Giving Hope to the Future through Education

    Grants to Schools
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"The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."
                                                                                           - William Faulkner

Don Pancho Classroom
The Current State of Education in Guatemala
Many schools in Guatemala have only limited resources to purchase much needed educational materials. It is common to see classrooms with bare walls, some old tables or desks, and maybe a blackboard.  Things that we take for granted in schools in the United States, such as books, maps, science equipment, math materials, colorful wall posters, etc., are non-existent in most rural Guatemalan schools. Teachers, when they do have teaching materials in their classrooms, have often purchased these things from their very meager salaries. (The typical salary for an elementary teacher in Guatemala is between $250.00 to $300.00 per month.)

Generally, the government provides the basic shell of a school building, but rarely does it have the funds to install lighting or purchase desks and other equipment necessary for fully functioning classrooms. Rural schools often purchase (or scrounge) used classroom furniture that has been discarded from the more affluent schools in the cities. In many cases, students and teachers simply make do with whatever is available. Avivara grants have funded the construction of classrooms, the purchase of desks, chairs, whiteboards and other teaching materials, such as math and science materials and equipment, and in several schools, the installation of computer labs and libraries.

The vast majority of the teachers we work with have demonstrated tremendous commitment to the education of their students. In spite of minimal pay and poor working conditions, they will often travel for an hour or more by bus and by foot to reach the schools where they teach. We have tremendous respect for the work they are accomplishing under very difficult circumstances. To assist them, Avivara has provided teacher curriculum guides, as well as funding for additional teacher training and staffing.

Because of the lack of funding for the schools, the families are expected to provide their children with all of the paper, pencils, books, and other miscellaneous supplies needed for their schoolwork. Unfortunately, many of the families simply cannot afford these supplies. Part of the support from Avivara includes purchasing school supplies for those students who are unable to provide the supplies themselves. In one of our schools, the thing most needed by the students was an adequate breakfast. In that case, we worked with the mothers in the village to set up a daily breakfast program. 

Classrom chair Santa Maria de Caque
Using a Collaborative Process
During our time in Guatemala, we have had the opportunity to observe a number of projects and foreign NGO's. From those experiences, we have learned several "do's and don'ts." 

First, it is extremely important to work with the local people to determine what is most needed and what they think will work. We have witnessed first hand a number of well-meaning people coming to Guatemala and imposing their "help" (i.e., their external solutions and value systems) on local Guatemalan communities. This not only creates frustration and resentment on both sides, it does not generally result in sustainable organizations nor positive community development.

It is also very important to develop criteria for providing support and systems of accountability. Because of the extreme poverty that is encountered in Guatemala, there can be the strong desire to do something, anything to help. However, without thoughtful planning and follow-up evaluation of a program's effectiveness, limited resources can be squandered. Additionally, the extreme poverty combined with a long history of corruption and cronyism within the country, does mean that one cannot be naive in how money is distributed.

For these reasons, Avivara employs the following steps in its Grant to Schools Program:
1. Screening: All schools are visited by our staff prior to any grants being considered in order to evaluate the level of poverty in the village, the school's needs, the quality and commitment of its leadership, the commitment of the teachers to student learning, and the level of energy and enthusiasm for moving forward within the school community.
2.  Discernment of Needs: After the initial visit to the school, our staff then meets with the school staff and parents to determine what the priority needs are for improving student learning in the school. This is usually different for each community. In some cases, it is purchasing supplies for students. For other schools it might be upgrading facilities, or a breakfast program. This discernment process is one which is facilitated, but not directed, by the Avivara staff.
3. Determination of Grant: After identifying the school's needs, our staff evaluates the school's proposal and determines the level of support that will be needed to adequately meet those needs, how much of the cost can realistically be borne by the school, and how the grant amount fits within our budget.
3. Purchase and Delivery: After determining the grant amount, our staff researches vendors to determine which supplier is able to provide us the best value for our money. For example, rather than buying student supplies for each school separately, Avivara purchases these items in bulk from a wholesaler, thus reducing the overall costs for these supplies by around 40%. After purchasing the supplies, our staff delivers the materials and has each school complete an inventory and signed receipt for services and supplies provided.
4. Follow-up and Evaluation:  Periodically, our staff visits each school (usually around once each month) to see how the supplies and/or materials are being utilized. If they are being used, that is excellent. If they are not being used, we meet with the teachers to determine why that might be happening.  At the end of each year, our staff looks at how well each school used the materials or improvements that were provided to them and whether the grant had a positive impact on student learning.
By using this process, Avivara is able to support schools in ways that are meaningful and important to that particular community, as well as ensure that the resources donated to us are used effectively. 
Meeting with teachers San Jose Pacul
Meeting with teachers in San Jose Pacul
Segunda Cruz Breakfast Meeting
Breakfast program planning in Segunda Cruz
Visiting Don Pancho School
Visiting with students in Don Pancho
School Profiles
Since its inception, Avivara has provided grants to help improve education in over 56 schools with a combined enrollment of approximately 9,800 students. The schools vary in size from 35 students to over 300 students. Some are housed in concrete block buildings, while others make do in wood structures with lamina metal roofs. Most of the communities we support have high levels of poverty and a high percentage of indigenous children attending the school. Below are summary descriptions for several of the schools we have worked with the longest. The data for each community are derived from our own research and statistics from the Guatemala government's Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (INE).

