Update for August – a school celebration and political intrigue in Guatemala

August 22, 2015

Dear friends,

First, I’d like to remind you of the annual bash for Guatemala taking place this Thursday in the heart of Greektown in Toronto featuring a silent auction (Blue Jays + TFC tickets plus much more), free nibbles and socializing until the wee hours or until the street lights come on for you early-to-rise types. Details are here. If you can’t attend, please consider making a donation.

It’s been a remarkable past few months in Guatemala. For decades the country has been plagued by corruption and the influence and control of the country by illegal and clandestine organizations. In many cases these groups have successfully infiltrated the political, governmental and judicial systems. But led by the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was established in 2006 to investigate illegal security forces and clandestine organizations, change may be coming. Yesterday, the former vice-president of the country was arrested and the current sitting president was implicated for leading a customs bribery scheme which earned the group millions of dollars while depriving the country’s treasury of millions as well. This is a good background article on the president and vice-president from 2013. Earlier in the year, a CICIG investigation led to the arrest of the board of directors of the country’s social services agency for accepting bribes related to the contract to supply patients in the main public hospital with kidney dialysis treatment. Numerous patients, at least 17, have died as a result of the insufficient treatment they received and those arrested included the country’s central banker. Today CICIG continues its various inquiries with the likely winner of next month’s presidential elections calling for an end to its mandate as various members of his party are also under investigation. Sigh.

But the recent revelations about money being diverted from the public purse, along with the historically low rate of taxation in Guatemala, nicely explain the shortage of resources for schools, hospitals, along with road building (projects announced but never started) and the police (shortage of gas for vehicles.)

Last month away from the intrigue of the capital, I visit the school in the community of El Triunfo for the anniversary of the establishment of the school. While the celebrations extended across four afternoon this year, I was able to attend for two of them.

DSC_0177

our grade seven class performs a traditional dance

The two afternoons saw the election of the senoritas of the school,

Las Senoritas

the return of the “torito” after a multi-year absence,

yes - under the sparks there is a person!

yes – under the sparks there is a person!

the appearance of a “toro” for the first time,

El Toro!

El Toro!

the creativity of the grade 11 and 12 classes,

Los Mariachis!

Los Mariachis!

and the enthusiasm of our large grade seven class with 32 students.

It’s always great being at the school for these events as I get to see many familiar faces and talk to people I’ve worked with on the school in past years as well as many of the women with Asociacion Maya (the weaving cooperative) I’ve known for many years. But sometimes I have mixed feelings about the events due to the expense which is sometimes passed down to the students in the form of additional fees. However this year the anniversary celebrations was sponsored by a long list of local businesses, political parties (election year!) and the local municipality.

Towards the end of my trip, I returned to the school to visit the classes once again and to bring a special present to each of the students in grade seven. Students in the Guatemala Project at Ursula Franklin Academy in Toronto put together gift bags containing a note book, pencils, pens, a friendship bracelet, stickers, and English/Spanish language flash cards along with a note in Spanish and English from the student. The gift bags were eagerly received by the students. Special thanks to the students at Ursula Franklin along with Oriana who is already planning for next year!

The grade seven class with their gift bags from Ursula Franklin Academy

The grade seven class with their gift bags from Ursula Franklin Academy

Your support for the project is always appreciated. As you can tell from my message, I’m not expecting additional funding for the school from the government in the short-term, so it is up to us.

Snack Time at the Anniversary

Snack Time

We are a bit behind in the fundraising for the year as our donations also took a lengthy summer vacation and the continuing decrease in the Canadian dollar has caused our expenses to increase. (The Guatemalan currency has not moved in either direction this year.)

You can donate online here.

(Important:  under “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” please select “El Triunfo School Project.”)

You can also mail a cheque payable to Casa Pueblito (please note this is a new address):

Casa Pueblito

107A 2238 Dundas St. W

Toronto, ON M6R 3A9

ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

Please note Casa Pueblito is also in a position to accept donations of securities.

Hope to see you at the bash this week.

Ken

You’re Invited! Fourth Annual Guatemalan Mid-Season Bash

You are invited to attend the Fourth Annual Guatemalan Mid-Season Bash – a  fundraiser for the El Triunfo Project in Guatemala, which provides a middle and high school education to children in El Triunfo, Guatemala.

Our grade 11 + 12 classes in 2015.

Our grade 11 + 12 classes in 2015.

Why:  Because every child has the right to an education.

Tickets:  suggested donation of $30 per person or donation of your choice (children under  10 are free)

When:  Thursday August 27, 2015

Doors and Silent Auction Open at 6:00pm, Finger foods starting at 6:30pm, Silent Auction Closes at 9:00 pm, Socializing until the wee hours.

Where: Lolita’s Lust & The Chinchilla Lounge 513 Danforth Ave., Toronto  (South side of Danforth, between Chester and Pape Subway stations)

http://www.dine.to/profile_features.php?feature=profile_map&id=3185

Dinner is also available a la carte or a special prix fixe.

