Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home

by From Books to Brilliance
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home
Without Education We Cannot Save Our Home

Head teacher Emanuel sounded the alarm. “They are down to only tortillas.” It was early May and our friends in the rainforest village of Seacacar had already survived six weeks of quarantine. Worldwide we were given no time to prepare, but for Mayans living in a forest, this virus meant much more…probable starvation. These subsistence farmers plant in mid-May and harvest in September. During the dry season from November to April, the Q’eqchi Maya typically work for larger companies, preparing fields for planting. With those earnings their families eat. But companies were closed; the quarantine stopped everyone. In Seacacar there would be no food for the next three months. From Books to Brilliance (FBTB) and partner organization, the Rios Fund, had to act immediately.

Word went out to Rotary clubs. An online fundraiser garnered enough funds to feed the village for three weeks. Donations continued, ensuring an additional two weeks of food. FBTB liaison Emanuel recruited volunteers, shopped the markets in nearby El Estor, and delivered seventy-five gunnysacks filled with rice, beans, and oil to the village center. Masked citizens gathered with tears in their eyes, signed for their family’s ration, and praised all involved in this effort to feed their community.

Still schools were closed, and endlessly hungry children had little to do. A new program called Soup and Stories, or Leer y Comer, would encourage Seacacar’s youth to continue reading. Parents would cook a nutritious meal and serve everyone participating in this educational activity. The older kids would read stories to the younger ones. Requirements to participate were 1) keep hands clean 2) wear facemasks 3) maintain distance, and 4) bring your own dishes.

We received this update from Soup and Stories Director Emanuel Carrera:

Because of donations From Books to Brilliance in June, the Soup and Stories program was a big success, providing Seacacar communities with opportunity and hope. Although classes were suspended throughout Guatemala due to COVID-19, Seacacar children were able to benefit from a daily 90-minute reading lesson followed by a nourishing meal. Extreme poverty affects almost all Seacacar families, who are without fixed incomes, so the students’ parents were happy, relieved, and motivated to have their children take part. We managed to feed 116 people even though the prices of daily consumer goods were higher than usual because of the coronavirus. We bought our rations from vendors in the village of El Estor, which meant we could help support the local economy as well.

Additionally, (one of your donors) generously sent money for washable, reusable masks for each of the program participants. Everyone wore their masks as though they were "in uniform."  As you can see from the photographs, we put names on the masks, so that if any went missing, we could identify who they belonged to. All involved in the program took every precaution when it came to hygiene, disinfecting their hands and arms with gel alcohol and observing social distancing always. Because the routine was new to us, I will admit it took some getting used to!

Many thanks for your efforts and dedication to the Seacacar community project. Truly everything is part of a chain of aid.

Thank you GlobalGivers! Your continued generosity plays an enormous role in the future of a people, a forest, and a life-giving river.

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We will be in middle school soon!
We will be in middle school soon!

We are getting accustomed to the books and we are very proud of learning new things…so that we can be leaders some day in our community, writes fourteen-year-old Lorena Yulissa Seb Coc. Hers is one of two dozen letters, hand-written in Spanish, that From Books to Brilliance recently received. At home in Seacacar and the other thirteen Mayan villages located on the banks of the Sauce River, Lorena and her classmates speak in Q’eqchí. In elementary school they begin to learn Spanish. These textbooks, published in Guatemala and purchased in the capital city, are the first-ever available at the Instituto Básico Comunitario.

Prompted by your generosity, GlobalGivers, these middle school students fill their letters with expressions of gratitude. If not for you, we wouldn’t be able to study. The books make our school better, writes Mirian. We are learning to read, write and speak in another language. We now know the benefits of reading, says another. The books also teach us how to take care of the forest and the animals here. Please come to our community so that we can show you what we are learning. We are very happy.

Due to this devastating global pandemic, our March 12 trip was cancelled hours before seven From Books to Brilliance volunteers could board our planes. The world now stands still, but we are grateful for the virtual connections that stretch from New Mexico into the Guatemalan rainforest. Head teacher Emanuel scans their writing and sends the letters to us by email. Voices of young teens, rarely heard outside their villages, arrive in our inbox. What a gift!

In this report we hoped to depict the birth of a library, a day when middle school students would read beautiful storybooks to the little ones. Citizens from all fourteen villages would show up to celebrate a future of literacy for their youth and the possibilities those skills would bring. Together we would laugh, tell stories, and eat birthday cake and maybe ice cream. Our itinerary was full. That day will come again, and when it does, we will keep you posted. We all thank you from our hearts for your kindness and generosity.

The books help us learn many new things.
The books help us learn many new things.
We are improving our vocabulary.
We are improving our vocabulary.
We know more about reforestation.
We know more about reforestation.
We learn about natural resources and conservation.
We learn about natural resources and conservation.

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Overloaded with textbooks and educational materials, our SUV pulled into the river village of Seacacar. Arriving in late October meant that school had ended. We found residents eagerly preparing for middle-school graduation. Young teens were decorating their one-room primary school inside and out with palms, natural gifts from their rainforest home. Teachers were supervising students; parents were cooking. In the morning, five graduates would proudly accept their diplomas. The venue was perfect. Just a few years before, in that same classroom, Sergio, Pedro, Iliana, Jorge and Edin had learned to read the Spanish and Q’eqchí words written on the blackboard. There were no books.

