Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Travel Report: Thomas Allen, Guatemala

April 11, 2014

Thomas Allen, a Master's student in Latin American Studies, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further his research in Guatemala. His report:

The objective of my field trip to Guatemala was to perform research on the operations of two child sponsorship NGOs operating in that country. 

I visited 10 different communities in 4 different departments of the country to look at various programs administered by the two organizations.

One of the NGOs, Plan Guatemala, enabled me to visit a variety of child-oriented community development projects, whereas the other NGO, Compassion Guatemala, demonstrated how their strategy is to sponsor the long-term development of individual children. I was favorably impressed by both approaches.                                                                                                                                                               

In Guatemala City, I observed Compassion’s after-school program, which provides academic support, regular medical checkups and recreational activities for preschool and primary school level kids. An inducement for the kids is they also get a nutritious meal prepared by volunteer mothers.  This is crucial in a country where 50% of the children are malnourished.

In the remote Mayan village of San Jorge, I was shown a project jointly undertaken by Plan, Nivea (the German face cream company) and the Guatemalan government – Nivea funded the construction and school supplies, Plan organized the construction, looks after the school administration and provides additional teacher training, and the government accepts the responsibility for hiring and paying the teachers. Emphasis is placed on bilingual instruction (Spanish and K’iche’ Mayan dialect), anti-bullying, and equality for girls.

Compassion also offers a Leadership Development Program for some of its more gifted students.  Sponsors provide funding for their post-secondary education costs, including tuition, books, and living expenses.  In Antigua, I met three of the Leadership Development Program candidates – Juanita is in her first year of university in the Education program; Lourdes has already graduated from university and is employed as a Physiotherapist; and Alejandro is in his final year of Civil Engineering. Really inspiring young people!

On a somewhat less positive note, I was dissuaded from visiting one of my targeted communities due to the prevalence of ongoing criminal violence there and the potential threat to my personal safety.  I was informed that a Plan staff member was murdered shortly before my arrival in Guatemala.

Guatemala is a country with overwhelming societal problems, but I have been encouraged by the fact that there are a lot of good people here, working very hard to turn things around by addressing child poverty through programs designed to improve nutrition, support education and develop community leadership skills.

For some of my personal observations during my stay in Guatemala, please visit my blog at tominguatemala.wordpress.com

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