Personal Tour Enlightens Kevin Staut and Marina Hands at JustWorld’s Guatemala Project Los Patojos
Written by: Kendall Bierer
Client: JustWorld International https://www.justworldinternational.org/
Release Date: 2014-10-10
Wellington, FL – Oct. 10, 2014 – It was a trip that forever changed the lives of French celebrities, Olympic Show Jumper Kevin Staut and actress Marina Hands. Guatemala, a country recovering from a 36-year civil war and rooted in high crime rate and public corruption, opened the JustWorld International Ambassadors’ eyes to strife and oppression. They witnessed firsthand the devastation and hopelessness that lives within the streets of Jacotenango, just outside of Antigua, the country’s former capital—but they saw hope within the walls of Los Patojos, the local school supported by JustWorld International. It was the sounds of laughter, the sight of smiles and the passion flowing from Project Founder and CNN Top 10 Hero Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes that would transform them. Through the combined efforts of JustWorld Ambassadors, Los Patojos supporters and the equestrian community of Guatemala, over $21,000 was raised for continued resources and expansion of the vital project.
Only a month after his Team Silver medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, French rider Kevin Staut headed to Guatemala along with actress Marina Hands to raise funds for the humanitarian non-profit organization JustWorld International, and to see Los Patojos, The Little Ones, up close. After visiting JustWorld’s project in Cambodia less than a year ago, Kevin promised himself that he would travel to the other JustWorld projects, and he fulfilled that commitment tenfold. During his downtime outside of the international competition arena, Kevin generously donated his skills to lead a benefit clinic at the Escuela de Equitación El Cortijo, owned by JustWorld’s first and ever present Guatemalan Ambassador Juan Andrés Rodriguez. One hundred percent of the funds raised by the clinic benefited Los Patojos, as well as engaged the surrounding equestrian community in Guatemala.
The trip deeply affected Staut, as evidenced by his reaction after his return to France. “It was very different from Cambodia, where I made my first trip to a JustWorld project. This trip, I was in a completely different state of mind. I knew that I was going to be more involved and actively contributing since I would be passing on my knowledge and experience to other riders during the clinic and that this would be raising significant funds for the project. Guatemala is a beautiful country, more advanced than we would imagine, with extraordinary landscapes and people. Los Patojos has a bright future in Guatemala, and it is obvious that it is making a huge impact.”
Juan Pablo brought several of the students to the clinic to watch Kevin in action, but they never imagined the treat they would find at Juan Andrés’ equestrian club. During the clinic, professional show jumper and trainer Juan Andrés introduced several school horses to the attending children from Los Patojos. He taught the children how to mount the horses, and they had their first-ever riding lesson, from no less than an Olympian hero. It was an instant that epitomized what JustWorld is about — a unifier, bringing together the affluent and impoverished in a magic moment.
It is moments such as these that symbolize the life-changing impact JustWorld has during their influential work in impoverished countries. Juan Andrés opened the door to the Guatemala project for JustWorld six years ago, and 2014 earmarked a page in history for the humanitarian organization. During the four-day trip, Guatemalan native Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes, the founder of Los Patojos, was announced as a CNN Top 10 Hero, an indescribable honor as the ONLY Latin American to be nominated.
His dedication and innovative thinking has opened new doors for the children of Jacotenango and the outlying community. He was only 23 years old when he converted his family’s home into a safe haven for children. The building offers more than education for the students; it is a shelter away from the everyday street violence, drug dealing and illegal activities that continue to plague the country. Los Patojos, supported by JustWorld International since 2008, provides education, nutrition, health and hygiene as well as leadership and cultural development programs for children and young adults, aged 4 to 21. It provides them hope by offering them access to knowledge in a safe and artistic environment that promotes learning, growth, and development in a positive empowering way.
Since its inception, CNN Heroes has received tens of thousands of submissions from more than 100 countries. From all of this year’s nominations, Juan Pablo was officially named a CNN Top 10 Hero, for which he will be awarded a $25,000 grant. He is now in the running for a chance to win an additional $100,000 grant for Los Patojos. The grant would allow for the continued construction of a new school building for the children, in the same frame as the Los Patojos project. By the end of 2014 the construction will be complete, and the opening ceremony will take place in January 2015. The CNN Top Hero will be determined by a vote of the general public. Voting takes place every day, please click here to place your vote, and remember to do it every day until Nov. 16th.
Kevin was moved by the avant-garde work Juan Pablo does everyday for the children of Guatemala. “This man and his methods are revolutionary! Juan Pablo really deserves to be known. He is a pure artist and a true leader who offers an educational system based on students’ freedom of expression and the capacity to develop their artistic mind. The philosophy behind this project is outstanding.”
Kevin continued, “Additionally, the new structure, a school currently under construction, is beautiful and gives a whole new dimension to Los Patojos. It is a place where children will thrive due to the unprecedented facilities through Juan Pablo, Los Patojos and JustWorld in this type of neighborhood. A second project will bring additional facilities, remarkable in their modernity and practicability. We should be more inspired and learn from those examples in our part of the world.”
