Hola from La Esperanza, Guatemala

Hola a todos! I’m here writing from a lovely café I discovered today, it’s only a short transmetro ride away from my Guatemalan residence. While I’ve got stable internet access, I wanted to take the time to give you all an update about what I’ve been doing at UPAVIM for the past month (time has flown by!).

    I usually wake up around 6am (the roosters, taxistas, and street vendors wouldn’t have it any other way) & shortly after I embrace the sounds of Guatemala with a cup or three of roof-garden-harvested lemongrass tea. At 8 o’clock, I make my way downstairs from the roof (where the volunteers stay) of the UPAVIM building to the classroom. Reforzamiento (more frequently referred to as Reforz) is a program that UPAVIM offers Monday through Friday that serves to reinforce what kids from first to sixth grade are learning in school. However, there a few children who aren’t in school at all, such is the case with Kati. In circumstances where their child keeps failing a grade, some parents will take them out of school and put them into Reforz to save money. The Reforz program costs 5 Quetzales (about $1.50) per child per year, but there has been a significant decrease in attendees throughout the past few years. For many families, priority is placed on work (selling vegetables, crafts, etc. with their parents) rather than education.

    The mornings working at Reforz are my favorite. The 9:00 to 11:00am hours are used for 1 on 1 tutoring with kids who are not in school. Kati is one of those kids. When I first met her, I was shocked to discover that she was 17 years old (I would have guessed 12), shortly after getting acquainted, she matter of factly stated that she was born with a heart defect. Together we do basic reading, writing, and math exercises (explaining how to add 5+2 in Spanish is trickier than you’d think). Unfortunately, Kati’s attendance is extremely inconsistent, due to a very difficult home situation. The days she does come, I immediately feel a sense of relief and I am reminded of the significance of education for her, as well as the significance of her attendance for me. Through Kati in particular, I have learned that time at Reforz is not only a place to learn that cinco más dos son siete, but in some cases, it is also a place to briefly escape the harsh and unwarranted realities of childhood in La Esperanza.

    From eleven until noon the kindergarteners (usually about ten kids) come in. Unfortunately, there are no words to describe how adorable these children are. But I can say that seeing their smiling faces could cure any case of the Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. For the hour that they are in Reforz, we sing songs, read stories, and practice topics such as colores and vowels. 

    12 o’clock until 2 is a break time to eat lunch (usually some sort of faithful combination of beans, rice, and tortillas) as well as time to plan for the rest of the day. I must give a shout out to Louise Osborn here for helping me un montón when I was at a loss for fun classroom activities. Admittedly, the afternoon classes (1st grade 2:00-3:00, 2nd grade 3:00-4:00, and 4th 5th and 6th 4:00-5:00) require a lot more organization and creativity than I had previously expected. A wonderful aspect of Reforz is that it is voluntary; the kids who come actually want to be there. Granted, that will tends to dwindle a bit when we’re practicing long division worksheets, so Louise’s activity suggestions have been really beneficial for my peace of mind as well as their attention span.

    My time with these kids has reinforced every reason I had for coming to Guatemala. With every “Hola Seño Lexie!” I receive while walking down to the taco guy, and each buenos días beso, or even bouquet of eucalyptus leaves (I can’t seem to shake this cough/sinus infection), I feel God’s presence in a place where one may not think it could be found. There are beautiful and kind people here whose realities don’t elicit such positive adjectives. Alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse, and poverty are very relevant elements that are indirectly or directly woven into the daily lives of the children in La Esperanza, and I strongly believe that education is a fundamental tool in tugging at the threads of brutality to create a healthier reality. I am so thankful to be here at UPAVIM, and I really appreciate all of the support that I have received from you all at DGFUMC.

    & now, it’s time for this girl to pay a visit to the taco guy.

 

Paz y amor,

 

Lexie

 

P.S. I am incurably bad at taking pictures. However, the mischievous Reforz children who discover my phone are not.

 

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