Category Archives: Edify

“I am a Product of Education” – (Jan ’14 Newsletter)

I hope you all have had a wonderful start to the new year. I returned to Lima, Peru soon after our annual meeting with Edify in San Diego, California where our central office is located. Peru is in the middle of summer and it’s great weather (so strange to be on this side of the equator!). We’re really excited to start doing our first microloans here in Lima in the next few weeks because schools are out for the summer and are looking to expand their operations. Schools look for financing for their construction projects during this time period and often find loans from banks that charge them very high interest rates. For us, it’s an excellent opportunity to connect with them about our small business loans and business training, and to share with them our vision for education in Peru. -Aaron

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

I had the opportunity to reconnect with my colleagues in Edify early this January in San Diego. Because we work in six countries (seven, if you count our own country) we see each other but once a year. Most meetings are carried out via Skype, and the preferred method of communication is via email. Yet, we are all drawn to the organization for the same reason. As I talked with each colleague I realized that we really do believe in our mission: 

To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable, Christ-centered education in the developing world.

But why do we believe this, I thought, as we gathered around the table. I know that we use language like this all the time when we talk about improving the economic outlook of developing countries, and how we can help people out of poverty. Do we really believe that education can make a difference in this way and why does it matter that we bring Christ into the initiative of building better schools?

One night, we left the meeting rooms and went to a local restaurant to have dinner and to relax from the previous days’ meetings. I looked around the table and was amazed to see individuals from so many countries. We had Ghanaians, an Ethiopian, a Ugandan who now lives in Rwanda, a Dominican and Americans from just about every corner of our country, certainly every coast. I know this sounds like I’m about to tell a joke, but nope, that night we simply traded stories.

There’s one story in particular that I wanted to highlight. It’s the story of my colleague Godfrey, the Ugandan raised in Rwanda. I’ll summarize it now from my own notes and recollection, which will be a sneak-peek to the full story we’ll plan to release later in the year.

Earlier that day, in the morning, Godfrey shared with us his personal story as a devotional using Psalm 23.

Jan-14-News-02Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.”

(Biblegateway link: Psalm 23)

Godfrey started off by saying, (and I’ll paraphrase most of this that comes next)

“Now I’m not sure many of you have had an experience being a shepherd, (Godfrey is quite clever and quick-witted.) but I do.

My brother and I were shepherds growing up. We cared for many animals. And I love the stories of Jesus in the New Testament where he talks about being a shepherd, because I know what that is like. I especially like the part where Jesus uses an example of the shepherd who finds the young sheep and puts it Jan-14-News-03across his shoulders. I remember seeing my brother pick up a sheep and place it across his shoulders when it was weak. It is a true thing. Shepherds do that. . . . I love that story, because I have been carried by Jesus like that.”

“When I was very little, I was one of the few people I knew who was born in a hospital in Uganda. My father had a very good job at a financial institution, and we lived well. But when I was very young, my father lost his job and life changed dramatically for us. We had to move out from the city to the rural area.

There were few jobs. We were very poor. We tended animals because that was the only way we could make money. These animals were so valuable. They were our assets. They were worth more than our house. Once, when I was very sick, we couldn’t go to hospital, because we didn’t have the money, and my father would not sell an animal for the money.

“I did well in grade school. In fact, I did so well that I earned the highest marks on my national tests that I could attend an excellent private Christian school. The only problem was that we did not have money to send me there. I was so mad at my father for not selling an animal to pay for my schooling. I was devastated. I prayed to the Lord to help me study at this school. I tried everything I could to find a way to pay for the entrance fees and tuition. I spoke with Jan-14-News-04the director about a scholarship and he told me that the only way to receive a scholarship was to repeat certain grades of middle school and perform well so that I could attend high school. I was so disappointed, but I knew that this was the Lord’s plan for me and I should accept it.

“I repeated three grades so that I could attend this school. I was so ashamed to be seen by my classmates who were in the grades above me. They tease me, “Godfrey, if you are so smart, why are you three grades below us?” I kept praying to make it through because I knew that this was my way to a good education.

“Jesus carried me through this period, and I made it to high school, and I did well. I did so well that I got to go to University. I studied business and I got a wonderful job after University. My life was fully changed. I never stopped praying to my Lord, I never stopped being thankful for his faithfulness to me.

“The reason that I am standing here today is because I am a product of education. I am so grateful to be standing here before you. Grateful to the Lord for all he has done in my life, and grateful to Jesus, for his work and his life, and for his gift of salvation.”
[What’s equally amazing is that our Chief Transformation Officer and Vice President of Program Assessment, Mokonen Getu, was once a shepherd boy in Ethiopa. He has an inspirational story of his long journey from the pastures of Ethiopia to the halls of higher education. He got his PhD in International Development from the University of Stockholm, Sweden. His amazing journey is detailed in his autobiography. (You can read more about him in Edify’s 2013 annual report.)]

