Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Last 48 Hours

The final 48 hours in Guatemala were a complete blur. After we had seen the sights in Antigua, we walked in the dark to an Italian restaurant that was near our hotel. I should mention that our hotel was incredible. It truly was hotel as art. It had beautiful furniture, an interior courtyard, and more. It would have been a wonderful place to stay for three or four days as you explore Antigua. During dinner, we spent some time processing the week, and started the final game planning for our meeting with the Ministry of Education. Though it would have been nice to plan and create our presentation earlier in the week, the final vision for phase one of the Global Learning Exchange Initiative (GLXi) didn’t take shape until that day in Antigua. We stayed simple with our slides, and we featured photos of kids learning at the schools that we visited. 

The Minister herself took almost a full hour with us discussing our ideas to bring complimentary reading services to Guatemalan schools in grades K-3 during after-school programs using a technology-rich environment. We were excited to get a meeting with her, and blown away that she took a full hour with us. She too recognizes the power of focusing on literacy at early grades, and the Ministry of Education is very interested in how technology could be a part of that. Everyone did a fanastic job on short rest. After our visit, we had a synergy meeting with the Central American Lutheran Ministry Society (CALMS) folks. They are doing an incredible job with their work in small villages in Guatemala. We discuss the tenants of truly helping those in need without amplifying the fatalism that exists in many of these communities. I was pointed to a text called Helping Without Hurting. I’m excited to get more deeply focused on making sure that our work remains true to these tenants. Following lunch, we traveled to the book store to create our first box of travelling books. Our hope is to bring technology-rich guided reading to our programming while also providing additional supplementary texts for independent reading. 

We are hoping that schools throughout the US may see the power of bringing these books to towns and villages in Guatemala, and I’m hoping to help coordinate these efforts. After this stop, we went to JMDR, a public school in Guatemala City for our final school visit. This visit brought us a new set of realities. This schools was ringed with a street market and poverty just inches outside of its walls. We arrived at recess, and the place was a bit crazy. There were lots of students running around on a small playground, and there were many others very interested in us. We met with the principal of the school, and she was very receptive to us bring there. It was clear that she had a lot of pride in her school, and we would soon realize why. We also saw a new computer lab that was in the principals’ office. It consisted for 8-10 “thin client” computers networked together. They were a pilot from Microsoft and the Ministry of Education. The internet connection was very slow, and we weren’t able to see kids using them during our visit. From the beginning of our trip, we thought that this urban public school would include a lot of illiterate children. It was awful that we had that mental model to start because the brilliance of this third grade classroom was amazing. They were eager learners. They asked for tougher books. They wanted to play the math game over and over. This visit confirmed that, urban or rural, public or private, the GLXi project can be effective in any space. 

After our visit, we were quite weary and truly on empty after this completely full week of learning. We had 45 minutes to rest, only for it to be interrupted by the biggest earthquake that I’ve ever experienced. Dave, who led our trip, is a native of CA, so it was a little tremor for him. Later, we would realize that over 30 people were killed in the earthquake closer to the epicenter. The final push of the evening came from a farewell dinner from our “host family” the Bonillas. Jose is the in-country coordinator for GLXi, and was responsible for our flawless itinerary and trip. Jose’s father Eduardo, served as our driver for the week. He was a crafty driver in the crazy street of Guatemala City and a race car driver outside the city. Mrs. Bonilla allowed us to share her family for the week, and her smile and energy sparked us throughout our tired moments. This project wouldn’t be possible without this dedicated family. Dinner was incredible, steak, sausage, potatoes, salad, and drink, and the beauty of Guatemala for visitors is that it was quite inexpensive. Lots of hugs to end the evening, and lots of promises to return. I can’t imagine being in Guatemala City without being with the Bonillas. The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning for the final push home. I’m in the air about an hour from Saint Louis as I write this. There is at least one more blog post coming from the trip after it all sinks in a bit. I’m not to the takeaways yet, but I do know that I’m ready to build a network of kids, teachers, and more around the efforts of the GLXi because from those that have much, much is expected. This sense of service and empathy is a critical piece of building the whole child and more.

A pretty rough football game at JMDR School. 

The principal was very interested in the support of GLXi.

Dr. Henke and Dave Barford chat with the Minister of Education. 

Having a long audience with the Minister and her assistant was a blessing. Our work is designed to complement the work of the government in K-3 literacy. 

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