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“Some succeed because they are destined to, others because they are determined to.”
– Ray Reiman
Maria Asuncion, the first person in her village to attend high school
A recent United States Agency for International Development (USAID) report indicated that the average length of time that students remain in school in Guatemala is 3.5 years, or slightly beyond 3rd grade. In the rural areas where Avivara focuses its efforts, that average is much lower. While schooling is officially available for children in Guatemala, it is not mandatory, and frequently parents are expected to cover costs for school fees, textbooks, school supplies and school uniforms. For students in the primary grades this usually averages around $150 per year. For secondary students, the average cost is closer to $700-800 per year. The reality for many rural Guatemalan families is that their total family income ranges between $85 and $250 each month. With the recent increase in fuel and food costs, that amount barely covers the expenses for food, much less being available for school expenses. Therefore, our Student Scholarship Program is designed to help highly motivated and capable students continue attending school if their parents lack the financial resources to support them in that endeavor.
At the present time, most of the Avivara scholarship resources are being directed to students wishing to continue on to the secondary (junior high and high school) level. We have focused on this group because they and their families have already demonstrated a serious and ongoing commitment to education.
Over the last several years, we have also seen an increase in the number of our high school graduates who wish to attend university. In 2014, we have 17 students attending university level classes with two of them enrolled in medical school.
Our Scholarship Determination Process
Similar to our School Improvements Grants Program, our Scholarship Program also follows an established procedure for the awarding of scholarships. That process includes:
1. Nomination: In this phase of the process, we accept nominations for possible scholarships from teachers. The teachers help us to identify those students who have demonstrated a serious commitment to education through their work in school and who have indicated that they would like to continue their education.
2. Screening: After receiving a nomination, we visit with each potential scholarship recipient and their parents to assess the student’s past work in school, the desire of the students and the parents to have an opportunity for continued education, and the family’s economic situation. It should be noted that Avivara never provides complete funding for a student’s education. Rather, we establish a level of support that “partners” with the resources of the family to help the student be able to attend school. Factors that are considered in this process include the housing of the family, their approximate monthly income, the cost of continuing education for the student and access to other resources (such as relatives living and working in the United States.)
3. Distribution and Follow-up: Once the determination has been made by our staff to award a scholarship, we set up a series of meetings with the student and his/her family for the distribution of the scholarship and to evaluate the student’s ongoing progress. In some cases, monies are sent directly to the student’s school. In other cases, monies are distributed to the family on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. At these regular meetings, members of our staff review the students grades and consult with the parents regarding any issues or concerns that they might have. In addition, we have begun a program of awarding “bonus” scholarships for those students maintaining a 85% or above grade point average, or when a student has shown significant improvement in their grades.
We have also found it important in these monthly meetings to provide encouragement to the students and the parents. While these families have willingly taken on the challenge of pursing further education for their children, we have also found that the long commutes from their villages to their schools, the time away from their families, the economic strains of a higher education (lost income, the family’s share of the cost of education), and the exposure to cultural values different from those in their home villages can be very challenging for the students and their parents. By talking over these issues with the students and the parents, we communicate to them that they are not alone in their quest for a better life, but have the support, both financial and emotional, of others.