In mid-January, four of our San Antonio team climbed on the plane heading for San Antonio Palopó. En route, we stopped in Mexico City for a book-buying binge. Mexico City, unlike Guatemala, is filled with wonderful bookstores – the ideal place to buy Spanish kids’ books. When, laden with books on every possible subject, we arrived in San Antonio, we were delighted to find the Casita (our little community centre) buzzing with energy. The school year had just started, but teachers at the two primary schools were already identifying children needing extra help and sending them for learning assistance. And children are reading! One of my lasting memories is of a group of little boys who, arriving early for their learning assistance, each pulled a book from the shelves, and for a few moments all that could be heard was the murmuring sound of them reading softly aloud to themselves – this in a culture where reading doesn’t generally happen.
Yesenia and Lidya, our energetic coordinators, are planning new ways to build a love of reading. They are working with teachers to organize a story hour each day, when a different class will arrive for an hour of storytelling. And already started is a Moms’ & Tots’ storytime.
As well as young learners, the Casita continues to host twice-weekly dinners for the ancianas – 25 poor, elderly women who come to enjoy a nourishing lunch, as well as craft activities, exercises and games. We got to share a delicious lunch of chiles rellenos, made from peppers grown in the Casita garden, and a birthday cake to celebrate the birthdays of ancianas who had birthdays in January.
We met with an inspiring group of young community leaders – the jovenes emprendadores, young entrepreneurs. These 15 recent graduates, experiencing first-hand just how scarce jobs are in the Atitlán region, are creating jobs themselves. They’ve started up a mushroom-growing business in a little corner shed, are digging fishponds down by the lake to raise tilapia, and have been taking cooking lessons in order to fulfil their long term dream – to start up a café in San Antonio.
To keep the programs going, the Casita relies on additional help from our becados – scholarship students. The philosophy of the becado program is that those receiving a scholarship pay back by helping out at the Casita. Students help out in preparing the lunches, keeping the bookshelves in order, tutoring kids, and working in the garden. This year there are 11 scholarship students – 2 in junior high, 2 in senior high, one in technical college, and 6 in university. None of these amazing young people would be in school if they didn’t have the support of a scholarship.
All of this thanks to our generous donors, without whom none of this would be happening. ¡GRACIAS!