Board Members Visit Rural Communities

Members of the Child Aid board climb into the back of a pickup truck for the last leg of their journey to visit schools in the community of Pacanal.

By: John Kin, Child Aid Board Member

Judging by the looks of surprise we got along the way, it’s probably not every day that a couple of pickup trucks filled with Americans comes bumping along through the back roads of Guatemala.

I was traveling with a group of Child Aid board members and supporters to visit four K’iche-speaking communities in a coffee growing region south of Lake Atitlán. The trip was part of our annual board retreat and an opportunity for us to visit and interact with some of the students, teachers and community members who benefit from Child Aid’s programs. We also spent time with the staff who work on the front lines of our literacy program.

To get where we needed to go, we had to use trucks. A washed out road had forced us to take a rough, alternate route that was far too treacherous for our bus. The dusty and bumpy trip was the first of many eye-opening experiences, as we realized the logistical challenges of working in remote areas.

As a board member and long-time Child Aid supporter, I had visited some of these same communities on my last trip to Guatemala two years ago. After hearing about the growth and development of the Reading for Life program since my last visit, I was eager to see for myself how things had changed.

The group talks with a teacher in the town of Pacanal to learn more about his classroom and how he works with students.

Our first stop was the small village of Pacanal. This school had just recently joined the program and had not yet received any books or teacher training from Child Aid. John Van Keppel, the Guatemala National Director, wanted us to see what typical rural classrooms are like before taking to those we’ve worked in for a year to more. “It was important to me that the group gets to see a school that hasn’t had any support,” John told me later, “because this is what the majority of schools in Guatemala are like.”

At Pacanal we met with a teacher who told us about his daily routine and showed us the handful of math and reading books he had for his many students. I was particularly struck by the stack of cards he had made out of paper to teach the sounds of letters. The teacher was obviously doing his best but had few resources to work with.

In visiting other schools we observed several teachers using materials they received and techniques they learned in Child Aid trainings. You could see a real difference in the confidence level of the teachers and their engagement and interaction with the students. A classroom in Las Canoas, with a teacher now in her third year of trainings, was filled with the joyful sound of students working together in small groups, eagerly drawing pictures, playing word games and reading a book aloud with their teacher.

Some boys from the village of Xojolá.

Another exciting stop for me was the town of Xojolá, where we visited a bright new community library that Child Aid helped build last year. The first time I visited here, the library was operating out of a small converted building that barely had enough room to hold the books. The new space featured wide open spaces for kids to work, read and interact. The whole town gathered to show off the library to our group and honored us with a traditional Guatemalan meal prepared by the community and served at a long table in the middle of the library.

It was a pleasure for me to reconnect and spend time with the Guatemalan staff who work in the villages every day. It’s their dedication and enthusiasm that is at heart of the success of the programs.

“The staff was excited to meet the board members and share what they have learned and done,” said Child Aid’s Guatemala Operations Coordinator Maritza López. “They are proud of the work they are doing with Child Aid and feel they are doing something positive for Guatemala.”

Click here to see the Slideshow.

Categories: News, Supporters In Action
03/27/2013 10:37 AM

Librarians Learn New Techniques to Engage Kids in Reading

Last week we kicked off the first of our nine librarian trainings for 2013. Over 40 librarians from 32 libraries throughout central Guatemala participated.

During the training, the librarians were very eager to brainstorm ideas with each other on learning activities and ways to make their libraries even better. The librarians showed a lot of enthusiasm for make reading in the libraries easier and more engaging for the kids.

A goal of our trainings is to share teaching techniques that can help motivate students to learn (and love) to read. Jeremías Morales Coroxón is one of our Reading Promoters who leads the library training curriculum. One method of reading promotion that Jeremías teaches is called Rincones Especiales (literally ‘Special Corners’ in English). This involves librarians creating separate spaces for interactive reading, writing, and educational games in their libraries, giving children the opportunity to participate in a wide array of dynamic group activities.

Child Aid Reading Promoter, Jeremías Morales Coroxón, works with librarians on a reading activity to use in their Rincones Especiales.

Rincones Especiales is great because it allows librarians to work with different kids – even several groups at once,” said Jeremías. “Tools such as these help librarians more effectively teach children of various ages and abilities. For example, using Rincones Especiales, a librarian can read a story aloud, using the techniques learned from training workshops, and engage the students in activities centered around the story.”

As our librarians progress through the workshop series, they will have the opportunity to build their skills in order to engage and motivate more children from their villages to take part in library reading programs.

