Update for April 2014

April 21, 2014

Dear friends, it’s been a while since my last update on the middle school and high school we’re supporting in the community of El Triunfo, Guatemala. In the months since my last update, I’ve visited Guatemala twice, the new school year has begun and the school continues to make some progress in its growth and development.

After surviving the ice storm which gripped Toronto at Christmas, I safely made my way to Guatemala. I had planned the trip so that I might be able to be at the school for the first day of school. However on my arrival in the country, I was informed that the Ministry of Education has decided that the first day of school would be January 16, the day after I was leaving the country. Sigh. There went that plan for another year.

On January 2 I visited to the school for the first of two meetings at the school, which included the participation of Lucio, the new indigenous mayor of the community, who was sworn into office along with 68 other “alcaldes indígenas” in Solola on New Year’s Day. For those of you who have been supporting my adventures for a number of years, Lucio and his family received support from us to rebuild in 2005 after their house was partially destroyed during Hurricane Stan.

At the school I met with members of the members of the COCODE (the community’s economic development council), Santos who is a teacher as well as Lucio.

Meeting with the COCODE, Lucio, and Santos in El Triunfo on January 2

Meeting with the COCODE, Lucio, and Santos in El Triunfo on January 2

I was pleased to see that the washroom project which you supported had been completed and the school directors and teachers were returning for their first day of work of the new year.

the washroom project which we funded with donations in November and December is complete and ready to use for the start of the school year!

the washroom project which we funded with donations in November and December is complete and ready to use for the start of the school year!

Last year the municipality of Sololá along with the Ministry of Education had funded an expansion of the school building adding much needed classroom and meeting space but also failed to fund the equipment and furniture needed to fill the classrooms. I had hoped that the school would find funding for the most crucial needs but I learnt that they were still of need of basic items like desks and chairs. So I decided to dig deep into my bank accounts and go shopping to purchase the needed items and worry about raising the money for the items later. On January 7, a group of us headed to the city of Quetzaltenango to do a little bit of shopping. There was a good omen on the road as we headed to the city. During the day, we purchased 4 whiteboards, 6 teacher desks, 6 teacher chairs, 2 projectors, one screen and a bunch of plastic chairs.

Some of the purchases we made for the school.

Some of the purchases we made for the school.

Where do you go to buy plastic chairs? Plastilandia of course.

Plastilandia!

(But I also wondered what you could buy here?)

The next day I returned to the school accompanied by my good friend Javier  from Toronto and we once again met the teachers who were delighted to see the purchases of the previous day.

A few weeks after my return to Toronto, I was told about the enrollment numbers for the year. The school had put much work into trying to attract new students to the school. A big new sign was posted on the highway at the road leading into the community.

New Sign!

They took to the airwaves of a community radio station to promote the school and distributed flyers and posters to other villages. During my January visits in El Triunfo I saw parents waiting at the school to register their children and also saw parents and students walking into the community for the same purpose. So it came as a bit of a disappointment that the enrollment is only slightly higher than last year at around 80 students. I had expected that the numbers would be a little higher. I was told that the enrollment in this level of education (middle and high school) is down across the country. In El Triunfo, some families may be short of resources and have chosen to keep children at home. In addition, a handful of families with resources have sent students to other schools to pursue a different curriculum such as nursing, teaching or computers. But it is still an achievement to be providing an education to the students who are enrolled in the school.

In March I returned to Guatemala for some fun at the beach, which included a trip on a very small boat to see dolphins and a return visit to the school in time for Carnival! As mandated by the Ministry of Education, the schools in Guatemala mark the last day before Lent with a celebration.   In El Triunfo, there was dancing, skits and some clowning around.

Clowning around at Carnival!

Clowning around at Carnival!

While the community continues to look for financial support for various projects in the village and the school such as improvements to the unpaved road leading down into the village, we are still responsible for the majority of the salaries for the teachers, directors and secretaries in both the middle school and high school. While students do pay a modest fee of about $3 per month to attend the school, this is much more affordable than the private schools located outside of the community.

