Today is the International Day of the Girl and to celebrate, this issue of our blog will be focused on the young women of Guatemala. Admittedly, Guatemala still retains a high level of “machismo” and young women (especially indigenous women) still lag behind the young men in terms of cultural role expectations, access to education and social equality. But that is changing!
More and more in the schools we work with we see an increasing balance between the number of boys and girls who are completing sixth grade. In our own Avivara Scholarship program we are seeing an equal number of young women as young men go on to study at the secondary and university level.
In fact, next year we will be granting university scholarships to the following young women to pursue their studies in:
Luz Elidia, Accounting
Lidia Esther, Hotel Administration
Lesli Karina, Medical School
Dulce Maria, Counseling/Psychology
Ana Carolina, Dental Hygiene
Erica Jimena, Clinical Psychology
Miriam Areceli, Teacher (Biology)
These young women represent the future of Guatemala and are expanding the role expectations for the young girls in their villages. Thank you to our donors who have helped to fund their education.
If you would like to help us continue this kind of support for the young women of Guatemala, please visit the donate page on our website. Your contribution will help us make a difference in their lives and impact the future of the other young girls in their villages.
In honor of all young women around the world seeking to expand their opportunities and fighting against injustice:
Whether it is Tevye asking Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof” or The Contours asking the same question since 1962, we all like to have it confirmed that we are loved.
So this is a special request going out to all you late-night listeners in FM radioland (and social media.) If you have “loved” Avivara over the last several years, we are asking that you write a review of our organization on the Great NonProfits website. If we receive 10 or more positive reviews (a 4 or a 5) before the end of October, Avivara will be ranked as one of 2013′s top-rated nonprofits. We promise it won’t take long (5-8 minutes.) There are already 25 reviews on the site which will give you some ideas on what you could write.
By doing this small and simple task, you will be helping us to further establish our reputation as a “Great Nonprofit” and enhance our ability to serve more children and teachers here in Guatemala.
Achieving universal primary education was one of eight international development goals that were officially established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. All 189 United Nations member states (including Guatemala) agreed to achieve these goals by the year 2015.
However, as we come closer to the established date for achieving those goals, the reality is that Guatemala has fallen far short in complying with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) drawn up by the U.N.
According to the Coordination of NGO and Cooperatives (CONGCOOP), 53 per cent of Guatemala’s population suffers from poverty and almost three million suffer daily hunger, with half of the children under the age of five being malnourished.
74.5 per cent of the economically active population in Guatemala is underemployed. And while 85 per cent of school age children have access to primary education, less than a third go on to attend schooling beyond 6th grade. (Note: that percentage is even much lower in the rural areas where Avivara focuses most of its efforts.)
“Guatemala will arrive at the United Nations General Assembly as an embarrassed and humiliated country,” Helmer Velásquez, Executive Director of the Coordinate told the national Guatemalan newspaper La Prensa. “Contrary to the goal of reducing poverty, in Guatemala it has increased, while health care coverage decreased from 95 per cent during the previous government (2008-2012) to 40 per cent under the current administration.”
In his opinion, Velásquez felt there was no improvement on the goals because there were no investments in the population, something which could be solved if the government would increase the tax burden and invest in education and healthcare. He also felt that Guatemala should sign the Post-2015 Development Goals, but recommended that the Government generate processes to redistribute wealth that would boost economic and social progress.
It may be however, that the recommendations of Velasquez will fall on deaf ears since Guatemala was one of only four states in the Western Hemisphere (along with Cuba, Guyana and French Guyana) that chose not to participate in the recent Post 2015 Development Goals Learning Metrics Development Task Force.
None of this comes as any surprise to us. In our end of the year evaluations that we ask teachers to submit to us, one of the primary complaints has been the lack of resources (not) provided by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education to the rural schools.
So this is where Avivara’s support becomes so essential. Without our provision of teacher materials, textbooks, and student supplies (which we can only purchase because of the generosity of our donors) many teachers in the rural areas become discouraged and end up only putting in time in their classrooms, and thus failing to provide their students with a quality education.
