Four Students in Secondary School!

When the director of the community center contacted us about creating a scholarship program we could not have been more excited. We had been mulling over the same idea for a few weeks and had actually drafted an email to this effect, but on the day we were going to send it I hesitated because I felt that we might be imposing our ideas on the community center. I didn’t send the email that day, electing instead to pray about it and reconsider. THAT NIGHT we received an email from the center requesting us to consider a scholarship program, and since then we have been slowly moving the ball down the field.

There were multiple prerequisite tasks to work on before we were able to actually fund the scholarships. We first needed to determine how many students we could support and get a specific rundown of the expenses associated with their degree programs. We then established the reporting procedure with the leadership of the community center to insure that any potential academic difficulties would be identified and addressed immediately. We left it to Zarai, longtime director of the center, to identify promising students, and we were thrilled that we already knew two of the four students selected and had previously visited their home.

Finally this summer we were ready to transfer the funds for the scholarships. As I explored various mechanisms we could use, it appeared that wiring funds through our bank would be the most cost-effective way to accomplish this. I could not have been more wrong. After we sent the wire our nervousness grew day by day when the funds never showed up in the recipient account. This soon turned into frantic calls to the financial institutions involved, but no one was able to identify were the funds had gone. They left our bank, but did not arrive in the recipient account. The prospect of losing over $4,000 of our donor’s money was very real for over three weeks, and left me physically nauseous. Finally the wire services representative at our credit union finally started to investigate, likely due to her exasperation at my increasingly frantic calls and emails. We eventually found the funds in limbo, and had them returned to our account. This affair has probably shortened my life by 2-3 years, but eventually we were able to transfer the funds reliably using a money transfer service. To be fair, no one ever claimed that the Guatemalan banking system was reliable.

I am now extremely thankful to report to you that the funds have been spent on books, computer fees, tuition, and uniforms for the four students and we have received the necessary documentation for this. We are so thankful for your continued support of the center, and we will be organizing future fundraisers to continue to support these scholarships into the coming years. For those of you who have taken the next step to become sustaining monthly donors please hear this - you are giving these four students the opportunities that were unthinkable to them only a few short months ago. I know it is so difficult to be emotionally connected to those so far away, yet you continue to support us in helping kids you have never met.  I don’t have the words to thank you enough for this.

-Ryan Bures

Welcome Kyleigh!


We are thrilled to announce an addition to the Palms and Souls team! This isn’t a new face; she has been working with us since the very beginning. If you ever perused this website, you have witnessed our newest board member’s handiwork. If you follow us on Facebook you have seen many of her amazing designs. And let’s be honest, no one was fooled into thinking Ryan or I created any of those images. If you followed our latest  trip to Guatemala, you saw her navigating Guatemalan markets, organizing books, designing room layouts, and hanging out with some of our amazing kiddos!

Palms and Souls welcomes Kyleigh Warnke to the board of directors. Recently, Kyleigh made the move from Port Orange, Florida to Pardeeville, Wisconsin. We are so excited to have her back in the area! Kyleigh freelances full-time for Sparrow Kreatives, her business that focuses on customized visual branding & collaterals.  Kyleigh’s primary responsibilities will be design and social media. Palms and Souls is lucky to have her join our board of directors!

March 2018 Updates

1. It has been a year since the library project was completed. Students are using this resource during their school day and have free reading time at the center. The center is devoted to developing personal character and a love of learning. They are using the library to help achieve those aims. Free reading isn’t a cultural norm, partly due to the lack of access, so this will continue to be a focus area for our work. We continually get photos of students using the library and are honored to be a part of their personal and educational journey!

2. Palms and Souls partnered with All Saints Catholic School in Antigo for the 2nd year in a row. Ryan and Reidun had the privilege of speaking in front of all 4K-8th grade students about the successful library build, future scholarship opportunities for students, and overall educational issues in Guatemala. The students were a great audience. Then the students and staff took over and raised 450 dollars during Catholic Schools Week events! We couldn’t be more thankful for all the staff, student, and parent participation.

