Today was our first day working in the classrooms at Safe Passage. After arriving at the colegio (elementary school), our team was divided up into 1st-5th grade classrooms. Team members in 1st and 2nd grade classes immediately loaded into vans with their class to travel a few minutes away to the jardin infantile (preschool building) where the students have recess. Elementary recess in Guatemala looks and sounds a whole lot like recess in the United States – lots of laughing and yelling, soccer, and playing on swings and monkey bars. Our team members were immediately welcomed and embraced by the Safe Passage students – many who came up to hold our hands the minute we arrived.
We talked as a team before our trip about receiving hospitality and learning from others – as much if not more than we give or teach. That was embodied today as we were guests in the classrooms yet embraced by the students and teachers. Many of our team members do not speak Spanish, so there was certainly a language barrier in our interactions. Yet there is something universal about smiles, laughter, play, and loving presence.
When we were not at recess with students, we joined them in their classrooms. Unlike two years ago when we planned lessons and taught the students, we simply observed and participated in their regular lessons this year. There was reading, practicing math, and learning about the solar system. In a few of the classes, they were learning how many days there are in a year. Some of the Safe Passage students asked our team members how many there are and we though they were asking how old we were (cuantos dias hay en un año sounds a lot like cuántos años tienes to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish). When our team members answered with answers like 16 or 17…the Safe Passage students looked at us like we were crazy.
After time in classrooms, we joined the Safe Passage students for lunch. Students are served breakfast, a snack, and lunch each day at Safe Passage. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of childhood malnutrition in the world with nearly 50% of children under five being chronically malnourished. As part of Safe Passage’s mission to care for the whole person, they offer balanced meals, which, for many of the students, are the only healthy meals they will eat during a day.
This afternoon we interacted with women in the Creamos (social entrepreneurship program). We had the chance to try making our own paper beads and bracelets. While none of us were terrible, we certainly weren’t ready to begin working with the women and selling our jewelry.
Trying our hands at making paper Creamos beads.
After bead making class, we learned a few words in Mayan dialects with four older woman who had a ton of energy and loved laughing with our team. There are 25 indigenous dialects in Guatemala which makes communication among the indigenous population difficult for those who are not bilingual in Spanish and their indigenous language. We taught the women numbers and colors in English, and they taught them to us in Spanish and the Mayan dialect. After learning the words, they tested us by playing games using the words. There was a lot of laughter and smiles.
One of the Mayan women who taught us words in a Mayan dialect.
Our team with the older women of Creamos.
We then spoke with two younger woman who make jewelry with Creamos and they shared about their lives. One of them started working in the dump when she was 8 years old. She was terrified when she first went to the dump, but had no other options. The other did not regularly work in the dump because it made her very sick, but she worked in the dump when she left her husband just after having their first child. Both of the women have children enrolled in Safe Passage. They shared that their hopes and dreams are to see their children succeed and have more opportunities than they did. They also shared about the violence and drug abuse in the neighborhoods and their fears that there children will not follow the bright path in front of them or that something will happen to them and they would miss seeing their children succeed. The challenges faced by this community are stark and could literally be life or death for the families living and working here.
We ended our time at Safe Passage today by shopping in the Creamos store. All of the proceeds from the jewelry go straight to the woman who made the piece - allowing them to earn a better income than they would working in the dump while also being more present at home to be with their family and children.
What Creams beads are supposed to look like. Ours didn't even come close...
After returning to Antigua tonight, we went to dinner at Frijoles Feliz (happy beans), a local cooking school. We learned how to make a Guatemalan stew, tortillas, refried beans, and Guatemalan rice. It was a delicious dinner and a great end to our day. Because it was such a long day, we didn’t have time in small groups, but rather simply ended with Compline and headed to bed. Tomorrow is another day with students at Safe Passage and we hope to be well rested to engage fully with them.