The value of ed­u­ca­tion

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - News

BY STEVENWARB­URTON

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.

STEVEN WARBURTON PHOTO

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.

BRIT­TNEY RUFFO PHOTO

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.

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