Solar Empowerment: Lights Illuminating Guatemalan Hills and Hearts

Reader Contribution by Luke Maguire Armstrong
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A Guatemalan family receives a micro-financed solar system on their home.

On Capitol Hill, a heated debate is underway about renewing the solar incentive set to expire at the end of 2016. Mixed into the political muck, the importance of solar energy subsidies manages to become murky.

3,000 miles away in a small shack in the rural Guatemalan hills, solutions are simpler. Amid the myriad of midnight insect songs, a boy and his mother see how solar powered lights shine a positive glow on their future.

By using a solar energy, the family has more to eat. Since the arrival of their solar system micro-financed by the Integral Heart Foundation, the family saves $200 annually on candles. That’s 1/5 of their annual income! The boy has a reliable light to do his homework by and for the first time in his life, thanks to the foundation, he has homework to do. This educational opportunity offers him opportunities to escape a vicious cycle of generational poverty.

Solar Empowerment and The Integral Heart Foundation

The Integral Heart Foundation combines education for the poor with environmentalism in a way that bypasses the problems facing our developed world.

As economists and environmentalists worry about when the poor become “unpoor” and consume at the rate of the rest of us, solar-powered lights flicker to life in houses and schools in Guatemala. A young orphaned girl is learning to cope with trauma through meditation. Critical thinking and Philosophy are taught to students who a few years ago had very little opportunity to access education.

Kids engaged in the Critical Thinking class provided by The Integral Heart Foundation.

But students of The Integral Heart are not just learning to be successful, they are being taught values to bypass the consumerism and consumption that fuels the fires of the developed world.

“What’s the point of helping the poor become just as messed up  [expletive omitted] as us?” someone asked me once in a conversation on educational development for the poor. It’s an important question that usually goes unanswered in the structuring of development programs. But it’s one that’s been thought through by The Integral Heart Foundation whose model is designed to teach their students and dependents to be “better” than us.

Even more crucial, their educational model is built to create a generation of teachers who can exponentially spread the lessons they’ve been entrusted with.

Mick Quinn, co-founder of the Integral Heart Foundation, was interviewed by his hometown paper and asked what his ultimate goal was with his foundation. “Simple really,” he said, “That our current senior students become teachers of the teachers so that the critical thinking and other education programs can continue to evolve long after we are gone.”

How to Do a Lot with Little

Here’s what’s most surprising about all this: The Integral Heart Foundation supports the lives and education of 60 children and teenagers and supports 45 families to reach 350 individuals annually.

In addition to supporting general education, they have five different learning programs: Critical-Thinking, English, Spanish, History and Psychology. These programs go on in 4 separate locations. Since its inception in 2010, their solar power program has illuminated 21 homes and 3 schools. All of this is being accomplished on a $100k annual budget —  than what most charity CEOs make.

For the first time ever, an electric light shines from solar power in a hillside home in rural Guatemala.

How Your Help Can Take the Integral Heart Foundation to the Next Level  

The Integral Heart Foundation has grown from humble roots and is ready to take their model and program to the next level.

For five years, they’ve used borrowed space across different locations. Now, they are working to raise $20k by January to open an education center in time for the start of classes. This center will also be the hub of their microfinance solar empowerment program.

In the larger scheme of things, $20,000 is a drop in the bucket. But for 60 kids in Guatemala, it will open the doors to a bright future few could have imagined.

This link will take you to the Integral Educational Center’s crowdfunding page. Please reach out and join this cause by helping us reach this goal and passing it along to others. From all the kids in the program, muchisimas gracias!

Photos courtesy The Integral Heart Foundation

Luke Maguire Armstrong has worked in development everywhere from Guatemal, to Kenya, Uganda, and the Bronx. He lectures on topics ranging from human trafficking, economics, philosophy, creative writing, and international affairs. He is the author of the intrepidly acclaimed travel anthologyThe Nomad’s NomadFollow him @LukeSpartacus and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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