Finally, we are like David vs. Goliath; a very small (but well-organized) entity trying to fight against the larger forces of corruption, disorganization and lack of political will within the Guatemalan government. But basically, WE NEED MORE ROCKS!
From now until the end of December, we are conducting our annual fall appeal. With your help, but only with your help, will we be able to continue our support for the teachers and students in the rural village schools, and also expand the number of scholarships we will be able to offer students wishing to continue their education beyond 6th grade.
Our goal is to raise $42,000 over the next three months. Please, don’t be like the Guatemalan government and turn your back on the children of Guatemala. They and their teachers need your support and encouragement.
Please go to the DONATE page on our website for more information on the different ways to make a tax-deductible contribution, or if you would like to donate today using your credit card, simply click on the button below. It will take you directly to our secure donate online page on our website.
We are all familiar with the characters of Scrooge, Midas, and other famous miserly rich people. But, does becoming more wealthy actually make you mean?
According to Forbes Magazine, Montgomery Burns (from the TV series, The Simpsons) is one of the richest fictional characters with a fortune of $8.4 billion. He owns the Springfield Nuclear Plant in Springfield and has developed several ventures in energy trade, casinos and hotel resorts.
Burns has made his fortune due to his greedy (and often evil) business strategies. His unethical way of treating employees and customers has allowed him to gain millions and increase corporate profits. (Does this remind you of any other CEO’s or corporations?)
But really, does having more money make you a meaner person?
In a very interesting set of studies on economic inequality recently published by researchers at the University of California/Berkeley, it was found that those with greater wealth were more likely to break the law, cheat in games, encourage stealing at work, take extra portions from a bowl of candies to be given to poor children, feel entitled to winning, and attribute their success to their own personal talents even when they knew that a situation had been “rigged” to benefit them and ensure their success.
The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All
But beyond just personal behavior, wealth inequality has a broader social context and cost. In a recent position paper entitled The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt Us All released by OXFAM in January, 2013, it was noted that extreme wealth and inequality are reaching levels never seen before in human history, and are getting worse.
This report goes on to state, “The IMF has said that inequality is dangerous and divisive and could lead to civil unrest. A growing chorus of voices is pointing to the fact that whilst a certain level of inequality may benefit growth by rewarding risk takers and innovation, the levels of inequality now being seen are in fact economically damaging and inefficient.”
There is additional concern that extreme wealth inequality leads to environmental destruction. As the world is rapidly entering a new and unprecedented age of scarcity and climate volatility, extreme inequality is increasingly environmentally unaffordable and destructive. The World Bank has shown that countries with more equal distribution of land are more income equitable, more energy efficient, and better able to reduce carbon emissions. Those people in the top 1% have been estimated to have carbon footprints as much as 10,000 times greater than the average US citizen. (Editor’s note: Since the average US citizen has a carbon footprint 24 times that of the average Guatemalan, that means that the very wealthy have a carbon footprint 240,000 times greater than the average Guatemalan!) Increasing scarcity of resources like land and water mean that assets being monopolized by the few cannot continue if we are to have a sustainable future. Poverty reduction in the face of extreme wealth will become harder as resources become more scarce. More equal societies are better able to cope with disasters and extreme weather events.
A recent video posted by the organization Upworthy gives a very graphic picture of how the richest 300 people in the world control more combined wealth than the bottom 3 billion, and how the current rules of international trade and finance are actually increasing wealth inequality between the richest and poorest countries in the world. This short (2:56), and very interesting video, There’s Around 223 Trillion Dollars in the World – Here’s Who Owns Most Of It explains in a clear graphic formats the extent of global economic inequality and why it is increasing.
There is also a spiritual aspect to this situation:
“Nowadays, we are confronted by a huge gap between rich and poor. This is not only morally wrong, but practically a mistake. It leads to the rich living in anxiety and the poor living in frustration, which has the potential to lead to more violence. We must work to reduce this gap whenever possible. It is truly unfair that some people have so much while others go hungry.” – The Dalai Lama
Getting back to being mean…Maybe it’s the weather?
Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic Stock
A new study by researchers at Iowa State University and reported in National Geographic News suggests that global warming could make the world a more violent place, because higher temperatures increase human aggression and create volatile situations. Other research has shown that elevated ambient temperatures lead to increased brain temperatures resulting in cognitive dysfunction, emotional stress, and aggression, and to higher levels of violent crime.
In addition, changes in weather patterns triggered by global warming could lead to increased poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition—all of which are risk factors for the development of aggression in violence-prone individuals. Global warming could also precipitate violence by increasing “eco migration,” or migration forced by some cataclysmic environmental event. Displacement and migration of people across borders can potentially lead to a lot more human conflict. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many people from New Orleans moved to Houston. Shortly afterward, Houston saw a spike in the number of homicides, which officials mostly attribute to clashes between displaced New Orleans gangs and Houston gangs.
All is not hopeless, however.
It seems that evolution does not favor selfish people, according to new research from Nature Communications. Using computer modeling and Game Theory strategies, the study found that “being mean can give you an advantage on a short timescale but certainly not in the long run – you would go extinct.” These latest findings contradict previous studies where it was found that selfish people could get ahead of more cooperative partners, which would in turn create a world full of selfish beings. Prof Andrew Coleman of Leicester University, UK, said this new work “puts a brake on over-zealous interpretations” of the previous strategy, which proposed that manipulative, selfish strategies would evolve over more cooperative strategies.
What do you think? Give us your feedback below:
We at Avivara are fortunate to be connected with many individuals and organizations working to diminish inequality and poverty in the world. A sincere thank you to our donors, and a heartfelt “Gracias” to the teachers we work with in Guatemala. Like Nelson Mandela, we believe:
“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”
“We were running from the army, this woman was carrying her son, she was holding him in her arms. A bullet hit her in the back, it came out through her stomach and went through her baby. She died there with her son in her arms. They died together.
The same thing happened to me, except the difference was that I had my baby on my back. I felt the impact of the bullet, but felt no pain. I touched my back and it was wet. When I looked at my hand, it was covered with blood. I kept waiting to collapse, but I didn’t. I kept running, running from the soldiers shooting at us. It wasn’t until later, after we had hidden from the soldiers, I discovered my baby had taken that bullet. I am alive only because my baby died on my back. I am always remembering this sadness.” (Testimony by Dona Eugenia, Tzalbal massacre survivor, in Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala by Victoria Sanford, 2003.)
General Ríos Montt, the ex-president of Guatemala, was found guilty on May 10 of overseeing the killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil indigenous population during his rule in 1982 and 1983. The court heard wrenching accounts from survivors of the Army’s scorched-earth policy in the Mayan highlands. Montt was sentenced by the court to 80 years in prison. However, just several days later, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ordered that all trial proceedings since April 19 be disregarded because a procedural decision by a judge on the trial court sent the case into disarray.
Now the case’s future is in doubt. Lawyers on both sides said the entire trial may have to be repeated. Guatemala’s judicial system is known for excessive appeals that can prolong the process indefinitely. General Ríos Montt’s lawyers have filed many appeals already. Some experts fear that the Constitutional Court will let the case end on a technicality rather than allow it to reach a fair and decisive conclusion on the merits.
Even if the case goes forward, there are obstacles. Some witnesses have been threatened and will need to be protected so they can testify again. Any retrial may be handled by another judge who doesn’t have the reputation for toughness and integrity as the one who delivered the conviction. Then there is the influence of President Otto Pérez Molina and the powerful business federation (CACAF). Both have made clear their opposition to the genocide verdict. (Excepted from the NY Times editorial, Justice Interrupted in Guatemala, May 22, 2013.)
How does all this effect Guatemala?
When we ask our Guatemalan neighbors, co-teachers, and friends about the trial, almost always the answer is “It’s controversial.” or “It’s complex.” Further discussion leads us to perceive that while there is less fear of the government and its “orejas” (spies) now than there was during the war, there is still a hesitancy to talk too openly about what happened, since people who were involved in “La Violencia” are still in power and clearly don’t want that part of Guatemalan history re-opened to the truth of what happened.
For one of the best brief analyses written about the trial, the history behind it, and the meaning it has for many Guatemalans, we highly recommend the recent article in the May/June edition of the Antigua magazine, La Cuadra, Efrain Rios Montt: A Trial in Context, by Victor Ruiz. For those wishing an even more in-depth of the issues brought up during the trial, we recommend the book, Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala by Victoria Sanford (2003).
How does this relate to the work of Avivara?
Several of our scholarship recipients are from families whose village was massacred in the early 80′s and were forced to flee into the mountains and eventually escape into Mexico, where they were in exile for nearly 15 years. The parents of these scholarship recipients have recounted to us their stories of fear, escape, struggling to survive in the mountains, living in Mexican refugee camps, and eventually re-locating to Guatemala after the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords. In addition, several of the villages where we support schools also have histories of repression and violence during the Guatemalan civil war.
Where were you in 82?
As for me (Gary Teale, Executive Director of Avivara), I remember the early 1980′s as being a time when I had just bought my first home, had successfully established a small business making sheepskin coats, and was generally enjoying life after a somewhat tumultuous period of personal radicalism (Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, Radical Feminism, and Native American fishing rights protests) during the late 60′s and early 70′s. However, by the 1980′s and engaged in pursuing a typical middle-class U.S. lifestyle, I was basically “sleepwalking” through the Reagan years, and completely unaware of what was happening with our U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. In hindsight I now am painfully aware that the U.S. government was also complicit in the massacres of the indigenous people of Guatemala. It helped train the killers. It helped provide the bullets, guns and helicopters that allowed the Guatemalan army to massacre 626 villages and leave more than 200,000 people dead or disappeared.
First, many of the people (Montt, along with many of his other generals and colonels) who carried out the genocidal acts described in the trial had been trained in counter-insurgency tactics in the U.S. run School of the Americas.
Second, a “secret” declassified CIA document from February, 1982 states that the Guatemalan army reinforced its existing forces and launched a sweep operation in the Ixil Triangle where the commanding officers of the army units had been instructed to destroy all towns and villages believed to be cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (even if they were non-combatants). Several months after this the Reagan administration declared that Guatemala was “not a gross violator of human rights.” In August of 1982, President Regain met personally with Rios Montt and declared that he was inclined to believe that “the general had been given a bum rap.” Within a month of this meeting and despite a United Nations condemnation of Guatemala for human rights violations, the U.S. State Department approved more than $6 million dollars in additional military assistance to the Guatemalan army.
This trial, with its testimonies and reversals, has forced people to remember Guatemala’s traumatic past, and has also reminded us that a number of the individuals who carried out, supported or benefited from the atrocities in the 1980′s still remain in positions of significant influence and power.
For many in Guatemala, “La Violencia” is not yet over. It remains a deep psychological wound in the collective psyche of the Guatemalan people. Also, many of the economic structures and power relationships that precipitated “La Violencia” in the 1980′s remain in force today, and have been shown to be capable of resorting to murder and intimidation if their interests are threatened. (Please see the Guatemala Human Rights Commission for recent reports of attacks on human rights and environmental leaders.)
“On the afternoon of Friday, May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court found General José Efraín Ríos Montt, former de facto head of state, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Presiding Judge Jazmín Barrios read an hour-long summary of the tribunal’s ruling to a packed courtroom.
The Ríos Montt verdict is historic; he is the first former head of state to be convicted of genocide by a national court in his own country. His trial and conviction in the face of numerous attempts to interfere with the process means that there were two victories in Guatemala last week.
The first victory is the conviction itself, which provides some measure of justice for the victims of systematic human rights abuses during Ríos Montt’s regime. As head of the Guatemalan military and de facto head of state for an 17-month period in 1982 and 1983, Ríos Montt has long been identified by human rights activists in Guatemala and internationally as the man in charge during the period of the most notorious human rights abuses committed during Guatemala’s civil war; massacres and targeted attacks on indigenous Mayan communities were widespread during his regime. Ríos Montt’s trial and conviction are a vindication for the victims and their families, as well as a re-assertion of the principle that indiscriminate attacks on civilian communities during wartime can never be justified.
The second victory is a victory for the rule of law in Guatemala at large. Throughout the judicial process, the trial’s conclusion—much less Ríos Montt’s conviction—seemed far from certain. The long-anticipated conclusion of the trial came following various procedural delays that threatened on more than one occasion not only to slow down the process, but also to derail it altogether. Several observers noted that the defense lawyers were not engaged in a technical legal defense of the accused, but rather were using procedural tactics, some of questionable legality, to disrupt the trial and prevent it from reaching a conclusion. In addition, the trial faced opposition from some sectors of Guatemalan society, who complained that the trial and conviction smeared the country by vindicating former guerrillas and their allies, wrongly painted the government as abusing human rights, and undermined investor confidence in the country. In fact, though, the successful conclusion of the trial is a sign that the rule of law in Guatemala, though vulnerable and still subject to corruption and influence-peddling, triumphed.”
While little was said at the trial about U.S. involvement in Guatemala, a United Nations Truth Commission in 1999 stated the United States bore much responsibility for advising, training, arming and financing the troops, even teaching torture, as part of the Reagan administration’s campaign against communism. Recently, as a follow up to the Rios Montt verdict, the New York Times, on its Opinion Page, posted a debate on what role the U.S. government played in the atrocities that occurred during the 36 year long Guatemalan civil war.
At Avivara, we feel that we can help bring a more positive U.S. presence to Guatemala by providing educational opportunities to the next generation of Guatemalans so that the social inequalities, exploitation and discrimination that led to the war can be minimized and eventually overcome.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Guatemala remains a traumatized country.
In our work with the schools and students we sometimes come face to face with the trauma and the violence that are remnants of the Guatemalan civil war. Recently, we were saddened to hear that the brother of one of our scholarship recipients, Vilma Esperanza, had been murdered while working as a night security guard at a construction site. With Guatemala having one of the highest murder rates in the world, this type of event is not unusual, but nevertheless it does create grief and hardship for his family; especially for his bereaved wife and their four children. What was especially sad is that he was known as a good father and husband in his community. People commented that he could be seen walking one of his children who is developmentally disabled to school every day so that she would have the chance to interact with other children. Our condolences go out to their family and the entire village that was shocked by his death.
But, on a more positive note…
Our Anchorage contingent, made up of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School and Parish, Caroline Eddens and family, Pat Kennish and family, and Tom & Cathy Miller and family, just raised over $2,000 to help fund additional computers in the school in Tunino and the furnishing of a new reading center/library in the school in San Jose Pacul. A special thank you to everyone involved in that project.
Also, work continues on our Avivara special fall event in Seattle this coming November. We have nailed down the location and date (Saturday, November 2nd, at the Blue Ridge Community Club in North Seattle) and our now putting together our guest list and invitations.
The Faces of Guatemala – An Avivara Special Event:
Saturday, November 2, 2013,
“The Market in Sumpango”
Avivara and Mark Hussein Photography are proud and excited to present a special photo exhibit of “The Faces of Guatemala.”
This one day only photo exhibit will be a chance for all the supporters of Avivara in the Greater Seattle area to gather and enjoy beautiful images of Guatemala, listen to live music, chat with the Avivara staff and meet with our special guest, Griselda Aquino Choc, an indigenous teacher from the school in El Yalu.
SAVE THE DATE: Put it on your calendar and tell your friends!
For more information about this free event or to let us know that you would like to attend, please go to our Faces Information Page on our Avivara website.
“We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death.” – David Sarnoff
“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” – M.L. King, Jr.
Efraín Ríos Montt at his genocide trial
In a month of remarkable events and reversals in Guatemala, the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt came to an abrupt halt on April 18 as a judge ruled all proceedings to date (since November, 2011) invalid. The witnesses who testified for the prosecution—dozens of survivors of mass rape and massacres—would have to testify again if the trial were to proceed. “The ruling constitutes a mockery of justice and of the victims,” stated Claudia Samayoa, head of the Unity for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Addressing Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s current president who had himself been a general in the region of massacres in the 1980s under Ríos Montt’s rule, she continued: “Mr. President, respect once and for all the courts and accept that, yes, there was genocide and you were a part of it.”
At this time the final decision on the mistrial ruling is still being discussed by the Constitutional Court in Guatemala, so it is unclear what the outcome of the current trial, or mistrial, will be.
Community leaders from Totonicapán welcome human rights activists in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán in October 2012. Photo: Moises Castillo/AP
Meanwhile, social protest movements are also sprouting within rural communities, largely in response to tensions over land tenure and swelling opposition to the exploitation of natural resources without regard for local (i.e. indigenous) concerns or needs. Unfortunately, human rights groups have also noted a significant increase in the number of murders or disappearances of community leaders who have opposed the exploitation of Guatemala’s natural resources by foreign corporations that are supported by government policies and state security forces; a chilling flashback to the policies and practices that led to the expansion of the Guatemalan Civil War in the 1970′s and 1980′s and the issues being addressed by the current trial of Efraín Ríos Montt.
“It is in adversity that we discover our true friends.”- J.C. Collins
And adversity is truly facing the village of Xeatzan Alto.
Collapsing home in Xeatzan Alto
Over the last several years, the land underneath the village of Xeatzan Alto has been in a slow slide down the valley where it is located. This has led to many homes being torn apart by the earth’s movements and the school’s walls and floors beginning to fracture and crumble, making it a dangerous place for the children to attend school.
The village has approached the local and national government for help in relocating their village, but unfortunately there has been no response from either to date. Lacking the resources to purchase new land for the village in a nearby but safe location, and to install electricity and water, the elders of the village, along with the teachers and students in the school have also approached Avivara to see what assistance we might be able to provide.
While this issue fall outside the scope of Avivara’s mission of improving education in Guatemala, we are asking help in finding an NGO or foundation funding source that might be able to help the village of Xeatzan Alto move to a safer location. Once that is accomplished, we would likely step in to help them re-establish the school in their new location.
Technology upgrades at El Instituto De Solidaridad
Faculty and students at El Instituto de Solidaridad receive training on their new copier/printer.
Thanks to a generous grant from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, WI, the faculty and students in El Instituto De Solidaridad are now enjoying the luxury of having a small copier/printer in their school office. Prior to this, they needed to have any copies they wanted made done at a nearby tienda. They were thrilled to receive this upgrade to their technology and are looking to expand their use of other technologies (projectors, laptops, etc.) in their classrooms later this year.
New classrooms coming to El Yalu
New classrooms being constructed at the school in El Yalu
This year has been an interesting one for the school we work with in El Yalu. Not only have they welcomed a new director, but a portion of the older building has torn down to make way for a new two-story set of classrooms. This means that they are currently holding a number of their classes in makeshift lamina and windowless “huts” on the edge of the village plaza (which make them unbearably hot when the sun beats down on them.) However, they are looking hopefully toward the end of this school year when the new building will be finished and they will have not only a number of much-needed new classrooms, but also a new reading center. We are looking forward to helping them furnish these new classrooms and reading center, again with the help of a generous grant from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, WI.
SAVE THE DATE:
On Saturday, November 2, 2013, Avivara will be hosting in Seattle a major exhibit of photographs from Guatemala by professional photographer Mark Hussein. In addition, we will be having live music by singer/songwriter Javier Anderson, and a number of other fun events for the whole family. This will be our first major “friend-raising” event since our Avivara fall dinner in 2010, so we are hoping all the people of our Avivara community living in the greater Seattle area will be able to attend and bring lots of friends. More details later.
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From actions arise the dreams again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”- Anais Nin
Swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze.
Sunset over Fuego
Swiftly fly the years.
One season following another.
Laden with happiness and tears.
New beginnings bring reflections on the past:
Avivara is now beginning its sixth year of working with public schools in rural Guatemalan villages and providing scholarships to deserving, yet economically disadvantaged, students from those same villages. Little did we foresee when we began this adventure what we would or could accomplish. Because of our donor’s generosity over the last five years, we have been able to distribute well over a quarter of a million dollars to our school improvement, scholarship and after-school programs in Guatemala. But dollar amounts can only tell a limited part of the story.
Avivara scholarship recipient to enter medical school:
Lesly Karina first received a scholarship from Avivara four years ago so that she could attend high school. Last week she sent us this letter letting us know that she had been accepted into medical school at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City. (She has also been learning English over the last several years and this is her letter exactly as she wrote it to us.)
Hi Ana, Gary and Gustavo!!
A happy new year for you!
I was really busy last month at church because I had to make the Nativity drama, it was a beautiful representation, I’m really proud of all my children. I also had to sing the “posadas”, one at 5:30 and the other at 7 o’clock PM. So, I didn’t rest a while all this days but I think it worth it. For Christmas eve, after mass, we continue decorating our house, at midnight we prayed, burn fireworks and hug each other. Then we had dinner: tamales and ponche. It was a beautiful Christmas day.
At Mariano Galvez I ended my second semester, I pass all my classes. I will take you my classes’ certificate. I’m kind of sad because I won’t continue seeing my friends. The day we said goodbye, we all cry, I will miss them!! They were really good friends.
I can hardly believe that I will study Medicine; I’m really excited, because finally I will realize my dream. After I pass my exams I had to go to a personality test, it lasts almost two hours or more. After the test, they gave us a ticket to prove that we pass the all the exams, and they also gave us the information and the date to register at the University.
I had to go alone to make all my paperwork and register because my father was taking care of my mother because in those days she was at hospital because of the surgery, I was kind of scared because the university is really huge but thanks God everything was all right.
Now I’m officially a Medical student! My courses will be:
· Health publishes
· Propedeutica medicates
· Investigation I
I will study from Monday to Thursday, from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock.
I’m really happy and I have so many plans for this year, I want to be a really good student to be a really good Doctor.
I will keep you informed of everything I do.
Thank you Ana, Gary and Gustavo for all your support and love. you are really good friends and like my friend Miriam says YOU ARE PART OF MY FAMILY. I always think about you and I thank God for you.
With love, Lesly
P.S. While this letter was addressed to our Avivara staff, it is also a thank you to all of our donors who helped make Lesly’s dream come true. In our next blog posting we plan to tell the story of Luz Elidia, a child born in a refugee camp in Mexico because her family’s village had been massacred during the Guatemalan civil war, and who is now attending university and managing the bookkeeping in her village’s coffee cooperative.
Schools make significant improvements as well:
The last several weeks have seen our Guatemala office (and most of the rest of our house) completely filled with boxes of school supplies and teaching materials. So we have been very busy sorting those supplies and delivering them to the schools for the start of the new school year. This has been only slightly complicated by the fact that the drainage system running down the one street in our village has been dug up for repairs, meaning that we have had to park our truck about 1/4 mile from our house. Fortunately, many of the neighborhood children have helped us transport the boxes of school supplies from our house to the truck each morning.
However, what has been most heartening to us this year is not only the increase in the number of student supplies and teaching materials that we have been able to provide each school, but the fact that the schools have made great strides in identifying their mission/vision statements and specific educational goals and objectives for the upcoming year. While this might seem like “old hat” to North American educators, is has been a huge leap in thinking about and planning for what the teachers will actually be doing in their classrooms here in Guatemala This change has evolved out of three years of Teacher Forums that Avivara has hosted over the last three years.
Our favorite photo from the last several weeks:
This picture was taken at the recent inauguration of the new school building in San Jose Pacul. After years of waiting and pleading for an improved facility (and using a collection of lamina sheds for classrooms), the village was finally able to have a school building that could house their K-6 classes and new junior high program. The village and teachers were very appreciative of the new building. Now it is up to Avivara to help the teaching staff stock the classrooms with classroom furniture, books and other teaching materials, and student supplies.
One of the highlights of the Avivara year is meeting with school directors and teachers after school has ended for “summer” vacation here in Guatemala. Earlier this week, ten directors and teachers from the schools we support gathered to talk about the progress they had made over the past year, and to lay out their school improvement goals for the upcoming year.
3rd Annual Avivara Educators Forum:
School directors discussing challenges and goals for next year.
Two of the major topics that came out of the Forum discussions and common to all the schools were desertions (absenteeism and children dropping out of school after only 2 to 3 years – see the article below) and the ongoing demonstrations that have disrupted classes throughout the country over the last several months. (For more background on these demonstrations, please see our previous blog posting of October 9th, Baja La Bota – Under the Boot.)
Both of these challenges mean that students are in school less and thus contribute to the overall lack of functional literacy so common in the rural villages. (Note: It has been estimated by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education that out of a 180 day school year, students are on average actually attending classes for only around 120 days. This number drops to as low as 90 days in many rural villages.)
However, not all was “gloom and doom” at the meeting. Comments from the directors attending included:
“How important it is that we have this gathering in order to learn more about how the other schools are dealing with their challenges, which are very similar to those in my school.”
“The activities of the morning were very enriching because each of us gained new understanding and possible solutions to our common problems.”
“I feel that at the Avivara meetings I can share my situation without fear of judgement or castigation. The meeting also guided me in thinking about how to improve things in my school for next year.”
Young boys working in the fields with their father
As mentioned above, one of the major challenges facing the schools and teachers is students not attending school on a regular basis, and too often dropping out of school after only 2nd or 3rd grade. Generally, the reasons for this are economic. Families in the rural villages have such little income that they often need their children to help with work in the fields, or to help transport and sell items at the local markets. In these cases, the rural families have not yet experienced the benefits of education and place more importance on the immediate benefits of work over schooling.
Also, one of the teachers at our recent Educators Forum recounted the typical story of one of his 6th grade students wanting to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the costs of the notebooks and other school supplies that he needed to complete his assignments. Fortunately, we and the teacher were able to help in that case and the student was able to graduate from 6th grade.
Just (and Yummy) Desserts
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 6th Grade Class
We want to give a huge shout out to the 6th graders at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Anchorage, Alaska. They recently raised $554.29 to help purchase supplies for the school and students in El Rosario, Santo Domingo Xenacoj. Both the 6th grade students and their parents baked bread, brownies, cupcakes and cookies for sale after Mass at the parish. Sorry for the pun, but thanks also to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners for “putting your money where your mouth is.”
And Speaking of “Just Desserts”
We recently received the 2012 Non-Profit CEO Compensation Study published by Charity Navigator. What do you think is the median salary for CEO’s of small non-profits in the Pacific West region? $35,000, $55,000, $75,000, or $95,000. If you picked $95,000, you were right.
In comparison, Avivara’s highest paid employee (not our Executive Director, who is a volunteer and receives no salary) is Gustavo Valle, our Guatemalan Director of Programs. His annual salary for 2012 was equivalent to the Guatemalan government’s estimate of what it would cost to meet basic food and housing needs for a family of five ($10,780). Hopefully, as our organization grows and contributions increase we will be able to pay him slightly more. (He is certainly worth it.)
However, while living standards are admittedly lower in Guatemala, still one has to ask – Shouldn’t donations be going primarily into programs, rather than into CEO compensation? We think so and are committed to keeping our administrative costs low and our donors’ contributions going primarily to where they will do the most good: to the schools, teachers and students.
We watched with interest the recent U.S. elections, but were disappointed with the many negative ads that characterized the campaigns. We were hoping that with the election over, the rancor would die down a bit. But now with some folks talking secession and other crazy ideas, we thought this little piece of sanity would be nice to share.