Right before performing in front of thousands in Guatemala last week, Grammy Award-winning artist Enrique Iglesias received a surprise holiday gift backstage from some of his littlest local fans.

The international pop star, through a partnership with Microsoft, just donated $200,000 in software to Save the Children to strengthen its literacy programming for elementary school-age children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, and the kid fans from Guatemala’s remote mountainous region of Quiche wanted to thank him in their own words at the Dec. 9 concert.

Their gift – a handmade book – is a collection of hand-written stories and colorful drawings that they created through Save the Children’s literacy program called Literacy Boost. The stories describe local traditions around holidays like Guatemala’s Independence Day and Christmas.

“I am honored to receive such an original and creative gift. As a songwriter, words and story-telling have always had a special meaning to me. Through this donation, I hope more children will be able to share in my passion,” said Iglesias.

In Guatemala, nearly 1 in three kids does not complete elementary school. Many children, lacking the basic skills to read and write, struggle in school and eventually drop out. Literacy Boost helps kids learn to read early on, by training teachers in effective classroom techniques, inspiring parents to support their children’s learning and create books with locally available materials, and offering reading camps and a reading buddy program for kids, which encourages them to read at home.

“Going to school is not enough to ensure learning. Some children – those who are indigenous and do not know the national language, kids living in extreme poverty, girls and those with few books or no one to read to them at home – need an extra boost to gain basic reading skills,” said Mary McInerney, Save the Children’s country director in Guatemala. “The gap in reading ability between strong and struggling readers widens with age. That is why it is critically important that children learn to read in the early grades, so that they can then read to learn.”

McInerny added, “We are tremendously grateful for Enrique’s donation to our Literacy Boost program. It will help the teachers improve their lesson plans and create learning materials, such as stories for the kids to read during reading camp with their reading buddies.”

The donated software also will be used to support a food program funded by USDA called IDEA, which provides nutritious food and education on good eating habits to children in Save the Children-supported schools.

With their gift to Iglesias, the Guatemalan children wanted to welcome the international pop star to their country.

“We want to share something from our communities, and thank him for his support,” said 9-year-old Juana.

“His support motivates us to stay in school and reach our dreams,” said 9-year-old Henely.

Literacy Boost is helping kids learn to read in 24 countries around the world, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Peru in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Teaming up with Save the Children last fall, Iglesias also launched a #Hearts4Kids T-shirt to support the non-profit’s humanitarian responses around the globe.

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