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Chains4Change: Ginger Howard is spinning the wheels of education in Guatemala

In early 2023, junior Ginger Howard was sitting in her Living Earth class when a graph was projected in her classroom. Catching her attention, the graph depicted different modes of transportation corresponding with different socio-economic statuses. Specifically, it shows that individuals with access to bikes have a greater opportunity to escape the poverty line by overcoming obstacles to accessing education and economic opportunities.

Posing alongside Caralina, a teacher from the night school Instituto Mixto de Educacion Cooperativa Nocturna, Ginger Howard is thrilled to support and make a difference for students. (Photo courtesy of Ginger Howard)

Inspired, Ginger got to work during the summer and created a non-profit organization called Chains4Change, providing bicycles to children in Guatemala and supporting their ability to attend school and receive an education.

To begin her planning for Chains4Change, Ginger approached Physical Education teacher Todd Van Puersem, utilizing his experience with non-profit organizations to establish connections with communities in Guatemala.

“As a teacher, you’re constantly trying to provide real-world opportunities for students to get out of their heads, get out of the books and see how their learning connects to life in the real world. [I] always want authentic learning opportunities for kids and it’s really hard in the classroom,” Van Puersem said. “It makes me proud to be a part of this community, knowing there’s kids like Ginger. That if just given the opportunity, if we facilitate the experience and the space for transformational growth, they can grow and thrive out in the world.”

Through Van Puersem’s connections, Ginger was able to make two trips to Guatemala, meeting multiple teachers and listening to the needs of their institution. She decided to partner with Instituto Mixto de Educacion Cooperativa Nocturna, a night school located in a small, remote town in Guatemala. There, many students work in the fields during the day and have to set aside an hour and a half to get to school. Due to these circumstances, many students who lack transportation are deprived of a quality education.

According to Ginger, when speaking with a teacher at the night school, they explained that students cannot get to school without transportation, resulting in lower attendance.

“[The teacher said that], ‘This is exactly what we need. With access to bikes, these kids’ lives would totally be changed…it would benefit the overall community,’” Howard said. “[When the teacher said that] I was like, ‘Okay, this is actually gonna benefit people. This is gonna work.’”

Over the year, Ginger Howard has made it her mission to connect with the community in Guatemala and prioritize supplying the school with bikes– even with language barriers.

Growing up in a community-oriented family, Ginger Howard adopted the importance of creating a meaningful impact. Modeling after her parents, who are both involved in non-profits such as the San Francisco Habitat for Humanity, Ginger said she has always been involved with people who make it their mission to help others. 

Wandering the bustling streets of Santiago de Atitlán, the town of the night school, Ginger Howard captures the atmosphere of the community. (Photo courtesy of Ginger Howard)

Ginger’s father, Rob Howard, former president of the board for the San Francisco Habitat for Humanity and current Redwood mountain biking coach, acted as an adviser throughout Ginger’s process in creating Chains4Change.

“[Chains4Change] is something that’s really activated Ginger,” Rob Howard said. “I try not to tell her what to do. I ask her to think about things that get her toward progressing the project.”

Ginger Howard is beginning her project by supporting 11 students and is only beginning to work toward her goals.

 “I call [this] a trial run because it’s 11 bikes. If this goes well, the 11 bikes, the funding, the building and distributing everything, my next round would be 22 bikes. If that goes well, I’m going to try 44 bikes.” Ginger Howard said. 

“If my 11 bikes don’t go well, I’m going to regroup, figure out what I did wrong and redo it until I get it right.”

Ginger Howard is collecting donations through her GoFundMe page at: https://gofund.me/36497fe7. Ginger will return to Guatemala in January to buy and assemble the bikes with the funds raised by the help of her community.

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About the Contributor
Aurora Sreba is a junior at Redwood High School and is a reporter in the Advanced Journalism Arts & Media program. She enjoys spending time in nature, traveling and taking photos.