Loudoun County High School graduate Abby Gribbin has had several jobs over the course of her teenage years — including lifeguard, nanny and salon employee — but none quite like her work with Education for San Pablo.
At 18, she is a founding member and current president of the nonprofit group, which provides scholarships to poverty-stricken families throughout San Pablo, in southwest Guatemala. With help from her parents and family friends, Abby manages the organization from her Leesburg home.
“It’s a really small nonprofit,” Abby said of the organization, which has six permanent members. Nevertheless, the group has a broad reach, she said, communicating regularly by phone and e-mail with fellow aid workers in Guatemala and the families they assist.
“We talked to [San Pablo residents] to see where they were, tell them what we wanted to do and see if that would line up with their goals.”
Even though her organization was formally established only two years ago, Abby said, she has been interested in nonprofit work for much longer, having spent six months as an aid worker with her family.
In 2005, Abby’s father, D.J. Gribbin, took a year-long sabbatical from work to move with his wife, Molly, and children to Antigua, two hours east of San Pablo. Abby was 12. The decision to leave the country, he said, was inspired by a trip he took in his college years to Taiwan. “I just decided if I ever have kids, I want to repeat this process with them,” he said.
After six days of driving from Leesburg to Antigua in their Chevrolet Suburban, with Abby’s six siblings in tow — Quint, 16, Emily, 14, Matt, 10, Ben, 7, Daniel, 3, and Nathan, 2 — the Gribbins finally arrived at their destination. But four months after they settled there, Hurricane Stan swept across Guatemala and El Salvador, wiping out cities and leaving impoverished villages in an even worse state.
San Pablo was hit particularly hard. Ramshackle houses with dirt floors and walls interwoven with sheet metal and cornstalks — a common sight, Abby said — were leveled. When houses collapsed, so did any semblance of life before the storm. Locals “had kicked the police out,” D.J. Gribbin said, and the city became “known for drunkenness, lawlessness, violence.”
With an immediate need for food and little transportation for rations available, the Gribbins focused their attention on delivering supplies to San Pablo from surrounding locales, but soon became involved in reconstruction efforts and other charitable work in the area.
Along with her siblings and parents, Abby helped mix cement, haul rations from loading docks and construct water filters. She was shocked at San Pablo’s living conditions in the weeks after the storm. “Imagine drinking dirty water. Every day you’re sick, and it’s just part of life.”
Six years later, Abby remains committed to maintaining a strong relationship with a city that she said has undergone drastic improvements since rebuilding efforts began. Last year, she decided to postpone college so she could create the nonprofit group. Working with two pastors based in San Pablo, Abby and her family collect and manage funds that pay school fees for the city’s youth — desperately needed in an area where most adults can afford little more than a primary school education, she said.
Abby also manages outreach on behalf of the nonprofit group: She created its Web site, solicits feedback from fellow aid workers attending her neighborhood church, and sends a monthly newsletter to neighbors and friends interested in her work. Most donations come from newsletter subscribers, Abby said. In recent months, she has also helped arrange fundraisers at her high school to pay for donations of school supplies, and has lined up catering companies willing to ship food to San Pablo.
Abby “has a way of being aware of and concerned for her friends and people around her,” said Kevin Murray, a member of the organization who volunteered with Abby’s father in a 2010 church trip to Guatemala.
The Gribbin family remains optimistic about the future of Education for San Pablo, estimating that the organization has helped nearly 80 children attend school, at a cost of $300 a child each school year.
At least one member of the Gribbin family visits San Pablo annually to assess the organization’s progress and plan future aid efforts. The Gribbins have also personally met and spoken with residents who have benefited from the nonprofit group, something Abby finds most rewarding about her work. “They’re extremely grateful people,” Abby said. “Just hearing ‘thank you, you’ve changed my life’” makes her efforts worthwhile, she added.
In September, Abby will attend Virginia Tech, where she plans to continue studying Spanish and hopes to major in international relations or business. While she is in college, her brother, Matt, 16, will run the nonprofit group.
Working for Education for San Pablo, Abby said, has played a significant role not only in how she views life in Guatemala but in how she expects she’ll approach living and working in the United States. Her father “wanted to take us on an eye-opening experience,” she said. “Just having this experience will definitely inspire that.”
For information about Education for San Pablo or to inquire about volunteering or making a donation, go to www.e4sp.org.
Abby helped mix cement, haul rations from loading docks and construct water filters.