Katie Bergh on Education in Guatemala
Today’s post is from Katie Bergh, a delegate on ACYPL’s current delegation to El Salvador and Guatemala.
We are having a great time here in Guatemala City. Our hosts have been more than gracious, and our meetings have brought to light some interesting issues about US-Guatemala relations, as well as the issues Guatemala is facing internally. The primary theme has been security: security for the people of Guatemala and the influence that both the drug trade and the influential gangs have on the country’s security and poverty crisis. This issue is the focus, and the priority that influences all other policy areas, for most every Guatemalan leader we have met.
To that end, we visited a USAID-funded project. The project is a school on the outskirts of Guatemala City that specifically targets children who are at risk for many reasons, but primarily those who have the highest potential for ending up somehow connected to the drug trafficking gangs. The curriculum is wrap-around, meaning services are provided that range from school for parents to learn parenting methods, sex education for the older kids, and occupational training for all the kids from a young age to athletic programs and even psychological analysis and counseling for the students experiencing trauma at home (the majority of them). There are social workers from the school who visit the children and their caregivers at home – an important intervention tactic that we are seeing more and more in the urban core areas of the US. The children attend classes about how to save money, the importance of a lasting investment like a home, basic accounting, and the basics of running a business. From age 5 to 18 they participate in traditional schooling (math, science, reading and writing) plus English lessons, cooking, baking and carpentry. The main purpose of this is to help these at risk children understand that they do have an opportunity to become financially self-sustaining, to own a business, and to go on to be productive members of their communities rather than continuing the cycle of gang membership and violence. Without this program, most of these children would have no frame of reference for any different way of life beyond their current circumstances, and through this USAID funding a local, Guatemalan-based NGO is able to implement programs to break this cycle with the end goal of a more secure, more prosperous Guatemala.
I was very impressed at the effectiveness of this program and its successful outcomes. I learned a few things to take back to some NGOs in the States with whom I work, in urban core areas where children are also at risk. It was inspiring to see a program, made possible by both Guatemalan Citizens and the US, that is really trying to build the capacity of Guatemalan citizens and that is impacting the systemic issues that must be addressed before Guatemala can truly can become a more security nation.
Below is a photo from the school- these children, through their education, will surely contribute to their nation’s security. It was an honor to meet them, and to understand the hard work happening here on the ground by both the US and the Guatemalan people to create a better future for Guatemala.