Tuesday 29th August 2023
The last few weeks have been particularly busy with the Camino por Amor walk, which was a tremendous success and not only raised funds for the projects we partner with, but also has created a tremendous affinity from the children to the projects they are supported by.
A huge thank you to all who supported in any way and to everyone who donated online. The appeal page is still open till the end of September if you would like to support.
Today I would like to talk about education. In Guatemala, like Honduras and so many countries in Latin America, education is a poorly funded sector. Despite the government here making some investments in the structural improvements to some schools, the gap between what is urgently needed and what is being offered is huge.
USAID report that only 68% of all children who enrol in their local primary school actually finish their schooling. The older the children get the worse the statistics are, demonstrating that only 10% of students make it to secondary school actually complete their studies.
Those who have the resources do very well, can attend the illustrious private schools in the capital and enjoy a top-rate education, which invariably leads to studying in a university in a western country. Sadly, those on the other end of the scale struggle to benefit from what is published as “free” government education.
One of the main pillars of the mentoring programme, after targeting the most vulnerable children at risk of street life, is to get them into full-time education. Yes it costs in terms of the time it takes the team to convince parents to allow their children to go to school, visiting the schools and helping them understand the specific needs of our children and then to help to motivate the children daily to keep studying. Furthermore the mentoring centres are one of the few places the children can go to get help with the mountain of homework they are given.
I have had to collect many children over the years from their homes/shacks, get them up and ready, give them breakfast and take them to school. This is now done by the team and I realise the commitment that this takes for the first couple of weeks of the school year to get kids used to the rhythm of going to school, but it’s a commitment we have to make in order to help kids realise the potential of education to change their lives.
With 42% of the population of Guatemala made up of the Mayan indigenous people groups, the need to bring education to them is even more of a challenge. Since 90% of the children in our programme are coming from these groups, we know how difficult it is to engage them in school, but we do and the success rates are far beyond those of the national average.
I reflect on all this as I sit opposite Damaris and her boyfriend Alexander in San Martin, a smart bakery in a trendy area of Guatemala City. I invited them for afternoon tea, a new concept for them both, but one they thoroughly enjoyed. The afternoon out gave me the opportunity to understand how they are doing with their young daughter and review their studies.
Both Damaris and Alexander are now studying with us and trying to make something of their lives despite them both growing up in huge poverty and neglect and living in very humble conditions across from La Terminal in Guatemala City.
What makes me laugh is looking at the photo I took yesterday and what was written in Alexander´s t-shirt (photo below). He was not aware of what it said and when I explained to him the text he too thought it was very funny as it is just the opposite of where his life is right now.
It seems only a few days ago that I sat with both of them at the end of 2022 and discussed education. Damaris had dropped out due to the baby being born and then of embarrassment at returning to our centre with a baby. Her culture is very different from ours and an unplanned pregnancy and one out of wedlock is not something her family or the elders would approve of.
It was easy to convince her of the need to return to studies as she was doing well before they had the baby and now she needed to ask permission from her 16-year-old boyfriend to return to the classroom. Alexander agreed and Damaris smiled and it was clear she was keen to keep going and even reach the end of secondary school one day.
The biggest challenge was with Alexander who had made it clear that he would not return to school or consider any form of education. He had done all he could to get to third grade in primary school, didn´t like it and was adamant that school was not for him. So the conversation had to take a different approach and I looked at their little daughter and could see he was besotted with her.
Learning to be a husband and dad at 16 takes a lot of support and and he needed a fair share of advice. It also brings with it huge amounts of new responsibility as before “I could just take off with my mates after work and play football”, he tells me. The transition from being a teenage boy to a dad was sudden and not one he enjoyed to begin with, but the role slowly grew on him and I have seen him mature so much over just a few months and I am very proud of all he has achieved.
I asked him what he wanted for his daughter and it was hard to stop him as he explained his dreams and hopes for her life. I asked if she would go to school and he said, “of course”. This was my opportunity to demonstrate to him how education could help her and him with the question “so what would happen when she comes home from school and needs help with her homework and you have to say you don´t know”. He went blank and then burst into tears. It hit home and the following week he messaged me and said he wanted to go back to school.
We are proud of all our kids and we know how hard it is for them to just get by. For them to succeed it takes a lot of their resources, energy, time and real grit. But they are achievers and I know will go on to great things.
No apologies for saying this again, but your support really does make the difference. Without it we could not be here, could not support the kids who want to make a better choice for their life, could not offer them the daily homework help they need and be there to go to school presentations and events and rejoice with them as they celebrate their school results. Our partnership is vital and you are appreciated. Thank you.