In 2019, Few for Change celebrates ten years since its founding. The founders of Few for Change, myself included, were part of a group of college students participating in the School for International Training's (SIT) study abroad program in Panama. During our semester there, we visited the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, an experience that changed our lives and inspired us to start Few for Change. This is the story of how we got started.
Getting to know the Ngäbe
On our first visit to the Comarca, we stayed with families in the small town of Quebrada Guabo. During our "homestays," we learned about Ngäbe culture and daily life in the Comarca, sharing meals and playing with the children of our host families. I stayed up long after the sun had set behind the hills playing "Pescado" (like our Go Fish) and other card games with my young host sister Yazmin (now a Few for Change scholar) and her siblings. These families all lived in conditions of extreme poverty, but they welcomed us into their homes with generosity and cariño (care).
After our brief stay with the families, we headed off to another portion of our trip, but when we arrived at our next site we debriefed the experience with our professor, SIT Panama Director and current Few for Change board member Aly Dagang. Each of us was shaken by the experience of witnessing the difficult circumstances that our Ngäbe host families faced, while also feeling deeply touched by their kindness. During that discussion, we decided to try to reciprocate that kindness. That was where the idea for Few for Change was born.
While in the Comarca, we learned that 9 out of 10 Ngäbe students don't reach 7th grade. There are many reasons that so many students drop out of school, but with 90% of families experiencing conditions of extreme poverty, the barriers and opportunity costs to education are high. Since we had first visited for educational purposes and because we had learned so much from our time in the Comarca, we decided that the best way to reciprocate the generosity we experienced would be to help lower some of those barriers.
How we started
When we returned from Panama, a handful of us stayed in touch with each other through email. As we settled back into life at our respective campuses, four of us started to play around with the idea of starting a scholarship fund. We wanted to follow through with our commitment to do something with what we had learned from our friends in the Comarca and to give back to the families and communities that had welcomed us so generously. So we started Few for Change. Our goal was to help students bridge the gap between primary school (grades 1-6) and secondary school (grades 7-12).
None of us had started an organization before so we talked to each other, we Googled, we researched, we asked our friends and relatives. Fortunately for us, SIT's parent company, World Learning, had just set up a "reciprocity fund" to help alumni raise money to support projects in the communities that hosted them during their study abroad programs. Partnering with World Learning allowed us to raise money long before we had our own bank account or tax-exempt status with the federal government and helped us to get up and running in just a few months. Early on in that first year, we teamed up with ASMUNG - the Ngäbe Women's Association - a local organization working to empower women, and its president Doris Gallardo, our first community coordinator. Doris helped us design the scholarship and spread the word. Within a year, we had raised enough money to award three three-year scholarships of about $350 per year. After that first year, we recruited other SIT alums to join us as well as others who shared a passion for our work. We set up an all-volunteer board of directors, expanded into new communities within the Comarca, recruited a team of volunteer Ngäbe coordinators from around the region, and set ourselves up as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Few for Change by the numbers
We’ve grown a bit
In the last 10 years
Since our first year, we've grown considerably thanks to the support of our friends, family, and an ever-growing group of contributors who believe, like we do, that a few people really can make a difference. Here's a look at some of what we've accomplished in the last 10 years.
59 - The number of students receiving Few for Change scholarships since 2009
156 - The number of years of school that those scholarships have funded
4 - The number of Few for Change coordinators based in Panama - Ramón, Doris, Agripina, and Rogelio
14 - The number of Few for Change scholarship recipients who have graduated from high school
$90,000 - The amount of money we’ve raised in 10 years to support indigenous education
102 - The number of applications that we received this year (2018) - our largest applicant pool ever!
With a record number of applications this year and some ambitious goals for expanding our community-based programming like Books for Change and our university scholars' community service projects, we need your support now more than ever. Please consider donating today to help us get next the decade of Few for Change off to a bright start.