In 2001, Erin Cole de Gomez traveled to Guatemala with the intention of alending her talents to an orphanage. As she began becoming aware of the challenges young students were facing, she began mulling over the idea of starting her own school. So, with the encouragement and support of her Guatemalan colleagues, she did just that and opened the doors to Oasis Christian School, a school for preschool through 9th grade.
Presently, Erin operates the non-denominational, private school with her husband Javier Gomez. The couple and their children stopped by Belle Plaine, where her parents, Dan and Rita Cole, reside and assist her and Javier with various office tasks for the school.
Operating on donations from individuals and church partners, Oasis aims to provide education to students of all backgrounds under the same roof, a task not common in Guatemalan schools, according to Erin.
“We’re trying to do something different to change Guatemala so that it can be a better country,” Erin said of her school’s mission.
With their outward-facing mission, Erin and Javier hope their students will walk away from their school with a willingness and ability to address the poverty and corruption Guatemala faces.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, roughly one million individuals from Guatemala immigrated to the United States, a roughly 180% increase from 2000’s total of an estimated 372,487 immigrants. A report published by Pew Research in 2017 found that 56% of immigrants from Guatemala were unauthorized.
Erin and Javier have noticed the effects of that surge in their classrooms. Some students whose parents have left Guatemala may have trouble focusing in class, Erin confirmed. This, coupled with the fact that the school, located in Zacapa, Guatemala, is situated in one of the hottest parts of the tropical country, makes for tough learning conditions for some. Frequent power outages mean the use of fans is never a guarantee for Oasis, but the challenges the school faces are not unique, Erin stated.
The whiteboards and markers Erin and Javier’s 25 Guatemalan teachers are equipped with are a typical toolkit for their 240 students. Though Erin and Javier do not believe the challenges they face are unique, they do feel as though their school’s ability to grapple with them is special.
Where some of Javier and Erin’s students live in what the couple described as ‘tarp houses,’ others are the children of well-off professionals. But the couple maintains that the students put little weight on “last names,” as Javier put it.
“We want to continue to be a school where a doctor’s kid with everything and every opportunity can study next to a kid who doesn’t have a dad and has a single mom who’s struggling to support him,” Javier said through Erin who interpreted.
The couple spoke of an instance in which a well-off student had his mother prepare a daily lunch for a less fortunate student as an example of their school’s inclusivity.
Oasis is able to offer its inclusive environment through adjusting tuition costs when necessary, but donations also play a major role in Erin and Javier’s ability to welcome students of all backgrounds.
Coming into 2020, the couple is eager to get back to work for their students. Their short visit to the United States ended on Jan. 6, and the couple hopes to take the new year in stride as they get back into the rhythm of teaching, administering, and taking on whatever other tasks come their way, fifteen years after opening their doors.
Since Oasis began, the couple has seen a full generation file through their classrooms. They maintain hope that their outward-minded lessons will have a lasting impression on their students.
“Maybe someday some of our students will be the change, not part of the problem, the violence, the corruption [in Guatemala],” Erin said.
Erin is always happy to accept donations through multiple channels. Those wishing to donate can send checks to 929 Deer Creek Pkwy., Belle Plaine, MN 56011, and make them payable to Javier and Erin Gomez Ministries or can donate through Paypal at http://paypal.me/gomezcole.
The couple continues to offer services to orphans in Guatemala, including providing meals.
Erin grew up in Shakopee. Her parents moved to Belle Plaine while she was in college.