This year we’ve already bought the much needed supplies and furniture for the school in January and paid the teachers for the months of January, February and March.

Your ongoing support is greatly appreciated by the students, teachers and parents in El Triunfo. As in the past, your tax deductible donations to the school can be directed to Pueblito Canada.

You can donate online at  http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=25964  (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”  Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

 Pueblito Canada
@ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

For more information on Pueblito and the other projects they support in Central America, please visit www.pueblito.org.

You can check out the complete set of photos from Carnival online as well as all of my photos from the trip to the beach plus videos from Carnival and the beach.

Ken

 

Happy New Year’s

December 26, 2013

Dear friends,

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and if you’ve lost power in last weekend’s storm that you have been able to keep warm!

On Friday I will be heading to Guatemala so I can spend New Year’s in the community of El Triunfo where the school we are supporting is located. I’m also looking forward to being present for the first day of the school year in a couple of weeks!

If you haven’t already donated to the school this year, there’s still time to make a contribution.

This past year was a tremendous year for the school with many notable achievements and with your support we can ensure that 2014 will be equally as successful, if not better!

With your support, students from El Triunfo can have a better future!

With your support, students from El Triunfo can have a better future!

Your tax deductible donations to the school in El Triunfo can be directed to Pueblito Canada. You can donate online.  (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.” Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

Pueblito Canada
@ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

Thank you for your ongoing financial and moral support!  And best wishes for the rest of 2013!

Ken

December Update – It’s been a good year!

December 14, 2014

Dear friends,

As we come closer to the end of the year, we can look back with some satisfaction at the achievements reached in the school we are supporting in the community of El Triunfo in Guatemala.

The school provides an affordable education from grades seven to twelve for the children from several villages who probably would not have the opportunity to pursue their studies otherwise.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve seen

-          the graduation of the first grade 12 class;

-          the completion of an expansion  which allows each grade in the school from grade one to twelve to have their own classroom; and,

-          participation of four teachers in  a weeklong  training workshop in Nicaragua on arts-based learning.

These are notable achievements for an initiative which started out in 2006 by providing a handful of scholarships for children in El Triunfo to attend middle school outside of the community.

In my recent visit to the school at the end of November, it was pointed out to me that the school is now attracting interest from students who want to come and study from communities up to ten or fifteen kilometers away! At the start of the year I was personally disappointed in the relatively small number of students (around 80 from grade seven to twelve in the school) who had enrolled. But this fall the school directors and teachers have been hard at work encouraging enrollment for next year by hosting information programs on a local community radio station as well as distributing posters and flyers over a wide area.

For the 2014 school year, which starts in about a month, there is still much that needs to be done. While the Ministry of Education and the local municipality has provide support for capital projects (ie – projects which means that a giant sign showing their support can be put up), there is still little or no government support for ongoing operating costs of the school. Next year we’ll still be responsible for the teachers salaries. In addition the shiny new expansion lacks some of the basic needs for a classroom such as blackboards, desks and even chairs.

The school is also seeking support to provide internet access to the computer lab, to purchase more computers, as well as to build a new facility for the computer lab and kitchen.

I want to thank all of you who offered support for the washroom project I mentioned in last month’s update. The needed money has been sent to the community and the project will be finished in time for the start of classes in a few weeks.

There’s still time this year for you to make a tax deductible donation to the school, which can be directed to Pueblito Canada. You can donate online.  (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.” Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

 Pueblito Canada
@ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

 For more information on Pueblito and the other projects they support in Central America, please visit www.pueblito.org.

Thank you.

Ken

Graduation Day!

November 19, 2013

Dear friends,

Last Saturday there was a milestone in the history of the school we are supporting in the community of El Triunfo in Guatemala with the graduation of the school’s first grade twelve class. Until this day, only students who had the financial resources to leave the community and study elsewhere could reach this level of education.