3. We are continuing to work on potential scholarship opportunities for students who are excelling academically. There are a lot of details still being worked out and some procedural roadblocks. For example, we are exploring the most reliable and efficient ways to pay each individual school in a timely and secure manner. The board is working diligently together and with the directors of the community center to work through possible issues before we roll out a comprehensive campaign. We are hoping to present you with a plan soon. Please pray for our team here and in Guatemala. We are confident that God is the leader of this plan, so we are excited to see the work he does through these amazing students.

4. Students at El Buen Samaritano have started school! Their school year begins in January. The supplies we provided last year have been enough to sustain them throughout this year as well! We look forward to hearing about all their academic growth in their new private school.

Palms and Souls- Our Next Mission


What’s next? After the library, what will we do? How can we further impact the lives of students and their families? These are the questions we have been grappling with since our campaign to build the library. If you didn’t see the amazing final result of that venture, click here. When I say grappling, I mean grappling: tossing, turning, discussing, and reading. We want to make sure our next step is the best step for the students and donors we serve.  

The more we thought, discussed, and prayed, the more we became convinced that a portion of our support should be focused on a few, chosen students in order to maximize their opportunity to excel academically and produce meaningful change in their own lives. Since we believe education is a critical catalyst for life-change, our thought process began there. So what if we provided tuition, tutoring, supplies, and uniforms to three students with assurance that we would help them navigate any financial obstacles to getting a high-quality education? What if we could do this for students that are already excelling in school? Would this give them the boost they needed to create a different path for their entire family?

We were pretty excited about these ideas and questions. Ryan was typing up the proposal to send to the directors of the community center when he felt a need to stop. This would be a huge undertaking for everyone, including the directors, who already have a pretty full plate. We decided to pause and take a few more days or weeks to pray and think on our proposal.

Well it certainly didn’t take a few weeks to find our answer. At 6 pm that same night, I received an email from the directors. They have THREE students who are excelling academically in their middle-level classes. Yes, THREE…the exact number we had in our own proposal! These THREE students are getting close to high school age. Most high schools are tuition-based in Guatemala, so these students will not be able to afford their education without our help. All students and families are willing to communicate and send documentation of their progress throughout the year. Plus, Ryan has already met all the families when he did the interviews last summer. Wow!

We had NEVER talked about this idea with the directors before, so we were in a solid state of shock and awe. We are now sure that God is behind this plan, so that’s the path we are going to follow. The directors are now in the process of figuring out the exact cost of this undertaking and interviewing the students and their families. We are thrilled to roll the entire plan out to you as soon as we have all the information. For now, pray with us for these three deserving students!

Soot, Smoke, and Stoves

One class of problems common to developing countries are the environmental and health consequences of cooking over an open flame. An essential distinction of the human species is that we tend to prefer cooked and processed foods that allow us to extract the most possible calories in order to feed our enormous brain, a behavior that proved quite useful in the often calorie-scarce ancient world. But all of you who have spent any time camping know that this behavior comes at a cost: large amounts of wood for fuel and clothes filled with the (glorious) smell of a campfire. In most Guatemalan homes, meals are still prepared over an open flame, often indoors and with poor ventilation. This type of indoor cooking is a huge risk factor for developing respiratory diseases such as COPD and is now being recognized as a significant public health problem for these families. Here are a few popular press articles from Newsweek and PBS that address this subject. For those of you that are more science-inclined, you can look at an academic paper on the subject here. 

Wood stacks for cooking are a mainstay of most Guatemalan front yards.

Wood stacks for cooking are a mainstay of most Guatemalan front yards.

We are so excited to tell you all about a project we are undertaking to help address these issues for families that attend the community center.  This fall we are partnering with Engineers Without Borders at the University of Wisconsin to design and produce cooking stoves that: 1) effectively re-direct smoke and pollutants outside the living area, 2) reduce the amount of fuel necessary to prepare food, 3) withstand the grueling toll of daily use, and 4) are cost-efficient to produce and install. The future physician in me is quite excited that such a simple device could lead to better health in these communities, but Guatemalan families will probably be more impressed by prospect of buying/collecting less wood rather than a future reduction in chronic lung disease. The increased fuel efficiency these stoves will provide is a critical part of gaining community buy-in and adoption. 

