“The computer will be a tool I can use to defend myself against any problems I face.”
“The computer will be a tool I can use to defend myself against any problems I face.”
Imagine this…you live in a tiny town high in the mountains of Guatemala. The wind whips dense clouds across your path as you walk the dirt road to school every morning, obscuring your vision and soaking through your sweater. Your town is so far removed from the rest of the country that the town leaders have found only one brave soul to teach at your school of 100 students. In an attempt to make up for this, the government provides educational content in the form of DVDs and VHS tapes that you watch on an old television set. School is largely an exercise in sitting still and willing yourself to pay attention to a droning screen.
What sets CoEd apart from other charities? Can you name something? Let me count the ways…
Seriously, though, one of the things we pride ourselves on is community engagement. We don’t just arrive at a school, hand over some books or install some computers, and leave. Instead, our team works to develop relationships with the school community (from principals and teachers to students and parents) and to train school teachers and administrators to manage the programs on their own. This way, the beneficiaries of our programs really become the agents of their own success. They are in control, and they are the ones who ultimately pull themselves out of poverty. All we really do is give them the tools to do so, in a country where those tools often aren’t available.
Brenda’s heart leapt as she rounded the corner and saw green and white streamers fluttering above her school. Why? It was inauguration day for El Aguacate Cooperative School’s first ever Computer Center, and she couldn’t wait to get her hands on a computer! She knew that those mysterious black boxes (which YOU are helping to demystify) would play a crucial role in her dreams.
“I want to be a bilingual secretary someday,” says Brenda, a seventh grader. “These computers will help me get a job as a secretary, so that I can save money and study at the university level.”
Agustin Cutzal Sajbochol is not a typical eighth grader. At 21 years old, he is nearly a decade older than most students in his class at Hacienda Maria Cooperative School. But, as he chats animatedly about the new skills he is learning from the Cooperative for Education (CoEd) Computer Center at his school, the age difference seems to vanish. Agustin is simply another eighth grader, captivated by technology and eager to share his newfound knowledge.
Agustin is the seventh of eight kids in a family that has always struggled financially. His dad, an alcoholic, died when Agustin was just five years old, leaving his mother Francisca—who has never attended a day of school in her life—the sole breadwinner. (more…)
Principal Pablo Xinico gets it. During a celebration earlier this year at his school, he wisely said,
“Education is a critical base required for development in rural areas. In our globalized world, technology is now an even more important part of the education of our students. So that our students can be competitive, our students need to have technological skills.
Our community here at Hacienda Maria is very proud to have such a modern and successful computer lab. This [computer] lab has contributed to the success of professionals as they graduate from this school. Our graduates are working in all sorts of jobs thanks to the preparation they received here.”
Principal Xinico is right; this lab is a BIG DEAL. Earlier this week, we had the pleasure of re-inaugurating the Computer Center Program at Hacienda Maria Middle School. They have already been in the program for more than ten years! It usually takes about six years for a school to save enough money from the student fees to purchase new equipment. So, what does that mean for this school (all you math whizzes out there, help us out!)?
That’s right—this was the second time the school purchased all-new computer equipment from the money collected from student fees and saved in their revolving fund. That is sustainability at its best, my friends.
Thank you so much for being a part of success stories like this one.
What words of encouragement would you send to Principal Xinico and his students?
Vilma Chanchavac is the seventh of eight children. Over the years, she has seen her siblings succeed, and she has seen them fail. Coming from a financially unstable family, three of her older siblings followed in her parents’ footsteps and dropped out of school after the sixth grade. They struggle every day to survive, mired in poverty.
The other three siblings were able to overcome their economic barriers and stay in school, becoming nurses and an industrial mechanic. They are all from one family, but education has led them down two very different paths.
Thanks to Cooperative for Education (CoEd), Vilma is on the path of education, knowledge, and success. CoEd recently installed a Computer Center at her school, La Colina, and Vilma could not be happier. “I love the computers, and the new lab has totally changed our technology classes,” she says. Before, they used outdated equipment, and the computer teacher did not understand the material well enough to teach them anything useful. Vilma explains, “She would just have us make drawings on the computer for the entire class period.”
Now that Vilma’s teacher has been trained by CoEd, her teaching methods have been completely transformed. Vilma recognizes the drastic improvement, saying, “In the first month of class, we have already learned how to write letters, make PowerPoint presentations, use Excel, and do basic programming.”
Math comes naturally to Vilma, and she hopes to become an auditor someday. Now that she is gaining invaluable knowledge and skills that she will use every day in a professional setting, her dream is finally within reach. CoEd has provided her and her classmates with superior technology and instruction, but more importantly, with the tools to keep reaching for the previously unattainable. A completely new world has opened up for Vilma; she will now be qualified for jobs and opportunities that would be inconceivable if she had never learned how to use technology.