I am still in awe when I think about Godfrey’s story. When I hear about the valleys he walked through to make it to where he was, it makes me proud simply to know him and have him on our team in Rwanda. I told Godfrey how amazing his story was. He is very humble and approaches everything with a smile. He brushed off my compliment and said he enjoyed my presentation on Peru.

A little later on in the meeting he told us that he wants to get more involved at his church. While he does music and Jan-14-News-06evangelization, he’d like to get back in the pulpit. (What a guy!)

But right now, let me return back to us sitting around the multi-international table at the restaurant:

Later on in the meal Godfrey turns to me and says, “Aaron, may I ask you a question? I need your help.”

(I wondered what came next.)

“It is my first time in America and I think right now I want to order a hamburger. But we are at a fish restaurant. I think I should order fish.”

“I think that’s a good call. Do you like fish?”

“Yes, I like fish. In fact, I ate shark in Colorado. Have you eaten shark?”

“Wow, you had shark? How was it?”

“It was good. It tastes like chicken. But I don’t think I want shark right now.”

“How did you eat shark in Colorado?”

“We made a stop for Edify for two days for some meetings, and I got to visit a University.”

I tried not to laugh at the strange connection of those statements, and when he saw me smile he said,

“Yes, it was strange. I believe there are no sharks in Colorado. Nowhere close.”

We both laugh about it. I walk him through a few “American” choices. He continued later telling me that part of the reason for the stop is for him to see the university and sign up for the online MBA program at Colorado Christian University.

“It is such a great opportunity Aaron. I am so excited to start. I love education.”

. . .

Godfrey’s story and Makonen’s story are yet more reminders of why I work for Edify, and why I am excited to open the program here in Lima, Peru. Their stories are incredibly unique, yet share so many common threads with stories of adults I’ve met throughout the past three years working in Latin America. To believe there is hope, to believe that there is a God who has a plan, to believe that there was a man Jesus, the Great Shepherd who walked among us – who carries us when the burden is too great – is to know that Jan-14-News-07there truly is a pathway out of poverty.

I know there are still millions of children here in this country of Peru who walk through valleys and are looking for a pathway up and out.
. . .

I pray that we would all see the value in education, and that we would find ways to take advantage of the opportunities that we have.

Blessings to you all,
Skype: aroth.edify

“A Culture of Value” (June. ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “A Culture of Value” – June 2013

Hi family and friends, I had an excellent two weeks back in Nicaragua and Guatemala doing some follow-up research on small, low-cost Christian schools for Edify. I was also able to help with a project with starting savings groups in local churches for HOPE International in those areas as well. I’ll be in the States for about two weeks before heading to the Dominican Republic to work with some family camps for Edify. We are going to be working with a few small Christian schools in the Dominican Republic with a few churches and families from the United States. This newsletter is about my experience in Guatemala, a country I have really grown to love over the past three years. Blessings, -Aaron

My return to Guatemala last week was a homecoming to where the adventure began almost three years ago for me. I learned to speak Spanish in the school of San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. This lake, considered one of the 10 most beautiful in the world, still holds the same enchanting beauty as it did when I arrived almost three years ago. It is where I first learned to value the experience of living with a Mayan family that spoke only Spanish and Tz’utujil. I learned that we valued the same things in life: family, relationships, and dinner around a common table.

As I’ve written in previous newsletters, with all the traveling I’ve done in the past three years, there are a set of behaviors and beliefs I’ve gotten used to. I consistently abide by the same rules for safety, pack my suitcase and backpack the same way, and continue to galvanize my stomach or local foods. But every once in a while I get caught off guard by a statement or a view of something so unusual, it makes me feel I just stepped off the plane from the US for the first time.

“After the girl fell and bumped her head, I remember a woman telling me not to worry; if it had been a boy, it would have been a problem, because a boy needs to take care of his brain for thinking and studying, with a girl it’s not so necessary. Girls don’t need to use their minds.”

June-13-News-03This statement was retold to me by a loan officer of a local Guatemalan Microlending Institution who was teaching rural women about the inequality of gender, and how they should value the female gender and should stand up for the rights of their little girls to attend school and seek educational and vocational opportunities. Inequality still exists in many parts of the world, not just in money or power, but in gender. Very often, when we think of poverty, it’s a description of inequality in economic class, education, or opportunity, but I’ve come to see poverty also as a lack of values or appreciation of life.