We could not be more thankful that Tabatha, an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin and Guatemala Program Director for Engineers Without Borders, was so eager to mobilize a team to take on this project. We can’t wait to see the designs their team produces! Here is a message from her about the project: 

This week, Engineers Without Borders UW - Guatemala will be hosting our kickoff meeting to start the semester work on our water project and new cook-stove project! We estimate that more than thirty students will be involved in the stove project design teams this semester, and we plan on having two groups of students create unique improved stove designs. We are so excited to work on this design and partner with Palms and Souls in an effort to engineer a better world and improve the daily lives of the people of Guatemala!

September Updates

1) All El Buen Samaritano students are attending Vicentino de Corazon, a private school! The school is renting out the community center building in exchange for all our students’ tuition-free attendance! If you missed our last post about the Guatemalan education system, check it out here. I can’t overstate how amazing this is for all the kids and their futures!

Students in school uniforms

Students in school uniforms

2)  Our generous donors were able to replace drum sticks, patch several drums, and buy three horns for the after school band. This donation allows our students’ continued participation. Danny is the band director for a few local private schools and our students get to participate if they can provide their own instruments. The band is a treasure in Jocotenango. Being a band member makes you a local celebrity. When they practice up and down the streets, neighbors come out of their houses to cheer them on. It is quite a site! There aren’t very many extracurricular options, so we are thrilled to support our musically-inclined students. For many, the band is a motivator to stay in school and involved with the community center, keeping those stabilizing and enriching influences in their lives.

3) Students have been receiving traditional cooking lessons from our very own Lady Torres (daughter of director). Students learn how to prep and cook nutritious meals that they can share with their own families.

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Guatemala Trip 2017- Mission Library

On March 31, students entered the El Buen Samaritano library for the first time. Initially, they went towards the chairs in the corner and just looked with wide eyes. But once Ryan said “You can touch them,” the floodgates opened. There was pointing, sharing, touching, and READING. Little hands grasped onto brand-new covers and the smiles were endless. Some students even hugged the books. It looked like they had never seen so many books in one place. Honestly, I’m not sure if many of them had ever seen a new book before. This brought tears to my eyes, not only because I knew these stories were going to be educationally and emotionally empowering to these students, but I also knew that each of these books contained such a tangible expression of your long-distance love. These books were sent from schools all across the world, from our family, friends, and strangers. They were sent with notes from the University of Wisconsin medical students, and from friends in Florida and Georgia. Words can’t describe the power of that moment. We have been motivated by believing in the potential of these 958 books to truly impact our 63 kids, and it is so gratifying to see it come to fruition. So we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Your gift has provided these kids with an invaluable tool for enhancing their academic achievement while opening their minds to the innumerable joys of literature. 

We flew into Guatemala early Saturday morning, hearts heavy after a devastating Badger Sweet 16 loss witnessed from the airport terminal. Kyleigh, Ryan and I had full overnight travel itineraries with little sleep, so we were running on adrenaline for most of the first day. We were pretty worried about the potential complications of importing $1,300 worth of books through Guatemalan customs - you can imagine our relief when the entire process was accomplished without incident. After getting picked up by Danny and Zarai (directors of El Buen Samaritano) at the airport, we collected our friend Dietrich from his hostel and then headed to some local bookstores in Guatemala City! We shopped in a rather ritzy zone of Guatemala City in bookstores filled with many popular American titles and series. I looked at our list of donated books for months on the computer, and it was surreal to be able to finally purchase the hard copies. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed since all shops were closed for the celebration of Advent festivities. We spent the morning exploring Antigua and climbing a nearby hill which offered amazing views of the city. As Kyleigh and I were sipping on our water on top of the hill, a few Guatemalan teens came up to us. I don’t speak spanish so I played a week long game of charades with anyone who tried to talk to me. We thought they were gesturing us to take a picture of them with their phone. After some mild confusion and more motions, we figured out they wanted a picture with us. When they left, Ryan came up the hill laughing and told us they were saying, “Those American girls look like they need some friends.” So I guess we made some new friends that morning. The afternoon was spent processing the books by recording titles and attaching the library cards.

