A woman who immigrated to the North Fork as a teenager returned to her hometown in rural Guatemala last week to deliver backpacks, books and other supplies to students at the crumbling school she attended as a child.
The trip was Jazmin Carrillo's second to San Antonio el Angel since she founded the nonprofit Programa Sueños (Dream Program) on the North Fork in November 2013.
Carrillo, 25, said the organization has raised more than $40,000 -- much of it from friends and acquaintances on the North Fork, where she moved with her family in 2003, and patrons of Love Lane Kitchen, the Mattituck restaurant where she previously worked as a manager.
"This program would not be possible without the help of so many people," Carrillo, who moved late last year to Brooklyn and now works as a restaurant server in Manhattan, said in a phone interview as she packed for the eight-day trip that began last Tuesday.
Long Islanders' donations, she said, are already making a difference in the village of about 900 people, where many families earn $2 a day growing corn and beans. Children whose families couldn't afford supplies used to skip school to work in the fields, but are now "learning and being kids," she said.
"Many of them are now following the rules," Carrillo said. "They're studying and their grades are improving. They seem happy."
She started raising money after visiting Guatemala in 2012 for the first time in nearly a decade and finding her nearly century-old former schoolhouse overcrowded and in disrepair, with broken windows and peeling paint.
Programa Sueños, which started by funding supplies for 10 children, has grown to sponsor all 225 students at the school at a cost of about $75 per child per year. It also funds a soccer league at the school. Carrillo said she hopes to eventually raise $200,000 to build a new school in the village.
Love Lane Kitchen and Gerry Hayden, executive chef and partner at North Fork Table and Inn in Southold, organized a benefit for the nonprofit last February. Wading River High School students also donated supplies, Carrillo said.
Carrillo is making the trip to Guatemala with David Benthal, 27, a Jamesport photographer and manager at Love Lane Kitchen to deliver 225 backpacks, 2,301 notebooks, 800 pens and 362 textbooks, among other supplies.
The journey isn't easy. Carillo said the dirt roads in and around San Antonio el Angel, about 90 miles from Guatemala City, the country's capital, often turn to mud in the rain. Cellphone and Internet services are spotty.
Carrillo said she hopes to check in on the progress of the students and host a picnic with cake, a rare indulgence for the village's children.
"They don't get to have cakes, not even on their birthdays," Carrillo said. "I wish people were able to see the reactions."