June-13-News-02Now keep in mind, even in the tiny rural village where this training took place, culture is a behemoth that everyone can see, but very few can move on their own. It takes years to form itself, and sometimes it sets in like concrete, which means it takes years to reform or change. When any development or missional organization talks about transformation of any sort, be it economical, behavioral, or spiritual, they are entering into a long term process. I’m always hesitant to speak of rapid transformation in the work we do with microlending to schools, because when we try to improve the quality of education, and build on projects to schools, we’re talking about beginning a process for change with a diverse group of individuals who carry their own vision for the school.

June-13-News-05I think it’s better to say that as a development or missional organization from the States we are joining a team with a common goal. When we work together for long-term results, not just short-term projects that look good on powerpoints and photos, real transformation is possible. Real culture change is possible.

Last week, we met with an organization that is committed to long-term change. La Casa de Alfarero (The Potter’s House) is a local Guatemalan ministry that provides health, training, education, vocational, and spiritual empowerment to families that live in and around the enormous landfill of Guatemala. They told us that the community is made up of almost 3,000 people that work in the trash as “scavengers” looking for any material or item of value, and almost 9,000 people that work in and around the landfill. Families make at best $5 a day, with an average of $2-3 for a household.

As the director, Hector Rivas, explained to us, trying to reshape the culture of those who live in the trash is a difficult one. With their programs, clinic, and school, they consistently impart values to the students, by starting June-13-News-05primarily with telling the students that they themselves are valuable. He elaborates:

“We meet people all the time that say ‘Soy basura porque trabajo en la basura.’ (I’m garbage because I work in the garbage). We know that we can’t take these families and move them to another place because there would be no work or emploment there. What we try to do is simply take the garbage out of the person, knowing we can’t yet take the person out of the garbage.”

Culture change takes time, and Potter’s House has been working near the landfill for almost 20 years. Scavengers in the garbage dump know that the people from Potter’s House who come to serve them and educate their June-13-News-06students in the school value them because they came to help, and because they stayed. They invested in the community, and the community trusts them.

What we do in Edify is invest in local leadership and local communities. In every country I’ve been in over the past six months, and in every school I’ve walked into I usually say, “Our desire is to invest in this community, and you will work with people of your community, and we, the Americans, want to be part of the team.”

I believe that by truly investing in the local community, fully investing in the long-term change necessary to help change the mindset that all children, all boys and all girls, should be able to go to a good school and develop their talents as God gave them. This is a culture change of value. That we were all made with value, and that we all deserve to be valued, and to be valuable members to the communities where we live.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (NIV: Jeremiah 1:5)

I pray that God would show you how you can help shape positive values in your community.


“Press on Toward the Goal” (May. ’13 Newsletter)

 Aaron Roth – – “Press on Toward the Goal” – May 2013

Hi family and friends, it’s been a whirlwind trip through Latin America these past five months. After being in Peru for almost two months, I returned briefly to the United States two weeks ago for a few meetings in Texas. Now I’m headed back to Nicaragua and Guatemala to help HOPE International with a few projects relating to savings groups. This newsletter is about one of the schools the Edify team and I visited in Peru. Blessings, -Aaron

“They told me ten years ago that there was no way anyone could start a school in this area with all the dirt and dust. It was too poor of a community and people wouldn’t pay me. In those days, I used to invite people to the area where I was planning on starting the school and they told me I was crazy. Even my family. So I stopped inviting people.”

His humor fills the room as he recounts the early days of starting his school named San Benito. Our team of four Americans and two Peruvians sit in his small office that is decorated by Catholic iconography, professional certifications, and a few trophies from his school’s soccer team. Florentino is so animated telling his stories, you really don’t need to understand much Spanish to follow along. I get so caught up in the energy of the room that I forget to translate a few phrases because it seems like my team is understanding what he’s saying.May-13-News-02

Florentino is the director and owner of his school, San Benito, a low-cost private school located in Loma de Carabayllo, a very economically poor district of northern Lima. Florentino is from the jungle in the northern area of Peru. When people describe Peru they list four areas: the mountains, the jungle, the coast and the central area. If you don’t live in the central area or by the coast, there aren’t many opportunities for jobs or for education. Parents will do whatever they can to ensure that their children receive the best possible education.

In Florentino’s case, his parents worked diligently to send him to a university in central Lima because that’s where the only universities were. After working for a few years in the city to make money, he came back to the jungle to start a bilingual school. It’s not the traditional sense of a bilingual schoolMay-13-News-02a as we think of it being English and Spanish. Instead, his bilingual school was Spanish and Quechua, the native language to those who live in the rural areas and the jungle.