Monday was the first day we did some team splitting. Ryan, Dietrich, and Danny headed to get lumber and crates to build the shelves while Kyleigh, Zarai, and I stayed in Anigua to finish our book shopping. Kyleigh and I also visited The School of Hope in Jocotenango, which is a private school run by an organization based out of the UK. We are so thankful for Sara who spent an hour with us touring the building and answering our endless questions about the community. More to come on this in another post.

On Tuesday we put in some sweat equity. Kyleigh and I tackled the task of digitally and physically organizing all the books. Ryan, Dietrich, Danny, and Freddy (brother of Danny) endlessly sanded boards and crates that had recently been sawed into rough lumber (we bought the “rustico” grade for price). When I say endlessly that is exactly what I mean. Sanding was the task that never ended. They also started creating our book display wall and hanging brackets for the future shelves.

Wednesday brought more finagling of the hanging fixtures, and we also started to assemble our large bookshelf that would cover the north wall of the room.  Best of all, it was also the afternoon we set aside to hang out with kids. We ate chicken and beans for lunch and played many vicious rounds of dodgeball. I also played about a million rounds of Miss Mary Mack and Ryan threw every child under 10 in the air around a dozen times. Smiles, laughter, and hugs were numerous - my favorite day. 

Thursday we left town for the day. We hired a man to repair the tin roof over the room and install a drop-ceiling to insure that our books would be protected from annual rainy seasons, and this was his day to complete the task. But we also had a mission for the day trip: Zarai and Danny were taking us to Puerto San Jose, a port town on the Pacific Ocean where they are considering implementing another community center similar to the operation in Jocotenango. Not surprisingly, Zarai has a heart for this community too. Each time I’m in Guatemala, I am most taken by Zarai and her love for the people of Guatemala. You go anywhere with her and she is known. I can’t even count the amount of hugs she receives in a day. She has committed her whole life to lifting others up. I’m so inspired by her. Her family members have a home Puerto San Jose with a dirt from yard, and this is where we gathered with the neighborhood children to eat a delicious meal and get to know them. So like everywhere else in the world, there are always more kids that we would love to love. We are a long way from being able to expand our services to this community, but these kids have made their way into our heart and we hope that someday, once the Jocotenango community center is fully functional, we might be able to serve more children in some capacity. Stay tuned friends...


That night we returned to a completed ceiling!  We then set to the task of organizing all the books on their proper shelves and entering the stragglers into our database.  I cannot even tell you how excited we were to have to project DONE! We quickly packed our bags in preparation for our flights home the next day, eagerly anticipating the next morning when our kids would see their library for the first time. 

And the rest was bliss. Words can’t describe the contentment I felt when these kids walked into the room and actually got excited about what was there. I have never been prouder in my life. I am proud to personally know so many of the people who contributed. I am honored to be in the profession that lifted this little non-profit up through engaging students and schools in impactful work. I am so blessed to work with Pernille Ripp who took a chance on us and introduced our work to the amazing community at the Global Read Aloud. Ryan and I are so thankful and humbled by all of you. Your money is working to give 63 students hope and an opportunity to create a brighter future for themselves

Education in Guatemala

Students in their school uniforms

Students in their school uniforms

The School of Hope serves students in Jocotenango and the surrounding areas whose families make less than $1 a day. This 4k-8th grade school is supported by the Education for a Future Foundation which also funds scholarships for student to attend private high schools and colleges. Sara, the volunteer coordinator, gave us a tour and offered some insight in the Guatemalan education system. Here are some things we learned:

  1. In public schools, class sizes range from 50-70 students per class.
  2. Public schools do not provide supplies or food to the students. Schools are under-resourced and overcrowded.
  3. Many students in Jocotenango go to school during the day and will go with their parents to Antigua at night to peddle goods in the tourist areas. This often leads to inconsistent attendance.
  4. Private schools offer a more academically rigorous course load and are usually capped at 20 students per class. Students coming out of private schools have a much better chance at succeeding in high school.
  5. The high schools in Guatemala are very difficult. Most students from public schools that continue into high school drop out in their first year because of the vast ability gaps between the public and private school students.
  6. San Carlos is the only public university in Guatemala. If you get in, your tuition is free.  Around 50,000 students take the national entrance exam each year and 10,000 get in. You can take the test twice but must wait one year between attempts.
  7. For most students, San Carlos is their only chance at attending a university because of their economic situation. But even with the free tuition, many students in Jocotenango would be unable to attend San Carlos because the admission doesn’t cover living expenses and the Guatemalan government does not provide student loans.
  8. There are many private universities that do not require an entrance exam. It is much easier to get into these schools and students can commute to a local campus. Students in Jocotenango could attend a private university in Antigua with the proper support, funding, and academic preparation.

