This month in our San Andres Itzapa Community we took a break from school for the day and headed off into the countryside for a day of tree planting. GVI’s in-field partners, The Phoenix Projects, run a reforestation program in conjunction with a Stove Construction Project where GVI volunteers build an energy-efficient stove for a family. Without stoves the majority of families in the communities cook on open fires, burning large amounts of wood and clearing substantial areas of trees on a regular basis. Once a month all the children, staff and volunteers head off armed with tools and armfuls of tree seedlings for tree planting day; making an effort to counteract the negative impact deforestation has on the local environment.
Living conditions for the children who attend our school are basic; often a communal living space with an open fire for cooking. Not only is this dangerous with children living and playing near the open fire but it fills the living area with toxic smoke. The stoves that a GVI volunteer can build in just a week are fitted with a chimney to rid the indoor living area of smoke which in turn increases life expectancy as well as cutting fuel consumption by a considerable amount.
About 75% of the Guatemalan population burn wood as fuel for cooking and heating which contributes to more than 1620 Km of deforestation in Guatemala each year (AIR, Alliance for International reforestation). The knock on effect of this leads to problems with water supply, soil erosion, reduction in air quality and also depletes the natural supply of nutrients in the soil which, as farmers, most of our families rely on for source of food and income.
As well as reforestation Phoenix Project’s goal is to build a stove for each family of the 600 children that attend the two schools in Guatemala.
In addition to planting a considerable amount of trees on the day it was a great opportunity for our volunteers to see more of the local community and town where they work. Most of our pupils are already expert tree planters with knowledge of the local tree species so were able to teach the staff and volunteers a thing or two!
In the United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Index (a worldwide measure of life expectancy, education and living standards) Guatemala ranked 131 out of 187. The poverty is mainly concentrated among the indigenous communities who live in rural areas such as San Andreas Itzapa and Santa Maria where The Phoenix Projects are based.
Our first year of our schools legality in San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala, has been an unbridled success thus far, with us being able to employ previous students who we have put through teacher-training college.
Costing roughly $200 a month per teacher and at present we have 10 employed. We are not only giving the children an excellent education from these young enthusiastic teachers, we are also helping the local economy through increased employment, whilst showing the younger children what opportunities there are and how achievable they are.
Thanks to continued donations, we can keep this dream alive for the community.
After years of legalities, form filling and jumping through hoops, we received the news that the “Pájaro de Fuego” school was finally granted official status. This new status has some big consequences; the students will be able to receive official qualifications in the school, rather than having to use valuable funds to send them to national school to receive their certificates. Phoenix, with some funds raised through the GVI Charitable Trust, now pays for 8 local teacher salaries, most of whom have come through the ranks on our projects over the years and all of whom we have helped through teaching college.
Towards the end of March 2012, all 240 children took their first official exams and with most of the grades coming through, we are seeing an incredible high average of marks from sciences, maths, Spanish, English and written Kaqchikel, which before, was unavailable. With the majority of children averaging over 80%, this puts them in the top 10% of Guatemalan schools. In Guatemala, only 70% of children finish Primary education (according to UNESCO data), with girls 8.4% less likely to finish that boys (SEGEPLAN). Of those children taking exams, 12.5% will fail the grade and have to retake the year, often leading to them dropping out altogether.
Thanks to the continuous presence of our volunteers we are able to run reinforcement lessons for those children who a falling behind, as well as teaching and assisting with the kinder kids, whose need for more attention is critical. It marks a watershed in history, slowly breaking the circle, whereby ex-students are employed to teach, moving one step closer to self-sustainability.
On 19th to 21st March, 15 challengers will be biking, hiking and kayaking around Lake Atitlán to raise money for our projects in Guatemala.
Recent reports showed that only an astounding 38% of children finish primary school in Guatemala. Our projects, which provides free education for over 600 children and support for further education can help these communities become more educated.
These charity challenges help to raise awareness as well as funds for the projects. This particular challenge will put funds towards food and fruit programs. Food is invaluable for these children who will be much better equipped to concentrate in class without being hungry.
We would like to share the most recent trustee report from the GVI Charitable Trust. This report covers the six month period from July to December 2011.
This has been by far the most successful period. In six months we have raised nearly as much as we did the whole previous year. This increase in funding has brought a corresponding increase in the impact we have been able to create on our programs around the world.
During this period we have invested in sustainable education across Latin America. This includes support for the elderly in Guatemala and income generation schemes to support education in Honduras and Ecuador. In Mexico we have worked with a community to establish a recycling centre and in Kenya our partners in Mombasa will now see impoverished students complete primary education to earn qualifications for the first time.
These are just a few highlights of an amazing, productive and rewarding six months. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and played a crucial role in these achievements.
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