In 2018, we took in applicants from more isolated rural areas around Coban. Our objective is to educate the really poor and disadvantaged, these girls were a whole new level for us. We demand a lot from girls who come from isolated and extremely substandard schools in small villages, many without basic services like water, electricity, phone and roads. However, if they are to get a job in the very competitive market, they have to meet the standards. They have to learn what being a professional requires in knowledge, responsibility and dedication. It is not an easy transition. Having older housemates succeed gives their dreams substance. We encourage the graduated to remain in touch to reinforce their stories of work and reward. It was a tough year for all of us. As a result, we have more stringent study times and demands that they use resources available. During recent conversations, they are doing so, with some chagrin and assurances that the resources are really helping. We shall see in March, after the exams. They have a real change in attitude toward studies though, which is promising. They are girls who do want a better life, but needed time, patience and arrival of the witch from the north to get on track.
Three of the graduates reached a high enough level of English to apply for a job in Guatemala City. We spent a day in Antigua to experience a little of their rich history.
Dalia, Viviana, Evalyn, Dora Evalyn and Viviana
Then it was back to hard work, meeting the higher level required for the job. This year, they only had premium accounts available, which meant more skills to start. After a few tears, we discussed how close they were. Their dream was achievable! By the ned of January, I received hte following email from Dalia.
I want to tell you about my great experience in Alorica: On January 28, I had an interview by phone. I had to answer many questions. After I waited around 20 minutes and they called me again to tell me that I already had a JOB!!! I started on January 29 the Accent Training, I had to pass 5 English tests and I did it!!!…
I started this week the production training, Let me tell you that I am doing it right. Next Monday I will start taking calls with American People. I just want to say “” I am so happy””.
It doesn’t get better than that! Based on the company testing results they kindly shared with me, Viviana and Evalyn are right behind Dalia. They are still in pre-employment company classes and working hard.
Thanks to sponsors and the many hours given by their “English Angels”!
In all, we continue to learn more to help future girls better prepare.
- ALL of the 2017 graduates are now working in the Alorica call center. They are in accounts and activation help, not sales. It was a long tough road for two of them and we learning a lot about how to better prepare this year’s graduates. The girls are in Guatemala City with huge smiles, salaries and dreams of university in the future.
- Finally, after 58 days of frustrating irrelevant problems, we have the building permit to build a second floor on the Guatemala City property. Construction began the end of July and should take 8 months. This will give a lot more space for future graduates to come to a safe place near their work. The older girls will be their mentors in their new lives. The future problems? They won’t want to leave, as one girl said; it is close, safe and cheap.
- We are still in he process of looking for 2019 applicants. The 2018 girls from Coban are amazing! They bubble with their learning and they don’t have to clean out cow and pig barns. They want to speak English! We are getting queries and applicants from many distant places.
- The Quincenera is a very special day in the lives of young girls and their families. It is a huge celebration, but Devora was in Coatepeque for her day. The roads and schools were closed, so hte other girls made a huge traditional celebration. Devora had her day.Please double click on “DevoraBirthdayWeb”
- Trip to Coban (the other side of the mountains, some 12+ hours from Coatepeque). I had been in touch with Chahim, a Mayan woman, over the previous two months. She had sent papers for four applicants who were interested in the scholarships. Since we did not know her and she didn’t know a lot about the program, I committed to the 3 day trip, taking housemother Dora and Maria, a recent graduate with me. Based on Chahim’s determination on behalf of these girls, I felt this may develop into a resource for future applicants.
- We arrived mid afternoon and had a 40 minute Mayan radio station interview that night with her father. Maria did very well and Dora was fine if I held her hands to keep them from shaking so hard. It was a good experience for both. The offer was for the four existing applicants to come at 9AM and interested others at 1PM. Seven girls and their parents arrived at 9AM. (I had only three sponsors waiting to help someone). One new girl started walking at 2AM through snake filled forests to get to Coban in time. Others left around 4AM.
