With two monkeys overlooking Antigua
A little smile from my newest nephew
My month in Guatemala was all about children, my sweet nephews first and foremost. Daily I witnessed the loving care my sister-in-law gave her 5-month-old son while sleeping almost not at all and worrying about why he was sleeping so little and eating such small amounts so frequently; all is well now, but Julie reminded me of the infinite depths of a mother’s love.
I had two opportunities to visit ambitious local non-profits that help poor children that will stay imprinted on my heart forever. First, a group of us went to see the work of Camino Seguro (“Safe Passage”), which serves children living adjacent to the Guatemala City garbage dump– who on average subsist on 50 cents per day and share one or two single beds in 200 square foot shacks with 5 other family members.
Preschool children marching with percussion in music class
80% of their caregivers are single women, most all of whom make their living by scavenging from the dump. Founded by Maine-born Hanley Denning in 1999, Camino Seguro now serves 600 children ages 2-21 providing meals, healthcare, schooling and educational reinforcement in two facilities that very much seem like a school or Boys and Girls Club you might see in a major US city.
Where the kids go home: the view of the slums from the jungle gym at Camino Seguro
Camino Seguro also works with 100 of the children’s caregivers to increase their literacy and provide them opportunities to make jewelry or do other jobs that earn them as much as 70% more than working at the dump. Since 2007 40 Safe Passage students have graduated from high school, unprecedented in this community, and many more have improved their employability by gaining basic literacy and math skills as a result of their education.
Pre-schooler hands-on in the water
While a small footprint amidst the tens of thousands of children who live off the dump, Camino Seguro makes a huge impact on the children it serves.
A few weeks later we got to visit Esperanza Juvenil, an NGO also based in Guatemala City and also focused on child welfare and education. Inspiring vice president Kristin Ostby de Barrillas has taken her Stanford MBA and focused her considerable talents on creating a full service residential and educational program for 150 promising children with the goal of helping them to attend and succeed at university.
Kristin Ostby de Barrillas with middle schoolers
In a country where only 2% of all citizens attend university, Esperanza Juvenil is making this audacious dream happen for the poorest and most disadvantaged children. Recommended by other NGOs (including Safe Passages) to the program for their dire home situations and their demonstrated scholastic aptitude and resilience, there are 10 qualified applicants for each place–both from Guatemala City and the countryside. The school is a happy, busy, and serious place, where students from 8-21 alternatively learn or get enrichment and assistance. We got to hear their very good choir perform and after they did one young soloist took us on a tour of the home where she lives with 12 other girls under the supervision of a “tia” (housemother) retained to provide a healthy, nurturing environment.
Absolute firecracker choir member showing us her room and house
As the children get older, they spend more and more time on life skills and preparation for the workplace so that they can begin to support themselves during high school and college, as they would if living elsewhere. The touching stories of the college graduates are shown in pictures on the walls in the school building and the pride in each graduate is palpable.
Friend taking photos of Esperanza Juvenil students for school directory
At Esperanza Juvenil, literally nothing is ever to much to do for a child.
Kindergarten module on monarch butterflies at Antigua International School
Mom and MIss Jessie helping the kids assemble their butterflies
We didn’t need a field trip to experience some special outreach by the new and excellent Antigua International School to help local children. At its very founding the school determined to provide education free of charge to children from a local orphanage, giving them a leg up not only with strong academic and arts curriculum but also helping them to learn English, which will open up broad jobs possibilities in the service sector. Hats off to AIS and thanks as well—especially to kindergarten teacher Miss Jessie who let my mom and me teach a module on monarch butterflies to my nephew’s class (in Spanish and in English!).
Finally, in Guatemala, piñatas filled with candy are actually synonymous with birthdays; you actually get invited to the “piñata”. At one I was fortunate to attend, the creative parents were not so fond of the custom of smashing piñatas with long sticks, so they changed the game: the kids would simply kick the piñata (in the shape of a soccer ball) with their own feet! And the “kickñata” was born! Nothing is ever too much to do for a child . . . especially on his birthday!
Running to kick the “Kicknata”
- The post-kick scramble. Happy Birthday!