Each time I return to Guatemala I fall more in love with the warm people, the intricate culture, the staggering landscapes, and the vivid colors. When each person you pass on the street greets you with “buenas dias!” it’s hard not to feel instantly connected to the vibrant life that engulfs you.
I’ve now spent two weeks living in Panajachel in the cozy, beautiful home of Ingrid, Carlos, their daughter Adriana, doña Alma (who tends the magnificent garden), Tina (a Japanese volunteer), a constant flow of visitors, extended family members, and a partially blind/deaf dog. After some torrential rain the first week, we are now passing into summer and I’m told I have some beautiful sunsets over lake Atitlán to look forward to.
(From left to right: Luis, Linda and Joselyn making musical instruments, Celebrating Marsela’s birthday at Arbol del Niño- Marsela is the most amazing cook)
The holistic education center, El Árbol del Niño, has 14 regular students, and is slowly adding a second class. Spending each day with them and getting to know their distinct personalities has been such a blast! They are now learning yoga and meditation every morning (taught by me), Capoeira, breakdancing, English, art, music, math, gardening, and soon cooking. They are learning about health, being served a nutritious snack and lunch everyday, brushing their teeth, and getting plenty of exercise. (This is usually an after school program, but now that the students are on summer break they come to the center mon-fri from 8:30am-4pm)
Not only is the center focusing on these students, but also starting to teach and empower their families and community. Some projects in the works include:
A vegetable garden at the center as well as small portable gardens in each family’s home (many of these children are not accustomed to eating fruit and vegetables).
Learning how to cook and bake. Soon they will be selling their products to local businesses. This will help them learn about money and savings. Each student will open a bank account.
Building a community park and large scale vegetable garden that will one day sustain the foundation so that they will not need to relay purely on donations and funding. This piece of land will help the community by permaculture education, providing organic produce to families, hosting nature walks and bird watching tours in the forest (this project will be funded by the money I am raising).
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be involved in these projects, to work with these children, and to see how much they learn each day! Only 62% of Guatemalan children make it to 6th grade (UNICEF), and although public school is considered “free,“ there are always hidden costs and many families can’t afford even small things such as books and writing utensils. Many children as young as 5 years old must work to put themselves through school, or work to help feed their family. With overcrowded classrooms, absent teachers, and chronic mismanagement, what is needed is not just more education, but a different kind of education. Children must be allowed creative expression, practical work, an appreciation for others, a feeling of responsibility to the world, and a life long love of learning so they don’t burn out and drop out of school. Children should believe that they can be leaders and that they can break the cycle of poverty in their communities.
(Ingrid, Marvin, Giselda, Adeline (a French tourist) and I with the students, photo taken by Michelle, their teacher)