Day Five in Guatemala.
I don’t miss school. The weight of homework and writing assignments and bells controlling my everyday schedule, I don’t miss it at all. But I remember the joy of getting school supplies before the new school year began. It was a joy that lasted through most of elementary school. Picking out pencils and pens, choosing notebooks, picking a trapper keeper – yep, loved those moments. I had to get the supplies because I needed it for school. And even though there were years in my family’s life that were sparse financially, we always, always had what we needed.
On Wednesday, in Guatemala, I had the chance to sit down with the Principal for the school in Chuluc. Together with a few other missionaries, Pastor Jorge, Principal Moses, and our mission guide Jake we met for nearly three hours. We talked about a ton of stuff. Mostly we were trying to listen and learn. Mission work is always tough, but in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a great idea could actually be a terrible mistake. So we met, we asked questions, lots of them, and listened to long, informative answers. The meeting was a blessing for all involved. We learned about the Guatemalan school system, water issues, and cultural struggles with keeping children in school. We also learned about school supplies.
We knew that over 50 kids attended the school in Chuluc, what we didn’t know was why the other kids weren’t going to school. The numbers are tough to estimate, it is a remote village after all, but I’d guess that roughly 30 children eligible for school were not attending. So we asked the obvious question, why?
Some of the reasons were common sense. Some of the kids work in the fields to help support the family. Some of the kids just don’t bother showing up, since they don’t have to. But most of them, we discovered, didn’t come to school because of school supplies. After the revelation of school supplies appeared we all leaned in a bit closer, eager to better understand what that meant.
To attend school the student must have the required list of school supplies. And because most of the families have multiple children, those numbers add up really quick for people making only dollars a day. So we asked for a list of the supplies, looked it over carefully. Nothing seemed extravagant on the list.
“So, how much would it cost to buy all of this supplies for one kid to send them to school?” we asked.
“Um, maybe, um 70 to 100 Quetzals.”
To which we all, each of us Americans, dropped our jaws to the floor. We’d been here all week, we can convert the local currency fairly well now, and not one of us failed to realize the tragedy of the situation. 70 to a 100 Quetzals is the equivalent to $10-$14, for all of the supplies, for the entire year. The weight of the situation was almost unbearable in that small, dark, cramped office of the principal.
“How many children, if we got the supplies tomorrow, would be able to start school tomorrow?”
“Four or maybe five,” the principal said.
I’ve know some tough and tight financial times in my life; but it is hard to remember when $14 would keep me away from anything important in my life. For the families of Chuluc, Guatemala this kind of money is hard to come up with.
The next day, with the help of Jake and Diana, I happily, and eagerly stood at a counter picking out school supplies once again in my life. And I felt it again, that long lost feeling, the joy of new school supplies, supplies that Locust Grove was buying to put five kids back into school!