I think the part I like best about the beginning of each school year in Guatemala is the moment when one of our Community Facilitators asks a question, and a youth leader like Victor, who’s now in his last year of high school and our program, realizes that last year’s leaders who have graduated are gone. The ones he used to look up to are no longer in the room, and he is the one with the wisdom and knowledge to answer the question. It’s a thrill for me to see them stepping into those shoes, self-identifying as the new leaders of the group.
Julio and Juana Estela also found themselves stepping into this new role recently. Their particular moment of revelation occurred during a ceremony over the weekend in which the teens light candles symbolizing their carrying the light of literacy out into the community. As each one lights their candle, they speak from their heart. Julio, in a clear and strong voice said: “This group is one. When one cries we all cry. When one laughs we all laugh. We are here for each other and for our community. Together.” Juana Estela added poignantly, “Reading Village is a second family to me.”
It gives me great joy that our teens feel this way about their relationships to one another, to the children they read to, and to their communities. It, is, in fact, one of the many difficult barriers that our graduates face when they move on. The camaraderie and purpose they felt in the group is all of the sudden gone, and it leaves a big hole in their lives. Santiago, who graduated last year, described his life now as “quiet.”
And believe me, there is nothing quiet about Guatemala. Chickens, buses, stereos, sirens. Need I go on?
In response to this struggle and in an effort to bring back some of the blissful noise that once filled our graduates lives, Reading Village has decided to create a support system for graduates. Our goal is to help this group of strong but suddenly vulnerable young adults navigate the transition from high school student to professional or university student or entrepreneur. Daniel Guzman, who has been the heart and soul of our program for the last 6 years will lead this initiative to connect our alumni with opportunities for university scholarships, fellowships, job openings and support for creating new ventures. Two of our graduates are in a fellowship to prepare them to open a school in their community. Another wishes to expand her family’s school supplies store. Many more desire to continue their studies at the university level. And there is endless potential for agriculture-based entrepreneurism. Theirs are the wishes we would like to make come true.
This new addition to our work is one more step in the direction of the community-wide impact that is part of our vision. It is a common misconception that Reading Village simply promotes literacy. There’s nothing simple about that. On the contrary, Reading Village chooses to use literacy as a means by which to promote holistic community development.
– Linda Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Reading Village