Photos and Facts 

of the William M. Botnan Learning Center


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Photos by Don O'Neal                                                                                                                                     Words by Lois O'Neal

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Welcome to Santa Avelina, a mountain village of 2000 Mayan descendents in the Ixil Triangle, Guatemala.  Embraced by two towering waterfalls, this lush paradise grows bananas, coffee, corn, and black beans on steep hillsides at an elevation of 4300 feet.

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Since the early 1980's, HELPS supported a primer school here. Due to severe overcrowding in the national school, the town fathers asked HELPS to build a school.  Paul Townsend, the Wycliffe translator for this area, inspired several donors including

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The Foundation of the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology who got behind the project when their treasurer, Bill Botnan, visited the old school in Santa Avelina in 1994.  In Oct 1997, the 1st of 12 construction teams, totaling 185 volunteer weeks, began.

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Project manager and school designer, Don O'Neal said that each team came with the exact skills that were needed at the exact time.  Bob McConnell stayed 1 year on-site supervising the local labor.  Many of you donated money, supplies, and equipment. 

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The selfless dedication is symbolized by a HELPS volunteer who, when her husband asked her what she wanted for their 25th anniversary, said "Windows for the school in Santa Avelina."  That's what they did instead of a cruise and are one of our partners.

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The building has 5 classrooms downstairs and a light, spacious room upstairs to serve as an auditorium, adult education area, or a volunteer dormitory.  It also has a kitchen, flush toilets, hot showers, and enough electrical capacity to run a computer center. 

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In 1999 when the new building opened, 62 children attended grades K-3.  In 2001, 118 children are enrolled in a K-4th grade school which employs a school director, 5 teachers, and 1 aide. Their school year runs mid January to November.  

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Students learn to read in Ixil, their native Mayan language and then transition to Spanish.  Their 7:30 a.m. until 12:30 classes include Christian principles, language, math, social science, natural science, and personal health/hygiene.

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The school is named for Bill Botnan of Minnesota. Bill is an air force veteran of WW II where he served for 4 years, 3 of which were overseas in campaigns in Africa, Sicily, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, and France.  His career was in clinic management.

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Alvaro Arz˙, Pres. of Guatemala on Dedication Day 4 June 1999, honored HELPS and the school by attending the ceremony and presenting a certificate of honor to Mr. Botnan.  Forty intrepid travelers from the States also joined the celebration.

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Stephen Miller, Pres of HELPS, and Paul Townsend, the1999 HELPS Guat Director presided over the ceremony which took place upstairs in the school. To understand the impact of this school imagine a home without books, a village without a newspaper, democracy without literacy.  Without you, another generation could be illiterate. Without you, the poverty cycle might not be broken. Because of you, our students will have a chance to compete in the 21st century. 

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Your contribution goes to Guatemala to pay for the school's utilities, teachers' salaries & benefits, supplies, equipment, books, and incaparina, a nutritious drink designed for the rural people. The U.S. PEP project is managed with donated time & money.

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Another HELPS program in the village is the Health Promoter Program, started with money given by the Foundation, thanks to the leadership of  Dr. Dick Galbraith. The village women formed an executive group which sets standards for 65 enrolled families.

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They asked for concrete floors instead of dirt  in order to keep their houses clean.   They asked for a better way of cooking than on an open fire inside the house. Each of these requests are being accomplished in an on-going partnership between the family and HELPS volunteers.  (For more information on the HELPS stove, click on )  The woman's role centers around gathering fire wood, cooking, caring for children, and weaving intricate blouses on backstrap looms.  Almost all of the village women, and many men, only speak Ixil and are unable to read, write, or sign their names.  

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What else can a partner do?  Send birthday cards, letters, photos--things to create a friendship. If you don't write Spanish, the HELPS office in Guatemala will translate. Pray for your partner and the families. Visit them by going down on a work team or join a PEP tour to the village.  You can give a book to the school library in honor of your partner (see the PEP newsletter for a list and other gift ideas).  In order for your envelopes to be hand-carried to the village, send them to the HELPS office, 15301 Dallas Parkway, Suite 200, Addison, TX 75001, ATTN: PEP.

threegirls.jpg (66001 bytes) What a "return on investment"!  Consider how much tuition is for a private school in the U.S. compared to this school in Santa Avelina.  Consider the need undeveloped countries have for educated people.  Consider the resources we use and waste in the U.S. while the rest of the world barely has enough food.  Consider offering a helping hand to give a boost--to give hope for the future.   


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In the words of Mother Teresa, "I never look at the masses as my responsibility.  I look at the individual.  I can love only one person at a time.  I can feed only one person at a time.  Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Christ said, 'Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me' you begin...I begin.  I picked up one person...maybe if I didn't pick up that one person I wouldn't have picked up 42,000.  The whole work is only a drop in the ocean.  But if I didn't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less.  Same thing for you.  Same thing in your family...same thing in the church where you go. Just begin one..."


Ta'ntioxh see ti' u eskulea.     Gracias por la escuela.     Thank you for the school.                       Ixil                                   Spanish                            English