Niños del Lago: Transforming futures of at-risk children and youth in Guatemala

Niños del Lago: Transforming futures of at-risk children and youth in Guatemala

Based in Panajachel we network with Partners to reach 17 Department in Guatemala, GuatemalaSilverton, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Providing at-risk Guatemalan children with the inspiration, mentoring, empathy, confidence and real skills they need to stay in and succeed beyond school.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

A 36-year civil war devastated an entire generation of Guatemala’s children, leaving many orphaned, abandoned and without a sense of purpose or hope, or vision of a future. Now living in dangerous urban environments or poor and remote rural villages they have little opportunity for play, creativity or activities that foster empathy, social development, or hopes and dreams with little motivation to remain in school, or to stay away from gangs, drugs, or street crime. Without the ability to imagine and act for a better future, it is nearly impossible for them to escape the cycle of poverty and violence.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We are focused on helping to break the vicious cycle of poverty and build real opportunity for thousands of Guatemala children who can then inspire others in their families and villages to strive for positive futures in the face lives of real disadvantages. We provide a recurring opportunity for the many thousands of at-risk Guatemalan children to find and build the inspiration, empathy, mentoring, skills and tools they need to stay in school and succeed beyond school in a unique nature and leadership skills camp setting. We work with a diverse network of Referring Agencies to select at-risk youth from across Guatemala and are supported by both qualified university trained Guatemalan mentor/counselors in this innovative program. Returning youth are eligible to serve a junior camp counselors and also to apply for scholarships for advanced education once they reach 16 years if age.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Set in a beautiful nature-camp environment in the Highlands above Lake Atitlan, Niños del Lago works with a network of referring partners to find and reach-out the at-risk children of Guatemala in 17 of Guatemala's Departments. The program offers a comprehensive recurring camp based experience program with follow-up support during the school year that helps Guatemala’s forgotten children build the self-esteem, empathy, resilience and social skills they need to find and chart pathways beyond poverty. Children are referred from non-profit, registered, social-service agencies in Guatemala. In full operation, we will receive up to 108 children each week over a core 7 month camp season) between ages of seven and eleven – where we believe mentorship can be most effective. Children are invited to return to Niños del Lago camp every year from ages of 7 through 15, as long as they stay in school. After “graduation” they may apply for positions as Junior and then later as Senior Counselors. Every child who passes through Niños del Lago will have the opportunity to become an official members Club Niños del Lago, not only to become counselors in the future, but also the potential ability to earn a scholarship to a university or trade school. We encourage at-risk children to imagine a better future, build skills and empathy to help them to escape the cycle of poverty, violence and limited opportunities.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Sadly, gangs and criminal elements that tempt youth into risky behaviours are our closest peers and competitors. After-school programs are helpful but a resident week-long camp experience has a richer and lasting impact. We work in collaboration with a network of accredited professional agencies to extend the reach of programming with our unique camp-based program. We want to continue to grow the reach with our partners in Guatemala and in the future share our model, experiences and best practices with others in the LAC region.
About You
Niños del Lago
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Niños del Lago

Organization Country

, OR, Silverton

Country where this project is creating social impact

, SO, Based in Panajachel we network with Partners to reach 17 Department in Guatemala

Your role in Education

After-School Provider.

The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Research on at-risk youth confirms that organized camping experiences develop self-concept, improve attitudes, empathy and self-esteem.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Unique, powerful week-at-camp program for up to 108 children per week – referred from La Cadena Partners from 17 Guatemalan Departments

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

La Cadena network of 35 plus partners has been identified, the site secured with construction now 65 % completed. Program concept has been scoped for children (ages 7-11) who will come from many challenging situations including well-established orphanages, rural schools for indigenous youth and other institutions that shelter and help to educate some of Guatemala’s poorest children. The ongoing link- NDL Staff will maintain a working connection with each Cadena Partner in support of the progress of students in school and their return visit to camp in succeeding years. Sustainable development plan is in preparation First intake of campers in motion for 2013.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Designed and refined by a clinical psychologist ,educators and social workers to encourage children to:
Stay in school
Dream about and develop empathy, self-esteem and self-determination towards their full potentials
Gain the strength, skills, empathy and resilience to move beyond and overcome challenging circumstances
Skilled Mentors/role models with heart and Guatemalan roots. The program model provides one trained camp counsellor for every six children. The majority (90%) of the camp counsellors and role models are selected Latin American university students in the fields of education, social service, medicine, as well as native artists and artisans.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Our key challenges are centred in securing resources to complete physical construction of our camp facilities (we are at 65 %); the refinement and sharing of the final program model with the La Cadena Partners and in growing our network of support and awareness of our program. Our plans include increased use of social media; increased and diversified fund-raising and the mobilization of a larger network of supporters and volunteers.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Revise, extend and action our Strategic Plan

