Picking up where I left off in the most recent post, regarding primarily more interaction with the community and searching for what might be desired, I'd like to share two current goals that myself and the Li Ch'utam team have set up for ourselves in the coming weeks. First, we are in the midst of setting up interviews with a dozen or so families that either have children approaching the end of primary school, children already attending basico (the equivalent of middle school in the United States) and/or children eligible to attend basico but currently are not for a number of different reasons which will be shared throughout this posting. Second, we are on a mission to discuss with chauffeurs in Teleman potential price range of developing a round-trip Transportation System accessible to only basico students at a discounted fare.
A note for the readers: in Guatemala, free public education beyond 6th grade is not provided, therefore it becomes the responsibility of the families to incur the costs, which in a large number of cases unfortunately is beyond their means. Once I gain more information about the total costs of education I should be able to elaborate on educational investment hindrance.
The purpose of the first task is for one, to have a formal discussion with the parents about the realities of higher education, to hear what they have to say about the potential opportunity, and express our interests in continuing a dialogue with them to explore choices and possible outcomes. Already having multiple discussions with parents and young adults in Mercedes, Teleman and surrounding communities, the desire to continue studying is ubiquitous. Even a number of teachers I have spoken to passionately expressed their cravings for a university level of education, as they feel it would allow them to perform their jobs better, but like the families of Mercedes the costs are beyond their salaries (Note: Becoming a teacher in Guatemala does not require university level certification which perhaps explains the high number of under-qualified teachers. Excuse my lack of proper citing and statistics, but I was sometime back informed of a privately funded study that revealed that nearly half of primary level school teachers cannot pass 6th grade level evaluations. Food for thought.) This all being said, there is a lot to sit down and talk about, even if there are no apparent solutions. Secondly, it will provide us with basic data, such as overall costs including uniform, transportation, food, and school supplies (obtained by parents who currently have children attending), and the maximum amount of money families would be willing and able to pay given there was some sort of potential subsidy.
The idea for the second task was proposed by past volunteer Michal Azarkiewicz while we were discussing possible scholarship opportunities for female students considering the ratio of boys to girls that attend basico in Teleman is relatively high, especially among the outside communities such as Mercedes. We have discovered that this disproportionate ratio is in part due to security issues, such as sexual harassment and in extreme situations, rape. One of the underlying problems of the whole issue is that basico school hours are from roughly 2 pm to 7 pm therefore the children must travel back to their communities via bicycle or pick-up truck in extreme darkness, evidently an unsafe atmosphere for a young lady. Upon becoming aware of this reality, Michal suggested that we open up a conversation with chauffeurs in Teleman (there being many) and try to arrange a fair compensation that will likewise become a positive addition to the typical school day of dozens of children trekking multiple kilometers on foot or bicycle in the blazing hot after-noon sun and dangerous pitch-black evenings.
The necessity to set up this proposed Transportation System became even more pressing after a discussion I held with our scholar-student Waldemar when he shared with me his most recent experience of fleeing from men who were trying to lure him into their vehicle while on his way home from school one evening of recent. Aware that there have been instances of “ransom” in the region, Waldemar dropped his bike (perhaps his most valuable possession other than himself) and sprinted into the nearby sugar cane plants and hid for nearly 30 minutes until they passed. Part of me wishes that his story was merely a child's nightmare enhanced by paranoia and embellishment, and at first I was equally surprised as I was horrified to hear of a such story in a place that appears to be so calm and distanced from the crime-infested city, but it is a clear message that something as simple as a couple pick-up trucks dropping exhausted children securely off at or near their homes must be devised and promoted as soon as possible.
Much more to be said and done. Stay tuned : )