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School the World Guatemala

My twin daughters Maddie, Sydney and I recently got back from Chinique, El Quiché, in Guatemala. Since our return, I have had a hard time finding the words to describe our experience together. It was a life-changing immersion that will no doubt inform their choices - and perhaps their lens on life - forever.

To rewind this story a bit —
When I was slightly older than they are right now, I spent 6 weeks in Duran, Ecuador, an impoverished town outside of Guayaquil. I grew up in a very nice suburb of NYC and had never seen anything quite like the poverty that I absorbed as I lived on that hill near the Equator. There I grew as a person, and made friends for life. The main lesson I learned? That happiness doesn’t have much to do with material wealth. The people I lived with in that village were some of the happiest people I had ever met. There were deep struggles of course, and the very real issues that come with a life seeped in poverty. But the smiles of the children and the close-knit relationships within some of those families have never left my mind. That one experience transformed me, led me to my work at UNICEF and, quite literally, changed my life.

While raising Maddie, Sydney and Jack in the heart of NYC, I kept returning to those feelings I had in Ecuador, hoping my children would one day have a similar life-changing affirmation and eye-opening experience. I was admittedly skeptical of organizations that dip into international communities for a few days, offer well-meaning support to those in need, but then leave. I wanted to find an organization that didn’t simply give hand-outs, but rather empowered people to believe that they could pull themselves out of poverty, embracing their traditions, culture and togetherness.

My friend Vanessa introduced us to School the World, an amazing, immersive nonprofit organization, building schools and playgrounds for children in the poorest areas of Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. School the World just reached their not so simple goal to build 100 schools in 10 years and they are setting goals to build much more. While researching the organization to see if it was a fit, my girls and I learned that it takes the average American child 7-10 minutes to get to school, while it takes the average Guatemalan child about 2.5 hours, often walking alone. School the World wanted to change that fact - and thanks to them, every year, families are finding easier access to schools. Not just in primary school but through those difficult middle school years when children have an increased need for supportive spaces to help keep them safe. 

At the end of July, Maddie, Sydney and I joined a few chaperones and 30 U.S. students from Boston to LA and found our way to the heart of this Mayan community, still so rich with culture and spirituality. Within a few days, the kids formed friendships that they say are some of the deepest they’ve ever known. We built the 88th school alongside Guatemalan children, parents and teachers, we taught English, we visited homes and - our favorite - we played soccer and local games at recess every day. Chinique is a tiny village near Santa Cruz del Quiché, deep in the heart of Guatemala’s western rural highlands. The 3 classrooms we constructed were an addition to an existing school, El Calvario, allowing many more children in the area to receive an education.

We worked with local families and teachers to add cement floors, paint walls and dig deep holes to support a brand-new playground. It was hard work, as we anticipated. But I don’t think we could have anticipated the depth of relationships we would form, the joy we would experience every day, and the Guatemalan children that would enter our hearts.

We created a 3 min video that captures the experience… you can check it out HERE!

School the World has expanded into Honduras and Panama and ensuring a child’s access to education is their priority. They stay immersed in these communities for years, long after we leave, providing teacher trainings, parent education sessions and continued support.

What I love about School the World is that you can do more than donate…you can dive in, get your hands dirty and help. You can meet the people you are supporting, as you support them. You can take steps towards prioritizing education for children, the first step out of poverty. An educated child is an educated family. An educated family is an educated community. Educated communities solve problems differently and it all begins with helping children at the youngest age.

If you have a high school kid, I highly recommend School the World. If your child is still young, you can inquire about School the World's family trips in the three countries they currently work. It costs approximately $15,000 to build one school, and you and your kids will feel the value of every single dollar, with the deep recognition that a little bit of money goes a very (very) long way. And that giving your time goes even further. And that relationships, love and connection go the furthest.

Maddie and Sydney will continue raising funds for School the World, to support both the schools in session and the ones yet to be built. The hope is that the funds they raise will help buy desks, school supplies, books and more. $25 buys 5 books, $250 funds a classroom library, $3000 supports a Parent Training program, $3000 funds a playground for a school in need. The amounts listed below and we saw first-hand the impact each thing can have on so many young lives. We are deeply grateful to those of you who supported our efforts, and we appreciate your continued support! THANK YOU!!

Every child has the right to an education. I know for a fact we will never, ever take ours for granted.

To learn more about School the World, help build a school or support the organization, check out www.schooltheworld.org.

If you have any questions on how to get involved, you can email me at aqberna@appleseedsplay.com

Alison Berna is one of the co-founders of apple seeds and songs for seeds

$15,000: 3 Classroom School - 2,980 bricks ($5/brick for fun fundraising ideas)

$10,000: Pre-Primary Classroom and Playground

$8,000-$9,000: Supply ALL books for 1 year in ALL STW schools in one municipality

$7,500: Pre-Primary Classroom in Guatemala (stocked with supplies)

$5,000: Playground

$3,000: Parent Training in 1 Community for 4 Years

$2,500: Scholarship (they raise the other $1,000) for U.S. student in Global Citizenship Program (to travel to Panama or Guatemala)

$750: Parent Training for 1 year in 1 community

$500: Teacher Training

$300: Send a kid to basico in their community - Just the Basics Scholarship

$250: Classroom Library

$100: School Uniform for Basíco scholarship recipient

$40: School supplies for Basíco scholarship recipient

$25: 5 Books

$5: 1 Book

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article with lots of information. Thanks for sharing this one with us.
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