Last week we had an opportunity which was so unbelievable that I need to share it with you. Unfortunately there will be few photos in this post however I´m hoping you´ll enjoy the story.
The office space next to the office for our Antigua Spanish School is occupied by a program called ´niños de Guatemala´, which is how we learned about the program and therefore had the opportunity to visit this amazing school called ¨Nuestra Futuro¨ or our future.
Ninos de Guatemala is one of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGO´s) working in Guatemala to improve healthcare, education or other social or economic programs. This one, however is a little different. They started a school in Ciuda Viejo, which is a small and very poor town about a mile from Antigua. The focus of this school was to provide an educational opportunity for the very poorest children of the city; children who live in families where no other family member has had formal education and those whose families cannot afford to send their children to school. What´s more, the families often need the children to start contributing financially at a very young age. These are often the children who are begging or hawking souvenirs in developing countries.
Because there are so many visitors to this unique school, we were asked to not take photos. However the following are several photos of where the children reside. Homes have no electricity or water. Families transport water 1/2 mile up a steep hill from a central well. They also have no cooking facilities in these cobbled together homes which are made of cornstalks, corrugated metal, old bus parts and whatever can be found.
In it´s first year the school had only kindergarten and first grade. In the two subsequent years they have added another year so that the school now has K-third grade and has approximately 120 students enrolled. If not for this school, none of the children would have an opportunity for formal learning. The school has thus far received all of it´s support from the NGO. The following are some of the characteristics that were so impressive:
- There is a social worker at the school who assesses each family to assure that they meet the criteria and to continue to provide support.
- Parents (usually mothers) are required to pay a very small amount, which is a token for commitment to the program, and doesn´t really provide financial support.
- Mothers work as volunteers in the lunch program, helping to make the 120+ meals each day. As you can imagine, this is a way to keep parents involved and committed to the child´s education.
- Since many children come from homes without running water or electricity, they have the opportunity to take a shower at school.
- All children brush their teeth at school each day
- In addition to meeting the requirements for the national curriculum, children learn crafts that are valued by their families. Examples are embroidery or carpentry.
- Instead of being in school for a half day like public schools in Guatemala, children are in this school all day. Afternoon programs build life skills and there are tutoring opportunities. The afternoon programs are mostly provided by volunteers.
- A physician and nurse visit the school regularly (although this is likely only enough for the most serious health issues).
- There are free educational programs for parents – topics such as nutrition, health or family violence.
Most impressive was the newly opened library. For most of us, we view books and a library as one of life´s essentials. Not here, however. Like many or most cities in Guatemala, Cuida Viejo didn´t have a free library. But life is changing.
A young intern from Germany volunteered at Nuestro Futuro for the past year. Her project was to start a library for the school. It opened several months ago for the families of children in the school and already it is going to open for the entire community. On the day we visited there were about 30 children from pre-school on up who were taking books from the library shelves and enjoying them in a way that absolutely warmed our hearts. The shelves were empty by our standards but there were about 1000 books in total – not enough but a start. There are also several computers This intern will leave on March 31, immediately after the community open house, which she believes will be well attended.
The children at the school were delightful and you could see how eager they are to learn. What an incredible experience.