Through education and hope, to see our indigenous Mexican friends restore their war-ravaged region!

Call Us

+1 414 204 4768

May 2022


Blazing a Trail!


To provide educational scholarships to youth in 40 Mexican Indian villages, equipping 100’s of college graduates to return, uplift and develop their communities.


To see the greatest runners on the planet stabilize a drug- torn region and become world-famous community leaders!

How Near Deaths Spawned a Mission.

The Remarkable Story of Canyon Scholars

In July of 2000, Canyon Scholars founder Ren Svanoe and his wife nearly lost their lives in the Canadian wilderness. At nightfall one day, while they sought a camping site, their canoe and supplies blew downstream and out of sight. They were stranded without food, water or means of travel for 8 days, tending a fire round-the-clock to avoid hypothermia.
During those days they realized what it must feel like to be lost and alone in this world, powerless, entirely dependent on the mercy and help of those who might notice, those with access to transportation, food, water, a warm bed, and education. And they promised God, if He’d save their lives, they’d give their remaining days to uplifting others in poverty.
That’s how Canyon Scholars began, when a search party finally found them, soot-covered and delirious. Twenty-two years later, looking at the beautiful pipeline of compassion they’ve built of youth scholarships from America to Mexico, most would agree, they’ve kept their promise.

A Promise Kept.

More than 130 Americans have now provided 700 indigenous Tarahumara youth from dirt-poor villages at least one year of education. 110 students have graduated from college, and 86 more are right behind them!

How did we choose the Tarahumara?

On a Habitat for Humanity trip fixing homes in Mexico, Ren heard about the plight of Mexican Indian youth whose mothers he saw begging on the streets. Inquiring about that, he heard the following even more remarkable story.

Who Are the Fascinating Tarahumara Indians?

The Tarahumara are an ancient culture of 80,000 Native Americans who live along one of the most dangerous drug-cartel routes in the world, in the northernmost state in Mexico, southwest of El Paso, Texas. Most reside in the Copper Canyon, along the western edge of Mexico, which, amazingly, is 3 times deeper and wider than our Grand Canyon!

The Tarahumara are internationally known for being the greatest endurance runners in the world! Each year they host 20 ultra-marathoners from 20 countries who challenge them in a run-until-you-drop race on their mountain paths in their great state of Chihuahua. They run barefoot or in rubber-tire sandals, which created the fad of barefoot running in the U.S., and they endure more than 100 miles, which is why they win almost every year!
(See the YouTube story Goshen)

Reigns of Terror in Mexico.

Yet sadly, this superhuman talent was acquired during an oppressive 400 years when they’ve had to outrun their foes during successive reigns of terror: First, Spanish colonizers evangelizing, and then, mountain-mining corporations stealing the Canyon’s gold and silver — precious metals that should have made the Tarahumara rich! More recently, logging companies have stolen the land at will, eliminating 200 native plants the Tarahumara used for edible and medicinal purposes. Finally, pot-growing drug cartels convert their lands to plant, harvest, and export marijuana to American markets. So the Tarahumara have had to run to survive, withdrawing deep into the Canyon where there are no roads for their captors to follow, some still living as nomads or in mountain caves.


It’s difficult for most of us Americans to even grasp the kind of poverty that forces Mexicans to often risk their lives to immigrate to the U.S. We get up in the morning, assume safety, stability, jobs or retirement income, and freedom to hop in our cars, go where we want to, return home, and assume our homes will still be there, unthreatened.

Well compare that to lacking just one of those factors, security. The strong majority of Mexico is arid desert. So assume you happen to own some of the only 12% of land in Mexico that’s usable to grow grass or crops and feed animals. You are instantly a target for a group more powerful, that may just take it away from you, and often does. Here’s how CS has responded to all of this!


This humble dynamic duo, Mariano and Rosario, has been the face of Canyon Scholars for 20 years, connecting us to our first 700 students, building trust among the Tarahumara, and providing invaluable cultural translation.

Mariano was born in a gold-mining town, on a typical 100-family communal land tract called an ejido, created when wealthy land owners of sometimes-stolen land get paid by the government to surrender part of it for public welfare. The problem is, when the owner has a new economic interest, he pays off the government and sends families packing.

Mariano still remembers, at age 9, when bulldozers showed up with government troops and relocated his family. The childhood farm was simply plowed away. Mariano has spent 20 years in the courts defending cases like this, and tells of a rare instance when a poor victim of a land grab actually won his case. The next week he was shot and killed.

For a generation Mariano’s family worked, scrimped and saved to build a second family farm. In years of drought, when American farmers receive subsidies, Mariano’s dad had to go to the U.S., eventually with Mariano, as migrant workers for an entire year, sending money home for food and to buy more cows. Mariano went north 7 times and almost died 3 times, by border-river drowning, desert starvation, and boarder-guard death threat. “We never wanted to leave our family, but during the drought we had no choice,” he explains.

