October 15, 2011
The end of the school year in Guatemala is fast approaching so I thought I would give you an up-date on the school project we are supporting in the village of El Triunfo in the highlands of Guatemala. The middle school year will conclude on October 31 while the high school finishes on October 28.
As you may recall, there are few opportunities for higher education for students in El Triunfo and several near-by villages. While there is a primary school in the village which is operated by the government, it only covers grades one to six. Few students were able to continue their studies at the private schools in the larger centres of Solola or Chichicastenango. In previous years many students did not even complete all six grades which were available to them. After funding up to five students with scholarships for several years, in 2008, we were able to launch a middle school (grades seven to nine) in the village which shared the space of the primary school. Last year we successfully raised over $20,000 to put a second floor on the school building. This created the space so we could launch a high school which enrolled its first grade ten class in January this year. By this time in 2013, the first high school students will be getting ready to graduate!
All of this has been made possible by your on-going support. When I’m in the village I often am reminded that this project is not a project which belongs to a single individual or single community. It’s an example of what happens when people are able to work together, whether they are in Guatemala, the United States, Canada or elsewhere. There is a great COCODE (community development committee) in the village who coordinates everything at the school, supportive parents who have made a choice to send their sons and daughters to school instead of to work in the fields or at home as has been the custom in the past, devoted teachers and school directors who make the journey to the village each day no matter what the weather is; students who are committed to learn; a local municipal government, which is generally cash-strapped but manages to give the school some money each year, Pueblito Canada, which has generously found a home for the school in their portfolio of projects, and the financial donors to the project who provide the funding to pay the teachers and to buy a few new computers, desks and other equipment each year.
This is the point I try to make when I’m visiting the school but it always doesn’t work out as I’m now known as the “patron” of the school. In July I spent just over two weeks in Guatemala. The occasion was the anniversary for the establishment of the school. It’s now grown to be a five-day extravaganza complete with sponsorship by local businesses and the government of Solola. It’s meant to be a community-wide celebration and provide a little bit of fun and excitement for all. Unfortunately the week was marred by persistent heavy rain which put a damper on the activities. The first day, July 12, of the anniversary was marked by a small service by members of the local Catholic church, preparations for the upcoming week, and a small dinner. I also was able to chat with Camillo, (middle of the photo) a past member of the COCODE, and his neighbours who were working on repairing the road to their houses. It was cold and muddy work!
The rain continued on the second day of the anniversary. By this point, despite being delighted to be at the school, I was actually getting very despondent. I had been in Guatemala for almost a week and it had rained heavily each day, with very little sun. My shoes were soaked, my clothes were damp and I started to fantasize about heading to the beaches of the Pacific Coast. Even if it was raining, I thought to myself, at least it would be warm!
The second day featured the selection of the “senoritas” from the school who would oversee the rest of the activities, performances by students, a special visit from a clown (video here) and the annual fiery spectacle of “El Toro.” I was also touched by a very special gift I received from the community – a complete set of the traditional clothing (or traje) that the men in the village wear. Here’s another photo of myself with the juanta directive of Asociacion Maya.
Day three featured more performances by the students including traditional Mayan dances, songs, poetry recitals and a reading in English, the traditional fire breathing by the middle school boys. (No one seemed to be badly burned!) and more rain!
The highlight of day four was a soccer tournament featuring games with both the boys and girls of the middle and high school against teams from the middle school in Los Encuentros, which is a few kilometres down the road. Both the girls and the boys teams from the middle school won all of their games! Of course the day ended with some of the games taking place in the rain.
In case you’re wondering, I had resigned myself to my damp, muddy fate. At least by this time, the rain was not a day-long affair which allowed me to put my shoes out in the morning sun to dry.
The last day of the anniversary celebrations was a community-wide sports day featuring another soccer tournament for the adults in the community with participation by some of the students, a road race and a greased pole climbing competition. You can watch a video of the winning climb here as it turned into a group activity! The sun also shone for most of the day which greatly cheered me up.
The remainder of my July visit to Guatemala was a much drier affair and I did get to the beach eventually.
I also had the opportunity to have a quick visit to the school in August. It’s always nice to visit the school on a normal day to see the students in their classes and to chat with some of the teachers I may not have the opportunity to see otherwise. I managed to take a few photos of some of the students.
Plans are underway for the 2012 school year. The school’s first grade eleven class will start and it’s hoped that most of the students currently in grade nine will continue onto grade ten. The director and teachers of the high school have also been reaching out to other middle schools in the area to let students and their teachers know about the opportunities to continue their education in El Triunfo.
If you haven’t made a donation to the school this year, please consider doing so. Approximately $3200 is needed every month to pay for the salaries of the teachers. In addition a small number of new computers and office equipment will need to be purchased early next year. Tax deductible donations to the project 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.
Thanks for your ongoing support.
You may have heard about heavy rain and flooding from a tropical depression this week in Guatemala. While there has been severe damage to infrastructure and housing throughout the country so far the village seems to be mostly unaffected by the rain. But this could change if the rains, as forecast, continue for the end of the month. I will keep you posted.