A Distinctive Connection: North Raleigh and Guatemala

IMG_6248On January 31st, two men from North Raleigh traveled to Guatemala for a singular purpose…literacy. These two men are members of the Rotary Club of North Raleigh and they embarked upon this journey to inaugurate new schools into the literacy project sponsored by this club and approximately 95 other clubs throughout North America and beyond. The project is called the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP) and is a partnership between Rotary Clubs and Cooperative for Education (CoEd). The goal of this partnership is to end poverty through education.


Guatemala is one of the most illiterate nations in the Western Hemisphere with as many as 75% of the population unable to read. The majority of the illiterate are indigenous Mayans in the most rural parts of this vast, mountainous nation. These are the people who have been long forgotten by their government and forced into a subservient life. The thirty-six year Civil War did little to improve their lot as hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, many in the most rural regions, were murdered or abducted…never to be heard from again.


This is the backdrop of this nation that boasts a poverty level that is around 70% of the population. The middle-class is nonexistent and few dream to obtain this meager level of success in their lives.


Past President Terry Hutchens dances with a young lady. He was president of the North Raleigh Rotary Club when the GLP was brought to the club.

Past President Terry Hutchens dances with a young lady. He was president of the North Raleigh Rotary Club when the GLP was brought to the club.

This program was introduced to the North Raleigh Rotary club in 1998 and was quickly adopted as an organization we would support. As a result, this club has faithfully donated every year to this project while sending several members over the years to Guatemala to witness the transformation-taking place there. This was my third visit on behalf of the club and each year proves the program is working with new success stories every year.


This year, Past President Terry Hutchens and myself made the trek. It proved again that the people of Guatemala are proud of their nation and driven to change it…one student at a time.


We landed on Friday and the following morning, loaded onto buses to visit our first school of the trip to witness the expansion of the scholarship program. At Cerritos Asuncion School, we met several sixth graders who had been accepted into the scholarship program for 2015. These bright young faces were heartwarming and they were excited to see us.


Beberly is a wonderful young lady who wants to be a police woman...thanks to the scholarship she will receive next year, she can fulfill her goals.

Beberly is a wonderful young lady who wants to be a police woman…thanks to the scholarship she will receive next year, she can fulfill her goals.

Terry and I had an opportunity to sit down and speak with Beberly Muj, who is eleven years old with four siblings. Her dream is to become a professional, quite possibly a police officer. As the second of five children, she has worked hard to be an outstanding student with the highest grades in her class. Since her father is a day laborer in the farming industry with a low and unstable income, he is unable to pay for her to attend school beyond the sixth grade. Her older sibling was unable to continue in school, but thanks to this scholarship, she will be able to continue her education.


After leaving this school, we visited the home of a current scholarship student who is just starting the 7th grade. She is one of nine children with two older sisters who were unable to continue with their education. The home, though nice for Guatemala standards, was a very meager two-room cinder block home where eleven people lived. The family was renting this home along with an eighth of an acre of land to farm. The father spoke with us that he understands the importance of an education, but he is unable to afford to send his children beyond the sixth grade.


In fact, many rural Guatemalan parents think it is a success to have their children advance to this stage of their education. The government has recently made it compulsory that all students complete Basico, which would equate to the 9th grade in America, but less than 30% actually do. Furthermore, less than 5% of all Guatemalan students complete Diversificado, which is high school for us. At the end of the week, we learned of a young, 22-year-old lady who had received a scholarship and is now working in Guatemala City, making four times the income of her father. She is also supporting her younger siblings education.


One of the factors that are important to understand about the scholarship program is the focus on young ladies in the program. Currently, 70% of the scholarship students are female with the goal to push it to 80%. It has been shown that if the females are educated it has a boomerang effect in other areas. First, they are less likely to have large families and their children are more likely to get an education.


The scholarship program is simply a side effect of the real program…textbooks and computer centers. Up to 70% of all education dollars are spent in Guatemala City, so you can imagine the need for supplies throughout the rest of the nation. Unless a school is in this program, the students are not given a single textbook. This became the original focus of CoEd and remains the primary focus. The rest of the school visits centered on these programs along with the relatively new Culture of Reading Program (CORP). While in Guatemala, we inaugurated seven new schools into the textbook program and re-inaugurated six more schools and one computer center.


President Nelson dances with a young lady. This is his third trip to Guatemala.

President Nelson dances with a young lady. This is his third trip to Guatemala.

