Saturday, October 24, 2015

Post-Guatemala Reflections: Poverty and Literacy

Well, I planned to blog every day we were in Guatemala, but it didn’t work out that way. Very long days and evening meetings… the week was intense and flew by. Back in the States, I continue to reflect on the global service learning experience. Today’s topic: Poverty.

After spending a week there, I’m not sure how else to describe the everyday lives of so many Guatemalans. If you have not been to rural Guatemala, the documentary, Living on One Dollar, depicts it well, and the filmmakers grapple with heavy questions like, “How can we eradicate poverty in these communities?” Where does it come from?

Although small, Guatemala is a fairly diverse place. Especially in Antigua, where we stayed, there are a lot of do-gooder gringos (people from the U.S.), Canadians, and Europeans. Some of us are here for a week or two with a university or church. Others initially came on “missions” (a term which, I have learned, has a very broad definition) and stayed.

Ethnically speaking, Guatemala, like many places in Latin America, has a large indigenous population of Mayan decent (“los indígenas”), and a Spanish/Mestizo contingency (“los ladinos”). Also like in many places, the indigenous communities were initially colonized and oppressed, with historical-political atrocities forming the basis of the poverty in which many in this community find themselves today. However, it’s not just the rural, indigenous communities living in poverty in Guatemala (although the great majority of them do). For example, in the capital city, thousands live and work in Central America’s largest garbage dump.

One problem with poverty is limited educational opportunity. As one of our students pointed out last week, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that individuals need to meet basic biological and psychological needs (water, food, shelter, safety) before prioritizing things like literacy. Due to this and other issues, in Guatemala, only 3 out of 10 children make it through grade 6. Although I am staunchly anti-deficit perspective when it comes to education and research, the effects of poverty and lack of education in Guatemala cannot be denied or overlooked.

There are so many possibilities for literacy programs in Guatemala- from preschool age to adult. The goal of our department –that is, what we can offer in terms of community service here- has been literacy enrichment. This means reading and writing with children in varied contexts and, thanks to donations from Lectorum and Scholastic, gifting books to children and families, as well as donating books to schools and programs that work with children.

Reading with Indigenous girls at a community center

Reading and writing with local kids at a clinic

Presenting to parents about language-literacy development at a private, special education school
Interested in learning about and/or supporting a literacy program in Guatemala? Here are a few to consider:

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