Thursday, January 14, 2010

A 14-year old teacher in Guatemala

When I built my house and hired Estela and Alexander to look after things I never dreamed how it might all unfold. Four years ago I heard about their living situation then saw it for myself. Fortunately, then the "Dow" was a lot higher then it is now and thanks to many of you, they now have a house and a garden which has, more or less, catapulted them into the wobbly middle class of Guatemala. The result has been that they have all been extending the acts of kindness to the less fortunate around them. Estela has had to receive treatment for cervical cancer, which is the most common killer cancer among women in Guatemala. Fortunately, because she has regular checkups hers was caught early and treatable.

Recently, while at the Cancer Center in Guatemala City for a check up Estela met a 22-year old woman with an infant and a toddler. Fifteen days earlier her husband, a bus driver, had been murdered by would be extortionists. While they were talking a doctor came out and told the young woman that her cancer was advanced and incurable. Alexander drove the distraught woman and her two children home to their ramshackle house in a very poor neighborhood and they both pondered what would become of her children. I was grateful that Estela hadn't offered to take them as I know that thought passed through her mind.

As a write Estela is overseeing the purchase of school supplies for little Sonia and her two sisters and two siblings of Charlie who continue to go to school. Thanks to a California womens' group for providing these funds which will pay for their books, school supplies and uniforms. Sonia is very excited to be starting school and with a uniform too. NY Times columnist and co-author of Half the Sky (a must read about the benefits of educating girls), Nicholas Kristof indicates that if a girl has a uniform she will stay in school longer.

Estela and Alex's daughter, Jackie, who turned 14 in November and who is a passionate reader, started reading stories to young children in their village during their school vacation. When I visited Casa Broccoli before Christmas the number had multiplied to 15 children all of whom sat in rapt attention and then participated in a question and answer session about the story. Thanks to Child Aid ( I was able to supply Jackie and her "students" with a supply of books that will last them for some time. Child Aid also supplied pamphlets so that each child could either draw or write answers to questions about the stories to encourage creative thinking, something not normally included in the government schools of Guatemala. Many of these children had never handled a book before.

This Christmas season it was Jackie and Astrid's turn to see a lake, stay in a hotel and ride in a boat for the first time. They also learned how to play Rummikub.

Julio, the Spanish teacher of former visitors to my house, who is a single father of three and in his second year of studies to become a physical therapist, received another contribution from his benefactors. Only with these contributions is he able to continue his studies. His 16-year old daughter is also starting university this month and she wants to pursue studies in human rights, badly needed in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan school year starts this month and Jackie will start her last year of basico (middle school) and next year will be the first one in her family to start high school. She wants to pursue a career as a bilingual secretary thus will go to a secondary school that will head her down that path. Denis, who starts basico this month, continues to spend all his spare time on the computer. Santa Claus brought the family a Level 1 Rosetta Stone English program and Denis has been charged with seeing that the whole family pursues it. ("There will be a test in March.") Estela has "graduated" from her cooking school and now has a certificate as a professional chef. She starts English classes at the same school this month. Astrid is starting the fourth grade, continues to be the top of her class and also reads whatever she can get her hands on. Alex remains Alex. Charming, stubborn, caring, dramatic, always yearning for another car ("sure Alex, when you have saved half"). As much of his business is by phone these days over the holidays he exchanged cars with a friend who just finished law school and needs to make money in order to take the bar exam. Sergio was the taxista and Alex the private driver and they split the proceeds. So, he has some business sense just but no sense of saving money to fund his dreams.

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