Keeping Vilma in school is a financial strain on the family, but they see the high quality education she is receiving and know it is worth the sacrifice. Her mother Florencia says, “Finding the money to pay for school supplies is a constant struggle, but we have to keep fighting because without a good education, you can’t find work anywhere anymore.” First in her class, Vilma always works hard, pushing herself to read more, to study more, to achieve more. She has seen both sides of what life has to offer, and she is determined to make the most out of her time in school.
Clearly excited about the new computer skills she is learning, Vilma says, “We recently learned how to create formulas in a spreadsheet. This is exactly the type of knowledge I need to succeed as an auditor!” Her older sister Maria, who dropped out of school, chuckles in disbelief and amazement when she hears Vilma. She exclaims, “I don’t even know how to turn a computer on!”
One family. Two different paths. YOUR support has set Vilma soundly on the right path—the path to success.
Pulled from the archives of 2011—we want you to meet Velska and hear her story. She’s a shining star at CoEd and her story deserves to be told for all the hope it can give and the way it inspires overcoming obstacles.
Twenty-year-old Velska Pahola Ajú, from the rural town of Patzún in Guatemala’s impoverished Western Highlands, had seemingly modest aspirations.
“Ever since I was a child, I wanted to become a teacher,” she says. But in light of the fact that she was born in a country where indigenous women face discrimination, violence, and economic hardship, her dreams were anything but modest.
Besides growing up poor in an indigenous Kaqchiquel home, she faced other challenges as well. Velska’s parents separated when she was 10, tearing apart the fabric of her once close-knit family.
“It was so difficult psychologically, economically, and physically,” she shares. “My mom left my dad because he was an alcoholic and abusive. He did not help us out financially, either.” Those were difficult times, Velska remembers, “but I am proud of myself because in spite of all the problems, I remained a positive person and moved forward. I had faith in myself that I could do whatever I wanted to do.”
Velska, the eldest of five siblings, knew her mother could not make enough money in her own low-paying teaching job to keep her daughter in school. So Velska took a job caring for people’s children in the mornings, went to school in the afternoons, and worked in a hardware store on weekends to pay her own tuition. Velska’s weeks were exhausting, and sometimes she wondered if it was worth it. She loved her studies though, and enjoyed learning with CoEd textbooks. But it was her experience with the CoEd Computer Center at her school that strengthened Velska’s resolve to follow her childhood dream of becoming a teacher, with one slight twist: she would become a computer teacher.
“I had never touched a computer before CoEd put a lab in my middle school,” Velska comments. “The program inspired me to graduate and pursue the career I’ve always wanted.” Velska encountered new obstacles on her path to becoming a computer instructor. She experienced discrimination and harassment in her high school classrooms.
“I was the only indigenous girl in my class [of 52 students],” Velska notes. “There were only three other girls, but they ignored me. I was made fun of, even by my teachers,” she recalls without rancor. “But I didn’t let it bother me. I was there to learn, and that’s what I did.”
Against all odds, Velska graduated. And she knows she couldn’t have done it alone. “Without help from CoEd, my life would be so different,” Velska muses. “All of my classmates say what a difference the books and computers made for us.”
Soon after graduation, Velska approached her former CoEd Computer Center teacher, Silvio about employment opportunities with the organization. Impressed by her gumption, Silvio arranged a temporary assignment for Velska at the El Tejar lab, about an hour’s bus ride from Patzún. Velska managed to win over her supervisor, the faculty, parents, and most importantly, her students.
Silvio wants to hire Velksa full-time. He may have to wait though, as she has plans to enter San Carlos University next year. Velska wants to hone her skills and continue to pursue her dual passions, teaching and computers.
“My dreams for my future are to work, study at the university level, graduate, achieve economic stability, help my siblings and my mom, and just continue moving forward,” she states matter-of-factly. By no means are Velska’s aspirations modest. But she has proven that they are now well within reach.
Velska has come full circle. Once an eager and dedicated student, she is now a skilled and knowledgeable teacher, who will help many indigenous young people—just like her—use education and technology as a bridge to a better life.
Meet Velska in our Computer Centers Program video at www.coeduc.org/computersvideo.
Those numbers don’t lie. Computer skills are absolutely crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala. Remember Ivonne Barrios? She finally had the opportunity to use technology in the classroom, and is now ready to take on the world! Without computer skills, Ivonne wouldn’t be qualified for even the most basic of entry-level jobs.
How would your life be different without computer skills? Would you still be able to perform your job?
Deili Peruch has lived outside the village of San Vicente Buenabaj with her eight siblings all her life. She had never touched the keys of a computer keyboard or explored life beyond her isolated community. That is, until CoEd set up a computer center at her school.
“I have already learned how to use Microsoft Word, photo programs and Encarta. I can open files, cut and paste, and print. But what excites me most is learning about the world,” says Deili.
As she speaks, her father, Moises, stands behind her, grinning broadly. He and his wife are both illiterate. They know the hardships of poverty, and they want more for their kids. Many families in rural Guatemala keep their children—especially girls—home to help on the farm. But Moises is different. He sent all nine of his children to school, and intends to keep them there. (more…)