As we process this information, we are trying to find ways to help our students continue their education despite the challenges noted above. We are praying that we will be able to help some of them become first-generation college students. Please pray with us!

School Supplies for All!

Students at El Buen Samaritano have started school again! January is a big month for the center as they get students set up for another year of learning and growing. Friends, you did something really amazing. You provided 60 students with ALL the supplies on their school list. This might not seem like a huge accomplishment, but take it from a school teacher, this is a big deal! Having all of your students ready with the necessary supplies is a game-changer in the classroom. You can create plans for students knowing they have the means to accomplish the tasks. Students don’t have to be embarrassed about their lack of means or materials and can come to school with confidence.

In Oregon WI, we have extra supplies to give to students that can’t afford the necessary materials. In Guatemala, there is no such luxury. So if students come unprepared, they may not be able to engage fully in the learning. This is a real barrier that you, our dear donors, have kicked down and run over. Danny (co-director) told us that all the students have never had all necessary supplies before and have missed out on key learning because of it. 2017 is going to be a year for academic growth and you are to thank - so, thank you!

Thank You All Saints Catholic School!

Ryan and I have always known that our hometown is amazing, yet the generosity and character of those in our Antigo network continue to inspire us. In January, we had the opportunity to talk with students and staff at All Saints Catholic School about the library project in Jocotenango, and we could not be more ecstatic about their passion and energy for that mission. There is almost nothing better than seeing others get excited about a cause that is so close to our heart.

Over the next two weeks, the kids, staff and administration of All Saints promoted and hosted a dance, dinner, and bake sale to support the library project in celebration of Catholic School’s Week. I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting, but we were completely blindsided when we were told that the event raised OVER $900 for the library! I CANNOT WAIT to go to Guatemala in 3 weeks and give these kids such a tangible expression of their love.

But honestly, I think I was even more excited about what those dollars represented than I was about the dollars themselves. In a generation of kids that is so often accused of being narcissistic and selfish, a school community came together to serve kids that none of them will probably ever meet. It gave me so much hope for the future of our communities to know that these students will soon be unleashed on the world to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

We owe a special thank you to Paul Galuska and the All Saints staff for their warm welcome and dedication to this project. We are so excited to continue this collaboration and hope that we can give students more catalytic experiences that will foster their compassion for the poor and oppressed. It is so clear that you are teaching your students to be like Jesus, and I have no doubt that you have world-changers in your ranks.

Meet Christian!

Hi! My name is Christian Jorge Miguel Castellanos Martínez.    

Age: 11 years.

Grade: 5th

What I like most about school: Being a member of the school band.

Future Job:  Firefighter

Favorite sport or pastime: Soccer

What I like to do most:  Having fun outside and I love spending time at El Buen Samaritano.

What I like most of the El Buen Samaritano: Spending time there with my friends and the volunteers.

Christian, his family, and volunteers at his home

Christian, his family, and volunteers at his home

Christian’s kitchen

Christian’s kitchen

Christian loves music. He spends a lot of his time practicing and playing percussion in the school band. He would love to read more about musicians and athletes.

We cannot believe this is the last week of our partnership with the Global Read Aloud. Thank you to everyone who participated or is still participating. We appreciate you more than we could ever express. The Palms & Souls team is going to Guatemala in March and can’t wait to share updates upon our return! 

Meet Esthephania!

Hi! My name is Esthephania A. Luis Quintanilla.

Age: 9 years

Grade: 2nd

What I like most about school:  I like learning in all the classes.

Favorite books: Sleeping Beauty or stories in English

Future Job: International Chef

Favorite Sport or Pastime: Basketball.

What I like to do most: Play with my friends.

What I like most of the El Buen Samaritano: Spending time with the volunteers.

Esthephania can’t wait to have books at the community center! Her dream is to travel the world and eat food from different places, so she would love books that are set in different countries.

