Education For All

Education For All

It´s no secret here in Guatemala that girls face much greater difficulites in accessing educational services than boys.  Furthermore, girls are more likely to leave school at a younger age, due to families needing or wanting the girl to work or marry.

Machismo, throughout Guatemalan society, also great impacts a girl´s ability to thrive and receive equal treatment in all walks of life.  Thus, rightfully so, many programs focus on providing services to girls, helping them to overcome these obstacles.

Yet, at the same time, what about the boys? Should we just forget that all children living in poverty face significant challenges in terms of equal access to education, health care and jobs.

Here at Mentes, we place emphasis on working and educating both boys and girls, with the goal of forming a more egalitarian society.  We support boys in their quest for education, but we also work with both girls and boys; addressing issues of machismo and inequality.

Ultimately, here at Mentes, we work with all members of our families; mothers, fathers, boys and girls, striving for equality for all the families we serve – no matter what their age, gender or ethnicity might be.

New School Year!

New School Year!

Scholarship Recipients Begin New Year

First of all, we would like to thank all our sponsors and donors who gave so generously this past holiday season.  Due to your support, we were able to provide scholarships to private school for 12 children living in extreme poverty.

Mentes is also pleased to announce that our students are now attending a new colegio, the only non-profit colegio operating in Quetzaltenango.  The school provides a first class education, drawing upon some of the most innovative teaching techniques. The school also focuses on issues of social justice and equality.  The colegio, unlike the majority of private schools in Quetzaltenango, boasts a full library of books in Spanish, English and K´iche.  A great emphasis is put on reading, writing and thinking creatively, rather than memorization which is the more standard way of learning here in Guatemala.

Our scholarship recipients have been very excited and happy with their new school, and the new ways of learning and thinking they have obtained.  The school serves children from pre-school through high school.  Last year, 100% of the senior class went on to college.

As usual, Mentes will continue to offer academic suppport, emotional support, counseling and advocacy to our scholarship recipients and their families; in order to help them adjust to their new school and continue on the road to success.

Congratulations to Our Graduates!

Congratulations to Our Graduates!

We are so proud to announce the graduation from sixth grade of three of our scholarship recipients who attend private school.  Each of these graduates has overcome tremendous hardship and tragedy in their lives, yet each child has worked so hard to reach their goals.  Given the fact that onl 40% of all children in Guatemala graduate from primary school and ultimately only 10% graduate from high school, this is indeed a great achievement.  The outstanding grades of these three students also serve as an indicator of just how hard they have worked and how far they have come.

If you would like to be part of changing the life of a child living in poverty, Mentes is currently looking for sponsors and/or donors for this coming academic year (which starts in January). Your support can change the life of a child forever!

The Mentes´ Story

The Mentes´ Story

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

August Success

August Success

A few weeks ago, we were looking for a sponsor for Cristofer, a 13 year old boy, who due to his small size, was the target of constant bullying and violence in public school.  Thankfully, a very generous donor stepped forward and provided enough money for Cristofer to attend private school for the rest of the academic year.  We are stll looking for donations and/or permanent sponsors for Cristofer and his younger brother to attend private school for this coming school year.

Mentes scholarship recipients also attended their school´s second anniversary celebration, where many recipients gave speeches and performed with classmates.  It was very exciting to see our scholarship recipient so happy and involved in their school´s activities.  The progress all our scholarship recipients have made in terms of self confidence and higher self esteem is truly remarkable.

Finally, this week our students completed their third quarter exams.  After the amazing academic success of our students from the second quarter, we can´t wait to see the results of their hard work from the third quarter.  We are also very proud of the fact that our scholarship recipients are constanty praised by the colegio for their great conduct in school and their desire to learn.  For children who have suffered from so much trauma and poverty, these accomplishments are truly amazing.

As always, we remain so grateful to all our sponsors and donors who make these success stories possible.

