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Dec 13, 2018

Empower Brothers and Sisters: Israel's Graduation

Israel at his Middle School Graduation
Israel at his Middle School Graduation

The average family in Santiago Atitlán has about 3 - 5 children, and the Pablo Ajcots are no exception with a 14 year-old son, Israel, a 10 year old daughter, Hadasa, and a 6 year old daughter, Damariz. Their father, Salvador, is Cojolya’s Master Tailor and a member of our entirely Tz’utujil Board of Directors, and his hands craft our woven fabric into every final piece. Their mother, Sara, occasionally makes some güipiles but mainly tends to the home. Though the two of them only reached the 1st grade, they want their children to focus entirely on their studies instead of working while outside of school, which is the only option for many students in Santiago Atitlán who need to pay for their studies. 

As an organization that has supported social mobility in Santiago Atitlán for 35 years, we often assess educational opportunities through a generational lens. Reflecting on this community development on a familial level, we wonder--what if parents here had enough neighboring role models to value education and encourage each one of their children to pursue their passions? What changes can we make so that the eldest sibling did not always need to sacrifice their schooling so that their younger siblings could maybe afford to have an education? This is particularly true for girls who are not encouraged to remain in school as much as their male peers.

The Pablo Ajcots live off of Salvador’s wages, which, though higher than most tailors’ pay in Atitlán, just barely support a family of 5. Every quetzal is saved for necessities- food, shelter, education. In spite of their limited schooling funds, Israel has accomplished his initial goals in the Mano a Mano program and can thereby set an example for his younger sisters. Israel is a driven dreamer who hopes to become a mechanic and have the opportunity to travel the world, and he is the first in his family to graduate from middle school. After years of quiet diligence, never missing a class, Israel’s achievement is a huge honor for his family. Our intergenerational relationship with our artisans and their families make these celebratory moments all the more fulfilling.

The personal, intentional work within our small program makes us attuned to how we can best support each individual artisan family. Hadasa, much like her brother, is introspective, thoughtful, and a dreamer, often found quietly humming Tz’utujil songs and drawing during our workshops with the students. When suffering a life-threatening virus two years ago, she missed enough school to remain was far behind her classmates but now hopes to become a pediatrician so that she can prevent the suffering of other children in her community.

In Santiago Atitlán, childhood dream jobs often do not come to fruition for reasons that transcend outgrowing them. As Hadasa has two other siblings, her parents are unable to afford to send her to school past sixth grade. The academic opportunities for Damariz, the youngest sister, is all the more uncertain as she is so young and her parents’ artisan incomes depend heavily on sales and commissions.

While we support the sons, brothers, and nephews of our artisans in the Mano a Mano, as an organization primarily dedicated to empowering indigenous women, we make a concerted effort to keep the daughters and sisters of our associates in school due to gendered cultural norms that do not prioritize women’s education. Though Salvador believes both boys and girls should have a right to education, we have faith that Israel’s accomplishments will motivate his parents to try their best to give their daughters the same opportunity. However, as you can see through Israel’s success, the financial burden is eased through your support. We hope that our families’ stories demonstrate how your contributions’ seemingly small, local change can have a powerful impact across generations in our community.

Consider donating to our project during these end of year celebrations so that we can support Israel and his little sisters' educations during the following Guatemalan schoolyear. Mano a Mano wishes you a happy almost holidays! 




Salvador and his youngest daughter Damaris 2015
Salvador and his youngest daughter Damaris 2015
Hadasa, 10, at our Reading Workshop
Hadasa, 10, at our Reading Workshop
Sisters Hadasa and Damariz Pablo at our Art Class
Sisters Hadasa and Damariz Pablo at our Art Class
Dec 10, 2018

Manuel and the Inaccessibility of Higher Ed

Manuel arguably loves the camera most of all
Manuel arguably loves the camera most of all

Manuel is a smart, kind, and outgoing 12 year old from Santiago Atitlán. He is the third son of Mercedes, one of our artisans who has been with us for more than 20 years.

Manuel and his family were victims of Hurricane Stan in 2005, which had disastrous repercussions for the entirety of Santiago Atitlán and destroyed their home. While other Cojolya associates chipped in to support the family, the financial burden remained significant. Since then, Manuel’s dad has worked as an agricultural labourer, which is unfortunately very unstable, yet very common work in Atitlan. In his case, days can go by without being able to find work.

Manuel has 3 brothers, two of whom are older than him. At the moment, Manuel is the only child of his family attending school. His 2 older brothers and sister unfortunately did not get the opportunity to go to school, and are now working as artisans to support their mother and father, who both earn insufficient incomes to support the entire family of 6. 

