a mother and three children husk corn in a small wooden home in Guatemala

Early life

Sandy and Johselin are twins aged 12 years old and live in Cahabón a remote, forested and inaccessible part of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The family lives in a very basic dwelling made of wood and sheets which is cold and vulnerable to the frequent rains. Together they share a bed to keep warm at night.

The family relies on agriculture to survive, and their father grows beans and corn, harvesting twice a year. When the harvest fails, the family cannot eat and must borrow money to survive. Their mother would wake early each day to harvest cardamom to sell to buy school supplies for the girls so they could study at primary school. Every day they would come home, help with cooking and preparing food. After this their mother would send them to neighbours to do domestic work, where they would earn 10 Guatemalan Quetzals (£1.01) each for an afternoon.

Sandy and Johselin would often go out to the mountains with their mother to forage for vegetables to eat. When they could not find any, they would just eat tortillas with a pepper sauce.

Johselin says of her primary school experience, “When I was 7 years old I began elementary studies in my village school. My family lives in extreme poverty, so every time I went to study my mother told us that we “should not get envy of what our classmates ate because they could not give us money”.

Sandy in the classroom filled with students sitting at desks
Johselin, front right, and Sandy, front left.

Life at school

In December 2023, Sandy and Johselin met the Sisters on their visit to Alta Verapaz to meet children in need. The visit was only made possible through the support of a local hydro electric company who transported the Sisters to the children in a helicopter, because they saw the dire need of the local community for the help of the Sisters. The twins are two of the 11 girls and 10 boys from this region who were given places at Zona 13 and Zona 6 schools in January this year.

The same hydro electric company helped Sandy and Johselin and other girls from their community travel to Zona 13 in January to begin their term with us when they joined on 8th January.

On arriving at school Sandy said, “My parents and us are deeply grateful for having given us the opportunity to be here, we have decided to put a lot of effort in our studies and we want to take advantage of this to become successful someday and help our parents and little brothers and build them a little house where they have food every day and no longer have to endure the cold.

“I really thank God for the given opportunity, for Father Al, for the Sisters of Mary and for all those kind-hearted people who really believe that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty, thank you for supporting us. May the Lord bless you a hundred-fold.”

Johselin, Guatemala Zona 13 Girlstown