Saturday, January 14, 2012

School days....

It's that time of year for buying pencils, pens, and crayons. Many Guatemalan children are starting a new school year this week. Did you love the beginning of the new school year? I did! I loved all the new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, new clothes, new teachers, new opportunities .... a clean page in the next chapter of growing up. I still love it! I get so excited when I am ordering new materials for homeschool. I love opening the boxes and looking at the pristine books and dreaming of the adventures to come.

Pens, pencils, tissue paper, clay, blocks and yes, that is toilet paper!

Today, I had an opportunity for a new cultural experience and new school supply shopping - all wrapped into one morning. How fun!

School in Guatemala is very different from the US. There are many expenses that parents must pay in order to send their children to the "free" public school. You must pay registration fees, book fees, uniform fees (for daily wear and P.E.) as well as shoes and long lists of school supplies. It can add up quick.

At Redeemer's House, we are working with several families who earn between $1 - $2 a day, which is only $30 - $60 a month. (Dad, aren't you proud that all those hours of tutoring me in math were worth something?) It's hard to pay rent, buy groceries and basic necessities on such a meager budget - so forget about school. But parents here are just like us, they want a better future for their kids. They know getting an education is the best way to change their future. Education opens more doors = more opportunities.

Several employees getting ready for a long day of school 
supply shoppers.The shop owner said she has 25 workers 
throughout the day, and they will stay open until 2 am.

We want to help change the future of these kids; we want to affect the trajectory of their lives. So, today I went to the Libreria (Book store/office supply store) with three school supply lists. Just going into the store is a cultural experience. I have never seen so much stuff in such a small space (think Hoarders, but semi-organized). The store has two rooms, each about a 10x10 space. So imagine putting everything from a Staples or Michaels store in about 200 square feet of space. Then add at least 15 Guatemalans (all employees). I was the first customer of the day, but when I left there were at least 8 more Guatemalan customers. Itty-bitty space! Yet, they were running a well-oiled machine! So efficient and helpful.

Looking into the pen/pencil/craft supply room.

In the doorway, looking at the papers, notebooks, folders & much more.

I gave them my three lists and they proceeded to run around the tiny shop and hand select every item from each list. Talk about customer service!! Fabulous! About an hour later, I walked out with $100 worth of school supplies for one family. That's almost 2 months worth of income. The middle schooler's materials cost $60 alone. If I spent $60 dollars for school supplies on my middle schooler, I might think - "Wow, that's not cheap!" But, I would pay it and it wouldn't break the bank. Perspective - let's say an American family makes $40,000 a year - using the same ratio, that means they would then spend $3,333.00 for school supplies for just one of their children. WHAT!?!? Unbelievable. It's a miracle any kids in Guatemala can afford to go to school!! (Dad, double check my math???)

A few of the middle school supplies - flute, dictionary, calculator, 
notebooks, art supplies and ONE pencil. Interesting!

The lists themselves, were quite interesting too. Being a homeschooler, I have never been to Walmart with the school mandated list. I'm the teacher, so I pick whatever I like. Of course, there are always a few "impulse" purchases, but let's not get distracted.... These are a few of the items:

  • one notebook with lines, 80 pages (very specific)
  • one notebook with graph paper, 40 pages
  • one notebooks with double lines, 80 pages
  • 50 sheets of copy paper
  • 3 folders, 3 ganchas (ganchas are little metal clasps like they use in medical files for holding papers in the file)
  • 2 pencils (my mom used to buy a box of 50 pencils, they get lost so quick!)
  • pens - 1 red, 2 blue, 2 black
  • pencil sharpener & eraser
  • crayons, paint, clay
  • 5 sheets of construction paper
  • 5 sheets of foam paper
  • 5 sheets of tissue paper 
I thought purchasing individual sheets of colored paper and tissue paper was unusual. And I don't remember a teacher ever specifying what kind of notebook I needed and the number of pages it needed to have in it. Differente! After the Libreria, we went to the market and bought some backpacks. That cost another $20 - or a half months earnings. Unreal!

3 backpacks for $20 sounds like a deal,
but more than $2000 would cause a mild stroke!

What a privilege to help these precious families! I am so grateful that the Lord has provided for these sweet kids through your generous gifts to our ministry. I am grateful that he chooses to use our family, to open our eyes, to change our hearts - that we might bring Him glory as we serve the least of these. He sees them, he knows their needs and he has used you and me to show his love for them! Gracias a Dios!

Tangent - on a totally unrelated subject - I was on my way to the market and I passed a rusty, beat up pick-up truck that was delivering raw, unwrapped sides of beef to the farmer's market. This is why I am willing to drive 3.5 hours to buy meat in a real supermarket. #idontwannadie! (wish I had a photo)

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