Jim’s Trip To Guatemala
For over ten years now, Jim’s Organic Coffee has been supporting a school in Tzanchaj, Atitlan, Guatemala- the same location where our Guatemalan coffee comes from. In that time, we have funded the development of a library (stacked with books!), additional classrooms, and made a considerable donation towards training librarians and teachers in order to improve reading programs and beyond.
Given our connection to the library, school and community, June seemed an opportune time to pay a visit. This was a particularly special trip for me because my oldest daughter, Josephine, came along. Our experience during our visit was tremendous!
We were greeted at the airport by Dr. John van Kappel, Director of Child Aid in Guatemala. Child Aid is a small charity with very little overhead that aims to lift children from poverty through the power of reading and education. The work we do in the community here goes through this wonderful organization.
On our long drive up to Atitlan, John spoke in detail of the programs that Child Aid has implemented and how they are benefiting the student’s lives. We also learned of the challenges they faced. The children of Tzanchaj grow up speaking their native Mayan dialect, Tz’utujil (there are 24 native dialects in Guatemala), so when teachers arrive to the school they most often only speak Spanish. This miscommunication between teachers and students slows down progress. The other challenge throughout Guatemala is that most children are learning to read the words on a page but are not retaining information or grasping concepts.
The Tzanchaj School has been a model for Child Aid’s efforts to promote reading. Their teachers are trained through Child Aid three times a year and the school is now using a four step program of Retention, Interpretation, Analysis and Creation to improve reading skills.
We were able to spend time in one classroom where teachers and kids were thoroughly engaged and enjoying themselves. These children spoke Tz’utujil, so their teacher, Eduardo, switched back and forth between Tz’utujil and Spanish in order for them to grasp the concepts. In years past, without a teacher that spoke Tz’utujil, this would have never happened.
Next we visited the library and continued to be impressed. A new class entered and the students dove right in to the books. Smiles all around! Within minutes, boys and girls were sitting and reading aloud to themselves.
John van Kappel summed up our mission nicely when he said, “We are really teaching them that books are friendly and fun and take you to different places.”
Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate in all of Latin America. Less than 1 in 10 indigenous children finish high school. Jim’s Organic Coffee is happy and proud to help break this cycle through the simple joy of reading. As we work on this year’s coming Holiday Blend, the impact of the trip remains foremost in our hearts and minds.