After his success with the first school in his hometown, he wanted to pursue his dream of starting a large school in one of the northern districts of Lima. With his experience as a director and an entrepreneur, it may seem like he would have no problem being equally successful in this endeavor, but trying to start a school in a poor area like this can be incredibly difficult.

He told us that in Loma de Carabayllo, land was going at approximately US $5 a foot. That may seem like a deal to us, but it also signals that the area is so poor, that any new business, let alone a private school, would have difficulty securing solid income. When you look around this area you can see why the land prices are so cheap. There is nothing but dirt and rock. It’s not suitable for farming or mining or any other activity. The land is cheap because it’s a desert.

May-13-News-04Florentino has a unique story to us, one of a true entrepreneurial bootstrapper, but his journey from the jungle to the center of Lima has become more common over the past few years. As the director of a local microfinance organization told us, “Lima is our ‘American Dream.’ To get a job and raise a family in Lima is what millions of Peruvians aspire to do.”

With Lima being a capital of 8-9 million people, there are an incredible amount of opportunities for work and for education, ones that simply do not exist in the areas outside of the major cities. During the past 30 years, there has been a tremendous influx of immigrants to the central region because of terrorism in many of the surrounding provinces. Initially, this terrorism was caused by two anti-government groups: Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Shining Path (a leftist military group ) and they were so destructive and intimidating in the outlying provinces, that many of the inhabitants fled to Central Lima. Even now, it’s easy to notice how the rapid emigration has left many without permanent homes as many people are still living in makeshift structures that consist of wood or scrap materials.

As families try to move out of poverty and want to grow their families, they move to areas where they can afford the land. That’s why they come to places like Loma de Carabayllo, and in this area, the population has grown so quickly that the government can’t keep up with ample space in the schools for all the school children. So when May-13-News-05Florentino opened up his school ten years ago, more than 50 students were initially enrolled, and his staff tried to keep up with demand. He tells us that the parents wanted their kids in schools but didn’t want to pay the $8 monthly fee for a private education. Undeterred, Florentino didn’t give up, and persevered in the first few years to enroll more and more students and work with parents to pay an adequate amount so that he could staff the school.

Today, Florentino’s school has 275 students and it continues to grow. It is known as the most affordable and best quality school in the area. What impresses me most about Francisco is not only his perseverance, but his commitment to doing things well. When we asked him about his plans for the next five years, he laid out his desires simply:

May-13-News-05“I’m not so worried about getting to a specific number, or having another school. I want these children to have a quality education, and that means finishing the science lab. Later, I’ll continue to expand the computer room. It’s my duty to provide them with a solid education.”

Essentially, his vision has remained unchanged since the beginning. He’s never given up despite what detractors had said (even his family!) and has persisted year after year to do what God has called him to – press on toward the goal of good education in the community where he’s called to be.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Philippians 3:12-13 NIV)

I pray that you are pressing on toward the goal that the Lord has given you.

Blessings to you and your family,

“The Breaths We Take” (April ’13 Newsletter)

edify_logo  hope_logo
 Aaron Roth – – “The Breaths We Take” – April 2013

Hi family and friends, I’ve been enjoying Lima, Peru. It’s nice to not have to repack my backpacks every three or four days. Progress with Edify has been going well; I’ve visited many schools and organizations that operate in the economically poor communities surrounding Lima.
They generally refer to the three areas of Lima: North, East, and South. I sheepishly asked, “And the West of Lima?” – “Well, that’s the ocean.” was the response. Forgive this obvious pun, but Edify is not yet interested in schools of fish. It’s nice to be at sea level though, as this newsletter will expand on. Blessings, -Aaron

Almost two weeks ago, I went to explore a place I had only dreamed I’d be able to visit: Machu Picchu.

You can probably search the internet for a better guide and a more exciting recap of one of the seven wonders of the world, but I’ll tell you that my friend Clint Barnes, from HOPE International, and I both had the same, slightly unusual, commentary. Actually, the idea was proposed to us by a British Muslim from Liverpool, who, as he finally caught his breath at approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, told us this:

“You know it’s odd that we need a sign of humans’ remarkable innovation and ability to create advanced civilization to come and appreciate the nature of creation.”

Apr-13-News-02Clint and I, both sitting down to rest our lungs, commented on how true that observation was. Machu Picchu sits on a small mountaintop in the cradle of the behemoths surrounding it, a man-made anomaly almost eclipsed by the view of towering giants. You really have to hike up a ways to see this and appreciate the true nature of its location. We started out with the intention of reaching the Machu Picchu Mountain summit, but chose to return after more than an hour of steep hiking. We had already climbed 1,500 feet in 40 min at about 5:00am earlier that morning and we needed a break.

