I have spent my entire professional career as a social worker, first in New York City, then in Boston. Five years ago, I moved with my family to Quetzaltenango; and here began the most challenging and rewarding part of my 20 plus years as a social worker.
Mentes is an organization that is so truly special to me. First there are the families we work with; families who live in tremendous poverty, that face daily challenges just to get by,and many who have sufferred tremendous trauma in their lives. Yet, despite all the hardship they have faced, I have never worked with such a motivated and determined group of people, parents and children alike. These are children and families that time and time again have been told they must accept their lot in life and expect no more. Yet, in the last four years of Mentes´existence, these same families have embraced the hardwork of addressing their past struggles and traumas, and have accompllshed so much in such a short period of time. They have risen from failing grade levels repeatedly in public school to performing at the top of their class in private schools.
Secondly, there are the many people who have been associated with Mentes, both those who have worked with us directly here in Xela and donors and sponsors in the States and around the world who have committed so much of themselves to make the lives of these families better. I have had the blessing of coming to know some of the kindest and most dedicated people, who have so selflessly given a part of themselves to Mentes and have shown so much joy at the success our families have achieved. These are people who have stuck by families in the worst of times and worked with determination and strength, knowing that these families could and would face their adversities and move forward.
Lastly, the ongoing development and implementation of Mentes´ ideology and vision has been one of the wonderful and rewarding experiences of my professional career. Mentes is one of the few organizations in Central America that has worked to integrate mental health services, academic suppport, family support, adovocacy and the provision of scholarships to private schools intro one organization. This integration has taken the skill if wonderful people who were willing to adapt to new ways of working and thinking, in order to make it all happen.
While there do exist some organizations in Guatemala that provide scholarships to private schools, most of these organizations generally choose children who have done well in public school. This, however, has never been the belief system or practice of Mentes, selecting the highest performing students for services. In fact, the majority of our students have failed one or more grade in public school, many due to issues of untreated trauma. Mentes, of course, works with this trauma, and all the issue impacting the families we serve, preparing the children for exciting, but challenging change to private school.
Mentes also works with children who have faced such challenges as severe dyslexia. Services for these children are practicaly non existent here in Guatemala. Mentes works with one student, who due to her severe dyslexia, repeated first grade three times. When Mentes first started working with her, she couldn´t even remember the vowels, let alone read. Two years later, she is now reading on a second grade level and she is advancing quickly and has gone from dreading to read to being excited and proud of her accomplishments in both reading and writing. Honestly, I don´t know who sits there more thrilled and exicted when she is reading, myself or the student.
Ultimatel, as we enter the fall fund raising season, I felt the need to share just how much the children and families of Mentes mean to me and just how much hard work and dedication people have shown to this organization.
Yet, there remains so many things to be done, such as obtaining four new scholarships for this coming academic year, obtaining better computers and technology for our students to use and increasing our budget to buy textbooks and supplies for the children (items which are very expensive here in Guatemala).
With so much left to be done, I hope you will join us here at Mentes and be part of a team that works to change the lives of impovrished children and families forever.
Alison Aparicio, MSW