Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monterrico or more precise La Curvina, Guatemala

Mike, we find out does not technically live in Monterrico, he lives in La Curvina. A tiny hamlet south of Monterrico. To say we lost our heart here is not quite true but through Mike's eyes, we see a slice of Guatemalan life we would not normally see as tourists. Mike is as thoroughly integrated into this community as any transplanted American could be. For Guatemalan children, formal education ends at 6th grade. Mike has taken it upon himself to help the smartest and brightest continue. First by going to school in nearby Monterrico for 7th through 9th grades and then to a larger city for pre college. For this the student with his parents consent, stay with a family and attend higher education school. For the most part this is a prohibitive cost for most families but by our American standards is about $200.00 per year. He also holds English and computer classes at his home and on most days around 5 children come after school to have fun, learn and, with his encouragement, find out that there is more to life and that education will help them attain it. This is hard in an area where there is a 40% unmarried, unplanned birth rate. We find out that the main religion of Guatemala is Evangelican, which superceded Catholicism during the communist style wars throughout central America. Over the next few days, Tom & I meet the children and visit the town, the school and their families. I was awoken early on Saturday by Tanya, a 9 year old who speaks a little English. She solemnly showed me a necklace made from shells and tied it around my neck. She had stayed up on Friday night to make it for me. We had bonded the night before, now she holds my hand everywhere we go. On Friday, we visited the school. We had already been told that in the 6th grade class the top student is Franklin. Franklin continually scores in the 90's for all subjects to a perfect 100 in Mathematics. He has a scholarship to go to the upper school in Monterrico but his parents can not afford the money required for the uniforms, shoes, books and supplies he needs. He needs $120.00 for the 3 years of continued school. Tom & I are sold. We discuss with Mike the logistics of money and Mike, as he does with his own committments tells us he will do all the shopping. Saturday afternoon brought another surprise. Tanya showed up in the afternoon with windchimes made entirely of shells for us to remember them all. How could we forget? I cried and hugged her. She cried and hugged back. Sunday, after breakfast, we visited Franklin and his family. Their home is clean and scrubbed. We chat. They proudly produce in an instant Franklin's report cards and then a file of his achievements. Diplomas, top marks, a trip in an airplane awarded to the top student of each class each year. January 15th they must make the decision for continuing his schooling but... Mike informs them that Tom & I will provide his uniforms and other items needed. $120.00 a year. A Sushi dinner for us, a chance to get an education for him. They were so overwhelmed and thankful. Later that day, Tanya shows up. At 3 in the afternoon, her family want to take us in their small boat for a trip into the mangrove area. These people are amazing. They have so very little and yet share so easily. At 3pm Tanya takes us to her home. Again, it is spotless. Tanya has 3 sisters. The eldest is married and works in the local bank, Bianca goes to pre college school and is only home at weekends, Sorrida (who Mike sponsers in school) wants to be a doctor and Tanya, at nine would like to be a dentist (she helped one on the last visit to town). Again the house is spotless, the girls clean. The whole family accompanies us. They show us where they thread shells to make necklaces, windchimes and other items from shells, where they cultivate water and make salt and where they fish. They are lucky. Their father has a good job by these standards. He is the caretaker of a huge mansion here for a wealthy Guatemalan family. This means a regular income. He also understands that his daughters need an education to satisfy their obvious intellect and to become more than average. Mike helps. It is humbling. As a side note, anyone who upgrades their laptops, let me know. Mike needs old laptops in Guatemala. His goal is to have one in every classroom here. Sunday is our last meal with the extended family. As a bonus, we get to Skype home. The children are amazed. At Tom's mom and his sister, a doctor. They ask me many questions about our life and family. There were hugs and tears at the end of the evening and promises from Tom & I to be sure to send emails and come back on our return. Monday, we ready the motorhome. Sorrida shows up. They remembered Tom did not have a gift. Now he also has a shell necklace to remember La Curvina. Sorrida and Mike's other sponsored student, Gracie have school starting at 1pm until 6pm (grades 7 - 9). Usually they walk the 3 mile or so to town but we tell Sorrida that we will pick them up at 11:30 and drop them off. The idea of riding in the motorhome is exciting. First we have to go to the school so see Franklin and Tanya. More hugs, kisses and photos. Then we pick up Sorrida and Gracie, drop them off and head off. I am already looking forward to returning!

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