The Instituto Básico 2020 graduating class will be larger. With additional textbooks, Seacacar’s recently established middle school is now able to accommodate dozens more pupils from thirteen neighboring villages. They will live in modest, screened-in dormitories. Upon graduation many students will continue their studies at Ak’ Tenamit, a high school with coursework tailored to the needs of the local Mayan community. Students specialize in rural economic development or sustainable tourism. Last year 91 percent of Ak’ Tenamit graduates secured jobs quickly and earned an entry-level pay that was twice the national average.

The next morning, families crowded into the school to congratulate its five scholars. Head teacher Emanuel Carrera spoke eloquently in Spanish about a people who had never had a chance to study and how, with the help of many, the future was changing for their children. Mariano, a local resident, translated every word into Q’eqchí for the elders. It was a joyous ceremony filled with hope. But for us, the best was yet to come.

Over a lunch of tamales and chicken soup, conversation flowed. Graduates spoke enthusiastically of a recently awarded grant from Germany. With the expertise of Jairo, an agronomist, reforestation in all fourteen villages had already begun. Teachers discussed the upcoming school year, but worried about how they would feed additional students. Everyone’s eyes filled with tears when speaking of Edin, who graduated despite losing both parents. What would the future hold for him and his five brothers and sisters? And finally, I talked about you, our supporters, and your interest in their story…one we will continue to tell. Smiling, they asked me to thank you. Today our mission seems larger, more significant. It touches lives. Creating access to resources is just the beginning.

Before the graduation ceremony...your gifts!
Before the graduation ceremony...your gifts!
Four of the five graduates
Four of the five graduates
Girls dormitory
Girls dormitory
More textbooks for a growing number of students
More textbooks for a growing number of students

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In the Q’eqchí-speaking village of Seacacar, literacy is cloaked in reforestation, sustainable tourism and agriculture, and it is powerful. With tens of thousands of tropical saplings planted, the town’s well-prepared staff is already welcoming visitors to their beautiful lodge.  Recently the Guatemalan Tourism Institute chose the Seacacar Nature Reserve as a preferred tourist destination.  And now with a sizeable grant financed by a German association, all fourteen villages in the Rio Sauce watershed will begin extensive reforestation.

Thank you, GlobalGivers! In Seacacar your gifts keep giving. Now, armed with high quality Guatemalan textbooks, teen-aged students envision a world of possibilities. Though still living in wooden huts and cooking over wood, young people are speaking of their future. Some plan to guide tourists in the rainforest, others will teach, create local businesses, or become doctors and nurses. Literacy is the source of it all.

In October From Books to Brilliance volunteers will celebrate with middle school graduates. Several will continue their education at Ak Tenamit, a school accessible only by water, where they study rural economic development and sustainable tourism. These young leaders will return to their villages with the ideas and skills necessary to edify their communities.

Seacacar is now the seat of education for all fourteen villages in the Rio Sauce watershed. Our next report will tell of recruiting students "upriver." With your support we will purchase many more textbooks and serve additional students. For thousands of Mayans whose home is the Rio Sauce watershed, reading has become a skill necessary for survival. We value your support.

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We thank you, GlobalGivers! Now first-rate Guatemalan texts are available to all students at the Instituto Básico Comunitario Ak’ Tenamit, a Mayan middle school in the village of Seacacar. These books extend opportunities to their youth like never before. In this small community, where few adults can read and write, limited economic resources are available. Educational Director Emanuel Carrera Requeña explains that the town council is focused on creating opportunity, not dependency, with gender equality for all people that live on the banks of the Sauce River. Here, translated from Spanish, is a recent letter from Emanuel, updating us all.

Hi Friends:

I greet you from Guatemala City. Things have gone spectacularly well for each of the villages at this “Looking for Opportunities” conference. Our days are filled while we work towards completion. We know that all is possible when people have access to education. It is good that the essence of (Seacacar’s) sustainable tourism project is to finance education for the young men and women that live on the shores of the Rio Sauce watershed, so they are able to learn new things in our middle school. In comparison to prior years, income from tourism has been low due to (local) roadblocks…Nevertheless we are committed to elevate Seacacar through the promotion and publicity of our majestic Seacacar Canyon.

Our student population grows every year; our facilities already are inadequate. For that reason we have put together a temporary classroom on the river’s edge. It doesn’t meet basic requirements, but we think of the phrase “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” We are working on proposals for various non-governmental organizations, and also some for government, to see in what way a classroom construction project could evolve. The work is arduous, but our commitment to bring sustainable tourism to Seacacar is strong.

We hope to greet you this year with positive news for Seacacar. Personally I thank you endlessly for all your effort to raise funds and buy books, or for other projects (the solar-powered library, for example) that will strengthen our community. I send photographs of the boys and girls studying, together with their beloved teachers. I hope that they serve you well. All send hugs to Kim, Debbie and Luke.

Emanuel Carrera Requeña

With good teachers and quality textbooks, Seacacar now has the resources to provide a quality education to more young people in thirteen neighboring villages.Council members are very proud of these educational gains, and are venturing upriver to recruit next year’s students. Paul Heesaker, founder of the Rios Fund and the Seacacar Canyon Natural Reserve tells us, The community wants to extend the help that they have received to others. They are paying it forward!

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From Books to Brilliance

Location: Albuquerque, NM - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @KimCovill1
Project Leader:
Kim Covill
Founder & President
Albuquerque, NM United States

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