It's graduate day for the grade 12s. November 16, 2013

It’s graduation day for the grade 12s. November 16, 2013

Santos Tzorin, a teacher in the school who was born in El Triunfo, told me in an email, “During the graduation I remembered the great progress that our community has made compared to years ago when I had to leave my parents, my community, and adapt to a different culture in order to study in a school far away….which I why I thank you very much for this opportunity for our young people.” Since I was unable to attend the ceremonies he also wanted to thank me and all of the people in Canada who support the project each month on behalf of the students, their parents and the entire community.

It has been a remarkable year and the community has worked hard to ensure that the school will continue to be a success. Earlier in the year an expansion was inaugurated which meant that every class in the school from grade one to twelve has its own classroom. This project was largely funded by the local municipality with some support from the Ministry of Education. This fall a second smaller but equally important (some may say it’s more important) project was initiated by the community. The tiny washrooms which were originally built to serve a small primary school were in desperate need of replacement. With some support from the Ministry of Education plus donations of both cash and labour from the community, the washrooms are being rebuilt along with the installation of a new septic system.  But the community has fallen short of cash on this $10,000 project and have asked us for $2500 to finish it. Counting on your generosity I sent half the required funds to Guatemala this morning.

Diagram of the new washrooms for the school.

Diagram of the new washrooms for the school.

If you haven’t already donated to the school this year, please consider making a donation to support the washroom project and also to ensure that we can pay the administrators and directors of the school for their work this month as they wrap up the school year. We also need to start looking ahead for 2014 so that there are funds available for the teachers when the school year begins in January. Your tax deductible donations to the school in El Triunfo can be directed to Pueblito Canada. You can donate online.  (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.” Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

 Pueblito Canada
@ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

 For more information on Pueblito and the other projects they support in Central America, please visit www.pueblito.org.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Ken

And don’t forget my Annual Fair Trade Holiday Sale for Guatemala which takes place this year on Friday, November 29, 2013. There will be clothing and accessories from Asociación Maya de Desarrollo, Solola, Guatemala; Fair trade coffee from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), Guatemala; and jewelry from Casa Milagro, Guatemala plus other surprises! Complete details  are here!

Annual Fair Trade Holiday Sale for Guatemala

It’s my annual Fair Trade Holiday Sale for Guatemala!

Friday, November 29, 2013
11: 00 am to 7:00 pm
Fleck Atrium (Ground Floor)
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto
105 St. George Street (south of Bloor, across from Innis College)
Subway –St. George Station

Featuring: Guatemalan weaving from Asociación Maya de Desarrollo, Solola, Guatemala; Fair trade coffee from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), Guatemala; and jewelry from Casa Milagro, Guatemala plus other surprises!

For more information: Ken McGuffin, mcguffin@rotman.utoronto.ca / 416-946-3818 / http://guatemalaschool.wordpress.com/

Proceeds from the weaving, coffee, and jewelry sales will be directed to the cooperatives and organizations which produce the items. Additional donations for the El Triunfo Education Project which provides an affordable middle and high school education for the sons and daughters of weavers from Asociacion Maya are gratefully accepted.

BACKGROUND:

*Asociación Maya de Desarrollo is a weavers’ co-operative committed to preserving the ancient art of backstrap weaving. Inspired by nature’s palette, the weavers are hand-dyeing rayon chenille, bamboo and cotton yarns. They are creating unique pieces of wearable art by combining the innovative use of fibres and traditional Mayan designs. Organizing themselves together since 1987, its members are cultivating leadership roles for Mayan women and building a better life for themselves and their communities. There is a now a thread of hope and economic opportunity for 180 weavers in the mountains of Sololá

Asociacion Maya

*Café Justicia is Fair Trade PLUS, shade-grown, organic coffee produced on the volcanic slopes surrounding Lake Atiltán in the Guatemalan highlands. The coffee is produced by campesinos on the El Paraíso Co-operative of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). The CCDA is an organization founded in 1982 and mandated to peacefully defend the rights of workers on large coffee, sugar and cotton plantations in Guatemala; recover lands stolen from the Mayan communities over the past century; promote organic and traditional Mayan agriculture, and protect the cultural rights of Guatemala’s Mayan majority.

