El Triunfo School Update: December 2009

December 15, 2009

Dear friends, as we arrive at the end of the year, we tend to look back at the events of the past year and also look ahead to the possibilities of the new year. It’s a time to reflect but also to plan. We have come to the end of the second year of supporting a middle school in the community of El Triunfo located in the highlands of central Guatemala. I’ve been working with a women’s weaving cooperative in the community since 1994 but, in recent years, started working on housing and education projects.  In 2009 the school provided an affordable opportunity for sixty-four indigenous Mayan students to attend grades seven, eight and nine. Most of these students would not be attending school if it wasn’t for our project. In Guatemala there is no government support for education past grade six which means that very few children, especially those from poor families, are able to fully complete primary school.

I’m excited about the opportunities for the upcoming year. First, it looks like we will have a full school for the first time as there should be around thirty students in each of the three grades, when the Guatemalan school year begins in January. Two years ago we started with a full grade seven class and very small grade eight and nine classes.

Second, we hope to expand the existing school building this year by adding a second floor. This would create the classroom space needed to start high school classes in the near future. The budget for the expansion is around $20,000. This would cover all of the necessary building materials – cement, concrete block, rebar, etc and the men of the community would donate the labour. There might even be opportunities for volunteers to help out for a week with the construction, if we can raise the money.

We had hoped to start the high school next month but the community’s Consejo de Desarrollo Comunitario (Community Development Council), which oversees the school, was not able to obtain permission from the Ministry of Education. The estimated enrolment of the proposed grade ten class was ten or eleven students, which did not meet the Ministry’s requirements. I am hopeful that most of these students will be able to return to school a year from now.

Thirdly, I’m delighted to announce a new partnership for the project with Pueblito Canada, a Toronto-based International development agency. For almost thirty-five years Pueblito has been helping the youngsters of Latin America by strengthening communities, safe-guarding rights, and providing the essentials for education, nutrition, and health. For more information on Pueblito, you can visit www.pueblito.org.

I would like to thank the members, pastoral team and office staff of Bloor Street United Church for their support of the school in recent years. Their work is greatly appreciated by me and the families and teachers in El Triunfo. But as the school continues to grow, we decided that it could be best served by an organization with more experience in international projects. The church will continue to look for ways in which its members can provide participate with the school project. Currently the school is one of three recipients of a special Advent offering which is being collected at services this month.

Donations to the project should now be directed to Pueblito. If you wish to receive a tax receipt for the 2009 year, it’s best to make on online donation with your credit card at http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=25964  (Click on “Donate Now.” Then under “Fund/Designation,” select “El Triunfo School Project.”

You can also send a cheque payable to Pueblito Canada to:

Pueblito Canada

El Triunfo School Project

The Centre for Social Innovation

Suite 165 – 215 Spadina Avenue

Toronto, ON M5T 2C7

We will need to raise approximately $24,000 for the next year to pay for salaries at the school including teachers, a director, and a janitor as well as for a small scholarship (approximately $35) for each student. In addition, there will be the cost of the construction project for the school’s expansion.

I’m pleased to tell you that donations from a wide range of people continue to come in for the school. A generous donation for 2010 has also been pledged which will put the project in a good position to meet its financial goals for the year.

Since the summer, I’ve been able to travel twice to the school. In July, I was invited by the community to attend a special celebration for the school’s anniversary. (Photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/29121052@N07/sets/72157621288221453/detail/). The day and a half event included musical performances, poetry readings, dramatic and comedic sketches, traditional Mayan dance as well as not-so-traditional hip-hop dance, a soccer tournament and even an exhibit of fire-breathing by the grade seven boys, which you probably wouldn’t see at a school in Canada! Throughout the event I was struck by the creativity, energy, and enthusiasm of the students in all of the activities. It truly was an incredible experience for me to see how much fun the students were having and how much they enjoy school – even the homework and tests! It is also remarkable to see the students becoming literate in Spanish as well as English since many of their parents are not literate in their own Mayan language and don’t even speak Spanish.

I will be leaving again for Guatemala tomorrow morning to visit the school and other friends in the country. I’ll spend Christmas in the village with one of the families sharing in their tradition of tamales and ponche (a hot fruit punch) and the inevitable setting-off of fireworks and firecrackers to mark Christmas Eve, which is definitely not a silent night!

Thanks for your support!

Ken McGuffin

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