The day after, we were joined by Clint’s friend Ben, an Army doctor, and his friend Travis. We were going to attempt to do the Salkantay glacier trek, a journey of five days, in only three – and backwards. Tour operators consider it possible, but don’t advise it. If you do the regular trip forwards, you have a total elevation gain of 2,300 feet in five days, not bad to get adjusted to the altitude, but if you do it backwards, that’s an elevation gain of 8,530 feet in three days. We didn’t have porters or donkeys to carry our 40 lb packs either. Ok, yes, it was kind of ludicrous. I admit it. I’ll save the full trip summary for my blog, but suffice it to say, I have never, ever in my life struggled so hard to Apr-13-News-03breathe as I did walking up that mountain.

As we approached 14,000 feet, I’d have to take a break every 10 or 15 steps to let my lungs refill and my heart to slow down. It’s basic biology: the lungs need more air and heart needs more beats to compensate for the scarcity of oxygen. By 15,000 feet, I was just ready to reach the summit and begin the descent. My head was hurting, my legs were tired, and it was hard to concentrate on anything other than breathing normally.

Clint and I, the two  sea-level guys, finally made it to the summit. We rejoiced and reveled in the accomplishment and marveled at the massive blue-ish Salkantay Glacier another 1,800 feet above us. It was simply incredible. Breathtaking in both senses of the word. Soon, we descended and my lungs began to operate normally and my heart slowed down. We had achieved the seemingly impossible, overcoming mental and physical barriers to rise to the summit.


This past week I spent some time in the outlying districts of Lima. For the work we do in Edify, we seek out schools in impoverished areas, and provide them with small loans to build more classrooms and computer labs, and provide them Biblical business training to manage their schools more effectively. In addition to Apr-13-News-04those initiatives, we also provide teacher training so that the schools improve their level of education and stay competitive nationally. Most of these schools charge about $25-40 a month, or roughly $1-$2 a day. This may not sound like a lot to us, but this is an enormous struggle for parents. They pay it because they know the alternative is that their child will be crammed in a classroom with 35 to 40 other students. Very little attention will be paid to their son or daughter, and they probably won’t progress even in the most basic of subjects: reading and writing.

What strikes me about these districts, Callao, Ventanilla, Carabayllo is that it’s hard to breathe. Not like 15,000 feet hard to breathe, because these districts are mostly just a few hundred feet above sea level, but it’s so dusty you end up coughing a lot and worrying about what’s entering your lungs. I notice this while I’m watching students run around an unpaved recess area kicking a ball to each other. The public school director laments that with such overcrowding (more than 1Apr-13-News-05,000) students, they’ve run out of adequate bathroom space and finances to build more bathrooms, which also means the children will wait another year or two before they can pave the recess area to deal with the tremendous amount of dirt and dust kicked up in the air.

The parents tell us that a striking number of these students have respiratory problems like asthma and other health issues caused by the poor air quality. They tell us that if they didn’t water the dirt roads in the morning you wouldn’t be able to see the houses or the schools; the dust cloud would cover the community of nearly 50,000 residents.

I think about our previous accomplishment of completing the ascent to the glacier and how hard it was for me to breathe and how proud I was that I overcame my anxieties and fears to complete the challenge. It feels a little strange to revel in the victory of the self-imposed trek in harsh air conditions, when all these children want to do run around with clean air in their lungs on a soft, safe surface like grass. They probably don’t think about it that much, but their parents, who grew up in the same community, know the long term dangers of consistent exposure. They mention health problems like the kind that miners in coal towns can develop.

What comes next for me, and for this newsletter to you all is just a question: “What is our response?”
I don’t believe we should feel guilty for taking trips to Machu Picchu or the Salkantay Glacier (forwards or backwards) or putting ourselves in conditions where we must push ourselves to overcome our limits. No, I believe the response is to carry out the words we use to describe our identity. When we say we are the kind of people who care about making a difference in the world, who care about being light and salt of the Earth, who care about those without hope or a future, who care about sharing the hope of Christ here and now, and in heaven – we must do the simple things to follow through.

It means that for the thousands of school aged students in places like Loma de Carabayllo, we must find ways of providing better education and a more healthy educational experience. In short, it means being involved in local government, paving roads, providing loans to build better recess areas, and educating children and parents the importance of health in the young body.
I thought about this on the long bus ride back, about the dust, and the wind, and the breaths we take. It made me think about these verses in the Bible:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (NLT Genesis 2:7)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (NIV John 6:63)

I pray that we are being filled will the breathe of life, and with the breaths we take we can share words of the Spirit and life.

Blessings to you and your family,