On Tuesday, August 6th, Trent and Jen and I (the officers of Guatemala Service Projects) took a boat ride across Lake Atitlan from Panajachel to Santiago Atitlan for the purpose of meeting the director of Colegio Evangélico Alfa y Omega — this is the K-8 school that will be the recipient of our 3rd library — while the rest of the group engaged in a different activity.
It was a beautiful morning for a peaceful ride across the lake. The school had arranged for a boat captain to meet us at the dock. We carried with us a suitcase containing a selection of 76 books to kick off their library, a promise of more to come. Each time we donate a library, our goal is to provide a minimum of 500 books. Because of all the shoes we transported in our luggage this trip, there wasn’t as much room to take books. But, since the library is officially a 2020 project, we plan to take the balance with us when we travel again in March 2020. If you have Spanish-language books to donate to our cause, there is plenty of time. Thank you!
Like many homes and businesses and schools in Guatemala, the school was built into the side of a mountain. There is a steep slant from the road to the director’s office. I was glad that the suitcase had wheels! Their view from the top, however, is exquisite. Any time you have a view of the beautiful Lake Atitlan, you feel like a million bucks!
At that elevation, all three of us were feeling the impact. I would ordinarily not be so bold, but upon reaching the director’s office, I politely asked for a bottled water. Samuel sent someone to a tienda at once. Shortly after the young man returned with refreshments, we were feeling better. Director Samuel arranged chairs in a circle in his office, three for us and then also enough to provide for the student council representatives, our liaison Maritza Ovalle, and a translator that was provided by Maritza and Jose Miguel to help facilitate communication. (My Spanish is getting good enough that I didn’t need it as much as I may have thought, but it was nice to have the reassurance on both sides that our points were being understood.)
Samuel gave us a history and timeline of the school, explaining that the school emphasized a quality education that included Biblical teachings and making that education available to anyone in the community. As a result, they subsidize a large portion of the educational costs for many families, as most are not able to pay. Like many schools, they rely on outside support to meet the needs of the students. I was very touched by the fact that Samuel said that he, himself, was a student of that school and that after receiving his higher education and teaching degree came back there to teach. It goes to show how much he thought of the education he received there, the opportunities that exist for young people with aspirations, and his desire to give back to the community that contributed to his achievements.
The school is larger than I had imagined. We visited in the morning, meaning that the younger children were occupying the classrooms. Like many schools in Guatemala, the younger children attend for the first half of the day and the older children attend in the afternoon. Each classroom was bustling with happy children engaged by smiling teachers. They were brightly decorated. In front of the classrooms were three terraced areas for play and recreation. There were many areas with painted-on activities (like four square, hopscotch, tic-tac-toe, etc.) but no playground equipment.
The school also did not have a library. We, as an organization, were moved to provide both a library and playground equipment after seeing this video:
The video shows the young daughter of Jose Miguel Yllescas Juarez and his wife, Maritza Ovalle, as she “campaigned” for what would be an equivalent to “Student Council”. In the video she talks about how nice it would be to have a library and playground equipment.
Neither of these have been funded yet, but this is the playground equipment we will be providing:
Ironically, she was filmed prior to our consideration of a library at this school, and she ultimately won the position! I think it is amazing to think about how it all turned out. The stars aligned for her! She was present during our visit to her school and loved showing us her 1st grade classroom!
She also enjoyed showing us the classroom that would be converted to a library. She pointed to the floor space where the bookshelves would go, and demonstrated how a student would take off their shoes and place them in a cubby so that they could read in comfort and keep the library clean.
When we were done with our tour, we shook hands and discussed next steps. Upon return to the States, we would send the funds so that a carpenter could begin work on the bookshelves and shoe cubbies. They are also working on sourcing affordable carpet for the library, and we would continue our collection of Spanish-language books. And, once enough funds are raised to cover the cost of the playground equipment, we will send that so that the order can be placed. Well before the time we travel next, in March, the library and playground will be funded. All that will remain is the rest of the books! (These images that follow show the books that were donated so far. Thank you to Mary Uebelacker for acquiring some of these from the Scholastic Book Fair at Nature Hill Intermediate School, and to Corinne Choisy-Madon for the large donation of Spanish books earlier this year. Thank you also to Blair Elementary School in Waukesha, Wisconsin for sharing your resources. Some from each of you made it into the first batch given to Alfa y Omega in Santiago Atitlan.)
At this time, I would like to extend a very heartfelt and deep thanks to Peter Kaes and his family. Peter spent several months as a resident of Ciudad Vieja, near Antigua, and wanted to give back to the community by donating a library which would benefit children and families in that area. Unfortunately, Guatemala Service Projects did not have any contacts in that community. After much thoughtful consideration, Peter agreed to support this library in Santiago Atitlan, and the entire library project for this school was covered by his donation alone. Very generous, and an extremely beneficial gift for the entire school. Thank you Peter and family! Please share our immense joy…