Bilingual Education in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan

[Editor's note: The following post was originally written by blogger and journalist Juan Manuel Castillo and posted at La Nana. It was translated to English by Guatemalan contributor Renata Ávila.]

Tz´ikin Jaay in Spanish means Santiaguito, or “Little Santiago.” It is the name of a school in Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala's state of Sololá. It has been educating children for about a decade, preserving their identity, culture and greatness of the Tzutuhiles, the regional ethnic group.

Pek noq e´la utz chipaam qak´aslemal  chik rara´taq xtoq k´iiya kiy laj taq achnaq nqawil.

“It is important to study because through it we can help the whole community in the future and educate the children of tomorrow” is the opinion of 15-year-old bilingual education student Verónica del Carmen Damián.

Taq anen xtinkiya`, kenoto´je´wachalal je´ek´ola chpaam nitnamit, chaqa´ kenyariij keno´ka jun k´omoy b´eey, jun winaq tijoneel qas ritquiin otzlaj taq naoj.

“My goal is to teach poor children and help people,” said 12-year-old girl Ana Maria Mendoza.

The green of the trees, the beautiful gardens and paths, a stunning view of the Lake Atitlán, and a place reserved for bonfires are just a few examples of what the school offers.

“I like my school because it has a garden and flowers,” says Pedro Mendoza Reanda, who is proud to have such a nice school. Likewise, several other kids find in Tz`ikin Jaay, a place of amazement.

In Guatemalan cities children study in closed buildings with no space to play, only grey buildings. The bilingual school in Santiago has an ecological program, a recycling system, and teachers who know the importance of a balanced environment and respecting nature. While urban Guatemalan schools require their students to wear a uniform to attend, in Santiaguito the optional uniform consists of a bright red shirt and white trousers.

Tz´ikin Jaay opened their doors to any child in the village wishing to attend in 1997. The study program is focused both on traditional lessons and also technical lessons and handicrafts. The majority of the students will most likely not finish secondary school so one of the school's aims is to provide them with tools for their future. The school promotes cultural diversity and linguistic diversity with lessons in Tzutuhil, Spanish, and even English, with the help of volunteers like Kirstin Maria Jones.

For the students, teachers and parents of the school, October 5, 2005  is a date to remember. Hurricane Stan destroyed everything. The school was flooded with mud, the facilities gone. They have never obtained any support or aid from the government. and so it was the community itself that rebuilt the school.

The school is not self-sustainable. Not all the parents can afford a monthly fee. The Ministry of Education is not willing to fund such an unorthodox project. Since the school is private, but open to anyone in the community, they cannot obtain any federal funding. They are not willing to participate in other programs because their requirements focus on maximizing resources, so the children would not be able to have all the added value like English lessons and art classes. They currently have the support of two NGO´s, but they are not certain about tomorrow.

If you are interested in visiting the school and/or community you can write to gasparreanda At yahoo dot com or leave a comment on this post.

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