Back in 2006 I got a phone call from my friend Jennifer Pickering, who runs the Lake Eden Arts Festival, its non-profit branch, LEAF International, and its local outreach, LEAF in Schools and Streets. LEAF does great work with music programs in several countries, and Jennifer is a long-time friend. The question she wanted to ask was this — Given that LEAF supports international music programs, and PEG Is working with schools and libraries in Guatemala, could LEAF and PEG work together on a project in Guatemala?
At PEG, we are very careful not to be “donor driven,” which is to say that we don’t take on projects because they are things that we want to do. Almost all of the projects we support in Guatemala are Guatemalan initiated and run. So I couldn’t say yes to Jennifer until I knew whether there was a community in Guatemala that wanted such a project and had the right people to take it on. I talked to some friends there, and as it turned out, there was a community in El Tejar that had been longing to start a music program for teens, partly to give them another alternative to gang involvement.
Pepe was in his early teens then, and as the program ramped up, he was one of the first students to enroll. He excelled, with a natural talent a whole lot of hard work, and five years later, after graduation, he applied to the music conservatory in Guatemala City. He was accepted, and rode the bus to the city early each morning for two years, with a bit of help with the bus fare from PEG.
Pepe wrote to us this month to tell us that he has just graduated from the conservatory and is now a certified music teacher. These days he is part of a professional marimba band, which has given him the opportunity to visit several places in Guatemala. He is proud to have been featured in a local newspaper and in some television programs. He also helped to teach in the new summer school program for smaller children in El Tejar, which has just finished its second year, with support from PEG and LEAF. In the future, Pepe says he hopes to help many people following the example of PEG Partners (that’s you!).
This work continues to be important and we have a lot to celebrate this year, in spite of uncertainties for Guatemala in general. The country is at a rather precarious crossroads right now, with a new president recently elected. A former comic actor on television, he won the election on a promise to clean up corruption, but he has strong ties to former military leaders that raise questions for some observers.
PEG has always taken the long view, though, that literacy, critical thought, and artistic expression are fundamental to all of the changes that our Guatemalan friends want to see happen—political, economic, and social. So we will continue to do this work, regardless of what party is in power and how well or poorly things are going, until we are no longer needed, and we will rejoice when that day comes!
Thanks to your strong support, Sarah’s great work as director, David’s continued leadership, and the board members’ guidance, PEG is expanding, both in the breadth of programs we support and in their depth. Both the music program in El Tejar and the Escuelita David LaMotte in Tzanchaj are running ‘summer school’ programs right now (this current season is considered summer in Guatemala), in the break between October and January, when school is out for the year.
In Tzanchaj, summer school serves a critical need, not only for continuing education and engagement, but for good, free food for the children. In El Tejar, where PEG partners with LEAF International and Child Aid support their extraordinary music program, things are moving into an exciting phase where the students are becoming music teachers for small children in their community. In the second year of this summer school program, now four weeks instead of two, it is tremendously exciting to see the effects of our eight years of work there rippling out farther into the community.
In October, LEAF brought three advanced students and one teacher from El Tejar to perform at the fall LEAF festival. They spent the week as musicians in residence, along with a group from Haiti, at Hanger Hall in Asheville. They connected and jammed with the Hanger Hall students and the young musicians from Haiti. It was a beautiful collaborative week, sharing culture and experiences, even without a common language (other than music!).
Over in Sololá, PEG supported four high school students with full scholarships to the Leaders and Readers program through another excellent partner organization, Reading Village, which maintains long-term engagement with high school students, supporting the cost of tuition to public high school, required uniforms, transportation from their rural villages, books, supplies, etc. Each student participates in ongoing leadership training programs, and in teams they develop libraries in their own rural villages, reaching hundreds of small children through their own efforts, and developing strong leadership capacity on the way.
In Chacayá, the Artistic Expression program, begun last year, has flourished this year thanks to instruments and art supplies provided by PEG and mentoring from Sara, the music teacher at the El Tejar program. Again, we are honored to play a supportive role in these relationships, but we are also quite conscious of the capacities of local people to do this work well, especially in consultation with each other. It is a joy to see.
‘Leveraging impact’ is a phrase that comes up pretty often in our board meetings, and this year we have seen more evidence of those secondary impacts than ever before, with students teaching young children, teachers in one program consulting with teachers in another, etc. In that spirit, we were delighted to support a new initiative to develop curriculum and provide professional development for teachers in rural schools, organized and presented by La Puerta Abierta in Santiago. The teachers from Escuelita David LaMotte in Tzanchaj received training through that program, including follow-up observation and evaluation. The program has already reached several schools and now the teachers who have received the training can help train others.
PEG also continued to support La Puerta Abierta’s excellent Traveling Library Program, which reaches eight rural schools. Each participating class receives a weekly visit from Isaías, the enthusiastic librarian from La Puerta Abierta. While children receive exposure to reading and interactive activities, classroom teachers gain training in how to incorporate critical thought and literacy training into their curriculum. Books are extremely scarce in most Guatemalan schools, so in addition to offering a story hour, Isaías leaves a set of books at each school each week, and trades them for new options the following week.
Reading for pleasure is not a common activity in Guatemala, but it is growing among teens in Santiago, thanks to La Puerta Abierta’s Teen Reading Club, also supported by PEG. Like many book clubs, the teens in the group read the same books, then gather to discuss them, catch up with each other, talk, argue, laugh, and build community. It’s the next step in literacy and critical thinking skill development, and it is a beautiful thing to see.
Back in Guatemala City, volunteers at UPAVIM offer an after-school English program in the tough and gang-ridden part of the city where they live and work, with support from PEG. Learning to speak English is a valuable skill in Guatemala, and it also keeps kids in a safe and healthy environment after school. We have also added a portal to support the stipends for yearly volunteers at UPAVIM, who live very frugally while they serve the community. In our new “store” (click here to check it out), you can see how far donations go and what, specifically, they provide. Unlike most of the items in the store, however, donations for UPAVIM stipends will pass right through and go to volunteers there (other donations will go to the projects where they are most needed). You may not be able to go to Guatemala for a year, but for $125, you can provide the resources for a volunteer to donate their time for a month.
Please do stop by the store to see how significant a small donation can be. Remember, as always, 100% of your donation goes directly to the programs in Guatemala unless you specify that some portion may be used for administrative expenses. Checks can be mailed to PEG Partners at P.O. Box 551, Montreat, NC 28757. And thank you for making all of this happen. PEG is now eleven years old, and it is impossible to calculate how many thousands of children’s lives have been touched. What we do know, however, is that each one of them matters individually. And we know that we (you too), are making a positive difference.
David & Sarah
(and Tom, Andrew, Sarah, Paul, Deanna, Cecil, & Stephanie)