Connie’s Story

Connie NewtonConnie Newton

Born and raised in Peoria, Illinois Connie first came to Guatemala in 1963. Having just completed her degree in Sociology from Stanford University, she came with her new husband who was doing research for his dissertation. Barely speaking Spanish she began her journey of a now more than fifty-year love affair with Guatemala and Central America.

In these decades of living and working amidst these countries and cultures, Connie became fluent in Spanish, while working in the fields of sociology research, human-rights action, cross-cultural and experiential education. Her professional and volunteer work has included working with NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations/Non-profits) in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Having moved to Kansas in 1965 Connie was a volunteer teacher at the first Headstart Program in Lawrence, Kansas. In 1971 Connie’s first husband was killed in an airplane accident, and she learned about being a single mother raising two daughters, one then 2 years old and the other 3 months old.

In 1976 she moved to Denver, Colorado and in the early 1980’s Connie began volunteering at local food banks and shelters there as a Spanish translator. Here, the plight of people in Central America literally landed once again on her “door step.” As the conflicts and violence raged throughout Central America a growing stream of refugees began coming North to these same food banks and shelters. The stories of the violence against those working for social, political, and economic change in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua came with them.

One day, an ex-Honduran army sergeant came to the food bank and told Connie that his own mother had tearfully demanded that he leave Honduras and the army “because you are killing your brothers and your sisters.” These words spoke to Connie’s heart.  She decided that providing food and shelter alone was not a sufficient response.

Subsequently, Connie began working with Human Rights organizations in the United States and Guatemala. She organized and led groups from the Colorado Council of Churches and Denver Justice and Peace to meet with grassroots groups in Nicaragua, Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This work was done in collaboration with The Center for Global Education at Augsburg College in Minnesota.

In the mid-1980’s Connie and her second husband, who had been active in the Civil Rights movement, drove by land from Colorado to Costa Rica where they volunteered at the U.N. University for Peace in the conflict resolution program. She had made the drive to Costa Rica six times previously in less turbulent circumstances. This experience was different, because it meant crossing six borders and navigating the outskirts of four Central American wars in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Besides learning a lot about conflict resolution from Mennonite, Quaker, and exiled Guatemalans, Connie also studied Liberation Theology while in Costa Rica. She was the only gringa in classes with thirty community leaders from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.  They taught her what courage and faith look like under fire and how Popular Education (experiential education for those without formal education) brought communities together and produced some extraordinary grassroots leaders, particularly women.

While the men were away at war, the women organized health projects, literacy campaigns, developed small businesses, and became powerful agents of change… both personal and communal.  In order to better contextualize the injustices Connie experienced in Central American, she returned to the U.S. and finished a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Social Science. Her thesis was based on interviews with the grassroots women leaders she had met.

Subsequently, Connie worked for ten years as the facilitator of an adult, cross-cultural education program with Lutheran churches in five western states. Immersion learning trips to Native American reservations, Mexican border towns, and sometimes from the suburbs to the inner city brought new perspectives to the travelers and informed their efforts to be better resources in their own neighborhoods.

In 1998, Friendship Bridge (, introduced Connie to microcredit, and she introduced Friendship Bridge to Experiential Education. Meetings to repay micro loans also became mini-schools for experiential learning. The borrowers prioritized the learning themes, from which the staff and Connie developed curriculums on how to grow small businesses, life cycle health care, medicinal plants, family planning, women’s rights, and supporting their children’s education.  Today, this program that started with 32 women, makes loans and provides education to almost 20,000 predominantly Mayan women.

In 2005, Connie’s second husband passed away and she began extending her time and work in Guatemala. In 2008, after serving on the Friendship Bridge board for ten years, Connie resigned to volunteer as research coordinator for an impact study focused on the education program. When the impact study was completed, Connie was persuaded by her friend and winter neighbor in Guatemala, Fran Early, to begin researching and writing of Doing Good Says Who?

At the outset Connie and Fran envisioned a book that would bring to light voices of Guatemalans along side those of volunteers, students, NGO’s, founders, donors, and staff. In these five years of working together, Connie and Fran conducted over 400 interviews, spent thousands of hours researching, writing, and editing. Between them they’ve worn out two computers apiece, traveled all over Guatemala and back and forth from Boston to Denver countless times. They have learned to respect one another’s differences and worked tenaciously to bring this book to light.

Today, Connie lives the six winter months in Guatemala and the six summer months in Denver. In the winter Connie connects to her two daughters and three grandchildren via weekly Skype calls. When she calls, her son-in-law tells the littlest one to “Come see abuelita-en-la-cajita” (grandma-in-the-little-box, i.e. computer.)