Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Giraffes in Guatemala

As I have expected both Alexander and Estela have adjusted to being "divorced."  I use the quotes because most often the poor in Guatemala simply say "I do" or "I don't" and fairly quickly change partners. A much less onerous arrangement than in the developed world and clearly there is little property to squabble over.  The kids stay with mom but feelings get hurt all the same.

So, while there is still a certain amount of finger pointing and tearful (Estela) tales, true or maybe not, I have learned to ignore the tales and walk right down the middle. I focus on the children and their education. Alex and Estela have both been told that they get paid for the work they do, that the Bank of Joan has closed permanently and that education is the limit of what Tia Joan will fund.

I have learned that, while "no" only means that they will wait a while before coming around again one seems to gain a certain amount of respect by defining the limits. Too bad it took me so long to figure that out.
Michelle, 3 and Christopher, 4 and girafas
So, after six months or so of not mentioning Alex's youngest two children he told me (true or not, I will never know) that Michelle, 3, had been asking for "Tia Joan."  So, the four of us (Mom was working in the market) went off to the zoo on a Sunday and what little it cost was worth every quetzal to watch Alex schlepping the Mickey Mouse diaper bag (which was not needed, only for emergencies) through the Guatemala City zoo.
The two children were absolutely thrilled (a trip to the zoo is only a dream for most of the many poor children in Guatemala) and, interestingly, they were far better behaved that many of the more affluent children in the zoo. They quite literally ran from one exhibit to the other and knew the names of most of the animals. Christopher quickly picked up "please" and "thank you" in English in order to get cookies from Tia Joan. After "happy meals" at Pollo Campero which resulted in ketchup and grease all over the place Alex, el machismo, rolled his eyes at the mess as he started cleaning up. I suspect that he is now doing more parenting than he ever did with the first three. It is very entertaining to watch him in the single parent role. El SeƱor Mom.
Hard day at the zoo

Diaper bag came in handy.

School. Of course they have to go to school.  As those things go a friend told me about a bi-lingual, Montessori pre-school run by a American woman.  I rode my bicycle over to have a look and the next day was the first day of pre-school for Christopher and Michelle.  Both were very excited to go but the reality was a little scary especially for Christopher.
Michelle was wide-eyed and very curious.  She reported to her mother at the end of the first day that she had a new friend.  Christopher, normally very outgoing, dissolved into tears more than once.

After a couple of hours they were both laughing and going down the slide that they didn't want to go near a bit earlier.  Two weeks later both have had a very positive report from the school director who says they have made remarkable progress and Alex reports that Michelle's new favorite word is "OK" and that she wants to wear her Hannah Montana backpack all day long.
I surprised them at school the one day and I could see Michelle's eyes widen as she said "Tia Joan" from inside the school. At the age of 37 months she has quite obviously figured out who is the key to her future.  The two came running out holding the little books that each day have a comment about them from the teachers.  Both had excellent reports.

Michelle wears her school backpack all day long.
For all of his shortcomings Alex does seem to know that school is the key for all of his progeny. He now sees that all five get to school on time and home again.  The director of the pre-school has told him that he needs

an email address as they communicate with the parents by email.  I told her that I would work on that the next time I was in Guatemala.  In the meantime they are printing the emails and giving them to him to share with the children's mother.

Does Estela know?  Yes, she does and, as she once told me, "the children are innocent."  I told her that I was putting the two "chiquitos" (small ones) in school as well.  She took that in stride.  A new private international school is soon opening in Antigua and I am hoping to get Estela's two youngest into this school which will be based on the US system and mostly in English. Astrid will likely be admitted without any problems but Denis at 14 is suffering from having a kid as his father.  He desperately needs a good male role model.  He remains a nice boy but his grades are lousy despite everyone's reports that he does all his school work.

However, in a place like Guatemala where there are so many good people working for a song trying to make a difference the director of the new school has offered to work with Denis to see if "I can help him to help himself."  Denis has had a couple of meetings with Jim who has offered to review his homework for him.  He has asked Denis if he thinks he might bring his grades up so that he might be able to go to the new school thus putting the decision on Denis. Jim has asked both Astrid and Denis if they are willing to study English and, at this writing, they are both doing a minimum of an hour a day on the Rosetta Stone Level 1 English program on their computer. (The computer, which is not connected to the internet, needed a new hard drive thus I made sure that very little apart from Rosetta Stone was reinstalled.)

Denis finally has something to strive for and a fellow in his life who cares whether or not he makes it.  Astrid has lectured her older brother about what a great opportunity the new school would be and has told him that, if he blows it, he will be relegated to a government school where he won't learn anything.  So there!

Jackie, too, has less than ideal grades from the first quarter in her new school. However, it is a new school and her classes are all in English so I am sure they will improve with time. In her school uniform she looks like a rising young executive.  Given her love or reading and passion for school
I am optimistic about Jackie.

Stay tuned for education updates.  I now have six (Astrid's cousin,
Brenda too) in private school and three more in government schools
thanks to some of my blog readers. Changing a few lives is what it
is about.