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.
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.
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.
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.
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.