Every week, students have the opportunity to work with an organization in a small business consulting format, called “APF, Asesor Por Favor”. Field Guides in each region establish relationships before student interns visit, and work with local constituents to discuss specific needs for their organization. When the student interns visit, they are given a project in which they apply their skills and resources, and mutually work towards addressing the organization’s needs. In Nebaj, Guatemala, students have been assigned to work with a brand new Association for children with Special Needs. There are currently only two teachers for the 35 students (ages 2-48) that attend, ranging in various physical/mental disabilities. The goal of the APF for SECorps students was to help design a creative source for sustainable capital (human and financial) in order to create more access to much needed resources. Over each of the field weeks, students have made immediate financial impact making connections to organizations in the United States to fund materials for the school, while thinking about sustainable ways for creating capital (financial/human). Students recount their experiences below:
- Matt Certner, Field Week 1:
The work that we have done so far in Guatemala has been incredible. For the past six weeks we have had the opportunity to travel the country and work with different organizations, schools, and community leaders.
This was especially true in Nebaj. This was my group’s first location; an extremely rural city six hours outside of Antigua. My group had the opportunity to visit a special needs school recently founded in the region. The school was incredible and the two women running the school even more amazing. The school opened last year and already has 42 students enrolled. As amazing as this school was, they had almost next to nothing to keep things running. With very little resources, these two women were making a huge impact within their community. I knew immediately that this was a project we wanted to focus a lot of time on and make a difference.
Using our resources as a group, we contacted an organization SNAP, Inc. that works with special needs education and awareness in New Jersey. The organization donated Q10,000 to the school to buy the materials necessary to keep things running. That night, our group met with the two teachers for dinner and designed a rough budget of what to purchase.
Sunday was a long day; searching different stores, negotiating prices, and gathering the materials back to the school. In all we purchased: three wooden dining tables, two wooden baby chairs, twelve desk chairs, four plastic tables, package of cooking pots, cooking and dining utensils, two storage units, 42 assorted colored cups and plates, a blender, first-aid (Band-Aids, gauze packets, alcohol, and medications), fourty-two shower towels, hygiene supplies (shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste for 42 kids, cleaning supplies, brushes, soap, detergent, toilet paper, and diapers), one large white board, school materials (notebooks, paper, colored construction paper, large poster boards, popsicle sticks, glue, glitter, crayons, markers, dry erase markers, erasers, paint, paint brushes, rulers, protractors, alphabets blocks, and number blocks), Games (basketballs, volleyballs, assorted colored balls, air-pump, Legos, blocks, alphabet blocks, toy trucks, dolls), Education games (counting, math, cooking – occupational therapy), One baby-walker, A purified water filter (and extra filter), and a CD player for music class.
These two women are incredible. The work that they do, with the resources they are given, is unbelievable. They were so eager to learn from us and provide more for their school. Spending an entire day with them was amazing and has certainly stood out as my most rewarding moment in Guatemala.
- Dan Courture, Field Week 3
It is amazing how spending a few hours with a group of students can captivate you beyond anything you would have expected. I had heard about the Special Needs School in Nebaj from groups that had already visited it, I had even done preliminary work on the project of designing an internship program for the school that is modeled off of the SE Corps. I had no idea what I was in for though when I assigned to work with the school as part of our Asesor Por Favor program. That morning we spent working more on the internship program that previous groups had started. After that work, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours at the school itself. We saw firsthand what the effects of lack of funding, resources, and support can do to a school. With only two teachers and thirty students, a lot of time is spent keeping the students organized and thus educational time is lost. We also saw, however, an incredible potential to provide for these students.
As it is, this is the only school of its kind in the region and these students would otherwise have no opportunities at a chance for a normal life. Many of the students are simply brilliant, waiting for their opportunity to shine, waiting for their chance to learn and grow. This furthered my desire to serve these students.
Our goal for the APF was to create a way for bringing more capital to the school- both financial resources and human resources (specialists that can help the students). Essentially, our program will mirror SE Corps, where we will work with Turismo Ixil, the local tourism business, to place students in home stays throughout Nebaj and provide a series of one-on-one Spanish tutoring lessons. The purpose of the program, however, will be to provide a way for the school to add much needed resources without relying on government/donor funds. This will be done through the student volunteers who come to Guatemala, whose program fees will help finance the school, while their expertise in the special education field and dedication to service will directly benefit the students.
The prospect of implementing such a program, however, is a bit overwhelming. So many questions need to be answered, logistics handled, coordination and collaborations established. In addition, presenting this program to my school, the University of Connecticut, is even more daunting. How do we make someone so far removed from the situation feel what we feel to the point that they are willing to help these students. What if they don’t like our proposal? These will be topics that we continue to work on over the remainder of our time in Guatemala and beyond while back in the States.
Such a program, if we are able to successfully establish it, will do wonders for everyone involved. It allows student volunteers passionate about working with others a chance for hands on experience in a community that needs the help more than anything. It allows the students at the Special Needs School a chance at success through more direct attention, and most importantly, it allows the school itself to provide more of the basic resources of education that every human is entitled to. Myself and everyone else involved in this are very excited to continue to work on designing this internship study abroad program to serve the Nebaj Special Needs School.