CNN could not have made the announcement at a more ideal moment, just before the first-ever benefit gala in the Guatemalan equestrian community for Los Patojos and JustWorld International. The event was held on Oct. 3rd at the charming Pecorino restaurant in Guatemala City. For the first time ever, the larger Guatemalan equestrian community came together, showing resounding enthusiasm as they move forward with a new-found dedication to support Los Patojos. JustWorld would like to give a special thanks to Cristina Heurtematte for underwriting the gala, which allowed for one hundred percent of the ticket sales to benefit Los Patojos.
In addition to the ticket sales from the very first fundraising event of its kind in Guatemala, JustWorld benefited from the money raised during the live auction, including Kevin Staut’s autographed official French team show coat worn by Kevin during his many international victories. To mark this event, Marina Hands also unveiled a preview trailer for her film Jappeloup, adapted in Spanish, and set to premiere in theaters throughout Latin America.
Both Kevin and Marina spoke to the gala guests about their experiences in Guatemala. Marina was brought to tears as she spoke of the transformative effects the project had on her during their four-day stay. This trip marked Marina’s first time visiting a JustWorld project site, and by the end, she could not stop the tears of joy—the trip was life changing.
Unlike traditional schools, Los Patojos breaks away from the mold, offering impoverished children access to an education based around the arts and creativity. Marina, an actress by profession, enjoyed not only being “taught” how to draw and paint by the children at the Jocotenango-school, but was treated to the school-wide talent show produced by the Los Patojos students.
“I did not expect that at all,” Marina described. “I was more enriched during my four days in Guatemala than I have been in my entire life. I felt enlightened and truly inspired by all the people I met. What preoccupies my mind and heart since my return is the need to pass on what I learned there to everyone around me. Beyond the beauty of the country and its culture, I was struck by the dedication of its founder, Juan Pablo. His idea is to plant seeds, grow trees and have them last for a lifetime. He has a vision of extraordinary education, and he does not try to make the children into a certain mold. No, he speaks of their individuality, their inner strength, their tastes, without any judgment. There is no intellectual pressure, everything is done to promote freedom of expression, and self-fulfillment.”
She is convinced that this educational structure is the answer to the problems Western societies face through their education systems presently.
“The children I met are better equipped than me to cope with life,” Hands laughed. “I would have loved to have had such a teacher! It’s actually a very simple idea that we have lost sight of in Western communities.”
Profoundly affected by her journey, Hands wants to become even more deeply involved with JustWorld. “I want to visit other projects such as Cambodia, Honduras and Colombia. I also want to establish a link between these children and ours. We have a lot to learn, especially from the arts.”
Every heartwarming moment of the trip was captured on film for a much-anticipated documentary, generously underwritten by JustWorld Ambassador and extreme sports competitor Francisco Arredondo. The trip to Los Patojos proved life changing on many levels, with JustWorld raising over $21,000 for Los Patojos. Without the generosity of Juan Andrés Rodriguez, for having brought JustWorld to Guatemala and leading the movement, as well as Michelle Rodriguez, Isabel Herbruger, Rodolfo Godoy, Francisco Arredondo, and Wylder Rodriguez, the strides made at the project in the last six years would not have been possible.
“This week was truly a historical and transformative event, which I will never forget,” Jessica Newman, JustWorld Founder, said. “To have Juan Pablo named as a CNN Top 10 Hero is such an honor. We witnessed the mobilization of the Guatemalan equestrian community in their support of JustWorld and Los Patojos, as they organized the first-ever benefit gala that was sold out days before the event. It was so special to be able to share this experience with two of the most amazing JustWorld Ambassadors, and my longtime friends, Kevin Staut and Marina Hands. Both their dedication, as well as our Guatemalan Ambassadors’ commitment overwhelms me.”
“To have all of this happen in the same week was truly amazing!” She smiled.
To donate to Los Patojos, the JustWorld Guatemala Project Partner, please visit www.justworldinternational.org. The Samuel-Sanford Family of Canada is matching all new donations to the project up to a maximum of $100,000 for the construction of the new school as part of the 2014 JustWorld International Adopt A Project Campaign. By donating now, you will double your gift and benefit JustWorld in raising funds to finish the construction for Los Patojos. The school will allow for the alternative education program to double their capacity, expand programming and increase sustainability through fund-generating activities. Every dollar makes a difference, especially when it is doubled in the Los Patojos Project Completion Challenge!
About JustWorld International
JustWorld International is a not-for-profit, humanitarian organization that funds life-changing education, nutrition, health and hygiene, and leadership and cultural development programs for impoverished children in Cambodia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia.
JustWorld International is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in the United States and a registered Association 1901 in France. Tax-deductible donations are accepted in Switzerland and JustWorld’s supporters may send their donations to Fondation Philanthropia, a Swiss public-benefit umbrella foundation. Tax-deductible donations are also accepted in Canada. Canadian donors please visit: https://tidescanada.org/support/justworld-international-fund/. JustWorld International has no political or religious affiliation.