*Casa Milagro is an organization supporting the financial, health, and educational needs of mothers and their families in the indigenous village of Santa Cruz on the shores of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala. The organization’s jewelry project provides an income to women with few other economic opportunities to provide for their families

The Teachers Visit Nicaragua

September 26, 2013

Dear friends, For many of us, we’re now firmly back in the “regular” activities of the autumn after a summer break. Many of us have started new projects, new jobs and our children have returned to school. In Guatemala, where we are supporting an education project in the community of El Triunfo, the school year is rapidly coming to a close.

I’m delighted to report to you about a visit four teachers from El Triunfo made at the start of this month to Estelí, Nicaragua to visit another one of Pueblito Canada’s partners. They received a 5 day intensive workshop for teachers on FUNARTE’s methodology for using art to encourage creativity, sociability and self-esteem among the students they teach. FUNARTE works to promote and facilitate the development of children through the development of their creative abilities. Further details on FUNARTE can be found online.  Educators from Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua who work with another project supported by Pueblito Canada also took part.

We asked Santos Tzorin Julajuj, one of the teachers from El Triunfo (he’s also from the village!) to report on the visit. Here’s what he said.

“Four teachers participated: Evelyn, Antonio, Marcelino and I. We were selected by the Board of Directors of the middle and high schools and by the students’ parents association to participate in this workshop. We were concerned (as I expressed to Ken last year) with school dropouts and students’ low interest in continuing with their studies. Nevertheless, thanks to Pueblito Canada’s help, we now have the tools and are very motivated and convinced that we will spark among the youth the desire to continue with their studies. For this reason, we are very grateful with God, Miriam Buttu (Pueblito’s director), with Ken, with FUNARTE and with each of the people who in one way or another helped us cover the trip expenses.  FUNARTE’s capacity-building workshop was greatly beneficial to every one of us who participated; it changed our perspective on formal education, we learned so much about emotional well-being, self-esteem, creativity and sociability in each educator and student. My colleagues are also very grateful, and they are already applying this experience to their students at the elementary school level.

During the first week of September, teachers from El Triunfo visited Funarte in Esteli, Nicaragua for a workshop on Funarte’s art-based learning techniques. Santos Tzorin is in the red shirt on the right side of the photo.

We will start planning how to put into practice what we learned in the following days, first with our fellow colleagues and then with our students. We plan on engaging elementary school level teachers as well. We are carrying out this activity in the first days of January next year since there are only 15 days of classes left for our students. We are confident that by carrying this activity out, we will transform the perspective of each teacher, each student and the educational structure of our own educational centre. So once again, we thank you for the support. As you know, we do not get any support from our government. As a matter of fact, up to date, we have not fully received the small subsidy the state had promised.

I would also like to share with you that we have been looking into different institutions and NGO’s for support with the various needs we have here at the school. We have issues with the school’s bathrooms, we are short on computers, projectors, desks, boards, chairs, etc., but we trust that we will, given the chance, fulfill these needs to the benefit of the students in our communities. Students’ parents are very grateful for Ken’s and Pueblito Canada’s unconditional support with monthly salaries for the teachers. We have been able to provide each boy and girl the opportunity to have a quality education through the payment of just salaries to each teacher. Thanks to this salary, as a Board, we have been able to demand that each teacher respects the schedule and their lesson planning duties towards the students.

Our soon-to- be graduates are currently doing internships in different state agencies. Like them and their parents, we wish that you could be present on their graduation day (November 16).

Once again, thanks for your support and the support of all of those who have contributed over the years to ensure salaries for the teachers, and for this opportunity we were given to train at FUNARTE. We are sure we will see the results this coming year. God bless you.”

