by Joni Ellis
Rotary Club of Summit County, Colorado D-5450, President 2012/13
Guatemala Literacy Project Advisory Board
Several years ago one of my Rotary friends encouraged club members to visit Guatemala on the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP). Mary Anne envisioned adding an international component to our already thriving local literacy work. She had been very successful pairing local adults with school children struggling to read. With a huge passion for literacy, Mary Anne had 65 Reading Buddies working on that project within three years. If anyone could get our club involved in an international literacy project, Mary Anne could.
To date, ten Rotarians (and friends) in our District 5450 have traveled to Guatemala on the project, and ten clubs in our District contributed to our Guatemala Literacy Project Global Grant 14-12387. Mary Anne didn’t need to re-invent the wheel. There are over 400 Rotary Clubs worldwide who have contributed to the GLP in the last 18 years. Rotary Clubs partner with the non-profit Cooperative for Education to form the Guatemala Literacy Project. As the International Partner, our Rotary Club of Summit County, Colorado recently submitted the largest GLP grant ever, a $339,191 Global Grant to The Rotary Foundation. 115 Rotary Clubs from 17 Districts participated.
So what makes us believe in the project? I’ve visited approximately 30 schools in Guatemala now. For me it took meeting one little girl attending school next to the Guatemalan City Dump. It was the first school we visited. I didn’t know what to expect. We ducked under a concrete archway, through creaky metal doors that closed out the hustling street scene. Eagerly anticipating our visit, the children were full of smiles and energy. Tiny student chairs were arranged in rows during the celebration in honor of the school receiving the books. We sat down, the children stood quietly for nearly an hour. Several months earlier, the school received our gift of quality early reader books for the 1st and
2nd grades. It was the first books in the school. You see, before our project touched their lives, the classrooms didn’t have any books. The kids had never sat in a circle and been read to by their teacher. They had never pointed to a word and realized that the word was a word. Many parents, and even teachers, didn’t think that children in the younger grades could learn to read. I can tell you they were not only reading they were devouring the books. That little brown eyed girl climbed up in my lap and word by word she read. After listening to many stories, witnessing the teachers instruct (teachers receive training on how to effectively teach), and receiving many hugs and words of appreciation from parents and teachers, we departed under the archway. That little girl will always remain in my heart.
While we safely drove back to our comfortable hotel, she and the other little children left their school (classes are only held in the morning) and went to work. Six days a week, sometimes seven, those small children have to help their parents pick through the trash at the city dump collecting items to re-use, sell, or re-cycle for cash. In the coming years, we will get books in all the classrooms of that elementary school. Our goal is to add our textbook program and provide a computer lab for their middle school students. Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty through education.
One aspect of our project that we are particularly proud of is that we know that Rotary can’t always be the giver. The Guatemala Literacy Project uses a sustainable model for our textbook project and computer centers. Textbooks in Guatemala are prohibitively expensive for children in poor communities. The Guatemala Literacy Project provides a lowcost, sustainable solution for giving students access to these vital educational resources. Every program participant “rents” four textbooks for a small fee (about $1.50 a month). We purchase the books in bulk directly from a large Guatemalan publisher, thus securing the lowest possible price and contributing to the local economy.
All student rental fees collected go into a fund. After five years, enough money has accrued to replace the books. After Rotary makes the initial investment, each Textbook Program becomes 100% self-sustaining. 96% of schools that have had a GLP Textbook Program for more than five years have renewed their books through the revolving fund. (About a third have even replaced their books more than once!)
The Guatemala Literacy Project is an initiative to provide badly needed textbooks, early reader books, and computer centers to underprivileged children in Guatemala.
Since 1998, the Guatemala Literacy Project programs have been brought to over 220 impoverished rural communities. There are over 25,000 students using textbooks at 185 schools. The GLP has also founded 54 self-funding computer centers and 25 literacy programs. The project already serves 10% of the country's neediest secondary schools and is working with the goal of ensuring that no child in Guatemala grows up without the gift of both traditional and technological literacy.
Won’t you join us in January/February 2015?
You can get more information on the project from Rotary eClub One President.