Guadalupe, January 2019
Dear Vamos Adelante Friends,
Santa Claus is at this point probably on some type of retreat after having worked so hard with us in the tropical weather accompanied by some volcanic outburst and ash. Christmas seems like a long time ago for us , as we have been so busy with packing the big initial school bags, classifying the children and young adults for a scholarship through interviews , trying to figure out the sizes of their feet , handing out back packs, etc. Overall it sounds easy but let me tell you, fitting shoes on little children is a challenge. Each child, provided they qualify for the scholarship ( which most do), will receive a classic, nice pair of leather shoes for school and a pair of good tennis shoes , both very well manufactured . Most children are so excited with the prospect of receiving shoes that they say yes to almost any size-“oh yes they fit real well… “,while barely being able to walk ( their thought process : better to say yes and receive something than saying no and perhaps receiving nothing?), then we have to assure them that they will indeed receive two pairs but that they need to be honest and tell us if the shoes hurt or are much too big.
There are heavy bulky beautiful school bags everywhere in our base right now as this year many more students than usual have applied and we will probably reach at least between 800 to 850 scholarships. The disaster last June made people reflect over many things, also about the importance of education.
This year we did not give the scholarship students from Kindergarten to 6th grade a test but they and a parent had to listen to our requirements: for example that they need to brush their teeth three times a day, have to be lice-free, are not allowed to sell the donated materials and uniform, have to attend school punctual and regularly, need to do their homework, keep the house clean, only drink filtered or chlorinated water, keep the food covered with some cloth to prevent parasites, etc. The older students 7-9 grade had to pass a very simple test and the ones heading towards college, vocational school or university had to come to an interview with Nina. We are very well aware of the enormous stres the students and their families have been through the last 6 months
Perhaps you might recall every year’s repeating process in the schools although public schools are supposedly free of charge:
In the beginning of each school year, which is January here, each teacher in each class gives her/his students a loooong list of school supplies and books they need to purchase , which mostly is the reason why parents only send some of their children to school. The teacher decides, according to her/his judgment, which supplies to buy. Imagine 3 different first grades in one school needing totally different materials. Then there is the issue about books-same thing here. The government sends books eventually, often in February or March or later, which are very good but often there are not enough as they work with statistics from the previous year. In addition the teachers do not use them frequently as there are set up for them to prepare class, which is normally unheard of. We have been trying over and over again to at least receive the teacher’s lists ahead of time so we can buy the materials at much cheaper costs but planning ahead is not on their agenda. So years ago we came up with the idea to make a basic school bag with the items most frequently asked for and then purchase the lacking material separately.
Imagine the flood of schools lists from close to 30 schools from Kindergarten to vocational school , college…..
Then of course there are maintenance costs that have to be paid, in the upper grades also fees for exams, celebration of x year of the school existence, and many other often strange costs. If the student does not participate in the annual excursion ( upper grades) then x amount of points will be deducted from their subject card. Many of the fees have to be paid by the end of January. Why everything has to be paid within one or two months and why school material for a whole year has to be bought together we until this day have not understood. In addition of course books have to be bought, the teacher decides which.
The school in El Rodeo and Santa Rosa are open again but some sections stay in Escuintla, where the temporary homes are, it appears. We have not yet received all the information, as it has not been confirmed.
In May, the next rainy season will begin and without doubt the volcano will not e very friendly. We expect much lava flowing through the rivers and blocking the roads. For now, it is January and we continue to work out of our base in Zapote, keeping a big eye on the volcano.