The poverty statistics provided are estimates based on government data for the departments in which the villages and schools that we work with are located. In Guatemala, "regular" poverty is defined as having enough income to meet basic nutritional requirements, but insufficient income to cover housing, medical and educational expenses. "Extreme" poverty is defined as not having sufficient income to meet basic nutritional requirements.

Cerro Nino
Student Enrollment: 85 students (K-6)
Number of Faculty: 5
Community Characteristics An outskirt hillside community with primarily cane and lamina houses connected by dirt paths
Primary Occupations in the Community: Campesino (farmhand) and artisan
Primary Products: Corn, vegetables, fruits, leather goods
Municipality & Department: Pastores, Sacatepequez
Latitude & Longitude: 14 36′ 02.20″ N,  90 45′ 41.76″ W
Poverty Statistics: 62% living in poverty, 18% living in extreme poverty (total-80%)
Improvement Grant Focus: Teacher and student supplies
Additional Needs: Classroom equipment
U.S. Partner School: Archbishop Murphy High School, Everett, WA

Cerro Nino
Valle de Durazno
Student Enrollment: 35 (K-6
Number of Faculty: 4
Special Schoo Characteristics: This school serves students with a variety of special needs (deaf, blind, phisically disabled, and developmentally disabled.)
Municipality & Department: san Andreas Itzapa, Chimaltenango
Latitude & Longitude:
Poverty Statistics: 64% living in poverty, 21% living in extreme poverty (total-85%)
Improvement Grant Focus: Teacher and student supplies, special materials and classroom equipment
Additional Needs: Teacher Training and classroom furniture
U.S. Partner School(s): St. Madeleine Sophie School, Bellevue WA

Don Pancho
San Jose Pacul
Student Enrollment: 285 (K-6)
Number of Faculty: 9
Community Characteristics: Predominantly Kaqchikel Mayan community, village sits on a high altitude plateau
Primary Occupations in the Community: Campesino (farm hand or small plot farming)
Primary Products: Corn, fruits,
Municipality & Department: Santiago, Sacatepequez
Latitude & Longitude: 14º 39′ 10.56″ N,  90º 39′ 10.16″ W
Poverty Statistics: 58% living in poverty, 14% living in extreme poverty (total-72%)
Improvement Grant Focus: Teacher development, student supplies, classroom furniture
U.S. Partner School: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Anchorage, AK.

San Jose Pacul
Student Enrollment: 80 (K-6)
Number of Faculty: 5
Community Characteristics: One of the most isolated of the communities we work with, located in a ravine with the school on the steep hillside
Primary Occupations in the Community: Campesino (farm hand or small plot farming)
Primary Products: Corn, vegetables, fruits
Municipality & Department: Sumpango, Sacatepequez
Latitude & Longitude: 14 37′ 20.16″ N,  90 44′ 23.07″ W
Poverty Statistics: 58% living in poverty, 17% living in extreme poverty (total-75%)
Improvement Grant Focus: Teacher development, student supplies, classroom furniture
Additional Needs: Kitchen equipment
U.S. Partner School: Bowman Elementary School, Anchorage, AK

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