All the students are counting down the days until the books arrive. The support so far has been amazing! You are flooding this community with love and hope through your book donations! Thank you so much. 

Meet Ricardo!

Hi, my name is Marlon Ricardo López Mázate.

Age: 10 years

Grade: 4th

What I like most about school: Free time to play with my friends!

Favorite books: Histories and legends

Future Job: Architect

Favorite pastime: Soccer

What I like most of the El Buen Samaritano: Reading legends with the volunteers.

Ricardo and his family

Ricardo and his family

Ricardo’s family all live together in this room

Ricardo’s family all live together in this room

The alley that connects Ricardo’s room to other families' rooms. 

The alley that connects Ricardo’s room to other families' rooms. 


Ricardo's whole family shares a one-bedroom apartment. They sleep together on the two beds and cook on a camp stove in the corner of the room. Ricardo’s youngest brother has lung problems which are irritated by the smoke from their stove. We asked Ricardo’s parents about their hopes and dreams for their children, and they both responded “We want opportunities for them to continue their education and go to University. If they don’t, they will probably have the same life as they do now.”

Ricardo loves to learn and is hoping for books about history or myths. He and his brothers also love soccer and would enjoy reading about sports. By purchasing books you are helping Ricardo's parents to give these kids a chance at a different life. He is so lucky to have a supportive mother and father at home; many kids don't. Thank you so much for believing in Ricardo and participating in this book drive!  

October Updates

El Buen Samaritano

El Buen Samaritano

1) Ryan and I have been meeting with classrooms around the country via Skype to talk about life in Jocotenango and why the book drive is so important for the students who live there. All of these classrooms are participating in the GRA and fundraising for the book drive (which rocks our socks). Recently, we met with a 3rd grade classroom in California. The 3rd graders had a business day where all students created their own mini business and markeed themselves to the school. The businesses ranged from guacamole to jewelry to basketball training. The students decided that the money they made would go towards buying books for Jocotenango, and all together they raised over $750! Clearly they have a future in the business world! We are so thankful for each student and their dedication to their business and the Palms & Souls Book Drive.    

2)  Ryan, Kyleigh, and I are headed to Guatemala during the last week of March to purchase, deliver, and set up the library. We would LOVE to have more travel companions! Please let us know if you are interested in joining us. Our big projects for the week will be library setup and sizing/purchasing shoes for the students. Shoes are much cheaper in the street markets which obviously cannot take our PEX card, so we will need to be there to handle the cash transactions.  We can’t wait to get down there and spend a week serving these kids!   

We feel so blessed to be working with the El Buen Samaritano community center in Guatemala. We cannot thank you enough for all of your financial and spiritual support. We could not do what we do without the constant streams of prayers and encouragement.  John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” We know that God is working in this organization! We ask you to continue to pray for his continued presence at the center, enough book donations to build a wonderful library, and more monthly sustainers so we can continue to provide for the students at El Buen Samaritano.

Meet Fernanda!

Hi, my name is  Fernanda Abigail Luis Quintanilla.

Age: 10 years

Grade: 4th

What I like most about school: Playing with friends.

Favorite books: Stories of princesses

Future Job: Secretary

Favorite pastime: Soccer

What I like most of the El Buen Samaritano: Being with Mr. Magda and the volunteers.

Fernanda with her family at home

Fernanda with her family at home

Fernanda in her kitchen

Fernanda in her kitchen

Fernanda is hoping for princess and fantasy books to read herself and with her sisters. Your donation will directly impact all three girls. Thank you so much for caring about these kids. 

Meet Dulce!

Hi, my name is  Katherine Dulce María Castellanos Martínez.

Age: 12 years

Grade: 6th

What I like most about school: Music classes

Favorite Book: I love all books and stories.

Future Job: Teacher

Favorite sport or pastime: Reading and helping with the smaller children

What I like to do most: Reading stories to other students at the center.

What I like most of the El Buen Samaritano: I like everything, but especially the volunteers!

Dulce is really hoping for books to read to the smaller children at El Buen Samaritano. She is a great helper and loves to tutor younger students in the afternoon. 

We can't thank you enough for supporting this project!