Helping to increase the literacy of the children of Triunfo and the surrounding areas in Guatemala is a primary goal of Guatemala Hope. When we first arrived in Triunfo, attending school beyond the elementary level was an unimaginable possibility for most families. Any child who wanted to attend school beyond grade six had to pay the equivalent of $300.00 Canadian dollars a year. This amount of money is unattainable with their meagre incomes. Not only could they not pay the tuition but it also meant the children could not help support the family in the fields or with care for their siblings.
There are grade schools in each of the small villages where we work. Students can go from Kindergarten to grade 6 at no charge but attendance is not compulsory. The school year is January to mid November and runs week days from 8:00am until 1pm.
Basico School is the next level of education. It is a three year middle school to prepare students for trade school, college or university. Neighbouring village Los Tiestos has a Cooperative school system. This program is 68% funded by the national and municipal governments and the balance must be raised by the families to pay tuition fees. The students also have to have a uniform, purchase their books and arrange for transportation. For many families who are struggling to feed their families this amount is unattainable.
In El Triunfo the government has begun a “Middle School Program” for the last four years. With this system, they provide one teacher for each grade level. The program is a module system with one teacher covering all subjects for each grade. Most of the curriculum is produced on computer discs. With the lack of computers in the village, this is a real struggle for both the teachers and the students. They use the grade school classrooms in the afternoons when primary students have completed their day. Although there is only a minimal tuition fee to attend, students are expected to have a uniform, provide their own supplies and pay for computer classes. To attend college, a student has to move to a larger city, find accommodation with friends or relatives and pay their tuition.
In 2003, Guatemala Hope gave 2 students bursaries to attend Basico and began an annual fundraising campaign. Upon returning to Guatemala in 2004 we had enough money to pay for 12 additional students. A group of local villagers volunteered to help us establish a formal program to allocate our funds. Since we did not have enough funding to sponsor every child, we created a system whereby every interested student could apply and be interviewed. In order to be impartial, a grading system was established taking into consideration their economic situation, number of children in the family, the desire of the student to reach their potential and the commitment of the family to make sure their child attends classes regularly. All applications and notes are reviewed by the local committee who makes the final decisions.
Since every dollar donated for this program goes directly to students, the amount collected each year dictates how many applicants are chosen. Thanks to the caring hearts of groups, individuals, schools, local businesses and community clubs the program increased to an all time high of 110 bursaries.
A ceremony is held at the end of the November Mission Trip and bursary certificates are given. Each new student receives a backpack of supplies following their acceptance. Renewal students receive a filled pencil case and another year of monetary support. Three payments are made to the students yearly providing they maintain their attendance and attain passing grades. Guatemala Hope has an annual campaign in the fall to raise funds for the Scholarship Program. A donation of $300 will help provide one student the resources to attend Basico or higher education for one year. Student sponsors receive a picture and profile of their student along with their grades from the previous year. Letters from the students are translated and forwarded to and from students and sponsors during both our November and February trips. These are especially encouraging to the students. It is often the only letter they have ever received.
Over the years, more than 200 students have been able to continue their studies because of the generosity of our Canadian sponsors. Dozens of students have graduated in their chosen careers and are helping to support their families and community. Two students that were supported by our program are now teaching the adult literacy program, another is teaching grade three in the El Triunfo Primary School. After seeing so many student success stories it is very apparent that the students and their parents truly realize the value of staying in school and getting an education. As a result, the education committee able to shift fundraising away from student bursaries and towards the computer lab.
The literacy level in Guatemala is very low among adults. Statistics show only 30% of adults are literate. The Guatemalan government has instituted a national Adult Education Program (CONALFA) whereby any adult wishing to achieve a grade school equivalency can attend community classes. With the current high illiteracy rate in the villages, the government cannot provide enough teachers. In an attempt to encourage all adults who want to learn to read and write we have provided additional funds to help hire more teachers in Triunfo, Esperanza and Guajilote.
We supply the elementary school with additional school supplies to enhance the teaching environment and to provide learning opportunities for the students. The classrooms have all been set up with white boards, stationary pencil sharpeners, and utility boxes to keep books clean. Shopping bags of school supplies have been given to students along with colouring books, crayons and craft materials and educational games. We have also given the Basico schools in Triunfo and Esperanza projectors to help display lessons for the students.
It is not uncommon for a teacher to have only 2 text books and no exercise books when teaching a class of up to 40 students. For this reason we approached the Guatemala Board of Education for permission to copy textbooks. Thanks to the generous donation of a Simcoe printing company, copies of Math and Social Study books were printed and brought to Guatemala. We hope to reproduce more in the future.
Books are a rare commodity in the village, even in the school. Our goal is to foster a love of reading as well as to provide educational resources. In March 2010, we made an initial contribution to the elementary school with bookcases and over 200 books for the students and teachers. The collection is made up of both fiction and non-fiction books. The local principal provides us a listing of the books he feels would be appropriate and available in Guatemala. The dollars raised for this project and the amount of space avaible for storage dictates the number of books we can contribute each year. Plans are being made to move some of the books to the computer lab for more shelf space.
The computer age is slowly arriving in the outlying areas of Guatemala. When we arrived computers were not available let alone the internet. The school principles received the first computers. One personally owned computer school became available to students in Los Tiestos for students who could afford the hourly rate. This presents a particular problem since the students receive their courses on computer disks and are also expected to complete a computer course to graduate. We purchased 6 desktop computers in 2008 but the teacher could not get enough paying customers to be able to pay for supplies and maintenance. In 2010 we started bringing refurbished laptops to the villages and gave what we had to a few of the local teachers.
In 2012 we received permission to retrofit a vacant building in El Triunfo to accommodate lessons for students. Six laptops, desks, shelving and other incidentals were provided to transform the building into a secure area suitable for teaching computer courses. The El Triunfo students now hold their computer classes there at no charge. They have access to the internet now but it is very sporadic and slow.
Today, there is an additional financial support needed to maintain the computer lab we established. Currently with only 5 laptops and 2 printers and there is an immediate need to raise money to purchase additional computers as well as supplies such as ink and paper. In addition, there is a need for on-going maintenance to the building. As our students graduate and our sponsorship program draws to a close, Guatemala Hope remains committed to education and will focus our efforts on supporting the needs of the teachers and students in the village. We are passionate about education and the opportunities it provides and hope that through improving their means of technology and communication we will continue to assist our students achieve their goals.
During the spring mission trips, school is in session. On some of our trips, volunteers have been able to work directly with the students and their teachers for the week. The programs have included an introduction to Canadian sports, health and hygiene, art and English as a second language.The children look forward to this interaction with the Canadians and school attendance increases noticeably during these fun filled days!!!
We have also initiated professional development days for teachers in the area. Our Canadian teachers work in partnership with the Guatemalan teachers to tackle some of the common issues teachers deal with on an ongoing basis. Children are children…no matter where they live in the world.
On one of the first trips to Triunfo, a group of volunteers took it upon themselves to make the bare and shabby classrooms more appealing to the students. They painted the classroom walls with familiar storybook characters and nature scenes. Over the past years we have also supplied paint for the school exterior. Many of the desks and chairs are in disrepair and we hope to initiate a campaign soon to purchase new ones.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the trip volunteers and the many people here in Canada who have made all these accomplishments happen. You have truly given a gift of hope for generations to come. If you would like to participate or contribute to any of our programs, please contact us at