Thank you for being such a committed and passionate supporter! As a Friend of the Children, we wanted to share a little more detail about life behind the scenes at our Sisters of Mary schools around the world, show how your support is used and the day to day challenges and joys of caring for nearly 20,000 of the world’s poorest children.
Each month, as part of our governance process, the WVC team meet with the Sisters around the world via zoom or in person, and learn about the depth of the poverty faced by the children, their desperate needs and how they fare once in our care at our schools. These status updates are a vital part of our charity oversight. They are sometimes emotional when we learn about the difficulties of the children but always inspiring. They help us to observe progress in each country and the impact being made on the life of the child, their families and communities. We are pleased to share some of these detailed updates exclusively with you, our special friends.
On Thursday, 13th July 2023, the World Villages team sat down with Sister Aurelia and Sister Yasmin in Guatemala, who oversee the Sisters of Mary Zona 6 Boystown.
Guatemala has 22 departments (or provinces) and over the next few months the Sisters will visit as many of them as they can to reach the children most in need. This August, they are visiting Petén, Huehuetenango, and San Marcos, to give opportunities to children in those areas to come to the school.
This community outreach is a lot of work for the Sisters, they travel by public buses, mostly at night so that they can sleep for the long journeys (many are 7 hours at a time), save on the cost of accommodation and arrive early in each region ready to go into communities. They will spend 5 days in each department, in groups of two to meet the poorest children who are most in need of education.
They are finding that the home situations of many children are much poorer than before the pandemic. Many children have also not been able to access any education or progress from primary to secondary education.
In August 2022 (the last community outreach conducted), the Sisters met more than 1,000 boys and were only able to accept 287 boys. These are heartbreaking decisions to be made and this year they anticipate that the need will be even greater.
Poor families in Guatemala have been deeply affected by the pandemic. The menial jobs on which they relied were lost during the lockdown period when so many companies and organisations closed. These jobs have not reappeared. Without education families cannot find decent work, and without work families cannot feed themselves. The Sisters have observed that most families eat only once a day and many young children are involved in labouring, trying to find any means to earn a living.
In the pandemic, education was only accessible by those with the most resources as state schools closed and classes moved online. Families from very poor areas couldn’t access online classes. They didn’t have devices like mobile phones or computers, or even an internet connection (or electricity). Some would routinely go to the homes of their teachers to get assignments to try and complete the work at home. Ultimately this has meant that these children have missed nearly two full academic years.
Hear from Sister Aurelia (left) and Sister Yasmin (right) about Zona 6 Boystown in Guatemala
The new boys who arrived in January bear the signs of a difficult and malnourished start in life. They are small for their age, stunted due to lack of balanced nutrition. Home life means a limited diet, high in salt and lacking key vegetables and protein. At our school, they adjust to a new diet, which is far more varied and nutritious – it takes time but, seven months into their first year the new boys are loving their plentiful diet, growing healthily and thriving in and out of the classroom.
The cost of food has however, risen dramatically in Guatemala and this affects the Sisters at school as they care for the boys. The price of beans, a staple food for so many people, has more than doubled. The Sisters are working hard to keep the boys well fed with nutritious and healthy food, working within tight budgets and part of this is cultivating their own produce to supplement the school’s food stocks.
Initiated by the Sisters, the boys now love helping with cultivating vegetables at school and they are learning skills which will help them in their life ahead. There is no formal course in agriculture, but there are four long greenhouses growing green leafy vegetables and the two workers there are teaching the boys to plant and harvest so they now enjoy the crop in their daily diet, improving their nutrition.
The new boys who started with the Sisters this January therefore have significant gaps in their knowledge and are very far behind, particularly in maths and languages. Many also struggle with the national language (Spanish), speak only their own Mayan dialect and have real difficulties in communicating with the Sisters and their new friends at school.
Thanks to our supporters, we have been able to fund additional teaching and support to bridge these gaps and help the children to catch up to the national standard.
We were also encouraged to hear from the Sisters that many of the older students in the school support their younger “brothers” if they speak the same dialect, helping them to learn and grow in confidence in their academic and language classes. Good Spanish is vital as classes are taught in Spanish and most employment opportunities after school require fluency in the language.
The Sisters report that the boys continue to be ambitious in their studies and keen to test themselves against their peers. The early part of the year has seen academic competitions between schools in the region in science, physics and maths and other competitions in performing arts including singing contests, dancing competitions, band and choir.
Playtime and the leisure to enjoy other hobbies and sports outside of the classroom are a very important part of school life. It helps the boys’ mental wellbeing, makes them happy and gives them the freedoms of a proper childhood. The boys are hugely energetic and enjoy an extensive range of hobbies and sports and they are very competitive, within school and with other schools locally, regionally and nationally. Sister Aurelia was excited to report that her boys have most recently triumphed as national champions in the Handball and Soccer competitions.
In May, the boys were also thrilled to see their families during Visiting Day. Visiting day is a twice yearly occurrence at all the schools and this time around 8,000 family members met at the school in Zona 6 for the day. They had a picnic and all the members of the families came (including their dogs and other pets). It was a joyful celebration, a chance for the boys to show off their progress and for the families to meet the boys’ friends, their Sisters and Teachers. After visiting day the boys are very encouraged to study hard to pass their exams and get jobs so they can help their families with a better life.
The boys are working hard to achieve good grades in their lessons. They have homework in the evening and the Sisters supervise and encourage them to study hard. In mid July, the boys will take their national exams. Sister Yasmin reports that the boys in their final year are feeling very optimistic and they are busy preparing for these important tests. She was hopeful that the results would match their expectations!
Technical training in skills relevant to local employment is a key part of the time at school. The school offers, carpentry, welding, electronics, computing and now mechatronics as vocational courses. Mechatronics is very popular and once children have these skills they can work in the automotive manufacturing industry.
A big part of building these technical skills is 200 hours of On the Job Training (OJT) in their final year. Their parents and the Sisters are instrumental in securing OJT placements with local employers. The teachers will also visit to ensure that the OJT working conditions are up to standard and that they boys are doing well in their training. OJT often leads to a permanent job offer and so it is an important part of the school year.
This year, five boys are attending OJT at Toyota, which has a large presence in Guatemala and we hope many of these boys will then go on to work for companies like Toyota after completing their OJT.
Graduation is in September each year and graduates either end up working as soon as the finish school or apply for university scholarships. In 2022, more than 80% of the boys who graduated found work quickly after finishing school and OJT. 10 graduates received scholarships to Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City.
The Sisters encourage each child to pursue a career where they can use their abilities and passions whilst contributing to their communities. Engineering, welding and electricity are popular career choices. There are many jobs available in these areas and the boys enjoy the practical work. Some graduates also become teachers, engineers, doctors and nurses.
The Sisters host careers fairs to introduce the children to potential employers, help prepare the boys for interview and independent working life. Many employers are now proactive in seeking Sisters of Mary graduates for their companies as the boys are regarded as hard working and capable. They also help in delivering the courses. Toyota supports the programme by contributing to the teaching salary for auto mechanics and in 2022, 25 out of the 43 boys in the graduating class, secured a permanent job at the company.
This coming August is Every Child’s Birthday and, with your support, the Sisters in Guatemala are preparing a celebration for the boys including a party with balloons and cake and a gift which will include:
The birthday celebration on 15th August is such a thrilling time for all these boys, many of whom join the school not knowing their age or their birthday. It is always greatly anticipated. It is a vital chance to show them that they are not forgotten, to help them build confidence, work hard and give them the chance to look forward to a brighter future.
You can support our birthday appeal here.