|Marco, Florentina, Alejandra, and me|
Florentina graduated from high school a couple of months ago. When we met her, she was twelve and painfully quiet, yet she had a steadfast determination. She was our randomly assigned scholarship student through Cooperative for Education, which meant that we paid for her direct and indirect school expenses. The youngest of five, her education would have been out of reach, but Flor is just the kind of dedicated student that this program seeks.
Statistics tell us that only 20% of Guatemalan kids make it through high school, but these numbers are skewed by the wealthy. I'm certain that in the western highlands, home to indigenous families, the percentage is less than half that. We're very proud of her. She's looking for a job, using her bookkeeping skills from high school ("Diversificado"). We're mobilizing the few connections we have in Guatemala to help her. Her dream is to attend University and study engineering, but she feels the need to get a good job first. Her peers often work weekdays and do their collegiate study on weekends. We told her we'd help her any way we can.
|With Florentina when she was about 14|
Flor was a little worried that, after seven visits, we might not see her again, despite having become Facebook friends. After all, she had graduated from the scholarship program. I suspect, though, that we'll be back. We just met our new student, Alejandra, who will begin Middle School ("Basico") next year. She's thirteen and quiet like Flor was at her age.
One of my favorite moments from this nine-day trip (I'm on the plane home writing this) was at lunch with both girls and Jennifer Sands, a COED staffer who was enjoying lunch with us and helping us with translation. My husband asked Flor whether she had advice for Alejandra. We expected a few sentences, and we were delighted to see Flor step gracefully into mentor mode. She spoke for twenty minutes about everything from study habits to the importance of following program rules like not having a boyfriend. She'll be going to school in Flor's town, and I hope their relationship can continue in some form.
To read more about COED's work, which includes textbook, computer and primary school reading programs as well as scholarship support, please visit COED's website. Who knows; you might want to help break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education too.
Perhaps you'll enjoy a couple more highlights of this trip.
Just after dawn, I love to watch the fishermen in their small wooden boats net fishing in the mist of Lake Atitlan.
The Tacaxoy family, who I met on one of my first trips, now has two kids with college under their belts with good jobs and fluency in three languages. The younger two are still in school. These kids were the inspiration for the COED scholarship program. Along with their parents, they welcomed a group of us into their home and patiently answered our questions. I was touched by the parents' well-justified pride.
Leaving a hotel in Antigua, we were delightfully delayed by a procession marking the second Sunday of Lent. I've never been there for the elaborate displays of Semana Santa (Holy or Easter week) so I was thrilled to see a bit of the pageantry. Elaborate sawdust carpets (alfombras) are created in the middle of the cobblestone street, only to be walked on by the human bearers of religious floats. Purple robes, incense, and marching bands round out the experience.