Stories From The Field

Creating a Library for the Love of Books


On the first Monday of August, the school in the small rural community of Xejolon opened the doors of their school library to students for the first time. The library is set up in a small classroom with a few shelves of books, displays organized into themes and a reading corner. It is a modest space but a big accomplishment for the school of 200 students and six teachers.

Libraries are rare in Guatemalan schools like Xejolon. Most school have far too few books and the teachers often have little training or experience with basics of running a library, such as categorizing books or book lending. But a library is a valuable resource for students who are learning to read. It provides a space where they can explore and discover new books and spend time outside of class reading for pleasure.

The new library in Xejolon is the result of the hard work and enthusiasm of Blanca Tzirin Chicol who, in addition to teaching first grade, is also in charge of the school’s reading committee.

Blanca says that she and the principal had wanted to set up a library for students for some time but never had enough books or space available in the school to open a library before.

“The books we had were very old,” she says. “And we didn’t have any ideas about how to start a library because we had never received any training.”

In addition to running workshops and and coaching sessions with teachers, Child Aid’s team of trainers work closely with schools to help them set up important literacy programs like libraries, classroom reading corners and book clubs. The goal is to build a culture of reading and literacy within the school so that students have many opportunities to read throughout the day.

Thanks to the hundreds of new books provided by Child Aid and the support and encouragement of literacy trainer Marilena Ixen, Blanca and her principal decided earlier this year that they had what they needed to get to work.

Blanca spent several weeks planning and preparing to open the library. She organized and labeled the books, classifying them by theme and reading levels. Using cardboard boxes donated by the teachers, she created shelves and displays so the books for each topic could seen by students and be easily accessible.

Blanca says she wants the library to be a pleasant and comfortable place for reading for students. She added a reading corner and a games corner to the library and invites students to come during recess to read and play.

She also hopes that the library will become a resource for other teachers, encouraging them to come to the library to find new titles to integrate into their lessons.

“I’ve done all of this because I know that children love books,” says Blanca. “I can see it in the huge smiles on the face of every child that reads a book. I am convinced that only through reading will children develop different skills, since books are like a magical world that invites them to imagine and dream new things.”

Categories: Stories From The Field
04/24/2017 1:44 PM

Slideshow: Book Delivery Day 2017

This February, we loaded pickup trucks at our office in Panajachel with boxes of books and bookshelves and headed out to deliver them to each of the 68 schools participating in our Reading for Life program this year. Follow the journey of the books from semi truck to the hands of eager readers.

Read the Full Article: New Books and New Beginnings: Kicking off the School Year with Child Aid.

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow
03/8/2017 3:10 PM

New Books and New Beginnings: Kicking off the School Year with Book Delivery Day

Child Aid-2017-1541

A group of eager boys lines up to carry boxes at the Chuimanzana school. Children’s books are extremely rare in rural Guatemalan schools so when the Child Aid book delivery truck arrives, everyone gets excited!

At the public school in the rural community of Chuimanzana, a line of eager students reaches up to a truck laden with boxes and large, wooden bookshelves. Students share laughter and shouts as they stagger under the heavy burden of boxes full of books. Their excitement reflects that of the entire Child Aid team. Book delivery day is one of the highlights of the year and marks the beginning of a new school year for Child Aid’s Reading for Life program. For the teachers and students in these communities, it will be a year filled with books, learning and new experiences.


SLIDESHOW: Follow the journey of the new books from our office in Panajachel to the hands of eager young readers.

Distributing colorful, engaging storybooks to schools is a key part of Child Aid’s goal to make reading accessible for all students. Schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of age-appropriate books for their students. This is especially true in rural, indigenous areas where illiteracy and school dropout rates are highest. This year, Child Aid will donate over 20,000 books to the 68 schools participating in our Reading for Life program. This annual book distribution provides teachers and schools with the critical resources they need to teach, motivate, and inspire their students’ learning and reading.

“Before, the only books we had were a few textbooks,” says Hector Cuc Cumes, a 4th grade teacher at the San Isidro school. “These books were obligatory and students were bored by them. Now [because of the library] of books, learning is fun for them. Students are more interested in their classes now and pay more attention.”

This year also marks the first time that Child Aid has purchased the majority of the books we are providing to schools.