The reason this program is so successful is the sustainability factor. The students pay a small fee to use the textbooks or computers. After five to seven years, the school has collected enough money to replace these tools…thus the re-inauguration. The CORP program is completely free for the schools and works with the Primary schools (1st-6th grades) to teach them to learn Spanish and read. This makes the schools with the textbooks more effective. In Guatemala, there are 22 official languages so many students do not begin to learn Spanish, the primary language, until they enter school.


Terry and I have so many stories from our school visits to count, but one of the more memorable ones for me was the school where we played soccer. If you know me, you will know that I am a former high school athlete, but that was several pounds ago. At 5,000 feet of elevation, I am even more out of shape than here in Raleigh where the air is not as thin. Despite two spills on the concrete field, I lumbered down the field to score two goals. It is always fun playing with the youth as many have never seen a Gringo in their young lives.


Another memorable moment was at the fire-dragon school. Each school performed dances for us and one particular school incorporated a fire-dragon. A young boy was equipped with a decorative, wooden dragon over his head and proceeded to light the attached firecrackers. One of the Rotarians from Virginia became concerned as this happened less than ten feet from where we were sitting. He proceeded to get up and walk away with fear in his eyes. Unfortunately, his escape route happened to be the same planned route of the young boy. It looked as if the young boy was chasing him around the schoolyard. It was funny, and fortunately, the boy’s costume did not catch fire and all was well.


Another moment I will remember for the rest of my life happened on the final Saturday, while we were in Antigua, Guatemala. I had the pleasure of reuniting with the young boy my wife and I are sponsoring, Ricardo. I first met him two years ago as he was just entering the 7th grade. It was our first year sponsoring him and over the two years, he has grown at least a foot. He is a very sweet young man and very respectful. When I first met him, he had a growing interest in computers so I showed him my I-Pad. This year, he still had an interest in computers but had decided he wants to study horticulture next year in Diversificado. I am sure he will find a way to incorporate these two passions.


Terry met his student and we took the boys to Dominos for pizza. We barely had enough pizzas with two large for the boys and the three adults in our group. They enjoyed the ice cream that came with the meal and took the leftovers with them. Terry got the email address of his student and I am hoping to connect with my student on Facebook. The great thing about sponsoring a student is the interaction you receive from that young person along with the knowledge that you are making a difference in a young person’s life.


Some lovely young ladies pose for the camera. Thanks to the textbook project, they have an opportunity for a quality education.

Some lovely young ladies pose for the camera. Thanks to the textbook project, they have an opportunity for a quality education.

My wife and I do not have any children, but in a way, Ricardo is becoming like the son we never had. After hearing about Beberly, she wants to sponsor her as well. We have committed that she will get a sponsor, whether we do it or another person in Raleigh. We will ensure she has the advantages that many students in the U.S. take for granted…an education.


It is always rewarding to visit and assist countries that have little. We have been blessed in America and many could never imagine how much of the world lives. One thing is certain, the people of Guatemala are happy, despite their hard lives. It just goes to show that it is not your possessions that make you happy…it is how you live your life. I am not an apologist for the successes we have experienced in the U.S., but I think it would do many well to experience how the most people in our world live so then can be more appreciative of their lot in life.

Guatemala Literacy Tour…A week of Exploration!

This video is just a sampling of the experiences of President Steven Nelson and Past President Terry Hutchens as they traveled to Guatemala last week. Filmed by Steven Nelson, it is not a perfect video and not perfectly edited. His limited knowledge of film and editing shows in this video.

One of the great things that both Steven and Terry took from this week in Guatemala is the abject poverty experienced in the rural parts of this country. We visited the home of one of the scholarship students and ten people lived in a two room brick home with limited electricity and of course, none of the amenities that we enjoy in the U.S. such as comfortable seating, television or computers. It was a real eye-opening experience.

We also took away the importance of sponsoring some of these children. Cooperative for Education has tripled the size of the scholarship program, beginning with this school year. It went from one school with about 80-100 students to three schools with as many as 300 students. The cost is minimal at only $840/year, but it includes a development program that helps these young people develop into leaders in their communities and country, while guaranteeing them a scholarship for six years to get them through Diversificado (which is similar to high school). A sponsorship does not commit you to sponsoring the entire time.

One of the success stories included the 22-year old Ancemla, who benefited from a scholarship when she entered Basico (7th grade). Both of her parents had less than a Primary education (1st-6th grades), and did not understand the need to extend an education beyond Basico. With the scholarship, she was able to finish Diversificado and it resulted in her accessing a career at a call center support center for a Canadian company. At 22, she earns four times the money her father does and she has been paying for her younger siblings to obtain a high school education.

