This Is What Success Looks Like at FTF

Phase II Success looks something like this at FTF:

Two and a half years I spent in 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, lovingly, our Hub. These things together helped me, and FTF, create a breakthrough. The breakthrough I'm talking about is a 50K school building project taking place right now in a small aldea (village) outside of Momostenango. That place is called K'anil.

A little about K'anil. Historically speaking it is not unlike any other small village that dots the western highland landscape of Guatemala. During the civil war that began in the 50's, it became a hotbed of guerrilla activity. As such, crimes were committed by both sides (government and land reformers) that led to a generation of children growing up with only one, or in some cases, no parents. This in turn led to a village with little to no education and no access to education in the future.

Run the clock forward to early 2018 when I meet a lady selling chips in a tienda (stall or store). She told me all about her daughter that works with a school that could use some help. Our FTF field workers love these kind of conversations. They are gold to us in Phase II especially because they lead us to people with great ideas and a deep desire to build their dreams of a better life.

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I went to visit my new friends daughter. It was far. Not far in terms of mileage, but boy was it isolated. Upon arrival I meet the parents committee and though they seem happy to meet me, they are also reserved. K'anil, you see, has a scurrilous record when it comes to outsiders and “help”. More on that later. Despite past experiences they decide I'm worth the effort and we start to work together. Through a series of steps we call “impresario validation”, it becomes very clear that K’anil and their parents are amazing candidates for our work. After more food and more time and more meet ups what becomes even more clear is that they have a real and pressing need for a middle school. A tall order indeed, but one worth more meetings and a deeper relationship. We set a scope for our engagement with them.

A scope in FTF terms means those things which FTF is responsible for and those things for which Impresarios are responsible for. One of the things we are always responsible for is the creation of a 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.

And then three months passed. I worked hard to fulfill my responsibilities. K’anil too, worked hard. But clearly I did not work hard enough. The parents committee called me to a meeting (again, way up in the mountains) and bluntly told me that they felt I had failed. “Where is our school?” they asked. This is very hard to hear. It crushes people. It is why so many NGO’s work from offices, away from the chatter of the folks they serve. “We are suffering” is a heavy burden to bear for us “do gooders.” But, in our work, it is always a stage in every project. It must be. It is something we are familiar with and bearing the guilt is a type of task.

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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. I met with a very affluent and philanthropic guy from Guatemala City who could not understand how I lived the way I lived. He was just blown away by the scarcity. “You live there?" he gushed. “I barely know any Ki’che and I am a Guatemalan!” he told me. One thing led to another and he got me a meeting with the TIGO Foundation. TIGO is basically the Verizon of Guatemala and as it turns out, their foundation has a building component to their charitable wing. So, with our photos, our K’anil profile, and a deep and abiding knowledge of K’anil and their needs, I walked into a board meeting that very few Mayans from Momostenango could ever get. I sat there and sold my ass off to the TIGO Foundation’s president.

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Last week they broke ground in K’anil. A new school building replete with a new computer wing is under construction. The project is real. But that project is not two weeks old. It is many months in the making in the hearts and minds of our FTF Field Workers and their impresario counterparts. Perhaps the most critical aspect of this project was our ability to get an “American Gringo” style meeting with heavy hitters. Or perhaps it was our ability to sit in the market for 30 more minutes and meet a woman who loves her daughter and her child’s desire to serve her community. Perhaps, in the end, what we think we are doing is not at all what we are actually doing. That is FTF magic. Being still. Giving true human love a chance to grow in the little spaces. Allowing a fertile ground in which the “business” roots can grow.

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 a quiet willingness to listen and grow,. Call it entrepreneurial development. Call it aid, or call it love. 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