There is nothing novel about working in Guatemala. Scholarships are an effective and common strategy by which to improve educational achievement. Indigenous communities are, and should be, among the most targeted beneficiaries. This isn’t new.
But in a country where scholarships are sprinkled like fertilizer on a coffee crop, Reading Village is doing something different.
In our experience scholarships are generally given out for free, with no requirement of a commitment beyond studying on the part of the student beneficiaries. In this model, an opportunity to fully develop youth as agents of change, to engage their leadership capacity and local connections for community transformation is lost.
At Reading Village, we’re not looking to hand off an opportunity, but rather cultivate sustainable transformation. We stand beside our scholars, ask them to invest in literacy promotion activities, and engage them in leadership positions.
In this way, when our students graduate from high school, they aren’t only doing something that fewer than 1/10th of their peers have done, the accomplishment doesn’t end there. Rather, in addition to this notable achievement they also have a toolset to leverage their educations for the benefit of their communities.
We’ve decided not to sprinkle these scholarships across exceptional students regardless of geography. On the contrary, we’ve committed to investing in a critical mass of teen scholars in each of the three communities where we work. In this way, the youth become one another’s greatest resources in their own growth and in the eradication of illiteracy.
“It’s a very American thing to focus on individuals like many organizations do,” said our Founder and Executive Director Linda Smith. “But by working with our teens as a group and by requiring them to give back to their communities, our kids learn leadership, teamwork and self-confidence by getting out in the world and doing something, not by sitting in a workshop and being told how to be successful.”
Clustered investment and deep engagement sets Reading Village apart, and our scholars are testaments to this change. No one teenager could have opened a library by his or herself. No community was ever transformed by a single individual all alone.
In the US we grow up believing that all it takes is one person. One person can change the world. At Reading Village we challenge this notion, we believe all it takes is one generation. Creating a critical mass for change has enriched our investment in these communities, and we’re more confident than ever that our scholars are better because of it.
Camaraderie matters. It makes change happen.