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Addressing Education Challenges in Rural Guatemala

The Mayan village of Las Arrugas, Guatemala, is one of 100 communities that SOS has been working with throughout Latin America to support Sustainable Development Goal #4: Quality Education, since 2008. The Poqomchi indigenous population that forms the majority of Las Arrugas’ population has suffered from many traumatic and devastating effects from the Guatemalan Civil War, which has contributed to a variety of development challenges – particularly when it comes to the level of participation in education.

Through the leadership, creativity, and hard work of Las Arrugas’ local Parent-Teacher Council (aka “Junta Escolare”) there are many efforts underway to create a better future by focusing on improvements to the learning environment of local schools. The projects proposed and prioritized by the Junta Escolar of Las Arrugas demonstrate that the barriers to education are complex and require a multi-faceted approach that holistically supports community development, responding to a variety of issues that include: malnutrition and student health, gender inequality, school infrastructure and curriculum.

Las Arrugas Water distributionIn 2015 the partnership began when the local Parent-Teacher Council proposed the construction of a water distribution system to address students’ lack of access to clean water which contributed to frequent illness. With $10,600 of funding from SOS and support from student volunteers from 3 schools, this system was completed in 2017 and now serves 350 students and their families. It has also provided a model that has led to the replication of a similar water distribution system being funded in a neighbouring community by another Canadian-based NGO.

In 2018, the community turned their attention to the issues of malnutrition. Guatemala has among the highest rates of malnutrition in the world – and students from Indigenous and rural villages suffer disproportionately. Without proper nutrition, students are unable to learn effectively. With the support of $7,000 in funding from SOS, and contribution from volunteers, a renovation of the school kitchen was completed to support in-school snacks programs supporting 400 local students. Additionally, the Junta scholar implemented a program to train mothers who prepare and serve meals to students.

School Kitchen Before

School kitchen before renovation

School Kitchen After

School kitchen after renovation

In August 2019, volunteers from our Windsor SOS chapter returned to Las Arrugas once again, this time to support renovations of classrooms. This was to reduce issues of overcrowding which the local community had identified as a significant barrier to education. For instance, in the first-grade class, 67 boys and girls were sharing one small space. The tin school’s tin roof was replaced with a cement one, enabling a second level to be added to the school, as outlined in this testimony video from a local teacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GduVRRmeSyM

Overall, SOS has fundraised over $20,000 to fund these locally-driven projects and engaged more than 20 Canadian volunteers to learn about the root causes of inequality in global education while contributing to the implementation of the projects – and in the months ahead, this partnership will be continuing to grow!

In February 2020, students from Durham College are delivering digital storytelling workshops (supported by the donation of iPads) to enable both male and female secondary school students in Las Arrugas to share their visions of gender equality and sustainable development. Meanwhile, students from the University of Toronto’s Centre for Global Engineering are working on a project to continue improving water access in students’ home environments, to complement the work already undertaken at the central school site. In May 2020, students from a variety of post-secondary campuses will return to support continued nutrition education through our “Healthy Bodies, Active Minds” trip.

A group of students at las arrugas

A group of students at Las Arrugas

Get Involved

The story of Las Arrugas is one of the countless examples of SOS’ work in action. Since 2008, SOS has fundraised over $2.5 million dollars to fund locally-driven projects that improve learning conditions for students across 100 communities throughout Latin America. Through fundraising initiatives led by students at 20 campuses across Canada, cross-cultural exchanges to connect with partner communities, and capacity building of locally-based NGOs, we are helping to empower all students to have a fair chance to learn.

If that mission is one that resonates with you, we welcome you to get involved through one of many opportunities:

How to get involved?

For more information on our upcoming outreach trips in 2020 and how to participate, please visit our website.

We also offer custom international experiential learning opportunities for students and teachers who want to work with our international partners in Latin America. Please email James for any inquiries or Contact Us.

We are also currently fundraising with the University of Toronto Engineering team to raise funds for the materials that are needed to complete the water filtration project. Any donation would be greatly appreciated by SOS and the community of Las Arrugas. To donate, please visit our Canada Helps page.

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