It’s pretty tough as a teen in rural Guatemala to stay focused on your studies when all your friends and relatives are dropping out of school left and right to work or get married. The typical statistic in the communities where we work is that 10% of students make it to high school, and even fewer graduate. Leticia, one of our new scholars in our newest community, Chuiquel, recently shared with Daniel Guzman our Program Coordinator that her 17-year-old cousin was marrying his 13-year-old bride (and invited everyone to the reception.) We like a good party as much as anyone, but this scene is all too common.
So for the teens in our program — the rare exceptions whose families have made a tremendous sacrifice to get them this far in their education — a scholarship to finish high school is the golden ticket. It’s the deus ex machina that’s going to rescue them from the fate of early marriage and subsistence-level poverty. It’s what attracts them to our program. But, then, something magical happens. They find a heart connection to the mission of Reading Village, and being in the program is no longer just about the money they get for school. As we kick of the new year, they light a candle and make a commitment to be part of something bigger than themselves. They dig deep and find the part of themselves that’s been squelched their whole lives and speak it out loud, often with tears, “Last year was a very difficult one for me. I now understand, being with all of you here, the importance of belonging to this program,” and “I commit myself to improving the reading activities I do with the children in my community to give them a better future.”
At Reading Village, we’re not only interested in increasing educational achievement and improving literacy rates. More than anything we’re interested in empowering youth who have previously been marginalized by their country. In doing so we are developing deep commitment from a generation of young leaders. This commitment was epitomized by the arrival of several graduates who showed up for the first scholar meeting this year. They may have finished school and earned their degrees, they may no longer have any obligation to Reading Village’s work, but they showed up and they remained committed – to our work, to each other, and to the development of their communities.
It’s a beautiful thing to witness a boy or a girl being heard for the very first time in his or her life. And then to watch them begin to live from that deep, deep place of truth and commitment. We’re so incredibly grateful to bear witness to this change.
– Linda Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Reading Village