“I really like vowels.” Raquel looks at Irene Salazar, the principal at the Asociación Guatemalteca para el Sindrome de Down in Guatemala City, and giggles. A shy 14-year old beginning her third year of studies at the school, Raquel has proven to be an exceptional student and a very willing spokesperson for the unique school that is changing the way people look at children with special needs in Guatemala.Founded in 2005 by Irene (pictured above with Raquel) and her husband Alfredo after their own son was born with Down Syndrome, the school offers not only educational basics but also specialized care, therapy, and life skills training for more than 40 students and 10 infants. The Salazar's have opened their doors to children from extreme poverty. Students are provided high quality instruction based on their development level so that each child is given the greatest opportunity for success.Raquel’s story begins in heartbreak. Her mother, a widow with two children, was brutally raped. A daughter was born with special needs, and there was no support for the family in the poor community. Raquel’s mom tried to work with schools in the area to provide her an education, but they were all ill-equipped to help. After struggling to homeschool her daughter for six years while working to care for the entire family, Raquel’s mother heard about the Down Syndrome School from a neighbor and reached out to Irene.The family now lives in a church, where the mother works as a custodian and security guard. And Raquel eagerly attends the school where she not only learns vowels, but also gets to play soccer with her friends. And thanks to partners like the Surfers Association, Raquel and her friends are learning now to swim and surf. “I can stand on a surfboard now,” she beams. “I like to dance too. Shakira is my favorite singer. And I like brown bears and lasagna.”She pauses to think about other things she wants to share. “I want to be a pediatrician when I grow up.”The giggles begin. Her laughter is contagious.Students at the Down Syndrome School are taught critical life skills – including cooking, managing finances, and even how to walk through difficult situations. When Natalie, one of the students passed away last year, the teachers offered counseling and taught the children about the importance of grieving with hope.Irene is proud of Raquel and her other students. “This school is a welcoming place for the children. Some can communicate well, and some have significant challenges. But they understand each other, help each other, love each other. God has allowed us to be part of a good future for the children."“I would love for more people from the United States to come to our school and get to know our kids. They’ll then know a little piece of God’s heart.”Raquel’s eyes light up and she giggles again. “I want people to come and see me. I like it when people visit.”***Join Orphan Outreach on a mission trip to meet the students of the Down Syndrome School. And be part of a student’s life by supporting them as a sponsor!