Change the Lives of These Two Boys

chrischris3Mentes is looking for individuals and/or groups who are interested in donating and/or sponsoring scholarships, in order that Alessandro and Cristofer may be able to attend private school.

Cristofer (age 13) and Alessandro (age 11) are two wonderful, kind and caring boys.  Cristofer is currently in 7th grade and Alessadro is in 5th grade.

The low level of education these two boys are receiving in public school is truly alarming, especially given how hard working they are and how much thy want to succeed in life. Cristofer’s math teacher does not even himself understand what he is teaching, and routinely assigns math problems for the children to finish, with no explanation how to complete them.  Critofer’s class doesn’t even have a math book to explain the math problems they are working on.

The teacher of Alessandro also struggles to teach the children the material they need to learn, and she frequently shows up an hour late for school, if at all.  Such is the state of the public school system here in Guatemala.

Both Cristofer and Alessandro did attend private school in the past, Their father, however, left the family approximately 3 years ago and the mother could not pay for private school on her salary alone.  No one knows the whereabouts of the father, a fact that deeply saddens both of the boys.

Making the situation worse is the fact that both Cristofer and Alessandro are small for their age and are constantly harrassed and assaulted in school.  Last year, Cristofer was surrounded by a group of boys and beaten so badly he had to be taken to the hospital.

Cristofer and Alessandro are eagerly awaiting the chance to return to private school.  If you or anyone you know would be interested in sponsoring these boys (for just $50 dollars a month), please feel free to contact us.  Furthermore, even the smallest donation can go a long way in helping to raise sufficient funds for a scholarship to be put in place.

What A Difference

What A Difference

Below are three very different pictures.  The first is a picture of one of the many private schools located in Guatemala City, where the wealthy send their children.  The second is an overcrowded public school in a city and the third of a public school in a rural area of Guatemala.caga7fce089-9fbc-4ef7-87c4-fc1f610c967fe7480789-92d0-47e9-b0a0-4607aa5ea415The private school where Mentes scholarship recipients attend here in Xela is much more modest than the private schools in Guatemala City.  Beyond the first rate facilities, the private schools for the wealthy in Guatemala City also offer almost all their classes in English.  In fact, most of these schools offer AP classes, administer the SAT, provide college counseling etc..  Thus these wealthy students in the capital are graduating with a level of English far superior to children in the rest of the country.

Why is speaking English so important here in Guatemala?  First of all, most professionals are expected to speak English and many job postings for professionals are written in English.  Furthermore, more and more universities are requiring students to be fluent in English.   To apply to many graduate school programs in Guatemala City, one must fill out the application in English, supply a resume in English and present scores from the TOEFL exam.

Though our scholarship recipients do receive five classes of English per week, it is not enough for them to achieve the fluency needed to adequately compete for professional jobs in the future.  Many middle and upper class families here in Xela, send their children to intensive English programs here in Quetzaltenango during the three months of vacation.  This is exactly what Mentes would like to do, as well.

We are, at the moment, seeking to raise funds that would allow our scholarship recipients to attend an insitute that would provide intensive English classes from October through December, during the time the children are on school vacation.  This would allow them to better compete in a world where professionals are expected to read, write and communicate in English.

Ist Quarter Grades Are In!

Ist Quarter Grades Are In!

Our private school scholarship recipients received their first quarter grades this past week.  All 9 students did very well in their studies, and we are very proud of the hard work and the progress they have made.

Our first year scholarship recipients did incredibly well given the huge differences in academic standards between public an private schools.

Their biggest challenges were in English (since English is not taught in public primary schools) and in reading and composition.  Until this year, none of the new scholarship recipients had ever read a book before, only small exerts from textbooks used in public schools.

Another new experience for all our scholarship recipients has been learning that they can buy inexpensive used books to read.  Schoools and colegios here in Guatemala generally do not allow families to buy used textbooks or make photocopies of them.  Thus, none of our children knew there existed used book stores where, for a few quetzales, they could purchase all kinds of books to read for pleasure.