Categories: News
02/22/2013 1:45 PM | 0 Comments

Local Police Called In (To Help Children Learn to Read!)

Hundreds of children participated in small groups during Adventures in Reading in Tzumpango’s community library.

When librarian Ivonne Barrientos woke up one morning last week, she was looking forward to a big day. But she didn’t realize just how big it would be. For the past month, Ivonne had been busy coordinating and promoting her library’s new school break program, Adventures in Reading, in the Kaqchikel-speaking village of Tzumpango, Guatemala.

For children from rural highland communities like Tzumpango, there aren’t many opportunities to keep busy during the school vacation months. Ivonne took the initiative, thanks to her Child Aid-led training, and arranged for her library to host Adventures in Reading for some 100 children.

Families stood by as children enter the library to participate in Adventures in Reading.

Ivonne thought that the first day would go smoothly and as planned – but she was in for a big surprise. While she was setting-up, she heard voices outside the library. She opened the door, and was speechless. Outside waiting was a crowd of not 100 kids, but over 600! Most children were from Tzumpango, but many were from nearby villages. They had heard about a free school break reading program for children and the news spread like wildfire.

Ivonne wanted to make sure all the children could actively participate, so she called Child Aid’s library coordinator, Carlos Pos Ben, who was already en route, and let him know what was happening. Carlos, equally surprised by the number of children, suggested some activities that utilized small groups to help focus and engage their participation.

Ivonne liked the idea, but she knew she couldn’t physically manage the number of children by herself. She then put in a call in to the mayor of Tzumpango with the news and asked him for ideas. To Ivonne’s surprise, he responded by sending local traffic police to help her organize the program’s activities!

Police offered literacy support during Adventures in Reading group activities.

Child Aid staff did a brief pre-meeting and training with Ivonne and the police. Despite initial fears that the police might scare or intimidate the children, the police presence actually helped build bridges of trust between the children, their families and the community.

Tzumpango’s story is yet another example of how Child Aid programs like Adventures in Reading continue to grow in depth and scope. It was a challenge to work with so many children, but with focused activities and enough manpower, the program succeeded in having children further their reading skills.

Thanks to Ivonne, Child Aid staff and local authorities in Tzumpango, an entire community was able to come together for literacy.

Categories: News
12/18/2012 10:46 AM

New Library Opens in Xojolá

Xojolá library committee and Child Aid staff standing in front of the library’s entrance.

Back in October, we announced the completion of a new library in the remote village of Xojolá, Guatemala. The project was completed thanks to funds provided by our partner organization, Miracles in Action. With the new facility, the Xojolá library can now host reading programs for more than 110 children a day. The original building could only accommodate about 12 children at any given time.

Last week Dr. John van Keppel, Child Aid’s National Director in Guatemala, had the pleasure of attending the library’s official inauguration with members of our literacy team.

Xojolá library’s welcome sign and Word Wall, used to highlight and learn new words during the Adventures in Reading program.

In typical Guatemalan fashion, the library inauguration quickly turned into a celebration for the entire community. Speeches and words of gratitude were given by various dignitaries, such as the local school director, the mayor and Child Aid staff. Even the library committee’s president offered a short presentation on where library support came from, and how it truly has been a joint effort – funds from Miracles in Action, land from the mayor, desks from the coffee cooperative, new books from Child Aid and infinite donations of time and resources from the community.

“The community is very proud of their accomplishment and extremely grateful for the funds from Miracles in Action and the assistance from Child Aid,” stated John. van Keppel. “This inauguration was a great opportunity for the community to see how, by working together, people can really make their dreams happen.”

Children from Xojolá who are anxious to try out the new library.

Not only were adults present at the inauguration, but many children as well. They wanted to share their gratitude and excitement for the new library by offering traditional dancing and other artistic performances to the public. Children who had been participating in Adventures in Reading showcased their newly learned reading skills by reciting poems and re-enacting storybooks.

We would like to extend our gratitude to our friends and supporters who helped make the library project successful. “Besides providing a library, the project has instilled a greater sense of confidence in the community,” said John van Keppel. “It has become a model for various sectors to work together and has given the community hope that their children’s futures will be better.”

Categories: News
12/18/2012 10:45 AM | 0 Comments

Student Teachers Bring Books, Inspiration to Remote Villages

Following a year of training, these indigenous student teachers will head to their home villages to start reading programs and promote literacy.

Thirty student teachers are leaving Guatemala City today – children’s books in tow – heading to their remote home towns and villages throughout Guatemala. The students are participants in Child Aid’s Reading for Life program and will lead a six-week reading program for children in their home communities.

