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January 2020
From Cornelio Isaias Poou Morán:

Enculturation Trip to North Carolina, USA

My name is Cornelio, I am 24 years old, and I am currently studying International Affairs at San Carlos University in Guatemala City. I am originally from Coban, a town six hours from Guatemala City. I completed high school in 2017 but I thought I was not going to be able to continue with my studies at a university because I did not have the resources to do so.

However, I never gave up and I kept looking for opportunities. I applied for a scholarship from some governmental programs but they never gave me an answer. When I found out about GSSG, I applied and they analyzed my situation and then gave me the opportunity to continue with my studies. Now I am accomplishing my dreams and goals. I know that I have a long road to walk but I am just taking advantage of each opportunity that I am finding along the way. At the same time, I am encouraging other students to fight for their dreams and goals and, when I have the chance to give back, I will responsibly and happily.

Recently GSSG has given me the opportunity to travel to the USA. That was the first time that I got out of my country as well the first time that I flew on a plane. This was such an amazing experience that I have had. This was very amazing because I challenged myself by traveling alone. At the beginning, I thought somebody would be traveling with me and guiding me but it was not like I had thought. I was nervous before the trip because I was just worried about how it would be because, as I said, I had never traveled so far, much less in a plane. Finally, it was the day to travel and I did it! When I arrived at the Atlanta airport I got lost because it was a huge airport, not comparable with our airport in Guatemala. The good news is that I speak some English and that helped me a lot. The most important things I have learned from this travel adventure was that there will not always be someone to guide me and do things for me. I need to be able to depend on myself. I also learned how important it is to speak another language.

Being in the USA, I have experienced many things such as how people respect their laws. In Guatemala, we do also have laws but many of our people do not know them. Many people do not have the opportunity to study, especially in rural areas. This is my challenge as citizen to help others to know the laws and as well as their rights as citizens. Of course, the USA it is a developed country and the culture there is totally different.

Something that I liked most of my visit was living with my host family. I felt at home and I did not felt uncomfortable. I really enjoyed learning about things like going to the museum or to the theater, which is not common in my country. I really liked also going to a basketball game. I do like to play basketball but I do not practice much. I sometimes watch American basketball games but only by TV and I never have had the chance to watch one in person.

Another thing that was very important was a visit to the Guatemala consulate in North Carolina. We talked with the consul general who shared the different type of activities they do. This was important to me because my major is international affairs. We also talked about migration and I was very sad to hear about many things that happen to people that travel illegally to the U.S. On the positive side, the consulate personnel do their best to help our people navigate through all necessary paperwork as well as to be there to make sure their rights are not violated. That is a challenge for the consulate.

In general, my visit was of a lot of learning and the people who attended me were so kind. I felt I was at home and I am very thankful for such amazing people. I did also meet some of my supporters. It was a very nice experience and very productive. They encouraged me to continue working hard in my studies and someday I will be able to make positive changes in my country. This was very valuable for me because what they said to me is something that people in Guatemala must hear. We, as GSSG students, have this responsibility of being agents of change.

My special thanks to my hosts and godparents, Thomas and Marilyn Goehl. Without them, this GSSG program would not have continued and it would not have been possible for us students to receive all the support. In the name of my family and my society thank you very much.
May God always provide you with good health and a lot of blessings.

August 2016
From Byron Cap Caal:

Entrepreneurship in Tactic, Guatemala

byron-with-staff2_16At the end of May 2015, the principal of the school in my village and I were able to open up a library at the village. The library was open during school hours and was also open in the afternoons for 5 days a week. It functioned for four months, from June to September since after for months we no longer had support to pay the librarian. Every kid that visited the library was required to submit a report on a book they had read the previous day. My main role was getting financial support for the librarian which I was only able to get for four months.

From January to June 2016 I taught English in a village about 4 hours from where I lived. Most of the students I taught did not speak English. They spoke only K’eqchi which is a different Mayan language from mine. Earning $100 a month I taught English to the students while I would have to learn Keqchi from them. Travel was tiring but the experience was wonderful.

In June 2015 I put together a group of people who knew little English and proposed to them to open an English Academy. We put together all the paperwork and by October we had everything to request approval from the department of Education. I had to travel from Tactic to Coban almost twice a week for three months in order to find out what offices we would have to visit in order to get approved. By January we had words from the department of Education that we could start with our program but they would still have to look at our paper works in order to obtain a definite response. We started promoting in January and by February we had two students learning English. By May 2016 we had received our Resolution Number which enabled us to work under authorization of the Education Department of Guatemala. Now we hope to open a library in this academy for kids to come in and read. We have obtained a few books most of them in English but we also have a few in Spanish.

In April 2016 I was invited by Licenciado Jorge Paque to volunteer for a week at a Medical Mission as a translator from English to the Maya Language Pocomchi. In one of the villages visited I had to translate from Spanish to Kekchi. Doctors, most of the time, gave out Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen so sometimes I would advise the people to try medicinal plants which would last longer than the pills they were getting to cover forty days.