Please consider attending this fundraiser. Bring a friend and don’t forget to tell me you’re coming.

Donations are gratefully accepted for the slient auction.

If you can’t attend but would like to made a contribution, you can donate online here.   (Important:  under “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” please select “El Triunfo School Project.”)

You can also mail a cheque payable to Casa Pueblito (please note this is a new address) :

Casa Pueblito
107A 2238 Dundas St. W
Toronto, ON M6R 3A9
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

A Quick Visit to Guatemala

May 23, 2015

Dear friends,

On Tuesday I had the privilege of visiting the middle school and high school in the community of El Triunfo. Unlike my visit during Easter week, school was in full swing and I was able to visit each of the classes and speak with the teachers, school directors and students.

There are 32 (!!) students in the grade seven class this year.

There are 32 (!!) students in the grade seven class this year.

I’ve never seen the students so enthusiastic. They had lots of questions for me about Canada which quickly exceeded my ability to answer them. (How do you say beaver and moose en espanol?)  I’m looking forward to my return visit in July for the anniversary celebrations for the establishment of the school.

On this visit, we also made some progress towards getting the computer lab wired for the Internet. Carlos, a local computer expert who runs an Internet service provider in  the rural area in this part of Guatemala, accompanied me on the visit. He determined that it was possible to get a connection to his system by putting a reception tower in the next village over and a reception dish on the roof of the school. Hopefully this will happen soon but we’re waiting on a budget for the costs involved.

Looking for a signal

You can see further photos from my day at the school, including class photos and this year’s curriculum here.

I’d like to thank everyone who has made contributions to the school in recent weeks. It’s greatly appreciated by everyone involved including the students, teachers, the entire community as well as myself. I was reminded on Wednesday of the importance of education in the lives of the students. I ran into Jose, a graduate from the middle school, on the street in the town of Sololá. Due to his family situation he had to continue his high school studies at night school while looking for work but with some private support from a donor, he was able to graduate. He’s now working for an NGO in the region. He told me he was very grateful that he had the opportunity to continue his education after primary school.

In terms of donations, I’d like to point out that there have been a couple of changes in the process. Pueblito Canada, at the start of the year, amalgamated with a sister organization, Casa Canadiense. Both are organizations that have been working throughout Latin America and Canada since the 1970’s and there has been much cross-pollination between the two organizations in recent years. The new entity is known as Casa-Pueblito.  I continue to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the new organization.

So it’s important that your donations are directed to Casa-Pueblito, either online or by mail as instructed below.  Casa-Pueblito is also in a position to accept donations of securities. You can donate online here.

(Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”)

You can also mail a cheque payable to Casa-Pueblito to (please note this is a new address) :

Casa-Pueblito
107A 2238 Dundas St. W
Toronto, ON M6R 3A9
ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

Thanks!

Ken

 PS – don’t forget about my Sale for Guatemala on June 6 – fairly trading weaving, jewelry and coffee – all supporting projects in Guatemala!

May 2015 Update!

May 10,2015

Dear friends.

It’s been a few weeks since my last update on the school we’re supporting in the community of El Triunfo in Guatemala. During Easter week I had the opportunity to visit the country. Upon my eventual landing (another whole story involving a flight delay and a very interesting flight into Guatemala City), I was immediately reminded by how seriously the country takes this holiday. On a Wednesday afternoon, traffic in the city was lighter than usual and the offices I needed to visit before heading out of the city were either closed for the week or would be closing shortly.

Fortunately the next day in El Triunfo, I was able to meet with the new COCODE (the community’s economic development council) who took on their new role on March 10.  It was a good opportunity to meet with the people, including Santiago, the president,  who would be leading the activities on the school for the next two years and to discuss our tasks and responsibilities for the project, including the reporting and receipting of the funds we send them.  Unfortunately there weren’t any classes due to the Easter break but I did meet several teachers and students on the streets in the town of Sololá during the trip over the next few days.

with teachers and staff in January 2015

with teachers and staff in January 2015

The COCODE had one piece of disappointing news for me. A decision was made to cancel the grade 10 class this year due to low enrollment – only two students had registered for classes. But enrollment in the grade 7 class had remained at 32, which is the largest class we’ve ever had in the school.  One of the goals for the year will be to ensure that these students continue into grade 8 and that an equally large grade 7 class comes to the school in 2016. Another goal for the year is to connect the school’s computer lab to the Internet.  This week a technician is going to take a look at the lab to evaluate what would be needed to connect it to the Internet and hopefully provide an accurate budget for the project.

Your support of the school is greatly appreciated by the students, teachers and the community in El Triunfo.  Each month we send funds to the school to pay the salaries of the teachers in both the middle and high schools.  You can donate online here.    (Important:  under “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” please select “El Triunfo School Project.”)

