Guatemala Literacy Project Tour
As our small bus neared the remote villages, the route became more twisted and rocky. Climbing higher and higher, we wondered, “Will this bus be able to navigate the next bend? Does the driver realize how close we are to the edge? Is he sure this road leads to the village?” Forty Rotarians from across the United States peered skeptically from the windows as the buses lurched up and down the dusty semblance of a road. We had all met in Guatemala City and embarked on a ten-day excursion of learning about the country of Guatemala and the lives and culture of its people. Click on any photo for a slide show
The Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP) is a program run by non-profit Cooperative for Education (CoEd), whose sole purpose is to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education. GLP strives to meet this goal by providing meaningful textbooks, training teachers in methods of teaching reading, awarding scholarships for attending school, and equipping computer labs and instructing Guatemalan teachers on how to use them effectively. The core of the GLP is the textbook program, which has been developed as a self-sustaining program that involves the people of the communities.
Rotary clubs have become an integral part of this program, both by raising and donating funds and by taking part in the textbook delivery tours to Guatemala. My husband David and I, members of the Kenai River Rotary of Soldotna, Alaska, participated in one of these tours. The GLP comes to life for Rotarians during delivery tours, as the Guatemalan people and their lives become real, not just pictures in a book. Connections are made; photos are taken and shared; smiles, hugs, and laughter are exchanged; friendships are formed; tears are shed.
The staff of CoEd divided us into two groups and placed each group in a small bus. Most days we did two delivery “inaugurations.” During travel time, either CoEd director Joe Berninger or GLP staff educated us on the history and culture of the areas in which we were traveling and entertained us with hilarious stories from previous trips. Our eyes feasted on the spectacular scenery of the western Guatemala Highlands. We passed immense valleys surrounded by mountains green with hand-planted corn, the staple grain in the Guatemalan diet.
Administrators, students, and parents greeted us with warm smiles and handshakes. Pine needles had been strewn on the ground where we would walk because the Guatemalan people believe that the feet of highly honored people should not touch the ground. Boxes of new textbooks in five different subjects, all written and printed in Guatemala, awaited distribution. Each inauguration began with speeches—sometimes translated into Spanish, English and Quiché—by principals, Joe from CoEd, and parents. Cameras snapped as shy Guatemalan students received their textbooks.
Performing animated dancing and singing that demonstrated pride in Guatemalan cultural traditions and lifestyle, students sported extravagantly colored costumes with masks from the comical to the grotesque. Boys and girls in one tiny village wore traditional campesino clothing as they gave us a musical glimpse into their home life. Others placed gifts of handmade pottery into our hands while they snaked among the chairs during their dance. A young man thrilled everyone as he belted out a song about love for the country and flag of Guatemala.
Teaching teachers how to teach reading is yet another part of the GLP, and our last inauguration took place at an elementary school where the Guatemalan teacher and her second graders showed how they improve their reading comprehension by illustrating and acting out stories.
Students, parents, and Rotarians intermingled. We danced together, shared pictures of our own families (wildlife pictures from Alaska were a big hit), and interacted in whatever ways we could. We combed the markets for brilliantly colored Guatemala textiles, explored Olmec ruins, boated on Lake Atitlán, and strolled the cobblestone streets of Antigua. But what remains in our hearts and brings tears to our eyes are the incredible people of Guatemala.