“We’ve been working with these young teachers-to-be for a year now,” says Child Aid’s Country Director, John van Keppel, “and they’re excited to apply their new skills as reading promoters in their home towns.”

As part of Child Aid’s student teacher program, Literacy Trainer Norma Guzmán works with young indigenous women in San Andres, Guatemala.

Child Aid is currently training more than 240 young men and women, all of them indigenous Mayas, to teach and promote reading in rural areas. These students come from some of Guatemala’s poorest communities, where struggle and hardship are the norm. One student, a young man named Andres Rolando Choc, will be returning to Panzós, an indigenous town in the department of Alta Verapaz. Panzós was deeply affected by Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which ended only 16 years ago, and was the site of one of the country’s most brutal massacres during the war. Life there is difficult, jobs are few, and most children drop out of school early. Even today, books in Panzós are rare.

Andres will bring 50 children’s books home with him and will lead Child Aid’s Adventures in Reading program during Guatemala’s three-month school break, which just began. Through the program, Andres will work with local children who have little access to reading materials. His goal is to introduce them to storybooks and the joy of reading. By lighting that spark of interest in them, encouraging them to read and providing them books, he will improve the odds that they’ll become readers at an early age. That’s particularly important to Andres, who will soon become a certified teacher.

“I went to school with no books,” says Andres, “and I want kids in my town to learn about them while they’re little. These books are colorful and full of stories, which will be exciting for them.”

If he returns to a village where kids are excited by books, have been read to as children, and have access to books, his job, as a teacher, will be a lot easier.

Categories: News
11/7/2012 10:02 AM | 0 Comments

Village Gets a New Library in Guatemala

Inauguration of Xojolá’s new library (left) is planned for November 28th. The new library sits adjacent to the old library, at right.

We just received exiting news from Guatemala. Construction is complete on the new library in Xojolá, a remote K’iché Mayan village southwest of Lake Atitlán. The new library will serve as a hub for learning and literacy for hundreds of children in Xojolá and surrounding villages. For these tiny communities, the facility is a major step forward in the local effort to improve educational opportunity for children.

Xojolá’s first library quickly became too small.

Two years ago, Xojolá didn’t even have a library. Books were rare, and teachers found it nearly impossible to teach reading. In late 2010, we partnered with Xojolá and launched our Reading for Life program in the village. We helped the community create its first library, converting an abandoned building on the little plaza into a new space with books, bookshelves, tables, chairs and a chalkboard. Through our work in the local school, we encouraged teachers to bring their students to the library, and we set up a program to get boxes of storybooks from the library into the school on a rotating basis. The library became so popular that a larger space was needed within a year.

In June of this year, we partnered with Miracles in Action to construct an entirely new library. The building was just completed. The new structure, which is more than double the size of the old building, will accommodate more books, more tables and chairs, and well over twice the number of children. The inauguration of the library is planned for November 28th. We’re all very excited!

Midway through construction of Xojolá’s new library.

Big thanks to Miracles in Action and to all of our supporters. Together we’re making an incredible difference in these communities. We’ll post more photos as we help the community furnish the building and following the inauguration on November 28th. That will be a festive day in Xojolá!

Categories: News
10/16/2012 3:44 PM

Over 50,000 Children’s Books Arrive in Guatemala

Today, a grand total of 50,737 children’s books arrived at Child Aid’s book warehouse, near Chimaltenango, Guatemala. And it wasn’t easy getting them there!

Navigating the dirt roads on the way to Child Aid’s book storage facility.

After shipping them down from the United States, we had to get them through customs in Guatemala, onto the semi-truck and up the steep western slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains. The semi made it all the way to the entrance to our bodega, but couldn’t get down the dirt road that leads through the coffee plantation to our storage facility. So our staff and volunteers had to transfer all 50,000 books into the back of a pick-up (it took several loads) to get them to the bodega.

After unloading all the books, the staff began the initial sorting process, breaking the books up by reading level and sorting them by fiction and nonfiction, textbooks, etc. Later, we will create packets of books according to each community’s needs and distribute them to dozens of villages throughout Guatemala.

Lack of children’s books is a major contributor to Guatemala’s high rates of illiteracy. Most indigenous children have never even put their hands on a book by the time they start school. And the vast majority of classrooms in rural Guatemala are empty of textbooks. We deliver these books to remote, neglected classrooms and libraries, then work closely with teachers and librarians to help them use the books in our Reading for Life literacy program.