What an amazing story? You too can help sponsor a student or get several of your friends to support one together. CoEd and the GLP are doing amazing work in this extremely poor country.

The Trip is at an end…What memories!

A view from my room in Guatemala City. The city is large like many metropolitan cities, but it still has some character in certain parts.

A view from my room in Guatemala City. The city is large like many metropolitan cities, but it still has some character in certain parts.

This is the third trip I have made to Guatemala on behalf of the Rotary Club of North Raleigh and after a couple of trips here, you think you have seen everything and done everything. But in essence, each trip is unique and impressive in its own rights. This trip was no different.

Due to an exciting week and some limited Internet, I did not blog as much as I would have liked, but I hope you will take this post and enjoy its content. I did spend most of the early week working on a video that I had promised each of you, but the lack of high-speed Wi-Fi limited my ability to post it. I will try again before I leave and if not successful, will post it when I return.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

Back to the business at hand, the week was amazing with many great opportunities. As you already know, it started with a visit to a newly established scholarship school where I met Bebeverly. She was adorable and so smart. I was able to get her to cheer for UNC in front of the Dukie, Terry Hutchens. He didn’t like it, but who cares…he’s a Dukie. After our visit with her, we went into the home of a first year scholarship student to see how she lives. It is amazing these people can be so happy and gregarious living in such conditions. The father was very happy that his young Esmerelda would have the opportunity her two older sisters did not have…an education beyond the 6th grade.

On Sunday, we once again traveled across Lake Atitlan to Santiago and spent a very nice day there that was capped with lunch at one of the best hotel/restaurants in the city. Returning to Panajachel, many of us enjoyed the Super Bowl in the lounge, though the Colorado contingent didn’t have as good of a time.

We were always welcomed into each school with a high level of energy and excitement.

We were always welcomed into each school with a high level of energy and excitement.

Monday started the true fun as we visited our first schools to inaugurate into the Textbook Project. These schools were amazing and the young people were overwhelmed that Rotarians would travel from around the world to help them get a better education. I won’t go into each school individually that we visited as this would not benefit you much, but I will outline some of the highlights.

On this trip, there were 6 new school inducted into the textbook project and 5 other schools were re-inaugurated, meaning they have purchased the second set of textbooks. We inaugurated one new computer center and a couple of new CORP programs. We experienced many great performances by students throughout the week. My favorite was the one where they demonstrated the wooing of a young lady. The performers were so convincing that it brought the story to life and climaxed when the young man hoisted her over his shoulder and carried her away.

President Marco Sheel talks about the school and how he grew up ten minutes from it. He is pleased that the GLP has selected this school for textbooks.

President Marco Sheel talks about the school and how he grew up ten minutes from it. He is pleased that the GLP has selected this school for textbooks.

One of the more impressive moments of the trip for me was the appearance of the Xela Rotary Club president at two of the schools on Wednesday. In my previous two trips here, the president of the host club has never attended any of the inaugurations. It was good to see him there and speak with him about how he is trying to change the culture of his club to include newer and younger members. As the president of my club, I can understand the challenges he faces, but he has even more than I do.

That evening we had dinner at a Rotarian’s house and again, the president of this club was at the house. We spoke more about the position and where our clubs stood for the year. He told me about a new Rotary club that is starting in Xela that is 5 members away from becoming an official club. What’s more impressive is this new club currently has half women and half men when his own club doesn’t allow women. I personally wish him and this new club well as they try to get five more members to qualify for their charter.

Rotarian Glenn Chamberlain plays with the youth and shows his youthfulness. This is what makes it enjoyable to visit the CORP schools and spend time with the very young.

Rotarian Glenn Chamberlain plays with the youth and shows his youthfulness. This is what makes it enjoyable to visit the CORP schools and spend time with the very young.

On Friday morning, we visited a Culture of Reading Program (CORP) school and it again was an amazing experience. The CoEd staff recognized a local businessman and his employees who recently started supporting the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP). It is like this program is moving full-circle as it started with Rotary clubs in North America and expanded to the Grand Cayman Island club and now, we have businesses in Guatemala who are supporting this effort. It is extremely important for the local business community to support this project and to understand the value of educating the youth of this beautiful country.

Terry Hutchens carries books in for the last school. This is one aspect of the tour, we are "Free" labor!

Terry Hutchens carries books in for the last school. This is one aspect of the tour, we are “Free” labor!

