Sunday, November 30, 2014


The school year in Guatemala starts in January and finishes at the end of October. Given the timing of my visit I have been fortunate while in San Antonio to attend several graduation celebrations - the culmination of a year of hard work on behalf of the students made possible by donations from Canada. The first celebration Kathy and I attended was for the students graduating from high school. Four of the five graduates and some of their parents were able to attend along with the younger becados (students receiving scholarships from El Centro ICO).

Held in our Casita, the celebration dinner was catered by parents and supporters of the students using the fuel efficient stove in the kitchen (thanks to all who helped to fund the building and the stove - both are being put to good use). The four graduates (Alex, Froilan, Gerardo and Juan José) each stood up and thanked everyone, especially Kathy and their ICO friends in Canada for the opportunity to attend school. One graduate summed up the people of El Centro ICO (both in San Antonio and Canada) beautifully by saying they are like a family to him.

This year El Centre ICO sponsored 16 becados. Sponsoring starts in Basico (grades 7 - 9) and costs $250 for the school year. This money covers the cost of the daily uniform, gym clothes, school supplies plus typing and computer classes. The classes are mandatory but the cost is not covered by the government. School supplies were also provided for an additional 100 students.

Costs rise significantly for grades 10 - 12 to approximately $1200 for the school year. And in their final year, in certain courses they are required to have a suit!  About one third of the funding covers transportation costs as the students must travel to Panajachel which is half an hour away by public pickup.

Brenda is the Centro Director and has been working with all the scholarship students all year long.  Including the group below, where she was also the teacher.

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El Centro ICO's support for school children begins at age 4 with a pre-school program. This year sixteen children attended ICO's pre-school. The program gives them a head start when they enter kindergarten with activities that include Spanish language and manual dexterity. Kachiquel is the main language spoken at home and many parents especially mothers speak little or no Spanish. Kathy and I attended the pre-school graduation that was held in the hall at the Municipal office. During an eloquent speech by the mayor a thunderstorm was brewing outside. After a particularly loud clap of thunder the power went out leaving us in semi-darkness. Hardly a beat was missed and I was struck by the reality that low light or no light is the norm here as many of the students' houses are poorly lit, if at all - a fact that makes homework difficult. A solar powered light was provided to one of the graduating becados to help them complete their homework in this pueblo where the sun sets around 6.

Pre-school children practicing the National Anthem before the ceremony.

 Below, the entire pre-school class as well as the teacher and assistants.

The big day!  The children, all dressed up, will walk up to the stage, seat themselves and wait patiently to receive their 'diplomas',  while adults talk!  And then Kathy and the Mayor handed out the diplomas while 2 scholarship students were in charge of holding the flags.  Then, each child stood between the flags to receive a small gift from the Mayor.

And finally there was cake and a drink for all (however no pictures, it was too dark)!

The day before I left San Antonio Kathy and I sat with Marvin. He is 18 and has completed grade 9. Instead of completing his education he is working to support his younger siblings. He is passionate about painting and is attending free painting classes once a week. He wanted to see examples of Indigenous art from Canada so I searched the internet the night before, something I take for granted but something he is not able to do. In the morning while we sat together talking of art and sources of inspiration I was struck by how important the programs at El Centro ICO are to the children of San Antonio where things like good light to study by and internet access are difficult to come by for many families. 

If you would like to improve the future of a child in San Antonio please consider donating by visiting Donations are tax deductible.

Signing off from San Antonio, Palopo.
Hasta proxima.
Pamela Williams

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