One of the things that I wanted to do during my trip to Guatemala was to personally meet the kids who will be joining TEN FE in January, 2016. This trip I was meeting Irma (age 9) and Olga (age 7) who are relatives of kids already involved with TEN FE, and Carlos (age 14) from another town (based on the recommendation of Mario Yac). I had no intention of adding a new student mid-year to the TEN FE group of 32, but once I met Alex, I couldn't let an opportunity to work with a dedicated student like him pass TEN FE by.
Please meet Gudiel Alexander Choxin Puac, or otherwise known as Alex. He is an amazing young man (age 18) and I'd like to share a little of his story. He is in the third year of middle school (called Basico in Guatemala), which if you recall is not tuition free anywhere in Guatemala. The cost of one year of Basico, plus a uniform, is approximately $250. It is impressive that Alex is half way through his third year of Basico...something not half of the population in his town has achieved. But it's even more incredible when you know a little bit about what Alex has endured in his 18 years.
Alex grew up in a very poor home. His mother died when he was young, at about the age of 10. Alex has two younger siblings who were approximately 6 and 8 at that time. Soon after, his father remarried. The father worked and the stepmother 'took care' of Alex and his two siblings, but she insisted that they work to earn more money for the family. Alex and his siblings attended grade school in the mornings and would work in the fields in the afternoons. The stepkids were often mistreated and were not fed if they did not earn enough money each day. Alex recalled that on many nights, if they had not earned enough money, the stepmother would not let them enter the house and they would end up sleeping in the streets. When Alex was 12, with some help from neighbors and a few family relatives, he and his younger siblings moved out of the house because they couldn't stand the abuse. Alex, now the oldest in the household, continued to study and work and take care of his younger brother and sister. When Alex finished 6th grade and moved into middle school (Basico), he elected to attend school on the weekends (common in Santiago) so that he could work a full time job Monday through Friday.
For two and a half years now, Alex travels by bus each morning at 5:00 am to go to Guatemala City where he works construction, as an assistant. He finishes work at 6:00 pm and then rides an hour home on the bus back to Santiago. He earns enough money to support himself and his siblings, but he hasn't been able to cover all of the tuition cost at school. Alex told me about the debt that he carries from his school, part of last year's tuition and all of this year's tuition, and how it burdens him. In addition, he was not able to buy a new uniform this year or buy any of the books. He is grateful that the school still allows him to come everyday and study, given his debt of about $275. However, the school clearly stated that they will not give him his diploma when he graduates in October until his debt is paid off. As I was listening to the incredible story of Alex, thinking about his perseverance, motivation and dedication to his siblings, work and his studies, I was touched by his eagerness and excitement to tell me (when I asked) what he wants for his future. When one graduates from Basico in Guatemala, the next step is Diversificado (high school). High school is even more expensive than middle school and because Alex wants to study Graphic Design in high school, he will likely have to go to Guatemala City to find a high school that offers that specialty. As I was curious about his plans for the future, I asked Alex that if he does go to school in Guatemala City next year and continues to work in Guatemala City, if he might consider moving to Guatemala City. His answer was a quick 'no' with the rationale that he will stay in Santiago to take care of his siblings, now 15 and 13.
When I heard Alex's story and visited his house I was amazed by his strength, boldness and tenacity. Before I left, I told Alex that TEN FE would pay off his debt at the school. He had no idea that this would happen. Don Romeo told Alex that he personally would go pay the debt off at the school. Alex, shocked, started to tear up and smiled from ear to ear. This is no exaggeration...in that moment, he straightened up in his chair, asked if we were serious and when he concurred that we were, he smiled, his cheeks turned red, his eyes were watering and you could literally see that the weight that he had been carrying on his shoulders was lifted. He immediately thanked God and us for helping him through a rough time in his life. For a few moments, Alex looked like a content kid...not someone who was stressed about school, siblings, work, debt and where their next meal was coming from. It was a special moment that I wish I could share with everyone reading this story. No 18 year old should have to carry that weight alone.
When I told someone this story in person and showed them the pictures of Alex and his house, they immediately handed me $200 and said to pay for the rest of Alex's tuition for this school year and to buy the books that he needs. TEN FE is thrilled to help and support someone like Alex. Welcome TEN FE student # 33.