This Is What Success Looks Like at FTF

Phase II Success looks something like this at FTF:

Opening day in K’anil.

Opening day in K’anil.

I spent two years living and working deep in the mountains of central Guatemala. In two years I did some things. I learned Spanish. I became deeply aware of Guatemalan culture, both indigenous and Ladino. And also, and most importantly for this blog, I built loving relationships. Some people call these relationships a network. We call them our FTF Hub. Recently, I was able to see this hub and my work bear fruit. That fruit came in the form of a 50K school building project taking place right now in a small aldea (village) outside of Momostenango. That place is called K'anil.

K'anil. During the civil war that began in the 50's, K’anil became a hotbed of guerrilla activity. As such, crimes were committed by both sides (government and reformers) that led to a generation of trauma. Children dealt with this trauma by staying close to their parents. School became less important. Access to education decreased. K’anil never built a school for their kids. A generation of children failed to learn.

Run the clock forward to early 2018 when I meet a lady selling chips in a storefront tienda. He name was Juanita and she told me all about her daughter, a woman working tirelessly to build a school. This kind of conversation happens often in our world, and our field workers are trained to recognize them as the beginning of something. They are a type of unrefined gold for us. They often lead us to people with great ideas and a deep desire to build their dreams of a better life.

The K’anil School official opening, February 2019

The K’anil School official opening, February 2019

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I went to visit my new friends’ daughter. It was far. Not so far in terms of mileage, but boy was it isolated. Upon arrival I meet the parents committee. a serious crew who quickly grilled me on my intentions. Through a series of steps we call “impresario validation”, it became clear that this team of parents would make amazing candidates for our work. They were, what we call, impresarios. After more meetings and a formal contract we agreed to work together; we agreed to set a scope for our mutual engagement.

One of the things FTF is always responsible for is the creation of an online, working profile. Another thing that our scope often includes (as it did in the K’anil project) is network connections. We contract to connect. The Impresario, in turn, resolves to provide FTF with key data points and deep cultural insights that are necessary for success. Money is never a part of our scope and engagement stage.

I worked hard to fulfill my responsibilities. K’anil too, worked hard. One day the parents committee called me to a meeting in the mountains and bluntly told me that they felt I had failed. “Where is our school?” they asked. “What have you done for us?” I was crushed. I thought I’d been clear about expectations. Hearing good people wonder how I could fail them was painful. Standing on their turf, speaking to them in person, seeing their pain, all of this is why so many non-profits work from offices, away from the chatter of the folks they serve. “We are suffering” is a heavy burden to bear for us idealistic types. But had we failed? Had we really let them down? Or was this something else? Was this simply how projects work, a necessary moment for every successful project? After all, wasn’t this their project too. Wasn’t that the very premise of our work?

And of course the answer is yes. It was normal. It was just what we needed to continue, to clarify, to redirect and to press on.

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And they said yes. They granted us, and I do mean us, a new middle school. 50k worth of love.

The school under construction in K’anil

So I pressed on. We all did. I was in a relationship. The project wasn’t just theirs anymore, really. It had become mine too. So I got a meeting with a unique and philanthropic family from Guatemala City. They couldn’t believe how I lived. They couldn’t believe I had learned some Ki’che, the local Mayan dialect. One thing led to another and I found myself in an important meeting with the TIGO Foundation. TIGO is basically the Verizon of Guatemala and as it turns out, their charitable wing has a building component. So, with a snappy project profile and a deep and abiding knowledge of K’anil and their needs, I walked into a board meeting and sold hard to TIGO and their foundation president.

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Last week we broke ground in K’anil. A school building replete with a new computer wing is under construction. The project is real. Our impresarios are upbeat and excited about the future. We have been of some use. For me, the magic in all of this was that moment in the market, listening to an old lady named Juanita tell me about her hard working daughter. Success started with a stillness, an orientation toward the other, toward listening. I think it had something to do with being patient enough to give true human love a place to grow among craggy spaces.

Our logo is a plant, and a table, and a set of humans sitting around it all. It’s all in there, all of this FTF stuff is in there. Call it entrepreneurial development, or aid or love or whatever. Whatever it is we know it as our way to become better people. Support our way and help us build the dreams of those who suffer in poverty. Peace!

BlogAndrew Schwark