We met the young ladies in the Square at Zela. The square has a very classical feel!
Due to forces beyond my control, I was not able to update you on my trip yesterday. It was a two-fold reason. First and foremost, I could not get internet connection at the hotel we stayed in last night in Xela. The secondary reason is I would not have had time as I had a very enjoyable dinner at a Xela Rotarian’s home and did not return to the hotel until after 10:30.
Thursday started with a very warm meeting with a couple of young Guatemalan ladies who actually have become quite popular in this country. Last year, CoEd was selected as one of five finalist for the Juan Bautista Gutierrez Prize competition and as a result, the public relations of the foundation wanted to learn about a CoEd school firsthand. CoEd selected a school in Xela and while the Gutierrez people were touring the school, they noticed Brenda Caj and announced on the spot that they wanted her to be the national spokesperson for the program. Briseyda Hernandez was selected as her “understudy” in the event Brenda could not make all of the PR appointments. As a result, both ladies were videoed and photographed. Brenda’s photo was on billboards and newspapers throughout the country as the winner of the prize was selected from votes from the population for the PR campaign. While the video was on the national television, Briseyda announced that she would like to study to be a doctor. Soon after it aired, a local doctor called CoEd to announce that he wanted to pay for her education.
Brenda and Briseyda talk about their experience as spokespersons for CoEd.
Yesterday morning, we had the opportunity to meet both of these young ladies as due to their efforts, CoEd came in 3rd place and were awarded around $35,000. The amazing thing is that Brenda comes from a single mother household with 2 other siblings. Her mother sacrificed to pay for her to get her education as she knew that the only way to better her daughter’s life was through a good education. On the way to the square where we met these young ladies, a wonderful couple from Canada volunteered to be her sponsor, giving her a scholarship for her primary education.
Brenda was a very pleasant young lady and she announced to the group that her goal is to become a doctor as well. I have a strong feeling that she will be successful in whatever field she decides to do. After our meeting with her, we had a couple of hours of free time in Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Boyd and I had an opportunity to spend some great time with one of the local staff members named Emy. Emy is a delight to be around and is a very warm and pleasant person. We were both pleased we had an opportunity to spend time with her.
A Rotarian and a parent symbolically give the book to the young student. It is important to remember that the parents actually paid for the new books!
In the afternoon, we departed for San Carlos Sija to experience a re-inauguration of the Parroquial School. A re-inauguration occurs when a school has been in the textbook program for 7 years and are now going to get new textbooks. This is important as these books are not purchased by CoEd and Rotarians, but rather by the parents and their community. As you know, each student pays a small fee to rent the books for the school year. Well, after about 7 years, there is enough money saved to purchase new textbooks. This is what makes this program effective. Each parent and community invests in their schools through the rental fees and thus, it is not a hand out, but a hand up. I personally have a difficult time to donate money to projects that give things away for nothing. This is not that kind of program as the communities, parents and students are invested in the success of their school and it’s textbook program.There was pride in the parent’s face as they handed the symbolic textbook to the student as it is a personal accomplishment to make the sacrifices for their children and community. I cannot stress the importance of this aspect of the program.
Saying a few words while presenting the North Raleigh Rotary flag to the school
That evening, we had dinner at the home of a Xela Rotarian. My host Rotarian, Israel, has been a Rotarian since 1989 and he has a lovely family. We were a little disadvantaged as neither of the parents spoke English and none of the other Xela Rotarians and spouses who came to dinner spoke English. However, they daughter, who will be graduating soon from law school spoke wonderful English and was willing to be the interpreter. Later, the rest of the children, a boy and girl, came home and added an additional English interpreter. Dinner was wonderful as the served a typical Guatemalan dinner and served local Guatemalan beers. One that is brewed in Guatemala and one in Xela.
On Friday, we attended an inauguration of a computer lab and had an opportunity to tour it. This was an amazing experience as the local radio and television were in attendance to capture this momentous occasion. During the ceremony, we were asked to dance with the young ladies who had performed a traditional dance for us as a sign of appreciation for the new computers.The dance was not as taxing as some have been this week and the principal of the school even got involved in the dancing. On hand for this occasion was the national Director of Education who has been a huge supporter of CoEd. Additionally, the school and community gave out a traditional doll that they make as another sign of appreciation.
After the ceremonies, we were allowed to tour the computer lab and sit at a computer with one of the students for a demonstration. These students have had only 3 weeks of lessons and the demonstration consisted of a PowerPoint demonstration. I was both very impressed and jealous as the ones I saw were much better than the Powerpoint presentations that I have created for my business. I told my young lady that she may have to go to work for me when she finishes school.
After the computer demonstration, I was bombarded by several students who really liked my I-Pad. I played several games of table hockey with different students. They especially liked the Talking Tom application that I have on my I-Pad. We were all saddened when it was time to leave. On the way out, I was asked by a teacher if I would be willing to pose for a picture with several ladies. I could hardly pull myself away from that school and was the last one to get on my bus.
It was also a sad occasion as it was the last school on our itinerary for this trip. We then began the long bus ride back towards Guatemala City. We are currently staying in Antigua for the remainder of our trip. Once we got to our beautiful hotel, we had a little social hour before dinner. At dinner, Boyd and I sat with Joe and Howard, two of the staff members. Joe is a co-founder of CoEd and we had a very interesting conversation from real estate to the economy and the future of Rotary giving to International projects. My take is that Rotary will continue to give to International projects that show they are making a substantive difference. It is easy to give things away, but much harder to build a sustaining program where the recipients invest in the program. It is my wish that this program continues to grow and reach more schools in Guatemala.
Joe has said several times that their program is geared more toward quality than quantity. As he said, there has been a goal set that all of Guatemala children are enrolled in school, but to get them in school will not mean they will get an education.
The students loved my I-Pad as we played games and I showed them the Talking Tom application.
Some of the things I have learned about the Guatemala education system is appalling. Legislation was passed a few years ago that stated that primary education will be free and that no child/parent will have to pay for it. However, in practice, this means that lights and teachers will be paid by the government, but it does not include any materials such as textbooks or computers. How can you actually learn to read and write without a textbook as an example of what writing is? Furthermore, we were told that many times, the teachers will go several months without a paycheck as the government had not paid them.
Sheila, a Rotarian from Ontario, told me about a school she visited few years ago where there were no lights. When she asked the principal about it, he said that the power company cut off the electricity as it had not paid the bill. When speaking with John Dhiel, a local Rotarian, he said that it would be easy to pay the electric bill, but the electric company still would not turn ont he power until the government was caught up on all of the schools electricity bills.
This is a sad state as Guatemala has such great potential as it has a beautiful country with many natural resources that could be highly beneficial to the economy here. With the political power stationed in Guatemala City, the rest of this amazing country suffering. It is hard to explain it, but to experience it is life changing. These people are not lazy and want to change their country and lives, but many times, do not have the knowledge to change.
Israel’s daughter told me on Thursday evening that she would love to live in the states because she loves how the cities are more organized, but her ultimate goal after college is to stay in Guatemala and try to bring attention to the many problems that exist here and try to make a difference in her community. In the end, shouldn’t that be the goal of anyone…to make the world, or their world, a better place than they were given.