“In the past, Child Aid has been able to distribute books to schools thanks to large book donations we’ve received from U.S. publishers,” says Child Aid Country Director Angus Fredenburg. “But because of changes in printing technology, book donations have dropped significantly in recent years at the same time that our program is growing. So, to meet the need, we’ve had to switch to purchasing most of the books ourselves. This has been a challenge but also an opportunity to improve the quality of the books we’re providing.”

“We love book donations, but they often leave gaps in the types of books schools need since we have no control over what is donated,” adds Annie Blakeslee, Director of Pedagogy at Child Aid. “Teachers were requesting more easy books, especially since many students are not yet reading at grade level. So this year, we decided to make a change and be more strategic about the books we are providing to schools.”

To plan for this year’s book purchases, Blakeslee outlined a “target” collection of books that cover a range of subjects, genres, and reading levels and that are aligned with Child Aid’s teacher training curriculum. She says she looked for books that students would be excited to read and teachers would be excited to use in their classrooms.

“This year, no matter what grade a child is in, and whether they’re interested in dinosaurs, princesses, legos, space, or puppies, they are sure to find a book that interests them and is just at their level.  Teachers will benefit too, with a wider range of interesting stories to read to their students and non-fiction books specifically selected because of their connection to topics teachers teach,” says Blakeslee.

Now that the books are in the schools, Child Aid trainers will get to work the rest of the year to ensure that those books are be used by students and teachers every day, both in and outside of the classroom. They will lead training workshops to teach teachers new techniques for literacy instruction. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, they will be helping teachers use the new books and techniques in their classrooms successfully. And they will be working with teachers to set up school libraries, reading corners and lending programs so that students have plenty of opportunities to practice and become confident and independent readers.

Judging by the enthusiasm of teachers, students and staff, it promises to be another exciting year of literacy and learning at Child Aid. We can’t wait to see what the new year will bring!

Categories: News
03/6/2017 11:06 AM
Stories From The Field

Book Delivery Day

See the excitement of students and teachers as a  delivery of new books arrives for the local school in the town of Cerro de Oro, Guatemala. Each school participating in Child Aid’s teacher training and literacy program, Reading for Life, receives a donation of books each year, providing a vital and treasured resource for the schools. The books are used in classroom instruction and to provide students more opportunities to read and develop their skills.

Categories: Stories From The Field
01/20/2017 11:35 AM
Stories From The Field

Video: Training Teachers for Success in the Classroom

For a child who is learning how to read, having a skilled and effective teacher is critical to her success. An effective teacher can make reading engaging and fun, uses questions to stimulate conversation and critical thinking and adapts their techniques to the needs of their students.

But today, schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of skilled and effective teachers. Many Guatemalan teachers have little training in literacy instruction and often struggle to move beyond traditional techniques of rote learning and memorization.

Through its intensive, four-year teacher training program, Child Aid’s is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemalan classrooms and helping teachers become more confident and effective educators.

In this video, visit a teacher training workshop in Guatemala to see how Child Aid is helping teachers learn practical techniques for developing the comprehension and critical thinking skills that are critical to literacy and learning. After the workshop, Child Aid trainer Marilena Ixen visits a classroom for a one-on-one coaching session, helping the teacher integrate and adapt what she has learned into her classroom instruction.

This process of modeling and practicing helps teachers put theory into practice quickly and effectively and gives them the skills and experience they need to achieve better outcomes for their students.

Categories: Stories From The Field
09/17/2015 9:03 AM
Stories From The Field

Video: Building Literacy Skills Through Reading Aloud

In Guatemalan classrooms, the traditional methods of reading instruction focus on memorization and decoding. Students learn to read simple sentences but often do not understand what they are reading. In this video, see how Child Aid’s teacher training program is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemala. In our training workshops, teachers learn practical techniques to help students become better readers, writers and learners.

Visit a classroom, where teacher Demetria Estacuy de Leon is using read-aloud techniques she learned from Child Aid to help her first grade students understand and remember details of a story. Students mimic her actions while she reads, responding to questions and practicing the habits of good readers.

When teachers in Guatemala join Child Aid’s literacy training program, one of the first techniques they learn is how to read aloud to their students. Story time is a natural place to engage kids in reading and introduce them to the joys and habits of good readers. When a teacher reads with expression and enthusiasm, they are helping students feel the emotions of the characters, the changes in action, and the most exciting, saddest, or happiest events. A read aloud session is also an opportunity for students to begin to develop the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills that will help them become active and engaged readers and learners.