Mentes is also excited to know that a new used book store just opened up in the Zona 3 of Xela, selling thousands of use books in Spanish.  The older children are especially excited about visiting the new book store and looking at the wide array of books available to them.

Our more seasoned scholarship recipients (2nd and third year scholarship recipients) all received high marks on their report cards.  One student, who only started private school last year in 7th grade (after years in public school), brought home a stunning report card, that had all the middle school teachers talking!  What is most incredible is that this student´s parent cannot read or write, so all the work she did at home, she did without any help.  Mentes did, however, provide this student with plenty of academic and emotional support, allowing her to learn new and creative ways to study and write.

We at Mentes are so proud of the hard work, dedication and achievements of all our students. We continue to hope that even more generous donors will step forward to allow other public school students we work with to receive a scholarship to private school.

Right now, we have four super motivated students who are waiting anxiously for scholarships to private schools.  Even the smallest donation could help these children achieve their dreams!

First Semester Exams!

First Semester Exams!

It seems almost impossible, but the first academic quarter of the school year is coming to a close.  Our scholarship recipients are busy studying for their first quarter exams.

Our students who are in their second and third year of colegio are now old pros at taking exams, and are exuding a confidence about their abilities to work hard and excel academically.

Mentes is also providing extra support to our new scholarship recipients, to help them through, what at first, feels like a daunting process.  With organization, hard work and patience, we know that our scholarship recipients will also gain confidence and the ability to excel in their studies.

A recent study by US AID demonstrated that only 40% of Guatemalan youth were enrolled in middle school and that there were over 2 million out of school youth in all of Guatemala, with over 600,000 of these youth originating from the Western High Lands.  These youth are currently facing increasingly difficult situations, including high unemployment and raising crime rates.

We at Mentes are so happy that our scholarship recipients (and those children we work with who are waiting for scholarships) are working towards a very different future; a future full of hope and academic opportunities, that will allow them to stay in school and achieve their dreams.

Scholarship Recipients Make Great Transitions!

Scholarship Recipients Make Great Transitions!

Scholarship Recipients Make Great Transitions

All 9 Mentes scholarship recipients thriving as colegio begins.

Last Friday was the first Parent/Teacher meeting of the school year, at the colegio where our 9 scholarship recipients attend.
Beyond the fact that all our students are doing very well so far, we were also very happy with the direction the administration of the colegio is taking.
Education in Guatemala is traditionally very didactic and based on memorizing facts.  In the past, teachers needed only high school degrees to teach, and learning to think and analyze were not part of the curriculum.
Unfortunately, many schools and colegios in Xela continue to follow outdated ideas with regard to learning; with memorization, copying and dictation the norm.
The colegio where our scholarship recipients attend has chosen to take a very different approach.  The owner of the school is committed to implementing innovative ways of learning and has begun to employ the newest ideas and techniques with regards to teaching.
Teachers at the colegio have been very open with concern to suggestions and ideas from parents and Mentes staff. When there have been issues with any teachers or students, the colegio´s owner and director have been overwhelmingly helpful in resolving the situation.For many people residing in other countries, a school responding in such a way may seem rather common.  Here in Guatemala, however, schools (even private schools) are frequently unresponsive to parents concerns and are unwavering in their beliefs that older teaching methods, such as memorization, are the best ways to learn.
Furthermore, parents here in Guatemala know that speaking up about their concerns in a public school will almost always lead to the child being treated worse.  That is why parents whose children attend public schoool rarely speak up or complain, for fear of retribution against their children.
The innovation and dedication that is being demonstrated by the colegio where our scholarship recipients attend has resulted in the growth in the number of students attending this colegio.
As a result of this growth, three new classrooms have been built for middle school students, as well as the construction of an assembly room where meetings with students, teachers and parents can take place.We at Mentes, continue to be excited about the growth and innovation occuring at this colegio and are so pleased that our scholarship recipients and their families have the opportunity to partake in these exciting changes!