Mi Refugio History
Kari and her packed van ready to drive to Guatemala from Rockville, MD to start her school, Mi Refugio.

Mi Refugio History

Kari Engen first went on the mission field in 1978 while attending school by going on short-term summer mission trips to Mexico.  In 1984, after completing school, she went back to Mexico full-time, and then in 1985 to Guatemala where she worked in several different ministries. 

In 1987 Kari started Mi Refugio for 50 students in a rented building next to the Guatemala City garbage dump in Zone 7.  In 1990, a second building in Zone 3 was rented as the school expanded.  The original Zone 7 building was purchased in 1991 and converted into a trade school.

Shown above from left: Zone 7 Guatemala City Dump area and Mi Refugio's Zone 7 School
One of the original tourist buildings.
In 1995 a 12-acre property, with several buildings, was purchased in San Pedro, Sacatepequez to replace the rented Zone 3 building, which the owner wanted back.  The San Pedro property is 15 miles from the Guatemala City garbage dump so the children are bused to the school.  The property used to be a tourist resort.

Locals near Mi Refugio
The school expanded at this time to include children from the surrounding Maya villages of the Kaqchikel tribe.  The Zone 7 building is now used for pre-school and kindergarten classes, teacher living quarters and as the bus depot.
Classroom Building, 1 of 20 buildings
Since 1995, numerous renovations and new structures have been added to the San Pedro property by short-term mission teams.  The school has a capacity for 400 students.
Mission team in front of Capital Bldg.
History of Guatemala – A country in Central America, slightly smaller than Tennessee, with a current population of 14.3 million.  It is home to the western hemisphere’s greatest ancient civilization, the MAYA, who date back to the early pre-classic period (2000to 800 BC). The Maya civilization began to collapse in 1200 AD, and was conquered by the Spanish in 1542.
Rural living conditions
Guatemala gained its independence from Spain in 1821 that brought new prosperity to the Spanish citizens (Ladinos), but worsened the lot of the indigenous Maya who, although legally free, were enslaved by debt patronage to the great landowners.
Guatemalan Military
A succession of military and civilian dictator governments, as well as a 36-year guerilla civil war over land ownership, left most of the nation in poverty.  In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement with the rebels formally ending the conflict, which had led to the death of more than 200,000 people and created some 1,000,000 refugees. 
The Guatemala City Garbage Dump
Some of these refugees found their way to the Guatemala City garbage dump, where today over 1,000 children and their families scavenge for food and recyclables. 
San Pedro area children
Forty-three percent of the population is indigenous descendants of the Maya civilization who live in poverty in the countryside working in agriculture.  They represent 20 different Maya tribes and speak 40 languages, in addition to Spanish.  The country today has a literacy rate of 70%, with a population of 43% under 15 years of age and 3% over 65. The average life expectancy today is 64 years.