On Friday afternoon, we visited our last school of this tour to inaugurate a new school into the textbook project. It was an amazing experience and one that makes me wonder if I would ever want to be a celebrity and have to sign autographs. The children approached us to write our names in their notebooks and I must have written my name at least sixty times. We also danced with them and they gave us “Thank you” notes for the books and our coming to their school.

As the athlete I am (at least in my mind) I had a couple of opportunities to play sports with the youth throughout the week. On Wednesday, I played soccer with some of the young boys in this school. Unfortunately, I tend to forget my age when I play sports with young people. I took two spills on the cement field and skinned my knee, but I did score two goals as we won the match. On Friday afternoon, I played basketball, but kept myself more under control and didn’t take a spill, but scored several baskets for my team. In this match, we played against some of the mothers from this school, so it was still a little embarrassing that they did so well against us.

As I write this entry, I am sitting here at the hotel in Antigua, Guatemala, enjoying  the light breeze and smoking a nice Gurka cigar, while nursing a scotch. Reflecting on the week, it makes me proud the my club has been involved with this project since its inception and the progress they have made with the number of schools.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

Hearing the successes of the programs, I am convinced it is working and will be a catalyst to turn this nation around and make it a beacon in the Western Hemisphere. Though having a very troubling recent history, the people have not given up and are working to make a better life for their children, communities and nation.

First Day in Guatemala…What a memorable experience!!!

This young lady recently graduated due to the scholarship she had received...now she works for CoEd!

This young lady recently graduated due to the scholarship she had received…now she works for CoEd!

The tour this year was a little different from years past. We were the first group where the Cooperative for Education staff decided to visit a school on the first Saturday in town. Of course, the school was not in session and the students were not there, but we visited them for a much different purpose.

Cooperative for Education has expanded their student scholarship program. In the past, it was centered in one school with 100 students being guaranteed a six-year scholarship that would get them through primary and secondary school, which amounts to grades 7 through 12 in American terms. Last year, CoEd made the decision to expand this program dramatically by adding two new schools and 200 additional students. Today, we had the opportunity to visit one of the newly added schools and meet some of the 6th graders who will be scholarship students in 2015.

It was an absolutely amazing experience and the young people are excited about the prospects for their future due to these scholarships. Many, if not all, of these students would never be able to advance beyond a 6th grade education if not for a scholarship. Another aspect to this program that has changed is the focus on not only a scholarship, but a development focus on building future leaders in Guatemala. These students will not only be given an education, but will also learn skills to make them leaders in their communities.

Beberly is a wonderful young lady who wants to be a police woman...thanks to the scholarship she will receive next year, she can fulfill her goals.

Beberly is a wonderful young lady who wants to be a police woman…thanks to the scholarship she will receive next year, she can fulfill her goals.

At the school, Terry Hutchens and I were given the opportunity to meet Beberly. She is 12 years old and the second of five children. Her older sibling could not move beyond the 6th grade because her parents could not afford to pay for her education. Bebverly wants to be a police woman or at least a professional and thanks to the scholarship she will begin next year, she will have the opportunity to realize her dream. How many of your children have dreams for their future? In America, they have all the opportunities to reach their dreams and goals, but it is not the same in Guatemala.

In the home of a new scholarship student, you can see the sparse accommodations. Aren't the children adorable?

In the home of a new scholarship student, you can see the sparse accommodations. Aren’t the children adorable?

After speaking with her and sharing with her, we actually visited the home of a current scholarship girl. The home was grand for this community, but in fact, very desperate for Americans. She is one of nine children in her family with two older sisters who could not advance their education. Her father spoke to us that he and his wife realize the importance of an education, but they simply could not afford to send them to Primary school (6-9 grades).

This young lady wants to be a teacher so much that she has been teaching her younger siblings the school lessons she has learned to date. Her parents rent their home and a 1/4 acre of land to farm to support this growing family. Imagine eleven people living in a two-room brick dwelling with limited electricity. Without the scholarship she earned, she would not have an opportunity to move out of poverty while supporting her family.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

All of the Rotarians in my group posed with the family. The mother is not present since she just gave birth to their 9th child three days ago.

This was the first time any of the visiting Rotarians had an opportunity to visit the home of a student who is benefiting from the Guatemala Literacy Project. It was an eye-opening experience. The cost to support a young student is equivalent to $70/month or $840 for the entire year. This helps them purchase uniforms, supplies, pay their fees for the textbooks/computers and pay for the CoEd staff to work with them throughout their school years to help develop them as productive members of society in Guatemala.

Many Americans pay $70 a month for a dinner for two in a decent restaurant in the states. Your money will go so much further here in Guatemala and will change the life of a young person here.