- The mothers did not speak Spanish or English but Chahim and her father translated for us. The parents were obviously very interested in the possibility and asked questions endlessly. They were engaged thoroughly. When the three of us rotated and talked with separate family groups, the most pressing question was “how many hours do we have to work”? I did not understand, but answered they would study in the mornings and evenings, going to school in the afternoons. They repeated their question. They were asking how many hours did they have to clean up after and guard the pigs and cows each day, as they had to do in middle school, before cooking for the facility in the afternoons. Horrified, I could only repeat that this is a scholarship to study and learn and WE DO NOT HAVE PIGS AND COWS. This needed repeating many times. After talking for some 5 hours (They had to start back home), I explained through my tears that we were short 4 sponsors, but after hearing their stories, the extremes they went to to get a middle school education and now spending a large part of their monthly income to come to the meeting, for the first time in our history, I promised a scholarship without knowing how to provide one. We agreed to meet in Guatemala City on January 5th. when I would take charge of their girls.
- Meeting with applicant Yulisa from the Northern Highlands. Yulisa was referred by another woman trying to help poor girls in her area. Since there was only one appropriate applicant, we did not travel the even greater distance to Huehuetenango, but would meet them in the bus station at Quetzaltenango. Yuli’s mother has two daughters and they live on $20 per month plus the room, beans and rice provided by the grandfather.
- Coatepeque: a time to buy hundreds of dollars of food, books and supplies for the coming semester. Also a time to enjoy Dora’s Guatemalan tamales and the new “kitty kitty” who does not respond to his Spanish names.
- Back to Guatemala City to meet volunteers and godparent’s arrival and meet the new girls from Coban coming for “boot camp” and saying goodby to families for 10 months.
- Pam and Janet came for the second year to help start English during boot camp. They also had offered a 2 day trip to the top English students. Dalia and Evalyn were thrilled to learn how to order from a menu (anything they wanted), eat a banana split (one each) and see their own country.
- Sponsors Peggy and Fred spent time with their girl, seeing Guatemala City and enjoying getting to know each other. Maria Jose was full of smiles- her godparents came to see her.
- I kept track of various agendas while trying to visit universities that might help with the proposed Guatemala City house expansion and in the spare time cooking for 21 people.
- The COBAN group arrived at various times on the 5th. Until about midnight, we fielded endless additional questions from all the parents. “Excuse me for bothering you, but I have one more question”, became the mantra. Their intense interest was reassuring and delightful. At the end of a “convocation” the next morning, we were told they were willing to trust us with their girls. It was a special moment together. Then, two left with a taxi full of Spirit bags and the girl’s very small bags of worldly posessions while the rest of us (girls and fathers) caught buses to the bus station. During the 5 hour trip for 13 of us, we had lessons on geology, agriculture and beginning English – also some napping between snacks volunteer Pam brought.
- BOOT CAMP was difficult because the president changed the start date of schools the previous Wednesday, moving the date up one week. Schools and teachers were not ready, books had not arrived yet, uniforms were still coming, the book list changed daily, etc. However Pam did get English lessons in for eager beginners and Dora and I kept going back to town to get the right books and registration.
- FundAP is still haunting our effort. After realizing in the fall that the local FundAP office did not know their graduate (middle school) families, as claimed, was not checking to see the applicants met our criteria (good health and economic need) and applicants actually wanted to study what we were offering, our US board decided trying to get them to understand our goals was not going to happen. The five girls that were terminated lost us five sponsors. Two sponsors due to emails sent claiming we abused girls and stole the money. During registration, I learned the problems regarding the applicants were well known (boyfriends, families had money, health issues) by local people. Therefore, after meeting with the Guatemalan board, I wrote FundAP to say we would be unable to support their graduates due to the failure rates and inappropriate referrals. No response. They were still sending applicants the week after school started, promising scholarships from us. For a relationship that had such potential, it was a harsh failure for many reasons.
