Guatemala: A Personal Reflection 6.1.2014
If one were to ask a young American child what he or she would like to do when older, stereotypic responses would often include law enforcement, fire fighting, and healthcare. However, when some of the children I met in Santiago, Guatemala were asked a similar question, they responded as if they did not understand the question and they could not formulate a response. Though at first I was surprised, I quickly realized why: For them, thinking about the future, let alone choosing a career, was secondary to simply surviving to adulthood. None of the children whom we visited lived in a two-parent household and many were orphaned; they lived day-to-day, surviving on basic corn products and occasional beans with little access to the essentials easily taken for granted in the United States like, proper nutrition, clean water, electricity, and quality healthcare. The utter poverty in which many of these destitute children (and their families) lived was staggering and reminded me of how blessed I have been throughout my life. More importantly, however, what I saw cemented within me a desire to maintain a social responsibility and to remember that there are always individuals who are less fortunate and who are in true need of help.
The situation for the children that I met (and thousands more) in Guatemala may seem bleak. But there is hope—for these children and many others in Guatemala and other third world countries—and that hope rests with education. As is often the case in the U.S.A., education creates opportunities where there were none. With adequate schooling, these poor Guatemalan children can lift themselves out of poverty and achieve a higher standard of living that will satisfy their basic human needs and potentially much more. What is more, with an education and a skills-based job (rather than simply working jobs based on hard, physical labor) they can ensure that their children and future generations will also receive an education, obtain higher paying jobs, and not slip back into the poverty through which their ancestors have endured and suffered. For the poorest of the poor in Guatemala, the hope of education does not necessarily exist or ring true. Although primary education is ‘free’, all elementary students are required to wear school uniforms; though a simple and seemingly inexpensive requirement to most Americans, this uniform represents a kind of glass ceiling for many indigent families who cannot afford that which makes an education accessible for their children. This is where TEN FE brings hope to those children and families who have none. TEN FE buys the school uniforms and school supplies for these students, allowing them to experience school, literacy, and hope for a brighter future. Despite this, however, it still may not be easy for these children because in many parts of Guatemala the schools are packed with students beyond their capacity and each school day lasts only four hours. In the afternoons following school dismissal, there are few constructive activities with which these students can occupy themselves. Given that so many children in Guatemala have lost one or both of their parents, they are often forced to disregard school altogether in order to seek employment and earn enough money to support themselves and their siblings.
These children truly deserve the new and brighter future that is possible through education and TEN FE is striving to transform that possibility into a reality. The time and money that TEN FE has invested into these children (and their families) will allow them to attain the education they desperately need in order to one day lift themselves and their families from debilitating poverty. The transformative impact that this organization is having on the thirty children it currently sponsors is already palpable, but what is even more exciting are the construction plans for 2016 that will feature a grade school/youth community center offering full-length instructional days and after-school programs so that these students, and numerous more, can stay engaged, be safe and continue to grow and learn. Thus, TEN FE is striving to bring the hope of education to all children in Santiago, Guatemala, especially to the poorest of the poor. In such an environment, students will be able to learn more than they currently are and they will be able to take advantage of the time that they previously had no choice but to squander or work in the fields and spend it at the youth community center learning to use computers and speak English, playing organized soccer or getting extra help with homework and school projects. This is indubitably a bold initiative—but I am very confident that this endeavor (The Endeavor for New Futures through Education, TEN FE) will truly lead to brighter futures for these and many other students in Guatemala, a brighter future that they all need and deserve.