By Mari Megias
June 26, 2018
Walking alongside Margaret Blood MC/MPA 1987, a young Guatemalan boy from the school where she was volunteering giggled with delight when he found a bottle cap that had been tossed on the sidewalk. This discarded object became a toy that he and Blood took turns kicking down the street to the nearby church.
The boy’s happiness with a seemingly simple pleasure marked a turning point for Blood. “I was so struck by his joy. And I realized that I needed the kind of spontaneous joy that came from finding a bottle cap.” Blood had previously experienced similar emotions when helping people, so she knew she had to help the children with whom she was working in Guatemala.
Blood had first visited the Central American nation in 2003 when she was on vacation from Strategies for Children, a nonprofit she founded to advance early childhood education in Massachusetts. During her trip, she met someone who worked at the Proyecto Semilla school for child workers in Panajachel. “He hooked me up,” says Blood. “I spent my next three winter vacations volunteering at this school.”
As someone who had advocated for children pretty much her entire life—she cut her teeth working with children in public housing when she was just 12 years old—Blood first thought to help by raising funds to train the teachers. “In Boston, I was steeped in literature on the importance of teacher education, so when the 19-year-old Guatemalan teacher with whom I was volunteering asked me for help so she could go back to school to study education,” she says. “Other teachers found out, and they wanted help too. So I thought, ‘Maybe I’m called to raise money for scholarships for teachers.’”
Because she didn’t want to impose her ideas on the local populace, she asked the school’s leaders what they thought. “They said, ‘If you want to help, you should feed the children.’ I knew the children were hungry, but I hadn’t realized that Guatemala had the fourth-highest rate of child malnutrition in the world. Half of all children there are chronically malnourished and stunted,” she says.
Blood brought some friendship bracelets made by indigenous Maya Guatemalans back to Boston to sell, with all the proceeds—some $2,000—going to fund meals in the Guatemalan school where she volunteered. Results were eye opening. “That year, attendance at school soared because the children went to school to eat,” she says. It turns out that, in many parts of Guatemala, school attendance is erratic because children often work to help support their families.
Blood wanted to continue to raise funds for the children of Guatemala through her nonprofit, Strategies for Children. However, when she broached the idea with the attorney on the organization’s board, he pushed her to form a separate nonprofit. Mil Milagros—“A Thousand Miracles” in Spanish—would be the fourth social justice organization started by Blood. Today, Mil Milagros equips mothers and teachers with the resources and skills they need to improve children’s lives in rural Guatemala.
“We focus on early childhood development, nutrition, health and hygiene, and literacy, but we inevitably run into other problems,” says Blood. One of the most pressing needs is water. “Water is scarce and, furthermore, 98 percent of Guatemala’s water supply is contaminated,” says Blood. “We look for partners to address these needs.”
One of her partners is Agua del Pueblo (AdP, or “The People’s Water”), a Guatemalan nonprofit founded in 1972 that has helped over 500,000 people from more than 800 rural, indigenous communities obtain potable water and sanitation. Coincidentally, one of the international volunteers who helped found Agua del Pueblo is community development expert Bruce Clemens MC/MPA 1978. Says Clemens, “Agua del Pueblo has worked with numerous nonprofit organizations over our 45-plus year history, and Mil Milagros stands out among them all. It has been a joy to work with Margaret as Mil Milagros has grown rare, deep, and fertile roots throughout the Guatemalan highlands.”
Clemens says that while water and sanitation are laudable goals, AdP’s primary objective is to relieve poverty and develop communities thoughtfully. “The best way to nurture long-term, sustainable development is through the school systems that Mil Milagros manages so well. AdP and Mil Milagros is a match made in heaven, and we look forward to decades of synergistic cooperation.”
Blood, who now splits her time between Boston and Guatemala, notes that she has never seen such incredible beauty paired with tremendous deprivation. “It is life-changing to live in a country that is a two-hour flight from Florida and that produces much of the U.S. food supply, yet where there is so much suffering,” she says.
Despite the many problems facing Guatemala, Blood remains optimistic for the children. “Our goal is to bring to scale, in one large municipality, a model community in which every child has their basic needs met, and to share this model with other communities in Guatemala and elsewhere.” The self-described eternal optimist dreams that one day, Mil Milagros will go out of business. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if the children had water that they could drink?” Then, Blood would jump for joy just like the little boy who found the bottle cap.