There are 3 different levels of education in Guatemala. The primary school level is mandatory, and the enrollment cost is mostly free, which makes it accessible to most families. High School, on the other hand, is optional, and the cost gets more expensive over the years. This is when a lot of the families make the decision to take their children out of school, mostly for financial reasons.

Manuel hopes to continue pursuing his studies, despite all the barriers he knows he will have to face. There is still a year left until his parents decide whether he can or can’t be the first of his family to receive a secondary education. His situation and his family's past struggle after Stan is noteworthy going forward considering how climate change has progressed since 2005. Families in the global South are far more vulnerable to financial instability after natural disasters due to insufficient infrastructure. 

At Cojolya, our everyday motivation is to see these children become the first in their families to graduate. Our program’s mission is to empower the artisans' families to flourish and be less burdened by financial insecurities. For the Mano a Mano para el Desarrollo program, working with kids like Manuel is the greatest, yet most rewarding challenges there is.

We sincerely hope that Manuel can be the first in his family to have the opportunity for higher education. 

Help us support Manuel in this decisive year for his education along with our other first gen students. Together, we can make a difference in Santiago Atitlan. Please donate <3 !

Manuel and fellow students at Summer Celebration
Manuel and fellow students at Summer Celebration
Cojolya's favorite boy band
Cojolya's favorite boy band
A younger Manuel watching his mother at the loom
A younger Manuel watching his mother at the loom

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Dec 5, 2018

How Our Donors Supported Tz'utujil Families

Jose our Program Director gives Manuel supplies
Jose our Program Director gives Manuel supplies
As the year comes to an end, we are feeling incredibly grateful for the generosity of those who have done what they can to donate to our fundraiser on GlobalGiving. Thanks to every one of you, we were able to support thirteen children of artisans at Cojolya across the 2018 school year. 

Still in our first two years as a program, Mano a Mano para el Desarrollo (Hand in Hand for Development) is a young project. Yet, we are already succeeding in combating structural problems that have consistently affected our community through taking small yet significant steps to confront the problems that prevent our students from continuing their studies. The challenge for our project is to combat three central problems that affect our students: financial barriers, a lack of academic mentors, and lacking academic support. The main area we began tackling this year was financial barriers as we were able to minimize the financial burden parents feel each year. While our artisans are paid nearly 6 times the average amount in order to respect the slow handmade work going into our creations, often times this income is not sufficient on its own to support families where there are on average 4 children. Furthermore, many of our students are nieces and nephews of our weavers, and their parents' income is more unstable. 

The main reason families in our community of Santiago Atitlán do not enroll their children in school is due to a lack of resources. Academic costs are more manageable at the younger level, but once students begin attending secondary school, they spend about 260 Quetzales ($35) per month on their schools supplies and enrollment fees. This is nearly 40% of the average rural parents’ monthly salary, which is about 700 Quetzales ($940). As most families have more than one child, the parents are forced to sacrifice their child’s enrollment in secondary school as providing basic household necessities for multiple family members is deemed more important. 

This schoolyear, our project Mano a Mano managed to support local parents with a notable portion of expenses for their children still in school. We want you to know how we have been using your donations as the year comes to a close so that you can see the impact that your generosity has had upon our students. 

Students of all ages often need to use computers, and once they are in secondary school this digital access is even more necessary for conducting research. Yet, our students don’t have access to any personal computers, so Mano a Mano participants had two computers in our offices so that they had the resources to conduct research and print their homework. We reserved these desktops for them all day, and our Mano a Mano coordinator taught them how to use the computer as many had little to no experience working with one. 

Beyond our Computer Access Program, we also stored some school supplies in our offices. We offered our students the necessary amount of materials each day, and we were able to support the kids so that they could continue studying without as much financial burden for their family. Across 2018, we were able to able to cut 50% of the costs of educational materials and computer usage for all thirteen students participating in Mano a Mano. Our students were very grateful for the support as they felt more relaxed and focused in their school attendance and did not worrying as much about dropping out and saving money for their families during the schoolyear. 

We hope that you, our donor, feel proud of your generous donation to our project Mano a Mano because you supported thirteen students through offering them the basic resources they needed. Now our objective as a project for the following year is to manage to support the sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews of the Maya weavers of Cojolya with 100% of their schooling costs so that they can continue studying. 

As they year comes to an end, consider donating to our Mano a Mano project in order to support the children of maya weavers so that we can reach our goal and necessary budget of $10,000 to benefit the next generation of our community.
Our Director guides students in computer usage
Our Director guides students in computer usage
Julissa stands by our school supply stock
Julissa stands by our school supply stock
The "silly photo" at our summer celebration
The "silly photo" at our summer celebration
 
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