Two miles up a dirt road from the small town of Chicaman, Guatemala lays the secluded community of Chitas, nestled between dense forest and coffee plantations that hug the surrounding cliffs. The community consists of a school, chapel and dirt floor huts which house up to eight people and are smaller than the average American living room. They are furnished with, modest kitchens and perhaps a cot. Rain and a wood-burning stove serve as the water source and furnace. Life in Chitas is not glamorous.
The extreme beauty of the remote, mountainous regions of Guatemala contradictorily masks the poverty of the communities who call the area home. Last summer I went to Chitas, Guatemala with a nonprofit organization called Medical Teams International, which responds to disaster, conflict and poverty. Experiencing their work first hand was an eye-opening and humbling experience, and I was amazed by how much a group of volunteer medical professionals could impact an impoverished community like Chitas. The experience largely defined my understanding of nonprofit work when I began my internship with El Pomar.
My time with the Foundation has expanded my vision of the nonprofit sector and provided me with a better understanding of large-scale impact, and provides a more well-rounded sense of philanthropy.
Something that particularly stood out to me was the amount of activity that goes into a year or even just a day of operations at El Pomar, as everyone is always working hard to support multiple programs or regions of the state. El Pomar has been an effective steward of Spencer Penrose’s original endowment which allows the Foundation to support more communities and more people— in other words, impact can be spread throughout Colorado.
Before arriving, I hadn’t realized the extent to which El Pomar reaches beyond the Front Range. Because rural communities can be underserved, since 2003 El Pomar has made rural Colorado a particular focus in its grant making and initiatives. This ability to flexibly respond to changes in need is a powerful thing.
Philanthropy has less to do with simply giving away money and more to do with maximizing impact and improving lives. Whether it is Medical Teams International supporting impoverished communities in Guatemala or El Pomar supporting the welfare of citizens across the state of Colorado, there is impact at all levels of nonprofit work.