Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala

by Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala
Help Build School Libraries in Rural Guatemala

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. 

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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.)

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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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As we begin replication of our Pathways to Literacy Project into the community of San Antonio de Chacayá, our local staff is working hard to ensure a smooth period of phasing this project out of the Chukumuk Elementary School, where over the past three years we have built a fully functional, sustainable school library.

In addition to building literacy skills and training, the focus of our efforts has been to empower teachers and administrators to take complete ownership of library and its resources, thus embedding literacy activities in the fabric of the school and its classrooms.

Our project goals goes hand-in-hand with a government-led initiative in Guatemala called Leamos Juntos (Let’s Read Together), which requires every teacher at public primary schools to design a year-long literacy plan for their students.

Whereas teachers in urban communities often receive more government attention, teachers in vulnerable schools such as Chukmuk have received little training on how to develop a plan for literacy activities. To fill this gap, Pueblo a Pueblo recently led a workshop for ChukMuk teachers on how to develop an effective, age appropriate literacy plan. Our project not only provides critical training and skills for rural school communities, where the government efforts often don’t reach, but establishes a great example for other schools in the area.

“It was inspiring,” said Montse, our Project Manager. “Every teacher in the school was inside the library searching for appropriate books for their students, using the school library database, and comparing ideas for activities.”

The next step is to schedule a second training later in the year, after which, according to the school principal, the teachers will travel to the town of Santiago to present their literacy plans with other schools.

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Over the past three years we’ve been proud to help build a reliable community resource in the Chukmuk Elementary School Library. Students, teachers, and parents now have weekly access to a fully equipped library and services that include book lending, literacy activities, and summer vacation literacy camp. In a region that struggles with chronic illiteracy, resources like these are a way for students to start along a path to better jobs and more economic opportunity.

In the coming year, we’ll be expanding our Pathways to Literacy Project to Chacayá, another rural community with which we’ve built a strong bond over the past several years.

 Most of the students who attend the Chacayá Primary School come from families that depend entirely on coffee farming as a sole source of income. Even compared to the rest of our partner communities, living conditions in Chacayá can be dire. Stunting rates are among the highest we’ve seen; children often receive as little as one meal a day; and when the coffee-harvest ends economic activity in the community grinds quickly to a standstill.

Since 2006 we’ve introduced new projects into the local elementary school: Organic School Gardens, School Nutrition, Primary Education Scholarships, and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in School.

Bringing Our Pathways to Literacy Project to Chacayá will create even more comprehensive support for resident children in need. Once we establish the library space, we will also lead workshops and provide individual training for teachers to ensure that the library is well managed and utilized.

 “We envision it becoming part of the fabric of the community,” says Montse, our Pathways to Literacy project manager. “Over fifty percent of the population in Chacayá is under 20. The future of this community lies with these children.”

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Organization Information

Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Location: Neenah, WI - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Pueblo_a_Pueblo
Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.
Andrew Wilson
Project Leader:
Andrew Wilson
Executive Director
Neenah, WI United States

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