Imagine It from a Child’s Perspective
When your parents are illiterate, learning to read is hard enough. You start school having never been read to. You’ve developed none of the pre-literacy skills that make learning to read part of a natural process, set in motion when you were an infant. You’ve likely never held a book in your life.
If you’re an indigenous child, you face greater challenges. After starting school, you’re expected to learn to read in a language you don’t speak. Your teachers have almost no training in bilingual education. They’re short on books, and those they do have are soulless, drab and written in a language you hardly understand. As you begin to fall further behind in school, you quickly give up. By second grade, you’re just going through the motions. You copy meaningless sentences out of the only book you have because that’s what you’ve been told to do. If your parents have enough money to pay for pencils, paper and other supplies, they’ll keep you in school until sixth grade because it’s the law. You learn the basics, but you never develop true literacy.
Leaving School, Searching for Work
For most children in rural Guatemala, illiteracy is a nearly insurmountable barrier to improving their lives. Lacking critical thinking skills and the ability to read well, most struggle to succeed in school. Once these kids leave school, which usually happens around sixth grade, life gets tougher still. The fortunate ones might land intermittent, subsistence-wage work in a factory or on a farm. Others will work the streets, selling candy or souvenirs to tourists. And many decide to leave their communities to attempt the dangerous and illegal journey north to search for work.
Our literacy program puts children on a different path. We help them learn to read and develop critical thinking skills that allow them to perform better in school, stay in school and improve their abilities to get fair-paying jobs. Our work improves the chances they will continue school past sixth grade and gives them tools that will help them all the way through high school and beyond.