This summer the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte and Atrium Health supported a pilot project in Guatemala: Teach Guatemala Teachers (TGT).  Allison Tarwater, a Spanish teacher who earned her Master’s Degree in Spanish language, traveled with equally qualified colleagues to Guatemala to teach a two week professional development course to the teachers at the El Calvario School in the colonial village of Santo Domingo Xenacoj in the Department of Sacatepequez.

Guatemala_Teachers_pic2There is an indisputable link between education and health which puts many third-world countries in perilous ‘double-jeopardy’ situation when both the educational and health care systems are under-funded, under-staffed and generally unable to meet the basic needs of the nation’s populace.  Guatemala is a Central American country where 56% of its 15 million people live below the poverty level.  The indigenous populations, which live in the rural areas, comprises 75% of those in poverty and extreme poverty, earning $1.60 per day.  While primary school is compulsory and free, only 58% of children between the ages of 10 – 19 finish primary school, placing Guatemalan education among the worst in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The average number of years of schooling in Guatemala is 5.3 years, and in rural schools the gap is more significant at only 2.1 years.  The enrollment rate for middle school is less than 40%.  Children are often forced to leave school to work and earn an income for the family, or stay home to take care of their siblings.

The Heineman Foundation of Charlotte has a well-established and long-standing relationship with FUNSEPA, a Guatemalan Educational Foundation.  Our activities were initiated by our highly successful “Computers for Guatemala Rural Public Schools” project, where we began collecting deaccessioned but still viable computers, wipe the hard drives clean using a technology approved by the US Department of Defense, and ship them to Guatemala where the equipment is refurbished by FUNSEPA and the software operating system donated by Microsoft is installed.  FUNSEPA also distributes the computers to the rural public schools and maintains them.  To be selected for the program, each school provides a secure room with adequate electricity before they can receive the computers, and the teachers are required to take a basic computer class. As of today, Heineman has shipped approximately 17,000 computers, serving 1,220 rural public schools, impacting 447,000 students.

The computer project has proven to be a most influential tool for education in Guatemala.  The next logical step is to train the teachers how to apply the computer technology to their daily teaching curriculum.  To deliver this knowledge we added educators from the United States to provide professional development in order to build an educational program based upon computer technology.

The U.S. teachers found the Guatemalan teachers to be very friendly, cooperative, and ready to learn.  The expectation was that a small group of 6-10 teachers would participate. However, there was an attendance of 27 teachers daily, – some coming from neighboring communities, defying weather and distance to attend the classes. “They eagerly soaked up the information and were enthusiastic and excited to upgrade their skillset and discover new methods to teach the children,” Tarwater said. “We were able to see observable growth in our participants and there was nothing better than to see local teachers working cooperatively to modify our materials to meet their instructional, social and cultural needs.”

Curriculum our educators delivered included establishing personal relationships, observing the methods applied by their Guatemalan colleagues and understanding their expectations for teaching proficiency. They incorporated the learning theories of multiple intelligence, student center classroom, and lesson planning.  The Guatemalan teachers eagerly soaked up the information and were enthusiastic and excited to improve their skills and discover new methods to teach the children. The US teachers got back ten-fold from their experience with the Guatemala teachers, and it has changed them forever.