Thursday, June 11, 2009

Project Guatemala

I can't say that everything on this trip has "fallen into my lap", but I have been fortunate to say the least. Arriving in Antigua, I was both excited and anxious. I was excited to be here after hearing so many people rave about it - "how could it possibly live up to the hype?" And, I was anxious because while I was here, I was to find a worthy project for our non-profit's first venture.

Write Around the World's mission is to support schools in areas of extreme poverty, by supplying basic school supplies to those without. I desperately wanted to find the right project, in order to make a meaningful impact, but also ensure a healthy "launch" of WATW. I have some dear friends who have put a lot of time and energy into this, and it was up to me to find a project worthy of their efforts. How was I going to do this?

Rolling into town on May 11th, I did my usual hotel search, or rather a search for a secure parking area with a hotel attached. I only needed something for a couple nights, so that I could look for an apartment to rent for the month. Erin was coming for a 10-day visit, and I was going to enroll in Spanish classes after she left. I found a walled courtyard with a hotel for $17 a night.

The next morning, I woke with one purpose: to find the coffee shop that I had walked by the night before (they roasted their beans) while getting the lay of the land. Found it. While waiting for my "cafe negro con leche aparte" I picked up the magazine on display, the kind that every coffee shop in a tourist town has and always includes a useful map of the town. Now drinking my cafe negro, I came across a short story about an ex-pat that was living here in Antigua and that was busy opening preschools in the Guatemala's rural villages. Reading more, I learned that up to 30% of Guatemalan kids dropout of the first grade, or never even attend, giving the country the highest illiteracy rate in Central America! A title that can't be too easy to achieve, nor desired. The project, Pequenos Esto Listo (we are small but ready) was preparing kids, and parents for the first grade. He had ten schools successfully operating with the goal of doubling over the next ten months. But he needed help. Within 20-minutes I was at an internet cafe to see if we could meet.

Knowing that whatever project we were to get involved with had to have a key figure that was reliable and trustworthy. We would be relying on this person fully, investing in him as much or more than the project itself. Several meetings later, and a couple school site visits, concluded that Fred Zambroski was our guy. We had found our first project.

I have learned a lot since meeting Fred, and visiting the schools. Preparing for first grade doesn't simply mean learning how to count or saying your A,B,C's (eventually it does), but many of these kids have never seen a pencil, let alone hold one. I often heard how when some of the 4-year olds first arrive to school that they don't even know how to play! Put in front of a pile of blocks, they don't always know what to do with them. There are cultural issues at play too. A sad statistic is that very few people here associate reading with pleasure, but instead, always with more work or legal matters - which they are rarely on the winning side of. "Why learn to read if it only brings you more trouble?" Therefore, a big part of Pequenos Pero Listos is training teachers how to read with enthusiasm and with interactive practices, engaging kids in the process.

I can't tell you how excited I am to get this project underway. We have committed to help Fred with his upcoming 12 school expansion. We will supply all the materials needed to open the schools, and then send a box every four months to replenish many of the consumables. We will provide funds to purchase larger, or easily obtained items locally. The local villages must take ownership of the program by providing the facility for the school. Many of the parents or local craftsmen make the shelving, desks, easels, etc.... With our help, Fred can focus on training his teachers, finding sponsors for the schools ($3,300 a year), and working with village elders to get the schools open. Please read more at Lets Be Ready.

How are we going to supply all these materials and ship them down here, when at this writing, we have $325 in the bank? We are going to have fun with it, that's how! On our site, Write Around the World, we have outlined how people can collect items from our Wish List by having a house party or backyard barbeque. Business owners can have office drives where employees, clients or patients bring in needed items - from the store, or from cleaning out their closets. (This can be a great way to reach out and reactivate some of your old clientele.) We will also be importing indigenous handicrafts to be sold at house parties, farmer's markets, and through our own Ebay store (coming soon). If you would like more information, or would like to help please contact me, or one of our board members.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to check out that Wish List now. Maybe we can take it on as our project in our classroom this year. Last year we gathered and delivered items directly to tent city, so I don't know if they would be willing to take on something international...but I'm going to check. Vidette