The roads were bumpy and winding as we made our way deeper to the countryside of Guatemala. Our CoEd tour group and sponsoring Rotary board members were on our way to visit a sponsored school.
I could hear the sounds of cheering and music as our van approached. Children, big and small, as well as teachers and administrators, lined up outside to greet us. Handmade banners and signs waved, welcoming and thanking the CoEd staff and sponsors for their contribution to their school and to each student they have helped to continue their education.
In all my years, I have never seen children so incredibly excited about reading a book, or receiving a map, or getting a new bookshelf (aka library) for their classroom. But education is hard to come by here, and being given access to it is truly a rare and luxurious gift.
A morning if celebration for our visit to their school was an incredibly humbling and moving experience.
In Guatemala, only 3 out of 10 children graduate from 6th grade. The lack of funds for books, supplies, and uniforms make it impossible for many families to support their children through it, and the demand for labor to help support the family is great among the country’s poor. Much of the hardship is a direct result over a civil war that started over land owned by what is now known as Chiquita Banana (then United Fruit) with the support of the CIA and other U.S. politicians. (A good read on this history are Bitter Fruit and Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Helped Shape the World.)
The war which officially ended in 1996 and much of the corruption that remains show their effects among the communities afflicted the most: the poor, especially among the Maya communities.
What organizations such as CoEd try to dispel is the belief that loose change or cute trinkets could help a child begging on the street. Instead, the message they are sending is that the only way to help families and give these children a better footing into a brighter future is through education. The goal is to not only change lives, but the country.
I met principles and teachers who go without getting paid for months, yet come to work everyday to educate the children who count on their guidance to move forward. I saw the excitement in children’s eyes as they opened the pages of a newly donated book and read the words for the first time. I heard students both still in the program and as graduates, talk about how CoEd changed their lives and made their dreams come true. And I saw CoEd leaders, many of them former students in the programs, as well as active members of the communities they live and work in, talk about the pride they have in their work and their passion for the same.
I could go on and on, but words can never truly describe what it is to be there and talk to these families, these students, these educators, and these dedicated staff members and volunteers.
I love Guatemala. I enjoy the people, the food, the culture and diversity of its land. Getting this behind-the-scenes look of the country through my tour with CoEd made me love it even more.
The Snapshot Tour that CoEd offers helps sponsors understand and see for themselves how far their donations go and the impact it has on so many lives. It also helps to garner the interest of potential sponsors as well, as it did with me.
We stayed at some of the most beautiful hotels and had fabulous meals together – though, maybe not as authentic as Guatemalans have to offer, but this is more due to the potential sensibilities of first-time travelers to the country.
We got to see beautiful landscape and towns, such as the lovely Antigua and we got to create wonderful memories together.
Maybe, with the support of many, this little guy won’t have to worry about his education in the future either.
But most importantly, I walked away thrilled over how educating the trip was, and how eye-opening it can be for those unaware of the realities of countries such as these. It elevates the meaning of giving. Anyone can write a check if they wanted to but the extra step to seeing what that check delivers is what makes it that more special.
If nothing else, this experience makes people feel grateful for what they have and hopefully inspires more compassionate travelers, which the world could always use more of.
For more information about CoEd’s Snapshot tour, check out their website at www.coeduc.org.
Like my photography? Follow me on Instagram. For more images of my time in Guatemala, check out my Instagram hashtag #GGTinGuatemala. All images are property of Girl Gone Travel and may not be used without direct consent of the publisher.