Our deepest thanks go out to our partner, International Book Project, which donated these books to be used in conjunction with our literacy program in Guatemala. And thanks to all of our supporters – each and every one of you helped make this possible!

Child Aid staff and volunteers had to transfer the books to a pickup for the last stretch of road to our distribution warehouse.

Unloading books.

Let the sorting begin!

Child Aid staff and volunteers in front of our latest shipment of books to Guatemala. Next step: getting them into the hands of children!

Categories: News
10/12/2012 2:24 PM | 1 Comments

The Music of Opportunity

Children in El Tejar, Guatemala, perform a guitar recital as part of a unique music program operated by FUNDIT, a local Child Aid partner.

This month, ten teenage musicians from a small town in Guatemala will have the opportunity of a lifetime. They will board a plane and fly to North Carolina to perform at the 35th annual Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF), in the town of Black Mountain.

For the Guatemalan teens, who are rarely able to leave their community of El Tejar, let alone Guatemala, this is a chance to see the world. It’s also an opportunity to meet kids their age from another country and to apply what they’ve learned through a unique Child Aid-backed music program.

Since 1998, Child Aid has partnered with a small Guatemalan nonprofit called FUNDIT, which operates a community- wide educational program in the brick-making town of El Tejar. Child Aid and its funders provide scholarships, reading programs, a community library and training for local teachers. Thanks to generous funding and involvement from LEAF, combined with support from our longtime supporter PEG Partners, we also provide a unique music program for local youth.

“For children growing up in extreme poverty,” says Sam Hendricks, Child Aid’s Executive Director, “learning a musical instrument not only builds confidence and enhances learning, it brings joy to lives that are defined by struggle. Thanks to LEAF, we’re helping kids build self-esteem and critical life skills through music.”

LEAF partnered with Child Aid in 2010, and has since funded the expansion and improvement of the music program in El Tejar. PEG Partners has been a Child Aid partner since 2006. We feel very fortunate to be working with such committed partners!

Categories: News
10/11/2012 1:32 PM | 0 Comments

World Teachers Day: Creating Better Teachers

If there’s one thing World Teachers’ Day highlights in 2012, it’s the need for more primary school teachers if the planet is to achieve Education for All. According to the United Nations, “new figures indicate that two million new teaching positions will be needed in order to meet the goal of universal primary education by 2015.

True. But it’s not just quantity. It’s quality.

Take Guatemala. Throughout the country, especially in indigenous communities, most teachers lack the necessary training to create true literacy among children. Adding more teachers to the equation would certainly cut the student-teacher ratio, but it would do little to improve the situation: Guatemala has the highest illiteracy rate in all of Latin America, and most indigenous children fail to develop the reading and critical thinking skills they need in order to get a decent job, or continue with school beyond sixth grade.

“More and more kids are making it to sixth grade because it’s now the law in Guatemala,” says Child Aid’s Country Director, John van Keppel, “but they leave without knowing how to read well. Then they can’t get any kind of work beyond menial, seasonal, underpaid work that barely puts food on the table. And few indigenous kids continue to seventh grade.”

To improve the odds that children will learn to read well, become truly literate, Child Aid focuses on training. We work with hundreds of teachers in over 50 villages throughout the indigenous Central Highlands, helping them become qualified, confident, engaging teachers.

“It’s not just a teacher shortage that’s the problem,” says Sam Hendricks, Child Aid’s Executive Director, “It’s the lack of training, books and resources.”

Teachers in Guatemala, Hendricks says, get frustrated when it comes to teaching reading. Most start school with only the equivalent of a high school diploma, and few have any practical know-how of ways to engage children in books. “After working with Child Aid,” he says, “Teachers are finally able to get their students reading – and reading with enthusiasm. The teachers themselves are thrilled to learn skills that actually get results.”

Child Aid’s Reading for Life program focuses on training – in addition to book delivery and library programs – because it empowers local people to affect long term change in their own communities. Training teachers addresses illiteracy at its root – inside the village classroom.

“We’d certainly like to see more teachers in the this world,” Hendricks says, “But that’s not our mission. Our goal is to turn all those dedicated teachers that are already out there, struggling to teach in remote, forgotten villages, into better teachers. By helping them succeed, and by giving them the materials and resources they need, we improve educational opportunity for thousands of children.”

Categories: News
10/5/2012 11:43 AM | 0 Comments

Education Counts

The United Nations estimates that one extra year of schooling increases an individual’s earnings by up to 10%. In Guatemala, experts place that number closer to 13%.

Categories: News
09/19/2012 9:16 AM | 0 Comments