Back to School in Guatemala

Back to School in Guatemala

Written by: Mark Wallace, Director of Christian Horizons Global

A fine layer of volcanic ash covered the school in Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala, just a week ago. And now I sit here with 5-yearold preschool student, Esteven and his teacher, Sully, who is also the director of three other inclusive preschools like this one in Central America.

The debris has since been cleaned away and for the most part, life is back to normal. Although evacuation in this community wasn’t needed, being just 15 km away from the Fuego eruption, everyone knows someone who was hurt or displaced by the disaster. In this community, everyone also knows someone who is significantly impacted by urban poverty and involved in drug-related crimes. Life isn’t easy in this corner of the world.

Esteven has been attending school for two years and he is thrilled to be here. He likes playing games with his friends, Angy and Kendy, at recess. Initially he was hesitant to participate in class as a result of his learning challenges and difficulty speaking, but even still, he follows along with the lessons. Observing from the back of the classroom, I watched as he bravely raised his hand and answered some questions. Adjusting to school hasn’t been easy for Esteven. With time, his teachers have begun to understand him when he speaks, and have learned his likes and dislikes, which has really helped Esteven feel like he belongs in his classroom. It might take him longer than his classmates to learn, but Esteven keeps trying, encouraged by his teachers.

Thanks to the dedication of his teachers at this preschool, next year Esteven will attend the local elementary school. Despite the many factors stacked against him, we know from previous preschool graduates that it is very likely that Esteven, too, will be successful, because of the solid educational foundation he’s received. It’s so much more than knowledge and skills; Esteven has developed a confidence that comes from being welcomed, included and valued. The learning challenges he faces won’t go away. But his self-confidence in his own ability to learn will help motivate him to work hard towards his dream of becoming a police officer.

It costs just $26 a month to help students like Esteven and his classmates be part of important inclusive education programs like this one in Guatemala. There’s no question that Esteven is better off because he’s included. What’s also vital to recognize is the positive impact that including Esteven has on all the other students and teachers in his school.

We all have a better life when we all can belong.