Task 2

Continued Mobilization of a Movement in support of our program

Task 3

Expanded funding sources, additional resources and continued connections with outstanding team members.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Complete construction of our core facilities [Phase I]

Task 2

Establish final referral agreements and intake plan with our La Cadena Partners

Task 3

Establish final mechanism for selection and training of University Students for Critical Camp Counsellor/Mentor roles

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

An early morning walk led to a chance meeting with young mother and her dead newborn on an Antigua street. Suddenly our founders life changed and her ‘vacation’ was over. The magical place she was enjoying would never be the same. She could no longer turn away – and knew whe had to DO something; yet it took three long years before she knew what to do. “The vision: in land of such incredible beauty mired in such tragic poverty and pain; I would build a children’s camp in a beautiful forest in the Guatemalan Highlands overlooking the world renowned Lake Atitlan. A place and program where poor children would come and find love, hope, joy, peace, and promise.”

Tell us about your partnerships

To reach the most in need NLD Children are referred to us from a growing network of non-profit, registered, social-service and educational agencies working in Guatemala to help the most severely disadvantaged youth. In full operation we will receive up to 108 children between the ages of seven and eleven years each week, at an age where mentorship can be most effective, over our 7 month Core and enterprise camp seasons.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

National and International interns and program volunteers are welcome in support of our programming. Those experienced in youth-at-risk programs or with camp-based experience program design are encouraged to join us!Research on at-risk youth has shown that organized camping experiences help develop a child’s positive self-concept, improves attitudes and results in an immediate gain in self-esteem.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

We welcome the opportunity to share experiences with other groups with an interest or experience in reaching at-risk youth or in offering after-school or camp based experiences. We also are open in the future to exploring addition La Cadena partners or in replicating our program model in other regions or countries.

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Karen Lewis's picture

Very happy to see your entry in the Changemakers project. You are doing wonderful things for the next generation of Guatemala children. Good luck! Felicitaciones a Arlaine y todos ~Karen Lewis, California

We would welcome your support for construction needs, sponsorship a new cabin or furnishings, donations to help develop playgrounds, our amphitheater, sports equipment, or consider partnering with us to grow the impact.

Thanks Karen!

We believe in what we are doing and the power of a camp experience to make for powerful change in at-risk youth.

>>>YOU CAN ADD to the discussion!
1) Why not add a brief comment on your camp experiences... or
2) Comment on how you feel about the camp idea... or
3) Share one camp activity from your past experiences that really stood out!


Although I don't remember all the details of my two 6-day camping experiences in the beautiful Pacific Northwest forest, I do vividly remember that I never wanted to return home. I remember begging my counselors to call my mother and ask if I could stay longer; I remember when she handed the telephone over to me, I remember begging my mother to let me stay, and I remember how hard I cried when I realized there was no hope. The happiest times of my life when I was a child became these two separate weeks where I experienced time to breath in the air and relax for the first time I could remember, where I could spend time by myself, and where I could safely challenge the parameters without someone telling me that I would fail. I did not know what freedom was until I went to camp when I was 8 and then again at 11.

It is those two brief weeks I spent at camp that inspired the founding of Niños del Lago -- a place where at-risk Guatemalan children can dare to dream of a life filled with promise, and as long as our kids stay in school in their home program, they may return many times until age 15 -16 and, possibly even longer if they qualify to become a junior camp counselor. What a beautiful dream I have -- that our children -- our graduates will become leaders who will inspire others.

I have worked as a volunteer for many organizations focused on youth development and empowerment over the years, but Ninos del Lago is by far one of the most bold, ambitious and exciting projects I have ever had the privilege to work with. It is not only designed to help foster the growth of some of the most under-privileged children in Guatemala, 50% of which don't make it through elementary school, but in addition to providing an ongoing program of mentorships and scholarship opportunities, Ninos del Lago is designed to transform young Guatemalans into advocates for positive change within their communities. Positive, well-educated and empowered young people are the only hope for a better future for Guatemala. And Ninos del Lago is the only youth development project of its kind in Central America.