Laura Viselli, SOS’s Director of International Programs at SOS, spent 10 days visiting partnering organizations in Guatemala in October 2017.
Santa Apolonia is relatively short drive from Guatemala City. On the way there we battle heavy traffic and turbulent roads, but it isn’t anything that Edil cannot handle. In the front seat Sheily runs through the plan for the afternoon and entertains their two year old son, Edil Jr.
Sheily and Edil are the Volunteer Coordinator and Projects Coordinator, respectively, at SEED Alliance. You can read more about their history and their organization here . Once we enter the community and arrive at the school, called Centro Educativo Jesús el Buen Pastor, I immediately know where I am. Since 2014 SOS has supported 2 projects and facilitated 2 Outreach Trips in Santa Apolonia, and the first piece of feedback I hear from SOS volunteers about the school is; “it’s up a hill!” So I was ready for the walk. However, I was not ready for the reception we received once we arrived.
As I started up the path (the aforementioned hill) I was met by Amalia (Amy) the SEED Leader in Santa Apolonia. Amy has led the two SOS group and coordinated SEED and SOS’s activities in Santa Apolonia since our relationship began. As I turned the final corner I was met by 20-30 schoolchildren lining the path to the school greeting us and welcoming us to their school. A myriad of all white outfits accessorized with traditional Guatemalan cloth, school uniforms, and giggles and shrieks greeted me as we exchanged “hello”s and “mucho gusto”s. At the end of the line was an open platform with another 60-80 students waiting and in unison greeting us with “Welcome SOS!” It was more welcoming than I could have imagined, my very first welcome ceremony.
Santa Apolonia is a community of approximately16,000 people located in Chimaltenango. Amy, Sheily, Edil, and Julian, the school principal, gave me a full tour of previous SOS projects, of the school, and of potential future projects. I was fortunate enough to meet and have lunch with the junta escolar – the parent committee- and with the teachers at Centro Educativo Jesús el Buen Pastor. It was after this meeting that I was able to fully grasp what I had just witnessed.
The support system for education in Santa Apolonia is pulsing. The teachers are pushing themselves to work harder every day to advocate for their students and the members of the junta escolar are juggling migrant work and other types of precarious employment and other familial commitments with their roles on the voluntary committee. Throughout conversations it is clear that Santa Apolonia is mobilizing itself to improve their education and their futures.
Perhaps this is what is most striking to new SOS volunteers, Outreach Trip Participants, and SOS supporters. This being that our partnering communities and organization view a SOS funded project not as a hand-out, but as a hand-up. All the time (over a year) and attention to detail it takes for a community and SEED Alliance to coordinate a SOS funded project and bring it to fruition is a source of energy for the community, and serves as an example of what can be achieved. Then, the members of the community go out and seek further opportunities for growth.
In May 2017 another organization from the United States had decided to fund a new classroom at the school because of SOS’s relationship with Centro Educativo Jesús el Buen Pastor. During my visit, it was clear that community members and school staff were extremely positive and optimistic from this new relationship. I heard multiple times that the school staff, the junta escolar, and SEED Alliance that they would now be seeking other organizations for support.
The pictures and videos I see, and the stories I hear, once Trip Participants return home captures so much of the community and the SOS experience. But what you can only capture from visiting our host communities is their energy – which demands, and deserves, your attention.