  • How to retain information and remember details about what you’ve read.
  • How to interpret a story and connect it to your own experience.
  • How to analyze information, comparing, contrasting and evaluating what you’ve read.
  • How to create your own story out of your own knowledge and experience.

These skills are vital components of literacy and learning. Without them, students struggle to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. “I live for reading with the kids,” says Demetria. “When I am doing a reading, I have to use my imagination and creativity with them.  It has helped me a lot because I see their achievements and how much they enjoy the reading.”

Categories: Stories From The Field
02/18/2015 11:46 AM | 1 Comments

Book Distribution Day

In early July, representatives from 19 schools, libraries and community organizations from around Guatemala came to Antigua for Child Aid’s Book Distribution Day. There was a lot of excitement as attendees participated in a half-day orientation and then lined up at our warehouse to pickup boxes of brand new books to take back to their communities. Watch a slideshow of some of the day’s events.

View the slideshow ›

Categories: Slideshow
07/31/2014 8:40 AM

Book Distribution Event Brings Smiles to Rural Communities

Igor Xoyon shows off his car stuffed with new books destined for his school, Colegio Mi Melodía, in Chimaltenango

Igor Xoyon shows off his car stuffed with new books destined for his school, Colegio Mi Melodía, in Chimaltenango.

An assortment of cars, pickup trucks and minivans snaked through the fields of the Azotea coffee farm near Antigua a few weeks ago, waiting to pick up boxes of new books.

Representatives from 19 schools, libraries and community organizations traveled from around Guatemala to Child Aid’s book warehouse for our Book Distribution Day, a yearly event that helps get books into the hands of kids in communities around Guatemala.

Last year, Child Aid distributed over 100,000 Spanish language books donated by international book distributors International Book Bank and the International Book Project. This year we are on track to surpass that number.

Many of the books are packaged and delivered to our partner schools and libraries throughout the year. The remainder are distributed through book distribution events, which are open to any community or organization that wants to participate.

This year, groups came from as far away as La Libertad, in the northern state of Peten and Rio Blanco near the western city of Quetzaltenango.

Each group is asked to pay a small fee and provide their own transportation for the books. The event kicks off with a four-hour training, which helps familiarize participants with the books they are receiving and provides instruction on cataloging and displaying books and other strategies for making the books more accessible to their patrons.

Book Distribution Day

Participants explore the selection of storybooks included in their packets during the book day orientation.

In a country where books of any kind are hard to come by, an event like this is a joyous occasion. The smiles were big and the enthusiasm contagious as groups pulled up to the warehouse and loaded boxes of books into their vehicles.

Mario Hernandez Orellana, from the small town of Parramos, was beaming when he described how the donation of over 1,500 new storybooks and non-fiction books for the the town’s municipal library would nearly double the size of their collection. “These books will be a great addition to our community,” he said.

“We try to make the day a big event,” said Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel. “It helps reinforce the feeling that these books are a valuable resource and gives participants a sense of excitement to bring them back to share with their communities.”

As the last truck pulled away, members of the Child Aid staff congratulated each other in a nearly empty warehouse after distributing over 28,000 books in just a few hours. But they won’t be able to relax for long. A new shipping container full of books arrives in Guatemala this week.

Slideshow: View more photos from the book distribution event

Categories: News
07/31/2014 8:39 AM | 0 Comments

Libraries Celebrate World Book Day with Community Outreach

Established by UNESCO 1995, World Book and Copyright Day celebrates literacy and commemorates the lives of some of the world’s greatest writers. For the past couple of years, the day has also provided an opportunity for Child Aid’s partner libraries to reach out to their local communities and continue their role as ambassadors of literacy.

The typical Guatemalan library is seen solely as a place for students to do their homework.  Book lending is rare and collections are very limited, so it can be struggle to get parents, younger children and the community at large to see the library as community resource that everyone can use.

To celebrate World Book Day on April 23rd, this year libraries planned and hosted a variety of activities and events that served to educate the public about their services, engage kids and parents, and promote the love of reading.

Child Aid’s library program helps librarians develop vibrant, active libraries that are educational resources centers for their communities. But even when they have created welcoming environments and great programs, many libraries face the challenge of getting the public to visit the library and use their services.

