchase of more Spanish-language books. As part of the fundraiser, she decided to run the Medical Center 10k last month, and the upcoming Bowling Green Half Marathon this weekend.

“I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without having books at my fingertips,” Skaggs said. “I think that all kids should have that opportunity. Do they? No. Will they, all of them, ever? Probably not. But, if I can help with a few, I think that’s better than none.”

Enlisting her boyfriend into the race, they will run the full half together, while a couple of friends plan to support the cause by wearing Paces for Pages shirts and running the Bowling Green 6K.

One such friend, Tanya Escobar, a Bowling Green senior of Guatemalan and El Salvadorian descent, first visited her Central American roots last winter where she got a better perspective of the extent of child poverty there.

“I have taken too much for granted and whenever I went over there, that just opened my eyes,” Escobar said. “You see kids over there that don’t … have anything.”

With a completed honors thesis on the efficacy of Central American nonprofits providing education to children, Skaggs will continue her involvement in the region as a Fulbrighter by returning to Guatemala to help teach ESL, act as a cultural ambassador and implement a side project.

“I knew that when I left that I would be going back,” Skaggs said. “I just never expected it to be this way.”

Although the race is on Sunday, Skaggs will still accept donations after that date. She says she plans to send it to Casa Shalom mid-November.

“We must raise every cent needed to provide food, medicine, schooling and programs like our library for the children,” Hanson said in an email. “Without people like Megan sacrificing to partner with us, Casa Shalom’s work wouldn’t be possible.”

To make a contribution, you can donate directly at Paces for Pages’ fundraising page on, or by emailing Skaggs at [email protected].

Additionally, on Thursday, Bluetique will give a 15 percent discount to those who donate lightly used children’s books. They will be donating 10 percent of their proceeds to Paces for Pages that day.

Reporter Madison Martin can be reached at (270) 745-2655 and [email protected].