Antigua, Guatemala 8AM Monday, Feb. 11, 2013
I’m waking up this morning in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (also known as Xela), realizing that it has suddenly been a week since I arrived. The time is going quickly, and it has been a whirlwind. Here are a handful of highlights from the last week:
Camino Seguro — After years of hearing about their work, I finally spent the better part of a day with the folks at Camino Seguro (Safe Passage) in Guatemala City. They work with families who have historically made their living scavenging in the Guatemala City municipal dump. Those families, children and parents, meet the 195 garbage trucks as they come in throughout the day and separate out clothing that they can repair, wash and resell, recycling that they can gather and sell as well, any fixable or reusable goods, and food that they can eat, bones for soup, etc. I stood on the rim looking over the dump with Steve, one of the staffers there, watched people do this work and talked about some of the ins and outs of it, then went back to the preschool they operate, after which we visited their educational support program that serves older kids after school, and their literacy program for parents, and finally the crafts program they have begun to help some of the mothers find alternative income sources. It’s a bleak situation, but an impressive program. The preschool they run is easily the most beautiful and well-equipped school I’ve seen in Guatemala, and it’s serving some of Guatemala’s most needy people.
Pasaq, Xojolá, Chocola and Yaxajá — I spent two days traveling with the folks from Child Aid, who were having their annual board meeting here in Guatemala this weekend, and spent the days previous to that meeting taking a small group of board members and donors to see some of their projects. I was already familiar with a couple of those towns, because PEG has supported teacher training projects there. We observed classrooms and saw the libraries established in a couple of these towns by Child-Aid, after bouncing up rutted mountain roads in the backs of pick-up trucks to get there. A pickup truck is a common mode of transportation in rural Guatemala, with a a steel frame on the back that gives you something to hold onto as you stand in the back. This is known as a ‘picop’.
Having been in Guatemala fourteen times over the last few years, I’ve had the chance to see this kind of work done well and done poorly. For instance, sometimes books, computers and other resources are donated, but no instruction is given as to how they might serve the classroom, or how exactly one might use them (books aren’t quite as intuitive as we who have grown up with them often think — for instance, a non-fiction book isn’t intended to be read cover to cover, but how does one know that if one has never learned it?). On the other hand, groups have sometimes offered training without resources—for instance, literacy instruction training without any age-appropriate books for the students to read. Child Aid has done a great job of seeing this whole process through, seeing where the stumbling blocks lie and addressing the problems. Critical thought training is noticeably absent from most Guatemalan education, and Child-Aid is engaging with that effectively, too, with age-appropriate materials and teacher trainings for the various age groups. PEG has been happy to support that work for several years running, and it was great to have another chance to see it in action.
It’s also worth mentioning that five years ago, Child Aid had four staff people in Guatemala, two North Americans and two Guatemalans. Now they have sixteen staff people working in Guatemala, and fourteen of them are Guatemalans. The regional directors who are overseeing groups of teachers are mostly indigenous women. On that trip we also visited a school that Child Aid will soon be working with, but isn’t yet. It’s not a scientific measure, of course, and a very small sample size, but to my eye, the difference between the learning environments in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ schools, as well as the engagement level of the students, was obvious. Child Aid is doing good work, and it continues to be a pleasure to partner with them.
On Saturday I traveled back up to Guatemala City to pick up Josh Richard, a videographer and photographer who will be traveling with me for this second week. We shot a bit of video in Antigua yesterday morning, before spending the second half of the day traveling to Xela. In the Parque Central in Antigua we talked a bit with a nine-year-old boy named José Antonio Poció Tzanpop, who was giving shoe shines. He was extremely skilled in his work, and we waited to talk to him while he shined the shoes of a woman and man. For each shine he gets between 3 and 5 quetzales, roughly 40 to 60 cents. José Antonio works twelve hours a day each Saturday and Sunday, from 7 to 7, and has been doing that for the last two years, since he was seven himself. He said he uses the money for school supplies. I asked him if he wanted to shine shoes when he was an adult and he said that no, he wants to be a doctor.
Last night we arrived in Quetzaltenango after four hours on winding Guatemalan roads and enjoyed a good meal with my friends Karla and Javier. Karla is a PCUSA mission co-worker, and has been a good mentor to me, as well as a great help connecting with the folks in Pachaj, where we are headed in a few minutes. Thanks for being interested in the work we’re doing here. More news soon…