Thursday, May 15, 2008

I need to get a lot better about posting on here considering the internet café is right across the street from my house. I actually do not have the overwhelming desire to get on the internet which is good. What have I been up to? Mainly doing a lot of homework, hanging out with my host family and fellow trainees, and being sick. We have Spanish class every day for a couple hours, sometimes the whole day. Some days we have technical training where we go over specific information for our program, which I haven’t really mentioned anything about. Most know that I am doing Youth Development (YD) but what you probably don’t know is that the program is new. Currently there are 6 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) that are kind of creating a framework for the program but the rest of the Peace Corps Trainees (PCT) for YD (us) will be the first full group of PCVs. I think we are all really excited about it. When we first found out what we were going to be doing, I couldn’t stop smiling. Last week had the opportunity to shadow a Small Business Volunteer that works heavily with youth, mainly middle school students. We visited two of the schools that he works in. One was in a town near Ciudad Vieja (which was the capital before the old capital of Antigua Guatemala; current capital is Guatemala City) and was called San Miguel Duenas. This school was more urban but not urban by US standards. There were no skyscrapers in the background. We went to two classrooms there and the PCV led some dinamicas (basically team building activities or icebreakers but in Spanish). Years with Jr/Sr Scholars has made me love these. The youth also presented before the class some posters on which they illustrated their imaginary businesses. They were typical businesses for their community: bakery, hair salon, convenience store, autoshop, etc. One little girl brought her A-game, stealing a shoe from her classmate to use as a visual aid. She reminded me of Erica S. The kids were kind of nervous about having to present to the gringos but I think most of the PCTs were a lot more nervous. After one class, the teacher thanked us for coming and thanked the PCV for all the work he had done with the kids in his two years there. He then went on to tell the kids that the small business skills that they had learned would really help them because even though most would drop out next year, all they learned could be applied towards many things. They may even be fortunate enough to open up a business later on. So these kids are middle school students. Most of the youth drop out around 6th grade, which in Guatemala is a 12 or 13 years old. Just to give you a view of the youth’s situation here:

  • Pregnancy (average age is 17)
  • Marriage (average age is 18)
  • No like skills education
  • Lack of motivation of parents and teachers; lack of communication among both
  • Drop outs
  • Agrarian culture (50% rural, 50% Mayan; many don’t study because they work in the fields)
  • Poverty (many living on less than $1 a day)
  • Lack of opportunity in their communities (so some migrate)
  • Lack of preparation for work (will work in the informal economy in the city selling candy, umbrellas, bootleg CDs)
  • HIV (more so near the Caribbean)
  • Sexuality (taboo subject)
  • Gangs
  • No life plans (some have parents in the U.S. who send back money so they won’t work if they are receiving money)
  • Systemic racism and discrimination (towards indigenous population and women)
  • Lack of self-esteem (often passed down from parents)
  • Parents with lack of education

Needless to say the teacher’s speech made me sad because these kids were so young and they basically had absolutely no choice but to drop out and work to support the family. Other things you should know are: the illiteracy rate for women is about 64% while for men is 42%. Men attend school for an average of 4.4 years while women spend 3.5 years. Eighty percent of the indigenous population is illiterate and 1 in 2 ladinos (Spanish and indigenous mix) is illiterate. About 43% of the population drops out in elementary school. Lastly, the government of Guatemala spends 1.8% of the total budget on education, compared to 3.1% in El Salvador, 4% in Honduras, 5% in Nicaragua and 7% in Costa Rica.

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