The value of education
Staff In Guatemala, there’s virtually no middle ground between the wealthy and the impoverished.
That’s one of the most profound observations made by seven Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School students who visited the Central American country from Feb. 17-26 as part of a mission trip with an organization called One by One.
“When we first arrived, there were nice stores and nice restaurants but as we drove in, we got to the more poor areas,” says Brittney Ruffo, a Grade 12 student who lives in Glen Walter.
Her classmate, Jonah Poirier, agrees. “There’s no middle class in Guatemala; if you’re rich, you get richer and if you’re poor, there’s no hope,” he says.
Even so, the seven students did their very best to make life a little bit better for the people of Annibal Archila, the Guatemalan village where they spent their ten days.
Brittney says she and her classmates divided their time between two jobs, house painting and roadwork.
The tiny village’s main street was a concrete pad. There were six side streets that were just unrefined dirt, made even messier by the heavy rain. The few cars that tried to navigate those streets would often get stuck. Most people either walked or rode bicycles or motorcycles.
Apparently, the government wanted to do something to help, so it deployed some people to drop off interlocking bricks for the side streets. Unfortunately, that’s all the government did. It supplied the goods but not the labour.
Jonah says he spent most of his time laying out the bricks. He and his co-workers managed to get two-thirds of one of the roads completed.
“One by One knew we weren’t going to get all the work done so they sent out a couple craftsmen who gave us instructions on how to lay out the bricks,” says Jonah.
While the bricks were being laid, the paint crew was going from house to house, offering three colours – pink, green, and blue – not very popular choices for Glengarry homes but in Guatemala there’s a greater appreciation for vibrancy.
“[One by One founder] Nathan Ingram said that in Guatemala, painting a house is the same thing as a complete home makeover would be here,” says “pink paint crew member” Ashley LeTran.
The houses were made of sheet metal and concrete, so giving them a fresh coat of paint made the whole neighbourhood seem more alive.
Although they were only in Guatemala for ten days, the reality of that country was an eye-opener for the seven students, who returned home with a greater respect for education.
“The schools down there are not like they are here,” says student Julianne Godard. “Kids here have Smartboards and pens and paper. It’s not like that there at all.”
Not all the teachers get paid. One, in fact, hadn’t been paid in four years but he kept showing up anyway because he saw the importance of teaching children.
“Because the kids don’t get an education, a lot of them end up in gangs,” says Sarah Harb. “There’s a big gang problem down there.”
The students didn’t spend all their time working. They had nightly reflections and got some time to visit Mayan ruins. They also talked to their guides, who told them about the history of their country and how education is so important for people to be lifted out of poverty.
DRESSED IN PINK: Staff at the Community Addiction and Mental Health Centre in Cornwall wore pink on Feb. 28 as part of a national anti-bullying day.
ONE BY ONE: Back, from left: Malika Meghji, Ashley Le Tran, Nathan Burelle, Jonah Poirier, and supervisor Bruce Ciccarelli; front, Sarah Harb, Brittney Ruffo, Julianne Godard.