Around mid-July, my nephew, who is studying to be a teacher, asked my suggestion for a cheap project in a village. From my previous experience with the Medical Mission I told my nephew to give a talk to these people about health and medicinal plant. I was invited to give the talk and since I have had some experience, while taking care of my mother, on that topic it was not hard to prepare the talk.

September 2016
From Alba Griselda Rojas Xona:

Becoming a Leader

alba-winter-2015-and-2016Before living in the US I was doubtful, fearful and uncertain of the things I was used to doing at that time.  But now, after living in the US and knowing what I do about being a leader, I believe we have to first know what it is and truly believe that we are leaders.

I believe that I am becoming a leader.  I work at a hotel and on my first day I thought that we all earned the same salary. As I got to know my coworkers I found out that it was not the case.  I got to sympathize more with the cook and as I got to know her better, I found out that she was the least paid of all of us.  She was responsible for taking care of the kitchen and make sure that the inventory in the kitchen was all balanced because if it wasn’t, my boss would take money from her salary.  She also had to clean rooms. I advised her that she had the right to earn at least what she deserves by law and ask for a raise because she is a very essential person for the hotel. Even though she was scared, it made me happy that she asked for it.  I also told her to keep going to school.  She is now taking a cooking course so that she can earn her first diploma.  Whenever I have a chance I ask her how school is going.  It makes me very happy that she gets so delighted when she tells me about it.

In Guatemala sexism is still an issue, but I tell my family to at least end that in our home.  My two brothers now wash their own clothes; sometimes they help with dishes and other housekeeping things. My oldest brother unfortunately still believes that there are things that only women should do.  But when I ask him nicely and as a favor he will help.   I tell him that if women can do it, men can do it too.  My siblings wanted to be teachers when they get older but after I told them to define what they truly want to be their thought has changed. My youngest brother is now studying computer science.  He is going to a private school that I am helping to pay for because private schools are expensive.

At school, I am the only woman in our program and whenever we have school activities, some of my classmates say, “Alba will make the food”.  Now that I am taking electronics we sometimes need to bring an iron to make our electronic design, and there is always one classmate that will say, “Alba will bring it”.   I, of course, laugh and love to ask them to give me a reason why I should be the one.  I do have self-respect and feel that I am showing the boys and young men in my daily life that I and other women deserve respect as people.

I know that being a leader can involve much more than what I’ve been doing.  We start being leaders when we are able to deduce the sense of our impact and that impact starts in ourselves. We might find richness in knowing other people and can complement that with ourselves.  But no one else can have the same input or contributions that we have because we are unique and irreplaceable.  That’s what makes us become leaders, to have the courage to lead ourselves and encourage that kind of change in others.

September 2016
From Luis Fernandez:

Addressing a Public Health Crisis in Guatemala

luis-fernandez1Public health crisis Guatemala is currently experiencing a public health[1] crisis. Public health services in Guatemala are divided into three different levels: first, second and third level. The first level is integrated of small institutions that are called: “puestos de salud”[2]. These are in charge of the most basic health assistance. At these places, non-emergency cases are taken care of, like flus, diarrheas, blood glucose control, shots and shots’ control. The second level is able to take care of births and the patients can even stay over because these are bigger and they have beds and rooms available. And the third level is integrated by the national and department´s (state) hospitals. These are able to take care of just about anything. They’re supposed to have all resources to give immediate solution to just about any situation. From a simple flu to a kidney transplant. All three levels have to work together to take care of the whole population. If one of the levels is not capable of managing a specific situation, this is referred to the next level until it reaches the “most” capable (the third level). Unfortunately, at the moment, all three levels are submerged in a worrying crisis. Minor health issues can’t even be handled at the third level. There have been days, in which national hospitals have been closed. This didn’t happen because the people in charge wanted to, but because these institutions are running out of resources. There have been cases, reported by the press and seen by many in which doctors can only see the patients to tell them what to buy or what to do to recover their health. This is happening at the third level! Just imagine what’s happening at the first and most basic. I, as a medicine student and as a future physician, have the privilege to practice and work at the first level; so, I can tell from first row what’s happening. I go to a “puesto de salud” once a week, and along with a doctor in charge, we see several patients. Some come with first-world health issues like diabetes mellitus type 2, hypertension, and even cancer. But, we also see patients who only come because they are suffering of diarrhea, fever or they just want to talk about their issues. These are not the worst cases though. As it happens in all societies, we have a non-privileged group of people who survive in a daily income of less than five dollars. These are the people who suffer the most. With this in mind, together with some friends, we decided to take as a task to go into a dump[3] and specifically at a school at the dump. We suspected these families and kids needed health care and we were right. We are totally capable of completing a physical test, so we came into the school (with previous permission) and class after class we examined the kids, from first to sixth grade. The main purpose of us doing this is to complete their own first health record. And now, based on the main needs and statistical results, we are starting to ask for assistance to big companies we know could donate money or treatments for the kids. Our main worry is the dental cavities, malnutrition, and poor vision. All of these left us very worried, but we hope to find the help we require to take care of, at least, the main needs. Definitely, jumping into the pool of public health in Guatemala is very interesting and complicated at the same time. I hope to be a good doctor and in some or many ways help the needy ones. I’m only in my second year out of the six years of med school but my vision is to be a change factor, one who could create a socioeconomic change for the good of my people.

