A World of Reading for Maya Children in Guatemala

 
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Following the success of the Pathways to Literacy project in Chacaya and Chukmuk, Pueblo a Pueblo is excited about our most recent expansion of school libraries in the La Cumbre School! La Cumbre is located in Cerro de Oro, another coffee-farming community in the Atitlan region. In the past, other Pueblo a Pueblo projectsincluding Organic School Gardens and WASH, have thrived at La Cumbre, thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of their teachers and students. Now, the school can also boast a dynamic and functioning library of its own.

The La Cumbre library first opened on April 14, 2015 and is currently stocked with 1,700 books. A lending program allows students and teachers continuous access to books both inside and outside of school building. Lidia, our project manager, along with the school librarian lead activities for students focused on improving literacy skills as part of their school day.

The library is a particularly important addition to La Cumbre because most students are not only illiterate, but also solely speak Tz’utujil and do not understand Spanish. Since the library has opened, students who started out completely unable to read are now capable of reading and understanding Spanish texts!

We are currently expanding the library’s collection of books, as well as organizing and cataloging existing resources. Replicating our model from Chacaya and Chukmuk, Pueblo a Pueblo’s goal is to ultimately embed literacy into the fabric of rural primary schools, and have the program entirely run by the schools’ staff.

The students at the La Cumbre School exhibit their excitement about the new library daily with active participation in library activities and frequent visits throughout the day to browse the selection of books lining the shelves. They take pride in their new library and love helping us organize and prepare library materials.

Thanks to your support, and the support of the Cerro de Oro community, students at the La Cumbre School now have a communal space and collection of books that allows them to indulge in their curiosity and develop literacy skills in creative new ways.

Setting up the Chukmuk Library in 2012
Setting up the Chukmuk Library in 2012

Once upon a time, (about three years ago), Pueblo a Pueblo joined together with the Chukmuk Elementary School to create a lending library. We had dreams of students writing and reading, and seeing their imaginations grow with the possibilities of what-could-be.

Just like a fairy tale, our dreams came true.

Over the past three years our staff, together with the teachers, students, and parents in Chukmuk, dedicated a lot of time and effort to create a fully functioning school library. Through thirteen training sessions, and countless donations from supporters like you, the library was built, furnished, equipped with resources, and school personnel learned how to manage and prioritize literacy programs.

Now, the Chukmuk library boasts several projects, including internal book lending to students and teachers, and external book loans to families in the community. They host a wide range of literacy-boosting activities for students during daily recess, before and after school, and two weeks during the summer. They also stock nineteen mini-libraries in each classroom of the Chukmuk school!

Carolina, a 3rd grade teacher, has noticed the library’s impact on students’ reading comprehension and their daily habits. Typical school mornings saw students “sitting down in class or bothering their classmates,” she told us. “But now when they arrive in the morning, they go directly to the mini-libraries and entertain themselves with books.”         

The library’s exciting and energizing influence expands beyond school walls and impacts the entire community. One mother told Pueblo a Pueblo how her daughter brings home the library's different lessons and activities. “It’s hard for me,” she told us, “but through my daughter I have learned new words, and if it weren’t for the books in the library I wouldn’t have learned so many new things.”

We’re proud of the Chukmuk Elementary School and are excited to see our two other partner schools, in La Cumbre and Chacaya, continue down a similar pathway to literacy.

Our project technician leading a training session
Our project technician leading a training session
Story Hour in one of the Chukmuk classrooms
Story Hour in one of the Chukmuk classrooms
Students crowding around a mini-library
Students crowding around a mini-library

It’s coffee season in Guatemala, which means children from our partner communities are spending their days hiking through the dense thickets of red coffee berries that cover the country’s rural landscape.

But in San Antonio Chacaya – a nearby community known principally for the quality of its coffee – this year’s harvest was slightly different.

Instead of heading straight for the fields, children in Chacaya this year were given permission to start their mornings at a summer literacy camp led by four local volunteers and co-hosted by Pueblo a Pueblo at the community’s primary school. For the first time ever, the project’s summer camps were over-enrolled!

For four hours each morning, fifty children between the ages of six and twelve worked to improve their reading and writing skills through activities ranging from skits and plays to arts and crafts. All activities were designed to develop students’ reading fluency, attention span, and creativity, among other skills essential for success in the classroom. 

In addition to a successful camp session, we were proud to see parents and community leaders make a conscious effort to put their children’s education first. Through its support of the school’s literacy camps, the Chacaya community made it clear to its children that education and participation in the household economy aren’t mutually exclusive priorities, but rather complementary parts of long-term strategy to improve life in the community. 

Our executive director speaks at the inauguration
Our executive director speaks at the inauguration

When exploring different internship opportunities in Latin America, I stumbled upon Pueblo a Pueblo and their Pathways to Literacy project.  Knowing how one book or one class can forever change your perspective and life, I was curious to see the project in action.

During my first week in Santiago, I went to Chacaya and visited the elementary school where children swarmed the newly-constructed library during their recess time. Some of the students were playing board games; others completing puzzles, and more perused the shelves full of books. Later in the afternoon, students would read one-on-one with Pueblo a Pueblo’s staff members.

It quickly became obvious that the library was not only a place for books, but a general community space that fostered learning in every capacity.  With students buzzing in and out, the amount of excitement and curiosity in the library was palpable.

While this may not sound revolutionary for someone living in the United States, the libraries in Chacaya and ChukMuk bring a new sense of hope to a wider community. According to a recent UNESCO study, Guatemala has the second-lowest reading achievement levels for all third-graders across the 17 Latin American countries. Here around Lake Atitlan, the need is even greater as 50 percent of Santiago’s indigenous children never finish their primary education. 

However, with the construction of these new libraries and Pueblo a Pueblo’s ongoing teacher trainings and continuous support, change is slowly happening and that is something worth celebrating!

(Below are photos from the recent inauguration of the Chacaya school library as well as International Literacy Day, which Pueblo a Pueblo celebrated by training teachers on how to use educational games to improve student performance in math and literacy.)

One of our students in Chacaya
One of our students in Chacaya

We knew that students would be excited when we introduced our Pathways to Literacy Project to the Chacaya Elementary School. Few of them have access to books at home and even in their classrooms literacy games and activities are rare. A library, even if younger students could not read, symbolized a world of new and interesting discoveries. Makes sense they’d be eager to explore, right?

But even knowing this, we weren’t prepared for the rush of enthusiasm when the library doors eventually opened. As soon we installed the first bookshelves and put up posters, students began to arrive in droves. They asked to help clean, paint, and – as soon as there were books – stock the shelves and leaf through their newest toys.

The incredible amount of student demand was strong enough to draw us from our initial project timeline, and although the library is not officially inaugurated, teachers already have access during class hours and students are free to explore independently during recess.

Over the next few weeks we’ll complete final library installations and deliver more books (including purchases funded by our last Microsoft YouthSpark Matching Day – thanks so much to all of you who donated!).

It’s a humble beginning, but we’re very optimistic about this new chapter in the Chacaya Elementary School’s ongoing development.  

Preparing materials for the library
Preparing materials for the library

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Organization

Project Leader

Rosemary Trent

Executive Director
Cabin John, MD United States

Where is this project located?

Map of A World of Reading for Maya Children in Guatemala