At the school, we heard from a young lady who had recently graduated from Secondary school as a result of a scholarship. Going into the program, she wanted to become a teacher. After graduating, she developed a new dream…to work for CoEd in Guatemala to ensure other students like her could have an education and a future. She was just hired by CoEd to help them identify and recruit new students into the scholarship program. If not for this program, she would have to go to work for minimal pay and would probably be married to a farmer with no hope to get out of poverty.

Another focus of the scholarship program is a focus on drawing young ladies into a higher education. CoEd’s studies have shown that if the women are more educated, they are more likely to educate their children. It is a substantive program that takes a little longer to reach a certain level of success, but one that develops “true” success in the long-term.

Thanks to the generosity of a sponsor, this young lady now has a scholarship to pay for her Primary and Secondary education (7-12 grades). Her life will be changed forever!!!

Thanks to the generosity of a sponsor, this young lady now has a scholarship to pay for her Primary and Secondary education (7-12 grades). Her life will be changed forever!!!

My wife and I are currently supporting a young man named Ricardo, who is in his final year of Primary school this year. I will see him again next Saturday and cannot wait to see him and hear of his progress. When I first met him two years ago, he wanted to learn computers. His goals may have changed as is customary for young people, but either way, we are supporting him and his efforts. Through this scholarship, he has the opportunity for a brighter future. It is said that half of the top paying jobs in Guatemala require computer skills. Ricardo can use these new skills to help support his future family and his current one. How else can your money do more good?

Terry Hutchens, a past president of this club, told me today that the most impressive thing for him with this program is the passion of the staff to make a difference in this country. If you have been following this blog, you know it is a beautiful country, but what makes it more beautiful is the people. Our tour guide yesterday in Guatemala City with limited education spoke passionately about his country and learning more about its history and its future. He was an older gentleman who is still passionate about reading and learning more. It is symbolic of the people of Guatemala.

Friday in Guatemala

A young 2nd Grader

For lunch, we had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Xela to shop, eat lunch or tour museums. We basically went for lunch at a nice little restaurant that had the best view in town. It overlooks the main square and our seats were on the ledge for the best view. From this perch, we could see the great volcano mountains in the distance.

The school band at Santiago Cooperative School

We had an amazing welcome as the band played and we were escorted to our seats by beautiful young ladies. This was one of the few schools we visited this week that had a focus on music, which I find very important as I am a musician of sorts.

Additionally, they welcomed us with the entrance of the Guatemalan flag, the American flag and the school flag. It is also a rare occasion for the school to sing our national anthem. All of the students sang loudly and proudly the anthem of the United States. We were also treated to the Guatemalan national anthem in their Mayan language.

A kite the students at Santiago Cooperative School made for CoEd

The students of Santiago presented a kite they made in appreciation for the work CoEd has done for them. This school has been a textbook school for 12 years and they also have a computer center and scholarship program. We visited this school for the scholarship program as CoEd has expanded the number of scholarships for this school.

Prof. Juan Jose Caxaj, Principal of the Santiago Cooperative School

The principal of this school is a very powerful speaker who spoke with passion for his school and community. He mentioned that the school was less than 10km from Guatemala City, yet they have never received a textbook or computer from the government. His students have been very involved in the programs this school has and it is a true success story

Music teacher with some of his students

This school has a great music program complete with a band. The music teacher, pictured her playing with some of his students, graduated from this school a few years ago. Now, he is the music teacher.

Dancing the Afternoon Away!!!

Dancing with a lovely young lady is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. It is amazing how welcoming they are to total strangers. She made me look good on the dance floor.

Three young ladies who approached us on our way out!

Here are three young ladies who were wonderful and posed for a photo. I didn’t realize at the time, but I met her last year when Boyd and I took a couple young sponsorship ladies to lunch. Ingrid is her name and she remembered me, even though I did not remember her. I will admit she looked familiar.

If you are looking for a way to make a huge difference in a young person’s life, a scholarship sponsorship is the way to go. It is only $500 per year and it means so much to them.

Rotarian Dinner in Xela

On Thursday evening, we all had an opportunity to visit the homes of several local Rotarians in Xela. The local Rotary club in Xela is the host club for the GLP and as such, we annually dine with them while on this tour. This year, Terry and I joined Kathy Lowe and Casey Kerr, both from Ohio, as we visited a Rotarian’s home for dinner.

It was an amazing experience and a testament to the fact that no matter where you travel as a Rotarian, you have friends. This is one of the things that makes Rotary special. Strangers welcoming others because of similar beliefs and goals. Rotary’s mission is alive in all parts of the world. If you are interested in being a part of an organization that has this type of reach, you must consider Rotary. It is a one-of-a-kind organization.

