Visiting schools in Quetzaltenango
October 1, 2013 | By Jozlyn Pelk |
We arrived in Quetzaltenango (or Xela as locals call it, pronounced “chela”) on Sunday evening after a three-hour bumpy car ride from Antigua, up through the green highlands and winding dirt roads lined with indigenous villages.
Early Monday we met with Fundacion para el Desarrollo (FUNDAP) staff, who welcomed us to Xela and introduced us to their programs on our ride up through the cornfields to the community of Concepcion Chiquirichapa, where we would visit one of their educational programs at a local primary school.
FUNDAP works in various areas of community development in the western region of Guatemala, including environmental protection, business development, integral health and education. FUNDAP’s education programs have a strong history of support from Seattle donors, particularly the pre-school education program, primary school scholarship program, and nutritional education programs for mothers.
Upon arriving to the school in Concepcion, we were greeted by twenty smiling children between the ages of four to six, who led us to their classroom. Their teacher’s energy matched the children’s, which made the class atmosphere incredibly welcoming. The class sang two songs for us in Spanish and Mam, the native Mayan language spoken in their region.The room was full of so much laughter and joy, I could barely hold back my tears of happiness when I was invited to join them in dance around the room.
Moving from classroom to classroom, we met over 180 students ranging from grades equivalent to kindergarten through sixth. This has made me reflect on the quality of education infrastructure in Guatemala in comparison to the U.S. The classes were very tight, with little to no room for walking around, had no electricity; yet the students appeared to be happy and ready to learn.
What is unique about this school is that it is home to FUNDAP’s integral health and nutrition education program for mothers of the students. We met with dozens of women participating in the program at the school, who are learning about the proper foods to feed their children and keep them healthy, lively and attentive in school. This group of mothers was very thankful for FUNDAP and Seattle’s support for providing them with this opportunity.
Casa Blanca school in the nearby town of Salcajá is also home to FUNDAP education programs. Salcajá is affected by high rates of poverty and emigration to the U.S., which often results in weak households, and little support and encouragement from families for their children to attend school. Seattle donors have contributed to FUNDAP’s scholarships for students ages 10 and 15 at Casa Blanca who otherwise would not be able to attend primary school.
I spent hours with the group of 20 scholarship students; who knew drawing and balloon exercises could teach us so much about community. It struck me to hear the children speak about their desire to help out at home, what their communities’ need, and their dreams to become teachers, firefighters, and singers. The children are so young yet they know what community is and how to contribute. This was striking to me.
I see where their passion comes from. At the end of our visit at Casa Blanca, we met with the school’s committee of mothers of these students. I have never encountered such genuine and endearing people, who expressed their deepest gratitude for their opportunities provided for their children by showering us with beautiful gifts consisting of hand woven cloths, headbands, and typical Guatemalan atole and tamales. Their gifts and long goodbyes will be something I will always cherish for the rest of my life.
I hope FUNDAP continues strong for as long as the communities need its support; the educational opportunities provided to children and their families are priceless.