When I learned that I would be waking up at 6 AM this morning for our visit to Pain, the college student in me cried, and I resolved that I would sleep on the car ride to the site. Once we began to drive, however, I found it impossible to close my eyes. From the women in the city of Quiche flattening tortillas, to the farmers walking their cows on the side of the road, to the ever-present dogs, there was simply too much to see. Among these sights were many young children in the countryside.
Our driver Fredy pulled up next to two such siblings, and asked why they weren’t in school. “We don’t go to school,” the boy said. “Why not?” asked Fredy. They shrugged and looked down, as if guilty of something. Fredy explained that their parents needed them to stay at home and work. This phenomenon is tragically common, as evidenced by the dozens of stay-at-home children we’ve passed on our way to nearby schools.
To think that these children will probably never get to learn many of the skills that I consider basic, like reading and writing, and that they’ll consequently never get the chance to break the cycle of poverty saddened me. Still, my thoughts turned happy upon arrival in Pain.
Today we were able to visit one of School the World’s future sites--where construction has not yet begun--but plans are well under way. We entered the sole classroom at Pain and were greeted by a unified, resounding “BUENOS DIAS!” Then, one by one, every child old enough to walk—and there were at least 50—came up to shake our hands and welcome us to their school. To practice motor skills, they clapped and sang songs with great enthusiasm. It was heartwarming to see students having so much fun while learning at school.
The students in attendance at Pain range from five months to five years old. The youngest are accompanied by their mothers. These students get a head start in learning. Those younger than three sharpen their motor skills by coloring, clapping, and playing with toys in a supervised setting. The older children begin to write and associate sounds with letters. Although Pain has only one large classroom for three age divisions of children, and although there is only enough space five of the 21 enrolled children in the youngest age division to come each day, when Pain students graduate to a new school in the first grade, they have a clear advantage over the other children. School the World plans to support the site, and Pain will enjoy expansion in the future, when the staff will offer the same wonderful opportunities to even more young children.
Guatemala is a country where many forfeit their childhoods early in life to work alongside their parents, and so a country with much room for progress. Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is also a country that welcomes early education--a country with a truly progressive idea.