That’s why community outreach and education is an important component of Child Aid’s work with libraries. At the most recent librarian training workshop, held in late April, librarians gathered to discuss a variety of ways they can inform the public about their library’s programs and services. The librarians learned how to use signs, book displays and special activity corners to help orient new visitors and practiced strategies for guiding users to discover all the resources the library has to offer.

“In this workshop we are focusing on ways we can capture the public’s attention,” said Child Aid Library Coordinator Carlos Pos. “So when people walk into the library they immediately see it as an inviting and interesting place to be.”

But sometimes, in order to capture the public’s attention, you have to hit the streets.

So for this year’s World Book Day, libraries found a variety of creative ways to promote themselves in the community. Members of Child Aid’s Library Team attended several of the events and shared some photos and highlights from the day’s activities.

Las Canoas Bajas

The Miguel Angel Asturias library in the town of Las Canoas Bajas celebrated World Book Day for the first time with a book parade through the community. Teachers and students from pre-school to sixth grade walked through the streets carrying books they have read and signs with the names of their books and a small description. While the students walked, the school principal used a loudspeaker to promote the activity, inviting parents and community members to come out and watch the parade.


Students walk through the streets of Las Canoas carrying posters of books they have read.

Agua Escondida

In the town of Agua Escondida, librarian María Olivia Urrea de Holl created a special reading corner on the school playground. The space was used throughout the day by students for independent reading and to hear stories read aloud. Parents were encouraged to visit the school with their younger children during recess to read books and explore the library.


Literacy Trainer Jeremias Morales reads to a group of kids in the Reading Corner set up for World Book Day celebrations.


In preparation for World Book Day activities, students and teachers in Tzanchaj decorated their school’s multi-purpose room with book displays, reading corners, game tables and examples of student writing. Librarian Marcos Elías Tacaxoy Sapalú used the celebration as an opportunity to promote his library’s many services including reading programs, book lending, story hours, a research area, and special activity corners. The day’s activities began with welcoming remarks from the school principal followed by a reading contest. Students from all grade levels selected books from the library to read out loud. A group of judges scored the readings based on fluency and expression. Winners received a diploma and gift for their great participation.


Students and teachers at the Tzanchaj school gather for World Book Day activities.


The Pamezabal Community Library in the town of Santa Lucia Utatlán held daily read aloud sessions throughout the week. School children from around the community were invited to participate and to choose a favorite book to read at home.


The Chicacao library celebrated World Book Day by hosting a storytelling festival in the town park. Children from both urban and rural schools around the area were invited to come and listen to stories. In another area of the park, a “Literary Restaurant” was set up. Library staff dressed as chefs and waiters while the children had the opportunity to explore the “menu” and order books that they wanted to read.


“Chefs” serving up books at Chicacao’s Book Restaurant.


Students perform a skit at Chicacao’s Storytelling Festival in the town’s central park.

Categories: News
05/15/2014 9:37 AM | 1 Comments
Stories From The Field

Interview With District Supervisor Edwin Yaxón

Edwan Yaxón at a meeting of his district leadership team.

Edwan Yaxón at a meeting of his district leadership team.

As the district supervisor for the San Antonio Palopo school district, Edwin Yaxón has a big vision for the future. He hopes that someday soon, every student in his district will have the opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy and learn to read.

It’s a tall order in a rural, impoverished district like San Antonio Palopo, where many students are forced to leave school early to work and help support their families. But in his three years as district supervisor, Yaxón has taken numerous steps to stress the importance of literacy and improve the quality of education in his schools, including developing a growing partnership with Child Aid.

Yaxón first participated in Child Aid’s Reading for Life trainings as teacher and, since becoming district supervisor in 2011, has been one of the program’s strongest advocates. This year, Yaxón took the unprecedented step of inviting Child Aid to bring the Reading for Life program to every primary school in his district and has worked closely with us to ensure its long-term success.

Yaxón spoke to Child Aid recently about his own experiences in the training workshops, the importance of getting school principals involved and his hopes for building a culture of literacy in his schools and community.


When was the first time you worked with Child Aid and what do you remember about that experience?

I participated in Child Aid trainings for two years when I was a sixth grade teacher at the Agua Escondida school, before I became District Supervisor. We worked on various teaching techniques around reading. I liked it very much. I remember very well the techniques we learned like “Asi no es. Como es” (“It’s not like that. How is it?”) and the “Word Wall” because it was the first time we had worked with them. It also helped us quite a bit to learn to read aloud in the classroom and how to make reading a happy and fun time for students. So the trainings were an experience that helped us a lot.

