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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.