Founder’s Corner: Notes from Guatemala, Part V

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Our Founder & Executive Director, Linda Smith, is in Guatemala this week. She travels down there a few times every year and when she does, the stories she sends back are bound to inspire! While her schedule is jam packed meeting with staff and scholars and partner organizations, we’ll try to keep you up to speed with the best updates straight from Guatemala. Check back often for more from the Founder’s Corner.

From the Field Part 5

Dreams of Business & Law

Notes from Guatemala, by Linda Smith . September 26, 2013

“…After lunch we visited Maribel at the Conce health clinic. She is a health promoter, going door to door teaching families about good hygiene, nutrition, family planning, vaccinating their children and a whole host of other health issues. She, too, would like to study at university next year. Her real interest is in business administration. And she credits RV with giving her self-confidence, effective communication skills, the ability to speak to people and teach which serves her in her health promotion work.

Then we visited Laura. She gives literacy classes like Olivia does, but her class was cancelled today. So we met with her at her uncle’s “paca.” A paca is a store (and a growing industry) for the sale of used American clothing. You can get a gently used t-shirt from the Yosemite Wellness Center for about $1.25)  She would like to enter university next year to study law. She and the rest of our university-bound promoters need to take entrance exams and find scholarships and are all sorting that out. Ismael, our Community Facilitator, has been a big help to them in this way.” 

[In the communities where we work, most families earn less than $4 per day. Fathers are often farmers, and mothers may carry on a tradition of weaving. Regardless, there are no lawyers in these communities. Very few formal businessmen. While roadside shops are common, university degrees are not. The fact that two of our alumni – women no less – are preparing for professional careers and university educations is inspiring. These are the stories that motivate us to do what we do!]

Regulars at the Local Library

Notes from Guatemala, by Linda Smith . September 26, 2013

“This morning Daniel (Program Director), Ismael (Community Facilitator), and I worked in the Concepcion library that our scholars opened last year. Each day that we’ve been there a little boy and his brother have shown up. The first day their mother came by quite angry with them because she didn’t know where they were. Once she saw they were in the library and under adult supervision, she was fine. They don’t speak much Spanish, but the older brother kept coming over to show me the letters he was practicing, and I oohed and aahed over them. Later he started writing in a book and we had to tell him that we don’t do that. At the end of the day he waited for me to return from a home visit to say goodbye. Today they sat happily looking at books and writing/drawing. Then the three of us pulled out some snacks and they wanted some, so we shared. Then they disappeared for a while and came back with a couple of small bags of corn chips and happily shared them with us! It was the sweetest thing. And as we left today they wanted to know when we were coming back. These two are going to be regulars at the local library.” 

Change In The Classroom

Notes from Guatemala, by Linda Smith . September 25, 2013

” On our way into Los Morales (one of the three towns where we work), we picked up a teacher who was also on her way in to the village. It’s common to give people rides, especially when you’re trying to build relationships and trust in these communities. As she sat down in the back seat of Daniel’s (our Program Director) small SUV, I took the opportunity to ask her some questions about her experience with our program. The teachers at Los Morales are some of our most engaged partners and among the community members most enthusiastic about our program.

I asked her if she was pleased with the work the teens from our Leaders & Readers program were doing with her students. She very animatedly told me that yes she was. I asked her if she noticed a change in her students as a result of the scholars’ work. She said yes. At this point in these conversations it is very difficult to get even our most proficient partners to think more deeply and specifically about the impact of our program. So I asked her how the kids were different, what changes had she noticed, could she give me an example? She struggled but then said the kids are more participative. They speak up in class. While I was cautious to take too much pride in her response (I was, after all, giving her a ride; I too would tell the nice white woman whatever she wanted to hear if it would save me an hour’s walk), but this is what we hear most often. In classes that are traditionally defined by hours of rote memorization, even the slightest shift toward participatory, engaging class time is exciting. Anecdotal evidence like this is just one way to measure the impact of our work. I, for one, am just glad to have had the chance to share the car ride and see our impact from another angle.” 

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