- Guatemala House return to resolve the six month old problem of expanding the residence. Graduate Guisela and I returned to speak with Sergio, whom I met in July. At that time, he said he was in charge of the EPS program, a public service in their field in exchange for free University education. We had been trying for 6 months to call and email him. Turns out the real EPS department didn’t know who Sergio was. Now we have a presentation Guisela will make on February 29th. to kick off EPS experience for 2018. The real director (with an office and secretary) was enthusiastic about our goals in helping Guatemalan young people and promised we would get the student we needed. I live in hope.
- Four new girls applied for a scholarship this month. Their biographies are listed here.
- Four of our 2017 graduates pre-interviewed with the Alorica call center in Guatemala City with excellent results. They will be going to work at the end of the school year as they have reached the bilingual English level necessary to work in the Alorica call center.
- Planning started to expand the Guatemala City house to add 3 more rooms that will house 4 girls each.
- We have purchased a residence in Guatemala City closer to work for our graduates. The house is in a safe neighborhood, only 20-30 minutes from work, instead of the often 2 hours they had been traveling each way. This will give them some 18 hours per week to attend university in the future or simply have a life.
- We are now working with another employer, which is growing by 25% in 2017. This should give more opportunity to our graduates the end of this year and Lesvia is now working at full bi-lingual pay, which she was not able to do with the previous employer.
- The English Angel program has become fundamental to the motivation and success of the girls. Our volunteers often mention how they are noticeably improving each week. Living in the house where they can practice, have supporting materials and the help of their English Angel has made a huge difference. Our wonderful housemother, Dora, continues to grow as a person, taking on more of running the house and equipment. She says: “teach me”.
- A permanent residence for Spirit; the benefits are studying, supporting and practicing English together. We learned through 22 months that being together during the week means enormous improvement in these areas.
- English taught by one of our own. Without a doubt, Sildi has better pronunciation than any local teacher. (Her school English teachers try to avoid her questions). She has the heart of a teacher; encouraging, patient and sometimes demanding. She knows her students weaknesses and strengths.
- Distant Applicants: we are now able to offer the program to girls farther than a daily bus ride. Through a partnership with FundAP, working to provide education for primary and middle school levels, we started with three of their girls. All three are Mayan, which was a concern, as cultures don’t mix very well in Guatemala.
For many years now, we have had incredible harmony and an amazingly supportive ambiance of sisters helping sisters. I was not 100% sure that this would continue with the added dimension of cultural diversity.
Our existing girls have great empathy for these new girls who won’t be able to go home until Easter. They were enfolded into the group and have recovered remarkably from the extreme homesickness of the first week. They work as a team of friends.
2015: AN AMAZING JOB OFFER
In January, Pam and Cesia visited Allied Global in Guatemala City. Human Resources director, Liliana Ortiz was very excited about our program and girls. She came to Coatepeque in April to meet the girls and tell about her employment opportunity to those who can learn sufficient English. Her benefits include:
- $575 starting salary with bonus with possible $775 by the end of the first year, instead of the $150-250 for graduates in Coatepeque
- Social Security and medical benefits
- Shorter work days: 7 hours instead of 10
- Discounted university education
Alejandra wants our girls and the girls are working hard to learn English so they can apply. To make this happen, the Spirit house is essential! They can’t practice English in the villages.
Due to this opportunity, we have shifted our program emphasis. A call center job is a definite job, due to demand, for those who can become fluent in English.
Four girls were invited to visit their training center in Guatemala City as if they were students. Our girls came away believing they had or could reach the required level before January 2016 when they start the training and their future. They are busily improving rapidly and are role models for the younger girls.
“Distinguished Friend of Coatepeque”
Spirit’s work was acknowledged by an act of the Coatepeque City council. Pam was given the honor as “Distinguished Friend of Coatepeque”, although without the effort of a huge group of people in the US the work would not have been possible.
Our 10th anniversary, parent attendance was mandatory. It was optional in subsequent reunions. All parents come! The clear message was that parents wanted to be more a part of the process. During the general meeting, I spoke of individual girl’s progress and problems. Two new lawyers came and spoke of the benefit in their lives.