As teachers, I think many times we understand the concepts and techniques for teaching reading but we don’t apply them in the classroom. So the experience of participating in the Child Aid workshops adds a bit of pressure. Because when a colleague is nearby, working alongside you, you are more motivated to do it.

Why did you decide to invite Child Aid to bring the “Reading for Life” program to all the primary schools in your district?

When I became the supervisor, I hired one of our teachers to come work for me as an assistant so he could do work in the field. Because at times, with all the administrative work I have to do, I don’t have time to leave the office. He was the best teacher that we had in Agua Escondida, very diligent and hard-working. He began to work in all of the schools and we proposed a goal that he promote two literacy techniques with every teacher. I was also talking with Child Aid about the possibility that they could help us with materials for all of the schools because at the time they were only working in a couple of our schools.

So in the wake of that experience in 2012, I remember thinking, ‘If Child Aid can work with two schools why can’t they work in the entire district so that all the schools are involved?’ That was at the root of it because we realized that we needed more materials and support. And the teachers needed a bit of a push.

What changes are you making to help implement this program across the entire district?

Although the principals consent to have Reading for Life in their schools, they often do not participate in the workshops, only the teachers. And while Child Aid is working with the teachers, the school principals need be a support for the teachers.

So I’ve put together a leadership team of some of my principals whom I chose because of their qualities and the abilities they have. We are working directly with Child Aid to help prepare the principals to promote literacy in the schools. I am very excited about it and I hope that we come up with many ideas to motivate the rest of the principals.

Soon we will be working a lot with reading in the schools. We are working now on the organization of the books, doing reading activities and competitions, both with the teachers and students, as well as involving the parents.

I feel the work we are doing is already making a difference and motivating teachers. For example, in Xequistel today I saw many teachers planning their reading lessons. And before, they never did any planning. So now the teachers already know what activities they will do, what books to read, what tools to use. This is significant because it is like a seed we are planting now that in five or six years will be sustainable. It is our hope that, for all of the schools in our community, it will bring good results.

What changes do you hope to see in your students and teachers as a result of the ‘Reading for Life’ program?

I hope to see better readers. This is the goal of the Ministry of Education and this is my objective. Right now, I see it in some schools but not all. I see many schools with kids that can’t read. They can read the words but they don’t understand what they are reading.

So I want to come to a point where the district of San Antonio is different from the others in that we have a culture of reading here. Because a student’s routine right now is to read because they have to, not because they like to read. And what I would like is one day for a student to come and say ‘I’ll take this book because I want to read it.’ At a minimum they would read five books a year by their own choice. Not because the teacher asks them to or tells them they have to.

I believe that if a student is a good reader, if they have a good habit of reading, they will always have a hope of being successful. Reading allows a child to develop as a student and expand the scope of his opportunities and continue with his studies, including finishing primary school, continuing to basico [middle school], having a career and becoming a good person in the community.

For the teachers, it is the same idea. I want to see more interest and motivation in teachers. There are good teachers in some, but not all, of the schools. At times, the teacher arrives and says to the students “Take out your books and read page 5 while I sit over here.” This is a different teacher than I want, understand? We want them to read and work with the kids.

There also needs to be an awakening of interest in reading in the teacher. Because if the teacher is a good reader, they will transmit this interest to their students.

What would you say to other district supervisors about your experiences working with Child Aid?

Actually, I was talking about it recently at meeting of district supervisors. I was saying that we have a big vision for our district because Child Aid is working with us. They are helping us strengthen our work and meet the goals and objectives of the Ministry of Education. Often these objectives and goals are only recommendations to directors and their supervisors. The Ministry doesn’t focus well on providing resources. For the supervisors, this is a bit difficult to handle on their own. They need a team, like the one Child Aid has, with a good organization, with techniques that are working in each of the schools and a good foundation established.

I am very grateful to Child Aid, firstly for working with the first schools in our district and now allowing us to work with all of the schools. I think my message for other municipalities and other supervisors is that Child Aid comes to complement the work and the goals of the Ministry of Education. In the times when the Ministry can’t give the support, Child Aid is able to provide the extra push.

Categories: Stories From The Field
04/14/2014 8:28 AM | 1 Comments