AfID volunteer Miguel featured in CPA Australia's INTHEBLACK Magazine 05.07.2017

Overhauling the accounting and management at a school for street children in Guatemala has been a real education for Miguel Del Rio.


During a short stint in the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenango – which sits 2300m above sea level near the foot of the famous Santa María volcano in the country’s western highlands – Miguel Del Rio FCPA ticked two items off his bucket list: helping disadvantaged children, and putting his Spanish-speaking skills to good use. 


Del Rio, owner and director of Victorian business Mexicala, which operates a network of caravan parks, took time off his day job earlier this year to help Escuela de la Calle, better known to foreigners as the School of the Streets. 


Running on a shoestring budget, the school and a connected dormitory give education, free medical care and a sense of hope to disadvantaged children. The experience can also be enriching for volunteers such as Del Rio.


“I wanted to do something that would give me a sense of giving back and also have an opportunity to practise my Spanish,” says Del Rio, who was born in Spain but has lived in Australia since he was a toddler.


The chance to help out the children of Quetzaltenango came via Accounting for International Development, a British social enterprise that offers experienced finance professionals the opportunity to use their skills to make a genuine difference as foreign volunteers. 


Mixing with street children has been humbling, says Del Rio, who notes that many of the young teenagers in the school have left home “because they don’t want to be a burden on their parents”.


Del Rio used his finance and business skills to review antiquated accounting and management systems at Escuela de la Calle and an associated trekking business that raises most of the funds to run the school and dormitory. 


His recommendations formed part of an action plan that helped guide the work of other volunteers, and led to the rollout of a new website and better marketing, reporting and budgeting practices. The changes are already delivering benefits, with a stronger uptake of the trekking tours.


“It’s significantly improved the bookings [for the treks], which in turn improves their funding for the school,” Del Rio explains.


While Del Rio took part in a short-stay program that ran for only a few weeks, he believes his work focusing on process improvements could have a long-term beneficial impact on the school and its children. It’s also given him a taste for more volunteering.


“You get to the stage in your life where you do want to give back,” he says. “I got to do something that I’d been thinking of doing for a long time. I’d love to go back, and equally I’d be open to taking on a new challenge.”


Written by Cameron Cooper, for CPA Australia's INTHEBLACK magazine.