I am now in Guatemala
I came to Guatemala to serve on behalf of the Rotary Foundation as a Cadre to review and report about three global grant projects. I have been here almost two weeks and have traveled extensively from Guatemala City to various small towns and villages in the western highlands where several schools are being served by the Rotary projects.
The first two days involved meetings with Rotarians from two clubs in Guatemala City as well as with representatives of a non-profit organization that provides leadership and essential project services. I am bound by Rotary Foundation rules to maintain confidentiality about the individuals and Rotary clubs involved. Nevertheless, I can say that each of the projects is serving several schools encompassing students ages 5 to 14.
The projects include components to: 1) revamp elementary school reading instruction in escuelas primaras and 2) subject instruction in mathematics, natural science, social science and Spanish language for grades 7-9 in escuelas basicas. The third component provides computer equipment, furniture, and ventilation equipment to establish computer instructional labs for the older students. Approximately 60% progress from the primaria to the basica.
Some boys leave school to work in the fields or perform heavy labor around a community. Girls may be relegated to house hold chores because some fathers believe they have no other future prospects than to marry in their early teens and move out. Many of the students are of indigenous heritage and come to school speaking a first language other than Spanish. They come from the lowest economic level and have little that North Americans take for granted.
Most wear their only school uniform that is either hand-washed that day after class or re-worn repeatedly during the week until the next washing. Several children were dressed instead in old, torn clothes that were likely purchased at used clothes stores that get their supply from American donation receivers such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Many children eat only tortillas and beans for breakfast and walk a few kilometers alone to get to school leaving home at about 6:30 a.m.
Students in the classes have been universally respectful as they often are trained to great visitors entering the classrooms with a ""Buenos dias"" and maybe a short song that they address to all visitors. Many would try an English phrase such as "Hi", "Hello", or "Good Morning." They were always curious since foreigners are a rarity in the isolated locations far from the tourist track.
Traveling across along the Pan American Highway and the various secondary roads, I was accompanied by a representative of the non-profit who guided me to the various school sites in locations that no tourist ever visits. At every school we were graciously received by school Directores (Principals) and maestros (teachers) who can barely earn a living on their school salary and must work at other jobs as well to support their families. Classrooms rarely had more than old, bruised student desks and a chalk or white board.
My job includes interviewing teachers, principals, parents and students to formulate a picture of the school conditions and how the Rotary project components are being implemented. I also take many photos and gather copies of relevant documents.
The non-profit provides teacher training for each of the components and I accordingly collect copies of training agendas and curricula. I check purchase verifications against expenditure statements and review inventories doing spot checks among random selection of computers and books. Key questions include how has student learning changed and how were teachers instructing differently due to the new training, materials and equipment.
I also review security arrangements to protect the computers where all the labs had movement sensors, alarm sirens, bars on windows, secondary steel doors, and campus night watchmen. As of this writing, I have a few more schools to visit and one remaining Rotary Club to visit. At the clubs, I address the general assembly about who I am, what the Rotary Foundation desires me to do and how my visit and the report I will prepare and submit is intended to assure that the dollars donated by Rotarians around the world are spent wisely.
As I was walking through the central plaza in Antigua, suddenly, a bell rang and a large group of young people began petting each other with egg shells stuffed with confetti and flour or talcum powder. Most of the park visitors backed up quickly and watched, mostly with surprised and amazed expressions. Those I asked didn't know exactly why the group staged the 'fight'. It all seemed to be in fun, and one witness thought maybe it was a late carnival celebration. (Carnival ended last week on Ash Wednesday.)
It appeared that many of the participants were not Guatemalans, resembling more North Americans. After it was over, the participants took group pictures, and then left. No one remained behind to clean up the park that now was covered in the white dust, little pieces of paper and egg shells everywhere. (Ugly Americans?) This is an ironic contrast to traditional Catholic processions through the streets every Sunday during lent.
As a last item, the local buses are noteworthy in that most of them are former American school buses. Many are Blue Bird brand, common among public US school districts, which were sold, and then later acquired by Guatemalans who travel north to purchase them. The new owners then drive them south through Mexico to towns across this country. After arrival, they are put to work, still school bus yellow, with only the name of the former school district painted over. Then, little by little, they are renovated and repainted in a wide variety of colors according to the individual driver's vision. Many have bumpers and grills chromed and add personal slogans or Biblical verses. The drivers skillfully maneuver them through narrow streets, around tight corners, tooting their horns to alert waiting passengers along the side of the road. I understand that recently, a documentary film was produced about the lives of these buses, their drivers and their intimate relationship with the Guatemalan people.
In a couple of days, I will finish my visit and head back south to Panama where I intend to take a few days to visit the canal and the old Panama City before continuing back to Ecuador and Bahia de Caraquez where I will complete the three reports about the projects for the Rotary Foundation.
PS I have included some pictures of Guatamalan pancakes...very delicious!