Wednesday 1st November 2017
This time of year is one of mixed feelings for the children with whom we work. Most have now finished school for the year and have started the long winter break. In Guatemala all children have to pass their school year in order to go into the next grade, failure means you having to return back to the same school year until you pass. A pass is based on your attendance, homework and tests and the failure rates in Guatemala in first grade have dropped dramatically (by 18.6%) in the last four years. Sadly just over 37% of children do not pass their first grade and the older they are the higher the dropout or failure rate is. It gets worse when you look at Guatemala´s Ministry of Education data and see that on 41% of primary school student reach national standards in mathematics and only 50% reach national standards in reading. [Statistics from USAID and the Guatemala Ministry of Education]
The children who now attend our mentoring programme have done very well indeed this year and even though we are still waiting on all the results to come in, the early indications are that we have bucked the national trend spectacularly. Considering the multiple deprivations our kids have to cope with, the fact they stay in school and thrive is a miracle.
Two boys came to my attention the other day when I was sitting on the floor of our Centre in Guatemala City and listening to them share with the other children how well they have done in school this year. Both our girls and boys have achieved much and there are a couple who have not passed but could do so with the extra support Marleny will now give them. Marleny is one of our most dedicated volunteers and commits herself to running our Centre 7 days a week. She is an inspiration.
Marleny had invited any of the children to talk about the things they have faced in school this year and to share their personal victories. 9-year-old Brandon is one of the first to step up and tell everyone he passed his school year. His victory needs some explanation as you could be encouraged to just clap and say well done but that comes nowhere near what level of recognition this boy deserves.
Brandon has grown up in poverty and lives in La Terminal in Guatemala City with his older sister and two younger brothers and younger sister. Coping with life is a challenge as they all live in one room with an older cousin and their parents who work long hours. Brandon sleeps on the floor and has little time and no resources to study in the dimly-lit room and so works hard each day when he comes to the Centre. This year has been a tough one for him and his family who have been through some of the most challenging experiences any family can go through.
Given all this you would be amazed that he has even managed to get through his school year intact. But Brandon is a fighter and talked with Marleny about his personal determination to get through his education so he can get a “good job” and support his family. Not only has he passed but has done with exceptional grades and was top of his year and had a trophy for his sporting achievements. Normally children will want to bring their trophies and medals along to show the team and other children but Brandon is just happy to stand up and say he has passed his school year.
The next child up is Melvin who sways from side to side as tells everyone he has passed his grade and is looking forwards to next year. 8-year-old Melvin came into the mentoring programme this year when a friend brought him along, as the Centre is “cool”, according to his friend. However when Marleny explained that unless he was in the mentoring programme he could not attend the Centre but that we would look into his situation and see what we could do. The following day he came back and Frank, who runs the mentoring programme, opened the door and was told that Marleny said he could come today, so he walked in. The next day Marleny opened the door to him and Melvin explained that Frank said he could come back, so was allowed in. As time went by Frank and Marleny discussed Melvin´s situation and realised he had been playing one against the other in order to come into the Centre each day. It was quite funny really as he is quite a cheeky little chap.
When he was confronted about this he cried and said he felt safe here and that he didn´t want to be on the streets every afternoon after school. Both Frank and Marleny told him that he could stay but that we would need to discuss the situation with his mum. Melvin´s mum works up the road from our Centre selling fruit to those getting off and on the buses on the busy 5th and 2nd intersection in La Terminal. Melvin has to be there at her side from the early hours till the evening but takes himself off to school around 7am every day.
His mother was shocked by the news that Melvin had passed his school year and seemed to struggle with the words to encourage him. Melvin proudly declared that he had passed and knew that his mum wasn´t expecting him to pass but said: “you see, I told you I would pass”. Without the support Marleny and his now new mentor, Sony, gives him he would not have passed I am sure. I can´t believe the amount of homework the children get each week and with an increasing demand on investigations that most children are unable to do. Investigations are small research projects that you can only really do if you have an educated parent and access to the internet and a colour printer. That means most children we work with won´t pass unless we provide that level of support on a daily basis.
Melvin, and the other 40 children attending the Centre and enjoying the mentoring programme, will now be able to enjoy their winter break and we are trying to sign them up for sports and other courses to keep them occupied in positive activities till we get to the fun two weeks of Radio Christmas (live from Guatemala this year) and the Christmas celebrations.
There have been other amazing successes over the past two weeks and I hope these stories encourage you to know that we are using our time well and ensuring that every penny of every donation is used to impact children´s lives. Thank you for your regular support of our work that makes all this possible.
Danilo is 13 and came into the Centre the other day and gave me a big hug. His face was a picture as the beaming smile and smart clothes told me one thing – he had passed his school year. But Danilo had passed through his primary education and was now on course to start secondary education. Only 40% of children manage to achieve what Danilo will achieve when he starts secondary school in January as the remaining 60% have either dropped out during their primary education or are unable to start secondary school due to finances or having to work full-time.
I hadn´t realised the commitment the other young people had made to support Danilo until Jonathan, our volunteer coordinator and youth worker, told me the story. Danilo lives in poverty and so when he prepared for his graduation ceremony all he had to wear was his worn-out school uniform. The other teenage boys got together and one loaned him the shoes, another a shirt, another a pair of trousers and so Danilo went to his graduation looking very smart indeed.
I remember the day I first met Danilo on the rubbish dump. I had gone there to talk to his mum about his younger brother David, who was now at high risk and spending more and more time on the streets. I was explaining that David could be included in the mentoring programme and what support we could offer him. “It´s Danilo I worry more about”, she said and went on to tell me that he was now being lured into drugs and other things that were not appropriate for his age and was returning very late at night to their room on the outskirts of the notorious “Limonada” in zone 5 of Guatemala City.
I am very proud of Danilo and all he has coped with and achieved this year and know he will start his secondary education with our full support.
We had the chance to help a boy who will now be entering our mentoring programme due to the things that have happened in his past and the risk factors in his life. Daniel is 10 and used to be in the same school and class as little Moses but when Moses changed school this year we lost contact with Daniel. However a series of circumstances brought me back into contact with Daniel and I found out that he had no bed when I visited him at his new home. Without going into the details Daniel needed a bed and so I went and spent £100 on a bed and Moses and me loaded it into the little jeep and headed over to his house.
I was not sure who was more excited about the bed, Moses or Daniel. Watching both boys carry the bed into his room and screw in the legs was fun and as soon as the bed was in place and the bedding fitted it became the best place to be. I recorded a short video of the visit and hope you can see the difference a donation of £100 can make in the life of a child. Daniel told me the next day how much he enjoyed sleeping in his bed, but now he could sleep there every night.
Finally, another boy called Daniel had his life changed around when I took him, his brother and a friend to a posh area of Guatemala City where you can rent bikes for £1.50 for half an hour. Daniel and his brother Carlos are now spending each day on the streets, doing drugs and getting into all sorts of situations that put their lives at risk. Their little friend, 10-year-old Jonathan, is also in the same situation and is now sleeping rough as well. They seem so tiny and vulnerable and their early experiments with crack will only lead them to an unhealthier lifestyle with all the possible negative heath outcomes we know that result from this type of drug taking.
But Daniel, Jonathan and Carlos had left all that behind for a few hours and were just enjoying being children. It was comforting to watch them cycle around and see the smiles on their faces. I know these experiences are short-lived and probably won´t result in them exploring other options for their lives, but might play a small part in the rescue process or help them see that another life is possible. Please do pray for them and let´s hope we can have the strength to keep demonstrating love even when no success is visible.