Our Story

Marcel van der Geest

Caras Alegres began as the passion project of Dutch founders Judith Bank and Marcel van der Geest. Both had a vested interest in Guatemala and saw a great need for better education for women and children. In 2004 they founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) Caras Alegres located in Las Rosas, a community on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. In our first year, we operated out of a small rented house in the neighborhood, moving in 2006 to a classroom rented from Escuela de la Calle (EDELAC), another NGO in Las Rosas. In 2010, the organization moved to its current location,  our own building next door to EDELAC.

Unfortunately, Marcel passed away in March of 2011, but the organization continued to thrive.

From humble beginnings, the organization grew and initiated a variety of projects with the families in Las Rosas.  Starting in 2010, the NGO supported the community with the following projects:

  • A full time daycare for kids between 9 months and 3 years old. Every day kids participated in early stimulation activities and received breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
  • A kindergarten and preschool program for kids between 3 and 5 years old. These classes focused on educational, social and personal development.
  • An afterschool program for primary school kids between 5 and 14 years old. The afterschool activities included: arts and crafts, dance, sports, English classes, and personal safety workshops.

In 2010, Caras Alegres also formed the Camino a la Independencia (CALI) project, which aimed to empower women in the Las Rosas community by providing a space to learn, create, and grow. While developing practical skills in weaving, jewelry-making, and homemade foods, local women gained the skills and knowledge to reach financial independence for themselves and financial security for their families.

Along with these projects the organization also offered:

  • Literacy classes to help parents pass their primary school exams;
  • Backpacks filled with school supplies at the beginning of the school year for primary school kids;
  • Monthly food boxes for local families; and
  • Scholarships for secondary school kids.

Regrettably, due to a loss of funding in 2015, the number of projects we can support has severely decreased, leaving intact the afterschool program and several smaller projects, including the backpack project, the family food box project, and our scholarship program. We like to think everything happens for a reason. Now as a registered Guatemalan organization we are investigating ways to make the organization more self-sustainable. In the meantime, we are ever hopeful in finding new sponsors to help us grow again. Over the years the founder’s dream has helped hundreds of children and dozens of families in the Las Rosas community, something we are very proud of and hope to continue for years to come.

Judith Bank