As you can see your ongoing support for the project is greatly appreciated by the teachers, students and parents. Thanks to everyone who has generously supported the school so far. If you haven’t yet donated, please consider making a tax deductible donation to the school. Donations can be directed to Pueblito Canada. You can donate online at www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=25964 (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”

Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

Pueblito Canada @ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project
 

I also want to let you know that Maria Xoch Ajcalon, a weaver and production manager with Asociacion Maya de Desarrollo is returning to Toronto this week. Feel free to drop by any of the upcoming events to meet her. Several of her nieces and nephews are attending classes in the school.

 Saturday Sept 28 – St Lawrence Market, Toronto
Wednesday Oct 2 – Hamilton
Thursday Oct 3 – Special School Program at the Textile Museum of Canada. Details online.
Saturday Oct 5 – St. Lawrence Market, Toronto
Sunday Oct 6 – First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, 10:30 am service
 

Hope to see you soon.

Ken

Update for August 2013

August 26, 2013

Dear friends, Last month I had the opportunity to spend more than a week in Guatemala visiting friends but more importantly taking part in the annual anniversary celebrations for the education project we are supporting in the community of El Triunfo, Solola, Guatemala. From providing a handful of students with scholarships to attend school away from the community, the project has grown to include both a middle school and a high school with students enrolled from grade 6 to grade 12. The physical space of the school has also grown from 2008 to today as seen below.

The school as shown in 2008. Until this year it had only been used as the community's primary school.

The school as shown in 2008. Until this year it had only been used as the community’s primary school.

Wow. What a difference. The school now hosts a primary school, middle school and high school with twelve classrooms and a community meeting room.

Wow. What a difference. The school now hosts a primary school, middle school and high school with twelve classrooms and a community meeting room.

When I was first approached earlier in the year by members of the COCODE (the community’s economic development council) regarding their plans for this year’s anniversary, they had wanted to hold a three day extravaganza. While I always enjoy a good party, I have learned over the years that the students are asked to contribute towards the celebration. With that in mind, I suggested that this year’s event should be a more modest one day affair. Eventually we compromised on a 2-day anniversary with the costs largely covered by the donations of local businesses. So on July 17, I arrived in the community for a sports day. Teams from three different communities participated in a soccer and basketball tournament. While the games were fun, I was more intrigued by a project from the grade 12 students. Evelyn, one of the teachers, pulled me aside to take me upstairs to show me. She revealed that for a capstone project the students are learning how to grow mushrooms for food and also teaching women from the community to grow mushrooms for their families and also to sell the extra crop in the local market. While I’ve seen other projects come and go in the community I hope this one can continue. I’ll let you know if it requires any outside support.

Mushrooms

The main activity of day two of the anniversary was the election of the school’s three senoritas (senorita del instituto, senorita deportes (sports) and senorita cultura) and several dance performances. The afternoon concluded with fireworks and firecrackers and a dinner for the teachers, the COCODE and other invited guests including myself.

You can see more photos from the anniversary here.

The next milestone for the project will be the graduation of the first grade 12 class later this fall and I hope to return to Guatemala to participate in the event. It will be the culmination of a good year for the project which included the completion of an expansion supported by the local municipal government and the donation of computers from a private company. Next week with the support of Pueblito Canada, four teachers from El Triunfo will be taking part in a workshop with another partner organization of Pueblito in Nicaragua called FUNARTE which trains teachers to use interactive, arts-based teaching methods.

While the COCODE continues to look for material and financial support for the school from other sources, your tax deductible donations to the school in El Triunfo are greatly valued and needed. Each month your donations are sent to Guatemala to pay for the majority of the salaries of the eight teachers and administrators in the high school and the nine teachers in the middle school. Donations can be directed to Pueblito Canada. You can donate online at www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=25964 (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”

Or you can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

Pueblito Canada @ The Centre for Social Innovation
215 Spadina Avenue
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project
 

I’d also like to let you know that Maria Xoch Ajcalon, a weaver and production manager with Asociacion Maya de Desarrollo in the community of El Triunfo, will return to Toronto in late September for two weeks. If you’d like to host an event with Maria, please let me know. She can demonstrate the art of backstrap weaving as well as discuss how the school project is benefiting her family as several of her nieces and nephews are students in the school.

See you soon!

Ken