[1]: All organizations and places that provide health services to the population and whose main purpose is to make health available to anyone.

[2]: Health center ran by the government, sometimes with a doctor on duty or simply an auxiliary nurse.

[3]: A place where many people and whole families work daily recycling and picking up garbage.

September 2017

From Loyda Bernardez

Single Mothers in Guatemala

Guatemala is a rich and beautiful country, rich in diversity and beautiful for its vast rainforest and steep volcanoes, but unfortunately it holds numerous problems. One of the most alarming problems it faces pertains to single mothers. According to INE, (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica de Guatemala), 57.2% of women who give birth are single mothers. Being a single mother is not an issue, however, the issue arrives when these mothers do not have the means to provide for their children due to lack of income, especially when women get pregnant at a very young age. The other concern is that many other problems emanate from this particular one, such as, malnutrition, illiteracy, and delinquency. I am mentioning these three problems because they really exist in Guatemala. Guatemala has a high malnutrition rate, especially in a town of Chiquimula called Jocotan. Jocotan has the highest malnutrition rate in all the country. Its malnutrition rate is of 72.8%. If the children had mothers with good incomes or had both parents providing for them, they would have plenty of food to eat. Illiteracy is also high in this country, particularly in rural areas. Children are forced to work at a young age and I have had the unfortunate occasion of seeing children in the streets working when they should actually be at school studying. Lastly, I believe that delinquency arrives from the absence of balance in a family, maybe a lack of a fatherly figure or lack of attention from parent to child.

The cause of this problem is merely cultural since parents under no circumstances educate their kids about their sexuality. Sexuality is a topic that nobody ever discuses at home and, as a result, many Guatemalan youth jeopardize their lives when they remain unaware about sex.

In my opinion, 57.2% is such a high number when one speaks of single mothers and I am certain that Guatemala cannot exterminate this problem altogether, but it can diminish it. Since sexual education is not imparted anywhere the youth have no knowledge of how to protect themselves. In consequence, sexual education must begin somewhere and the perfect location to start is in schools. Sexual education should be part of the schools’ curriculums, public and private schools, starting from seventh grade and teaching it until ninth grade. The benefit of sexual education is not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but it also rises awareness in many other topics, including gender identity, marriage relationship, body images, and family responsibilities.

Sexual education will prevent young women from getting pregnant at a very young age and will create a sense of responsibility in the minds of men. As a result, we will be able to see more responsible men and women and an increase in well-structured families, so that kids can live a normal life with no danger of suffering from malnutrition and with no danger of becoming criminals.

September 2017

From Jose Pablo Cucul

What Ails Guatemalan Schools?

“We cannot expect teachers to teach what they do not know, nor to use yesterday´s

training to prepare today´s students for tomorrow´s future.” Denis Sparks

Throughout history, the people of Guatemala, have often been suppressed and discriminated against by their own government. The government has built walls that have been stopping the Guatemalan people from moving forward; the walls of poverty, illiteracy, isolation, inadequate housing, hygiene, medical care, and malnutrition are strong as ever. The education system is one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere. Teachers tend to be poorly prepared and almost frequently, they are absent without a substitute, and very few schools have libraries.

Having been to different schools in Guatemala, both private and public, has made me realize how we expect a lot from teachers and blame them for not preparing students adequately. However, if we study that problem carefully, we find out that the system is broken. The government does not provide enough tools for the education system to be improved.

Looking for the right tools to improve the system has become a nightmare. A lot of people have tried to come up with different ideas to solve such problem in the country but the government is not interested. One of the things I have pondered upon lately is that the government must invest in improving the capabilities of every teacher. How can the government do that?

Policies and programs have to take place and prepare highly qualified students into teaching and help them to succeed. I propose a four step program that I have personally named “4 Steps towards Success in The Classroom”.

In order to achieve great results in the future and improve the system, this program focuses on:

Step 1:

Create a Bachelor’s degree in Education which every elementary, middle and high school teacher must possess. Future educators must achieve a certain Grade Point Average on standardized test provided by the University of San Carlos and in cooperation with the government in order to get into the Bachelor’s Degree in Education Program.

Step 2:

Educators must have completed two years of the Five- year Bachelor’s degree in Education Program so as to be hired by both the public and private schools.

Step 3:

Offer higher salaries based on students grades and performance each year on standardized tests. Academic achievements by educators must be rewarded by being relocated to areas closer to their hometown.

Step 4:

Educators who have achieved great results on students’ performance must be relocated to areas serving low-income and low-performing students. This must go hand in hand with higher salaries, bonuses and provide them with enough instructional resources.

These programs would have constant performance evaluations which will take educators accountable for producing effective students measured by standardized tests and programs run by every school district.

Other policies should be implemented in order to make this program successful. The government should find ways to fund programs that will bring about change. The government must invest more in education. Education is the most powerful weapon in the world and we must empower people to build a brighter and better future.