Education: What We Do
The world is going to change, and you need an education.
- mother of Lidia, one of our scholarship students.
Candelaria and Gregorio Garcia, our partners in Panajachel, Guatemala, are self-made entrepreneurs. They both grew up in poverty in the villages near Panajachel, speaking Kakchiquel, the Mayan dialect.
Gregorio sold beaded bracelets to tourists, saving $10 each year since age six. On his way home each night, he braved the gauntlet of nay-saying neighbors, who nicknamed him "beggar", saying that he would never escape their poverty.
By age 10, he had saved $40, and bought a used sewing machine, enrolling himself in tailoring school at night. By age 12, he was a qualified tailor, and he put himself through high school and university by outworking everyone else.
Candelaria and Gregorio have spent fifteen years founding and developing Spanish School Jabel Tinamit, a first-class language school, teaching Spanish to foreigners. Many people come in person for weeks or months, battling through multi-hour one-on-one tutoring sessions with a Jabel Tinamit teacher. Over 150 others connect on Skype or FaceTime each week, from countries all around the world. When Candelaria and Gregorio talk about work ethic and entrepreneurship, they are authentic.
In June 2011, Candelaria and Gregorio asked Guatemala Conexions to consider sponsoring a young man named Miguel Jeatz Coj. Miguel had been one of the top ten students in their state, but his illiterate onion farmer parents had suffered a bad harvest, and he didn't have the $183 to pay his tuition for tenth grade.
Miguel's teacher had told him that there was a lady in the next town who might have scholarships. Without knowing Candelaria's name, Miguel walked all over Panajachel for two days, finally finding his way to her door. When Gregorio sat and listened to Miguel's story, he was impressed by his desire to learn and battle for a future.
Three years later, Miguel became the first-ever high school graduate of his entire family.
Today, Miguel speaks English, Spanish, and Kakchiquel.
He was the keynote speaker at the English Access program graduation, sponsored by the American embassy, and was interviewed by the national newspaper Nuestro Diario as an inspiration to young Guatemalans everywhere.
And in January 2016, he arrived at John Brown University in Arkansas on a full-ride Walton Scholarship, sponsored by the Walton family of Wal-Mart, studying international business. One of the mandates of the Walton Scholarship is that graduates must return to their home countries and make a difference.
With Miguel's entry to the program, by the end of 2011, Candelaria and Gregorio had chosen another eight students. Over the years, we have lost a few students who couldn't overcome the obstacles of their lives, even with coaching and support. The vast majority, however, have fought through, and have Miguel's example to follow.
Miguel continues to coach and inspire the current emerging generation of now-23 students in the program, who have been chosen for their initiative and work ethic.
Leadership of the group has passed to the next group, like Lidia, who has overcome traumatic family situations to emerge as one of the top English graduates in the English Access micro-scholarship program. She graduates October 2016 from the Universidad del Valle, the best high school in the state, where she won a third scholarship. She helps lead weekend tutorials for children in her village, and will be applying for the Walton Scholarship this fall, among other opportunities. She is also currently working as a guide and translator for a local NGO.
Lidia's mom can't read or write, but she is wise. She tells Lidia that she won't survive growing onions and corn like her parents and ancestors. She realizes that the globalized economy is changing their world faster than they can adapt. The illiterate onion farmer in Guatemala can't compete with the prices of imported Chinese mega-farm onions, in his own local store...but that illiterate farmer has few other marketable skills. Education is now not a luxury option, but a necessity for survival.
Mayra lost her dad to alcholism several years ago, and was extremely quiet and shy. Today, she is the confident and well-spoken teaching coordinator for the tutorial program, an outstanding graduate of the English Access program, a teaching helper for the new Access students, and will graduate from the Universidad del Valle in October 2016 as well. She will also be applying for the Walton Scholarship, among other opportunities.
Each year, Candelaria and Gregorio field dozens of requests from families, who are hoping that there will be a place for their child. In early 2016, ten new students were chosen, from over 100 initial applicants. After several rounds of interviews, surprise home visits, evaluation opportunities, and final decisions, those ten students stood out for their work ethic, vision for community service, and spark.
The goal is that those students become worthy investments, who pay it forward, making a difference for younger students in their communities, and that those students become sustainable anchor leaders.
Candelaria and Gregorio have decided to name their student development program "Forging My Tomorrow", because it requires responsibility from the student, who owns the goal of "forging" and refining his or her own goals.
Guatemala Conexions has helped by bringing computers, computer training, and English, as requested by Candelaria and Gregorio. Scholarship students have the opportunity to purchase used MacBooks on microloans, repaying the loans over a 2-year period.
English House 2013 and English 2015 have been 3-month intensive English immersion experiences, where Guatemala Conexions members rented a home in Panajachel, and the scholarship students came to live with Canadians in a family setting. The English levels, confidence, and global awareness of the students improved exponentially. You can see more here:
who they are
Candelaria Xep De Garcia
Spanish School Jabel Tinamit