You can also mail a cheque payable to Casa Pueblito (please note this is a new address) :

Casa Pueblito

107A 2238 Dundas St. W

Toronto, ON M6R 3A9

ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

On another note, I’m pleased to let you know that my annual driveway sale for Guatemala is back for the fifth time!  On June 6, you’ll have a chance to pick up items from Asociacion Maya, fairly traded coffee and jewelry. Details are here.  I hope to see you there!

Ken

Ken’s Fifth Annual Driveway Sale for Guatemala!

Join me for this annual sale 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.

Featuring weaving demonstrations by Maria Xoch Ajacalon from Asociación Maya

Maria Xoch Ajcalon

Saturday, June 6

8:30 am to 4:00 pm

772 Coxwell Avenue (north of Danforth Avenue and Coxwell subway station)

Toronto

For more information: Ken McGuffin, mcguffin@rotman.utoronto.ca / 416-466-7594

Donations will also be accepted for the El Triunfo Education Project which provides an affordable education for the sons and daughters of weavers from Asociacion Maya through the establishment of a middle school and a high school in the village of El Triunfo, Guatemala. For more information or how to make a tax deductible donation to the project, please visit https://guatemalaschool.wordpress.com

A Visit to Guatemala for the Start of the School Year.

February 7, 2015

Dear friends.

Last month I returned from an extended visit to Guatemala during which I pondered the mysteries of life in the country which enable a beer company to place promotional Christmas trees in the public spaces of many towns and cities on an annual basis and the possible return to political life of a former president who is currently a guest of the U.S. federal prison system.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Fortunately I also was able to visit with many friends and organizations that I knew, including the school we support in the community of El Triunfo in the department of Sololá.

One of my last meetings with this group.

One of my last meetings with this group.

I visited the school several times during my visit, first meeting with the COCODE (the community’s economic development council) on January 3. It was a bitter-sweet meeting as this would one of the last times I would be working with this group. A new COCODE has been selected by the community and their two-year term will begin on March 10. But the current committee has done an excellent job of leading projects in the community, including the construction of a new path down the hillside to the school! The path will make the hike up and down the hill much easier, especially during the coming rainy season.

The new walkway leading down the hill to the school.

Walkway

On January 7 I was able to chat with the teachers and staff of the school, where I received a wonderful surprise. Rosa, a young woman from the community and a former pupil in the middle school, has been hired as the secretary for the middle school! It was great to see her in her new role as she has had to overcome many challenges to complete her education.

Rosa at work registering students.

During the following week I had the chance to meet with members of the new COCODE as well as with some of the new students in the school during an orientation day. Students were still registering for classes during my visit and enrollment for the grade seven class rose from 25 to 28 in front of my eyes. The following week, after my return to Canada, I was told that enrollment rose to 32 students in grade seven with another 15 students each in the grade seven and eight classes. Unfortunately enrollment is still a bit low in the high school with only 18 students in total. It’s hoped that a few more students will enroll by the end of next week.

Registration of New Students for Grade 7

While the budget for this year’s project remains the same in Guatemalan currency, our actual costs are going up thanks to the sharp decrease in the Canadian dollar. (The Guatemalan currency has only slightly declined vs the U.S. dollar over the past year.) So I hope I can count on your continued support of the project this year and perhaps a little bit extra.

The school is also seeking additional resources to connect the computer lab in the school to the Internet as well to buy a small bus to help transport students and staff to and from the school as students are now travelling to the school from villages up to 5 km away.

You can donate online here.

(Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”)

You can also mail a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to (please note this is a new address) :

 Pueblito Canada 

107A 2238 Dundas St. W

Toronto, ON M6R 3A9

ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

Please note Pueblito is also in a position to accept donations of securities.

Orientation Day

Further photos from the school are online here  and some general trip photos are here.

Thanks! Ken

A final message for 2014 on Ken’s Guatemalan School

December 29, 2014Dear friends, greetings from Guatemala where I’m planning to celebrate the New Year’s with friends and then visit the school next week to get an update from the teacher and the staff in advance of the school year.

I’d like to thank all of you again for your tremendous support of the school. We started this process in 2005 by offering a small number of scholarships for students who wanted to travel outside of the village of El Triunfo to pursue an education. Today we have a middle school and high school which attract, not only the students of El Triunfo, but students from several near-by villages.

In another month, it will be first pay day of the school for the teachers of the school. With your support we are able to pay the teachers in both schools along with a director and secretary for each school, a computer technician to keep the computer lab going as well as a cleaner.

You can still make a donation for this year. 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 “You can select to apply your donation to a specific fund set up by this charity,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”

You can also mail a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to (please note this is a new address) :

Pueblito Canada

107A 2238 Dundas St. W

Toronto, ON M6R 3A9

ATTN: El Triunfo School Project

Thank you! Best wishes to you and your families for the upcoming year.

Ken