Paul Sanders, our guest blogger, taught maths for a very long time in the UK and this year he came down to Guatemala to meet his sponsor kids for the 1st time! He also worked on training math teachers and also worked closely with our junior high English teacher.
An interest in the archaeology of ancient civilisations, a desire to travel to Latin America and the privilege of a three month sabbatical from my teaching post all led to me joining a five week tour of Central America which started with two weeks in Guatemala.
The location and colonial architecture of Antigua were a wonderful start to the tour; the volcanoes, lake and villages of the Atitlan region were amazing in sunny weather.
However, my highlight of the Guatemala leg of the tour was exploring the temples and pyramids at Tikal with the early morning view from the top of temple IV over the jungle and the ruins particularly memorable.
The pleasure of exploring though did not hide the level of poverty. An encounter with a very young child and her slightly older sister begging in Parque Central made it clear that the colour and tourist facilities of Antigua merely hid the fact that over 50% of the population were living under the UN poverty line. During a short foray in Honduras to visit the remains of Copan I visited the local orphanage where it was evident there was minimal state support and that the children depended heavily on the generosity of visitors for the basic essentials of day to day life.
I returned home at the end of my tour with wonderful memories and a desire to find a way of giving practical assistance which might improve the prospects of some of these children. No immediate solution was apparent until, about six months later, I was watching a Saturday TV programme previewing the day’s football matches.
A regular item in “Football Focus” was a feature considering the contributions that a leading player was making to his local community or to a charity. On the day I was watching, Shaun Wright Phillips was describing his link with an English charity that had recently opened a school to provide a stable education for children from the area around Antigua whose parents would struggle to fund an education. Bingo!
Fast forward 10 years...
My link with EFTC started with occasional one off donations accompanied with a request that some of the donation should be targeted towards the Mathematics department. Later my wife and I decided to make a monthly commitment so we took on the food sponsorship of four students who were in primero basico.
At my school in Wales, I continued my work as Head of the Mathematics department. Computers were becoming increasingly important not only to solve complicated problems but also as a means of delivering improved pupil comprehension of complicated concepts. A resource bank of powerpoints with careful progression of ideas and clear diagrams to motivate and illustrate ideas was written to support the education of our 11—16 pupils.
"Retirement from school arrived in 2014 and a second visit to Guatemala – with the primary aim of spending time at Escuela La Esperanza (The School of Hope) – was one of the items at the top of my retirement “bucket list”. Various emails flew through the ether between Wales, Nottingham and Jocotenango during 2014 and 2015 so the foundations of a visit were planned but illness within the family meant that these had to be put on hold".
The spring newsletter arrived from EFTC: the teachers now all have laptops and the school has digital projectors for use in the classrooms. That’s a great step forward! However, it raised a vital question: how to realise the full potential of these tools without spending considerable sums on educational software only some of which will prove to be fit for purpose. It did strike me that the powerpoint resources prepared for my school might be adapted for use in Jocotenango
Discussions with Nottingham and emails to and from Guatemala led to the English versions of the resources being put in a DROPBOX that could be accessed in Guatemala.
At the same time, the magnitude of the problems caused by the family illness diminished so I was able to commit to four weeks in Guatemala at the beginning of 2017.
January, February 2017: Reflections
The Nottingham office, and Ana, in Guatemala, gave a huge amount of help & support whilst making the initial arrangements for my visit. Through Alicia at Voyageur Tours efficiently organised, trouble free weekend excursions to Atitlan and Petén were arranged.
The home stay with Ilse and her family in the South of Antigua was an excellent base for my four weeks. They were very tolerant of my limited Spanish and the breakfasts and evening meals were always tasty and wholesome. It was great to a spacious room to myself and to have wi-fi in the house.
Antigua has certainly changed over 10 years. There seem to be far more tourists; ATMs are almost everywhere; there are some really good coffee shops which do justice to the Guatemalan coffee bean (10 years ago there seemed to be a preponderance of instant coffee). I welcomed the opportunities to pass early evenings watchings Guatemalan films over a beer at Bagel Barn or listening to talks from other NGOs at Rainbow Café and it was a surprising bonus to see flames spouting from the mouth of Fuego one evening.
I realise that visitor co-ordinator Sara had the unenviable task of trying to decide how best make use of the mixture of skills and limitations that I brought along and she did this with both tact and good humour. The final balance of classroom assistant for the junior high English classes and some resource sharing with members of the Maths department kept me busy (in the best possible sense) both during the school day and on preparatory work in the evenings. The work with the Maths department would have been impossible without Sara acting as interpreter.
The work with the Maths teachers focused on how the Geogebra software package and the powerpoint resource bank might be used in their classrooms. There was considerable enthusiasm for Geogebra (available free and in Spanish) and I hope the teachers will take me up on my offer to assist them remotely in developing its use at the school.
The powerpoints are – not surprisingly – written in English: with the aid of computer translations, I managed to create Spanish versions of a few before and during my visit to Guatemala. It was a pleasure to see one of the powerpoints and Geogebra used in the classroom by profesora Fatima. The teachers have indicated further ones that they think would be useful in their classrooms.
I am hoping – probably with the help of current Spanish students and teachers at the school where I used to teach – that these powerpoints can be translated into Spanish in the not too distant future.
It was a very real pleasure to assist Marissa in the English teaching of the primero, segundo and tercero basico classes. Whilst teaching a language rather than my usual Maths was something of a shock to the system it was a great way to get to know the older children in the school. I was impressed with the positive approach displayed by the vast majority and this didn’t seem to depend on natural ability in the subject.
I appreciated that Marissa was keen to have me fully involved in both the teaching and the planning of the classes. This certainly paid dividends when Marissa was absent ill for a few days and I had to take over the teaching of our classes and hope that I managed to maintain forward progress for the pupils through the scheme of work. Feeling that, for three and a half weeks, I was part of the school’s teaching team was a really important factor in making this volunteering period so worthwhile.
There were two other volunteers at the school whilst I was there. Arin from Norway was also staying at Ilse’s house and our joint interest in Premier league football... and the occasional beer in the evening... meant that the 40 year gap in our ages was just a statistic! I was sorry I didn’t see more of Andy (UK) over the four weeks but remember fondly our day of team teaching whilst Marissa was away. I’m sure he is enjoying the rise in Everton’s fortunes as much as Arin is lamenting the decline in Arsenal’s.
"I was really impressed with the width of responsibility that EFTC and the school show for its pupils. It was very apparent that what goes on in the classroom is just one part of an extensive programme which includes improving family living conditions, ensuring healthy development and an awareness of personal hygiene and providing continuing support until the student is ready to make the transition to paid employment.
"The four students that I provide with some sponsorship are now all at college studying career related courses. I was most pleased that Laura (Sponsor coordinator) managed to arrange for me to meet the four of them and was delighted to hear their hopes and aspirations for the future".