Mick Quinn with students.

Help a local man save his Guatemalan school project

A school founded by an Athlone man in Guatemala is facing closure unless $45,000 is raised by March.

Mick Quinn, who is originally from Baylough, is appealing for donations from his home town after his school in Antigua in Guatemala recently lost $50,000 annual funding from a single donor.

"We have 80 students who attend classes in English, Spanish, homework help, psychology, critical-thinking, and of course we have playtime for the younger ones," Mick said of the facility opened in March of last year by The Integral Heart Foundation, the organisation he founded with his wife Debora back in 2011.

"We also prepare and serve over 1,500 meals and snacks per month at the school because 90% of children do not get enough to eat at home.

"The public education system is very poor here, classes can be over 40 children and the teachers are poorly educated and earn about $300 per month. Most of our children live in tin shacks with dirt floors on dangerous mountain-side slums," Mick, who is the son of James and Norah Quinn, stressed.

In 2001, having spent time working on Wall Street and heading up several high-profile tech companies in the US, Mick parked the 'American Dream' lifestyle to move to Portugal to study and write for seven years and his best-selling book 'The Uncommon Path' examining how to be happy and self-fulfilled was the result in 2009.

It was also here he met his wife Debora Prieto, and following a visit to Guatemala they fell in love with the country and decided to put down roots there.

Both passionate about education, the pair founded The Integral Heart Foundation two years later and set about delivering programmes in critical-thinking/integral education to young people and training teachers before they took the step to open the school last year which costs over €60k per annum to run.

They only learned in July that their main donor was pulling out to put the money into a zen centre in California. Unless they can raise €45k the school will have to close and they have now set about an intensive campaign to try and meet the target, which the Baylough native remains confident they can do. 

He is encouraging people in Athlone to get behind the campaign to try and keep the school open and ensure the children have the chance at a better future in the Central American country where over half of the population are said to be living below the poverty line.

Asked what the loss of the school would mean to its students and seven staff, Mick's response was stark: "Much like the loss of a home, really. Here in Guatemala public schools only run half a day, so the other half of the day, without our school, the kids just get to sit around in dangerous and not be stimulated slums. They will eat two fewer meals per day".

The foundation also provide older students with scholarships to attend trade-schools and university without which, Mick said they would have to engage in menial labour for the rest of their lives.

Anyone in Athlone who wishes to contribute to the appeal can contact Norah Quinn via the Westmeath Independent or they can make an online donation and read more about the foundation's work on the www.integralheartfoundation.org website.