As we arrived at our host home, we were offered a drink of our choice. Terry and I both had a scotch…or two before dinner. The conversation was interesting and compelling at the same time. I especially enjoyed speaking with Julia, the sister-in-law of our host Rotarian who is a widow and spent several years living in Madrid. We talked about Spain and the time my wife and I spent in Barcelona a couple of years ago. I had to bring out some of my pictures of Barcelona and she immediately recognized a Gaudi building.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Andrea, who is the granddaughter of one of the Rotarians in attendance. She is in college studying nutrition and hopes to come to the U.S. after college to continue her studies and possibly work here. Of course, Terry immediately offered his home for her to live while here. We both told her to remember one thing if she decides to move to the U.S.,…Raleigh, North Carolina. She was a very impressive young lady and her english was better than Terry’s.

At dinner, I had the opportunity to speak with an architecture who had spent time in Michigan several years ago. In fact, he mentioned that he was married there and honeymooned there. He said that he had visited Mackinaw City for his honeymoon, but the town was basically abandoned. He went on to say that his visit took place during the winter, which Mackinaw City and the island is very much tied to the summer vacation season.

We exchanged Rotary flags with our host before we returned to the hotel. After dinner, I had brought out my I-pad to show pictures and had to be nearly forced to leave as they were enjoying my photos.

These dinners with the Rotarians is worth the trip. Every time I have had the opportunity to meet other Rotarians while traveling, it has been a wonderful experience. I encourage you to travel for Rotary, if you are a Rotarian, as there is nothing like the experience of developing close friendships in a short period of time due to your shared connection to Rotary.

Even with the fellow North American Rotarians who participated in this trip, it became a situation where we developed very close relationships quickly.



Thursday in Guatemala!

I apologize for being behind with my blogging, but three days this week, my Internet connection was very spotty and it was difficult to blog on those days as I would loose connection at the drop of the hat.

Thursday began with a trip to Chiquilaja’ Cooperative School for a Re-inauguration of the textbook program. Again, this is an amazing experience as it is the first time the parents have actually purchased the textbooks. It is often difficult to get them to understand that they actually purchased these books as they automatically assume it was Rotary and CoEd.

The School at Chiquilaja' posted a message to Rotary and CoEd.

At this school, all of the participants were escorted into the hall by a local student. A table was set up in the front for some of the dignitaries of the group. Also in attendance was Brenda, the young lady who was the sponsor for the GLP in 2010 during the national contest for non-profits in Guatemala. CoEd came in 3rd place, which was where they wanted as the other two groups needed the money more than they did that year.

Panel of the Dignitaries for the Re-dedication Ceremony

This school has both the textbook and computer center and has been doing an amazing job of educating their students. Brenda is not in Secondary (high school). She wants to attend college and last I knew, she wanted to be a doctor.

Howard Lobb & Brenda

The once shy and timid Brenda has developed into a confident young lady. She wanted to say a few words of thanks and encouragement to both the Rotarians and her former classmates. She is a breath of fresh air with her perspective on life. Brenda is the product of a single mother with several siblings. Her father left the family years ago and her mother has insisted that her children get an education to help raise them out of poverty. I can only imagine that her future will be bright.

Principal of the school enjoying himself

After the formal ceremony, the students performed a couple of dances for us. During the final performance, they encouraged us to join them in the dance. The principal of the school got his “groove” on with the students. It is always a very festive occasion for them to have us at their school. We felt very honored to be there.

The Three Amigos

After the first school for the day, we had some free time in Xela to walk around and have lunch on our own. The Three Amigos, Terry, Bang and myself, stopped for a moment to be photographed before taking Gabby to lunch. We picked the same restaurant that Boyd and I visited the previous year. This restaurant was good, but a little slow. However, it gave us a bird’s eye view of the main square in Xela and several other members of our group followed us to this 2nd floor balcony restaurant.

Computer Center Inauguration at Tacajalve' Cooperative School

After lunch, we gathered on the buses to travel to the Tacajalve’ Cooperative School for a computer center inauguration. This makes 51 computer centers in Guatemalan schools since 2001.The students are thirsty for knowledge and computers are the future for Guatemala and their students. Computer skills will make them better qualified to get a good paying job when they graduate. Nearly half of all good paying jobs in Guatemala require computer skills.