On retirement, Mariano’s father left an inheritance of 3,500 acres of corn, beans, and alfalfa, along with 200 cows, to split between 8 children. Then, one day in 2007, three cartel members kidnapped his brother, hoping to win the farm as ransom. When he struggled to escape, they shot and killed him.

Mariano still remembers, at age 9, when bulldozers showed up with government troops and relocated his family. The childhood farm was simply plowed away. Mariano has spent 20 years in the courts defending cases like this, and tells of a rare instance when a poor victim of a land grab actually won his case. The next week he was shot and killed.
  • Rosario has been the liaison, building trust with the parents of 700 Tarahumara youth who have received educational scholarships from 130 Americans.
  • In a Canyon plagued by 9 months of desert drought that causes animals and crops to die, Mariano has built 9 reservoirs to catch water during the rainy season.
  • He’s planted thousands of fruit-bearing trees and water-bearing plants throughout the Canyon, allowing bees to live and cross-pollinate, changing it to a live-giving habitat.


And if that wasn’t enough, these pioneers raised up a leader, their child Citlali, who was the first of 700 Canyon Scholars at age 13. She is now a lawyer and Director of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, and trains Tarahumara families in village after village how to protect their land, avoid isolation, utilize government services, and develop a safety net of relationships.

There could be no greater investment in social welfare than to provide education to future leaders like Citlali whose efforts will produce change for generations to come. Citlali thanks her sponsor, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jack Westman, who not only provided Citlali’s scholarships, but mentored and encouraged her with letters of support.

Mary Murray adopted Alberta Diaz, 28, who became a nurse just in time to help vaccinate her community during Covid. Alberta is not only passionate about providing medical attention, but eventually electricity, jobs, and better schools to her home community. Ironically, she explained, the mere bus money that her scholarship funds provided made the difference in her getting to school and graduating from the university. “I was totally thrilled to hear that three of my students have graduated from college,” said Joan Halverson, who currently supports 4 more university students, and 9 total — imagining the difference they will make in their world!

The Madison Kiwanis Club received the tragic news in June that a drug cartel gunned down two beloved priests in the Tarahumara town of Cerocahui where 3 of their 4 students live, attend church, and go to school. Imagine the inspiring report that their high school students Adalberto and Daniel are still determined to be the first engineer and veterinarian in that village, planting new seeds of hope.

“All that’s necessary for evil to triumph in this world is for good people to do nothing,” said Edmund Burke. Through personal relationships with future leaders like this, our sponsors know they are part of something greater than themselves, planting brighter futures in disenfranchised communities, and investing in a better world!

Help Us Launch 20 More Years of Sustainable Development!

How Can You Help? If your heart races with optimism, like a Tarahumura runner, reading about the wonderful work described above, we ask you to join us in one of 4 ways:


You can literally change history, positively help prevent the problem of immigration, and begin a cross- cultural relationship that could last a lifetime. Remarkably, only $43 a month gets a student through a year of high school, and only $63 a month buys a year of college. We have 100 student applications waiting!

NOTE: One of the harsh realities of a mission started by a pioneer now 85-year-old is that many of our most loyal first sponsors of 5 to 10 students each are now 85-90 years old themselves, and making their last donations. So we ask you to THINK BIG and pray about whether you could adopt multiple students.

The payback will be so rewarding! You are welcome to correspond with and hear back from your children, and we can even try to coordinate a Zoom call and translator. We are also offering a beautiful thank you gift to any new sponsor, both so you are reminded to pray for the students, and as a great conversation piece to spread the word about Canyon Scholars.


Canyon Scholars has been an extremely lean organization over the years since Ren and colleagues ran it in their retirement on volunteer time. Directors on both sides of the border receive stipends for their work; a website needs to be built; a social media campaign run to reach younger sponsors, etc.

Convinced of the repeated dividends this mission, sponsors ask us, “How can we help the most?” That would be to commit to monthly funding of our operations budget. If you join our loyal supporters to build the Next Generation, we will invite you to periodic Zoom-meeting progress reports, with regular success stories, telling how young adults are remaking their worlds!

NOTE: We are especially interested in connecting with the children of longtime Canyon Scholars
supporters, wanting the advice, creativity and participation of younger leaders!


Join this exciting kindness conspiracy as we help prevent poverty and immigration, rather than criticize it. Most of our families have adopted a child. How about you and yours? Most are grateful for the opportunity!

  • Subscribe and Follow Us on Facebook so you receive every uplifting story of change.
  • “Share” those stories, and helpful educational news, with your Facebook friends and family
  • Invite 3-12 friends or family for a Zoom Visit we will host to hear more about Canyon Scholars.


In the coming months you’ll hear about our Special Projects, as our partners plan to start technical training internships, build a boarding school, provide clean water filtration and build reservoirs on volunteer trips to the Canyon, etc. Let us know the people of influence in your circle; church or service clubs to speak to; or good people to add to our Boards of Directors and Advisors. We can give business partners great PR!

Donation Hotline: