If you’ve just finished grade 6 and you live anywhere in Canada, you’re expected to continue in school for at least another 6 years – that’s six years to study and play, mature, learn and discover who you are. But if you’re a Maya girl living in a third world country like Guatemala, chances are your school career is over. You’ll be expected to help your family by working in the fields, looking after siblings or even get married and start your own family.
Meet 17 year old Maria Susana, a young Maya-Mam student from the remote mountainous department of San Marcos in the western highlands of Guatemala. She has started to break out of the cycle of poverty laid out for her by the historic marginalization of her indigenous community. Maria Susana was one of the lucky ones to have her name put forward three years ago for educational support offered by the Guatemala Stove Project (GSP). Through contact with a Guatemalan partner organization, six girls were chosen as promising students in danger of dropping out of school because of circumstances of poverty. Maria Susana has consistently proven herself to be deserving of her bursary. She has completed 3 years of middle school and is now enrolled in grade 10. She is the first girl in her family to attend school past the primary level. After grade 6, funding in government schools is reduced and parents are expected to pay registration fees, purchase school supplies, uniforms, and contribute towards cultural activities, a strain on already struggling families. Many indigenous children drop out at this level due to cultural and economic pressures
Maria Susana’s struggles are not unique to Guatemala. Malala Yousefzai, champion of girl’s education and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, was given honorary Canadian citizenship on April 12, 2017. While visiting Canada to receive her award she challenged Canadians to seize every opportunity to make girls’ education a priority over the next year. Local volunteers with the Guatemala Stove Project are striving to do that by expanding our bursary program, which currently supports 12 Maya girls. We agree with Malala when she says, “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” Over 130 million girls worldwide are out of school today. Malala wants to see a world where every girl can complete 12 years of safe, quality education.
We are hosting a kick off for our GoFundMe campaign for Maya Girls on Tuesday, June 13 at the Hintonburg Community Center in Ottawa with a screening of the documentary Living on One Dollar. During the summer of 2017 we hope to raise $10,000.00 for our expanding bursary program. We currently have 3 students who are now studying at the 'diversificado' or senior high school level. These girls hope to graduate with careers that will help their communities and families. Imagine the impact they could have by being the first female MayaMam dental hygenist, nurse or accountant in their community! Nine more of our students are working their way through the 3 years of 'ciclo bsico' or middle school. Unfortunately their potential will be lost without our support. Every year when we travel to Guatemala with the GSP to document our work with improved cooking stoves, we meet hardworking families who strive to make ends meet and educate their children. Help us help families break out of the cycle of poverty created by limited educational opportunities. Please donate and share this campaign link!
Guatemala Stove Project is a registered Canadian charity #871977617RR0001
At the age of 43, she is the single mother of an adopted 11 year-old son. She is the spokesperson and ‘promotora’ for her AMMID group, the partner organization with which we work in Comitancillo. She attends agricultural training workshops and shares the information with her group back in her home community. She chairs and coordinates her group meetings, contacts members and takes attendance. She records information as best she can with her limited ability to read, write and understand numbers.
She has used her microloans to purchase pigs, nurturing and reselling them, buying additional land and planting extra crops. Singlehandedly she supports her son, her elderly mother and a disabled sister. And yet, handicapped by her lack of education, she feels inferior and unworthy. We have met women like Anastasia over and over again on our visits to the families who receive our improved cooking stoves. They are unable to help even their primary school children with their homework or reading practice.
“You should be proud of yourself”, I explained to her in Spanish. “You have accomplished so much.” Realizing how desperately she wanted to “crack the code” and understand the mysteries of written language, we made arrangements for our community teacher to work with Anastasia for the next few months to develop some basic literacy skills. Armed with some primary alphabet books and readers, Anastasia also gets help from her son to improve her understanding of Spanish reading and writing. We’re hoping that she can find the time in her busy life to work on these important skills and therefore participate more fully in Guatemalan society.
When we meet women like Anastasia, it gives us a better understanding of the importance of our work, and that’s why we do what we do.
We started funding bursaries for deserving students about 5 years ago after meeting a group of parents almost begging for help to keep their children in school. We were visiting the small mountain town of Panimaquim where the GSP supports a primary school on a remote mountain plateau. This group of parents had travelled on steep mountain pathways through the night to meet and petition the stove-building volunteers for help for their kids to go to ‘ciclo basico’ or middle school. The fatigue on their faces was clearly visible as was their desperation to educate their children. These parents were asking for approximately $100 per student, as they were unable to pay expenses for the next level of education. Their children were destined to drop out after grade 6 without some financial intervention. That year a project was started by GSP volunteers Keith and Lisa Walker to try to help keep 6 boys and girls in school for the next few years. That was the beginning of our involvement with student bursaries and the steep learning curve we went through in our search for the best way to make our meager funds stretch to help as many students as possible, all the while ensuring student success.
This current bursary program is now based in the municipality of Comitancillo in Departamento San Marcos. We now pay approximately $600 per student for a year of ‘ciclo basico’. This amount covers more expenses than originally anticipated 5 years ago - registration fees, school uniforms, notebooks and other materials and most importantly, the employment of a community support teacher who meets regularly with the students. This program has evolved to support 9 girls in ‘ciclo basico’ and just recently another 3 at the ‘diversificado’ or senior high school level. We have decided to focus on supporting girls in this region since their drop out rate is so high. Our community support teacher is Jovita Guzman, a young woman with teacher training. Jovita is working on a university degree, which is now needed to be a qualified teacher in Guatemala. She is an excellent role model for our girls. She is in her mid-twenties and married with a young daughter. She meets regularly with our students and leads workshops on sexuality, self-esteem and gender equality as well as study and leadership skills. Under Jovita’s guidance, our students are doing well, enjoying their studies and looking forward to studying for careers.
Things we’ve learned about helping Maya students since we started this project:
• regular contact with students and their families is necessary
• there are a lot of unforeseen expenses that families can not cover which cause students to drop out of school
• the more remotely a student lives, the more difficult it is to attend middle and high school; many students have to travel long distances daily
• most Maya students will struggle with learning in the Spanish language as they progress through the higher grades
• students have many daily responsibilities that impact their learning/study time
• Maya parents understand the value of education and want desperately to educate their children
• parents understand the value of educating their girls but often have to make difficult decisions about which children to fund
Our next post:
“ I don’t know anything”, “yo no sé nada” Anastasia told me when we met her in 2014.
The Hintonburg Community Centre in Ottawa was the location of our GoFundMe campaign with the viewing of the documentary “Living On One Dollar”. This documentary portrays exactly the difficulties that our bursary students and their families must deal with on a daily basis:
• water shortages and related health issues
• nutrition deficiencies and the resulting cycles of poverty
• natural disasters that are increasingly affecting the world’s most poor peoples
• lack of financing, banking and loan options
• lack of educational opportunities due to poverty
Approximately 50 people attended our launch and engaged in a lively discussion and question period. The event added over a $1000 to our fund! That’s enough to send almost two girls to school for a year.
Many thanks to all who attended and provided their emails to help us spread word of our campaign. Please click on 'subscribe to updates' to follow our campaign - our next post will be - Why we're doing this.
Posted June 23/17