Computer center demonstration

After the ceremony, I had the opportunity to visit with this young man as he demonstrated what he had learned since school began for them less than 3 weeks prior. He demonstrated both Excel and Powerpoint. Skills that I do not completely have after many years with a computer. He was very impressive and the teacher training is impressive. Last year, one of the CoEd trained computer teachers traveled to Washington, D.C. to compete in a Microsoft competition for teachers. This same teacher won at both the local, national and regional levels before being invited to compete at the international level. He did not win, but was very competitive.

Once again, the schools that we visited this day were unique experiences. It seems the more schools I visit, the more impressed I become with CoEd, the GLP and the students. They are striving to improve themselves and with the help of Rotarians and others, they have a great opportunity to vastly improve their nation.

Wednesday in Guatemala

Wednesday morning brought us to the La Esperanza Cooperative School. This was a textbook, re-inauguration. This means they have been in the program for at least five years and have accumulated the funds from their book fees to replace their old books with new editions. This is always an important occasion for the students, teachers and especially the parents. For it is through the efforts of the parents that the money is collected to ensure they have new textbooks. This is how this program is self-sustaining.

Past President Terry Hutchens giving a speech to the students and parents

Past President of the North Raleigh Rotary Club, Terry Hutchens was the speaker for the morning and gave an impassioned speech about the need for the students and parents to continue to embrace and utilize these tools to better themselves and their communities. This is what the project is all about…students bettering themselves to serve and improve their local communities. Each generation of student is a role model for those who would follow them.

Terry was the speaker because he and Jeff Taylor, a past member of the North Raleigh Rotary Club, sponsored the computer center at this school several years ago. After the presentation, we did visit the computer lab, but I was unable to take photos as my batteries died again on me.

Presentation of the new textbooks

As you will note, I am being photographed with two students and a parent. With the re-inaugurations, a Rotarian presents the new textbook to the parent and the parent presents it to the student. This day happens only because the parents at the school pay the fees to ensure the money is available to purchase new textbooks. It is still difficult at times to get the message across to the locals that these books are not because of Rotary, but because of them.

It truly gives them a sense of accomplishment as they are helping themselves, not being helped. Once they begin to grasp this concept, it will give them even more pride in their school and community.

After visiting the Taylor-Hutchens Computer Center, a few of us joined the basketball game already in progress. The school has a girls basketball team and wanted to have a game with us. I must admit, I am out-of-shape and the high altitude did not help me in the least.

Girls Basketball team for La Esperanza Cooperative School

While I was playing basketball, Terry took a tour of the addition the school hopes to get done soon. They are looking for ways to pay for the improvements which will be around Q200,000 to complete. The principal is very passionate about his school and education. He is a huge fan of CoEd and the GLP.  As he mentioned in his presentation, he was initially a little apprehensive about the initial textbook project, but after seeing the results from the students, he has become fully committed to this project.

In the afternoon, we visited Colegio Fuente de Sabiduria school for a textbook inauguration. This was once again, an amazing experience. The local cooperative has become very involved of late with establishing a quality education for their community. I hate that I did not have the use of my camera as they, together, have done an amazing job to build a large, multi-storied structure with an indoor soccer field.

The cooperative has determined the education is important and are helping this school. They wanted the textbook program and are interested in getting a computer lab as soon as they can.

Young student at the Colegio Fuente De Sabiduria School

The students were excited to have us here, but more so, excited about the new textbooks. After leaving the school, Terry said to the group that he would like to be at this school the next day when the students received their textbooks. He thought that would be an amazing experience. Later in the week, Howard Lobb, the director for the computer centers for CoEd, mentioned that he would love to be in the homes of these students to see how they interact with their parents with their new textbooks. To see the excitement would be amazing.

Two Young Ladies at this school

It was at this school that I realized how popular I was among the young ladies. These two adorable young ladies approached me and wanted to take my photo. Unfortunately, they could not locate their camera in the crowd, so I got a photo of them. Many of these Indigenous Mayans have never seen a ‘Gringo” and they get excited when they do see one.

When it comes to this school, I expect to hear great things from it. This school and community has finally realized that education is important to the future of their children and communities and are doing everything in their power to ensure their children a brighter future.

Another Amazing day in Guatemala

Paxot Cooperative School

This morning, the groups split up as each group performed a textbook inauguration. We were considered the “valiente” group or “brave” group as we had the hardest journey to throughout the day. We traveled at least 45 minutes on dirt roads with hairpin turns and steep elevations. Most of the time, we had both the sharp curves and steep hill at the same time. I wouldn’t consider it the toughest ride of my life, but it was one of them. The staff even brought out the sick bags in the event they were needed. Of course, they were not as we are the tough group on this tour.

The Primary School children receive books

The principal at this school was very passionate about his students and their education. Several times, he mentioned that the students have a responsibility to use these tools to “get all of the juice” out of them. He added that he will personally take the responsibility to ensure that these tools will be used to their best. It is refreshing to hear a man take responsibility in advance.

Principal at Paxot Cooperative School

This principal showed both leadership in his school, but it appeared that the community held him in high regards. This is not the kind of leadership that can be faked, rather it is genuine and heartfelt. You could tell that he cares deeply for his students and community.

Ceremonial Dance to commemorate their heritage!

This is an amazing school and I am very happy that I survived the rough terrain to get to this school. They were very welcoming and so very warm. I cannot get over how much these people embrace us.

Chuchipaca Computer Center Inauguration

On Tuesday afternoon, both groups came together for the inauguration of the computer center at Chuchipaca school. This is a major event for them and many local officials and business representatives turned out for the celebration. CoEd has developed some relationships with local business who see the value in an educated workforce and have assisted with new computer centers.

I am finishing this entry this evening as Internet connection was spotty yesterday and it is the same here today. I may try to post some photos to Facebook, but I believe I will not attempt to blog until Friday evening, when I will be in Antigua, Guatemala.

You will not believe the experience we had today, so you will want to read the blog on Saturday.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this tour or the GLP.

Visiting our first schools in Guatemala

Young girls at the Pixabaj Primary School

Our first school was an induction of the Culture of Reading Program (CORP) at the Pixabaj Primary School. This program is amazing as it teaches both Spanish to the children, but also attempts to instill a passion for reading. It is one thing to be able to read, but another thing to actually read. Or for that matter, have materials to read. Many Guatemalan children either cannot read or have nothing to read. This program brings picture books into the schools for these children to enjoy.

This program starts with the teacher reading one of these books every day to their students. This is one thing that has been missing in these schools. Moreover, it is designed as a way to teach the teachers how to teach in an engaging way. In the past, the teachers would simply lecture the students and there was no interaction between students and teachers. This program changes that trend.

The teachers must be certified for the CORP program. It is a two-year commitment and the CoEd staff are responsible for teaching them. Once they complete the initial instruction, they can begin to use these books to engage their students. This program does not cost the schools or students any money as everything is completely donated to them. However, they are improving the schools dramatically.

The process starts with the teacher giving them the new words they will learn in this book. They make it very interactive as they must sound out the words, then place the word on a wall under the appropriate letter the word begins with. Once they have done this, the teacher will read the book to them. On the second day, the students will dramatize the book so they can better comprehend the story.

On the following day, they will re-write their story in their own words into a big book that will be kept in the school. Finally, the students will partner with each other to write their own version of the books complete with pictures. This gives them even more books to take home and read on their own. It really is an amazing concept and one that has been tested around the world.

A Ceremonial dance performed for us

As always, the students perform ceremonial dances for us in appreciation for our efforts to help them with their education. These dances can be very moving and impressive. It makes you feel good the way they open their arms to us.

After the demonstration in the room, we had an opportunity to engage the students in various ways. We had Rotarians give our stickers and others blew bubbles for them. The students were fascinated with these items. I played both soccer and basketball with them. I must admit, I was winded after only a short time. It was partly due to my being out of shape and partly due to the altitude. This school was at about 6,00o ft above sea level. We will be as high as 12,000 feet above sea level during this trip.

In the afternoon, we visited the Jucanya Cooperative School here in Panajachel. This was a textbook induction and the mayor showed up for the ceremony. The principal mentioned that they had heard about this program for several years and had hoped they would be accepted into the program. Since it is not a free program, it shows how positive this program has been for rural Guatemala.

I apologize that I cannot add any photos, but I left my camera on the bus and could not take any at this school. It was apparent that the teachers and students were excited about having textbooks for the first time. They vowed that they would use them to improve their education while being very thankful for the opportunity.

This is the thing about the people of rural Guatemala. They know that the only way they are going to have a better future for their children and their nation is through education. I cannot stress this enough that they are hungry for knowledge and desperate to improve not only themselves, but their families and the country. It really warms your heart to see the students so excited to get a textbook. Are your children excited when they get their textbooks?

I will end here as it is getting late and I have to get up early. We will be leaving Panajachel and Lake Attilan tomorrow. I will blog tomorrow if I have Internet at the hotel is Xela. Last year, I could not get a signal, but hopefully, I will this year. If not, you will not hear from me for a few days as we will be staying there for 3 nights.