My first involvement with Education for the Children (EFTC) started over four years ago, when my friend Louise, Sponsor coordinator at the School of Hope in Jocotenango, Guatemala, introduced me to the organisation. She told me all about the fantastic work that EFTC is doing and asked me if I’d like to get involved by sponsoring a child. His name is Rafael and from the first photos of the School of Hope, my life has been enriched by the children, staff, volunteers, sponsors and everyone I have met.
My first visit to Guatamala
My first trip to Guatamala was in May/June 2015. As I spoke no Spanish at all, I must admit that my first encounter with Rafael was very nerve racking. However, despite the language barriers we bonded straight away… I will never forget his beaming smile on our first market trip, with Rafa so excited by his first tuk tuk ride as he clung on for dear life as we rattled over the cobbled roads of Antigua.
My early days volunteering were an eye opener but I loved every minute of it. The first Spanish word that I learned was “baño” (Spanish for the ‘wash room’)... I would get asked every five seconds by the kids if they could use the “baño”. But the most important lesson I learned was that friendship and love have no language barriers.
“My first trip really did turn my whole life upside down. I'll never forget how friendly and welcoming everybody at the School of Hope was.”
I also knew that I wanted to sponsor a second child. As I had researched so much about the lack of opportunities for women, the life they are expected to lead and stigmatisms about female education, I hoped that I could sponsor a girl. After a few days at the School, I was absolutely delighted to become a sponsor for Zulma. Talking with people at the School, I found that she had an education sponsor but not a food sponsor, so I gladly became her food sponsor. Whereas Rafael was outgoing and confident, at the start Zulma was painfully shy and quiet. Fast forward two weeks and we made a break-through and we started to bond. So now I had become ‘Padrino’ (Godfather) to both Rafael and Zulma. I couldn't have been happier.
Return to The School of Hope
Leaving the school after my first visit was tough and emotional. I'd made so many friends and all the children already had a special place in my heart. As soon as I got back home I booked to return in the October, this time bringing my friend Dilini. Unfortunately, we only had one week at the school but when I first walked in to the classroom the children were calling my name. Rafael jumped into my arms and gave me a huge welcoming hug. Once again the staff were amazing and we even managed a trip to Choco Museo to take a chocolate making class (thanks to Ana organising) as well as a weekend at Lake Atitilan with Sophie, Dave, Adam and Alejandra.
No sooner had I returned home, I booked to go back in the following April. During my time in the UK, I did a few fundraising events to raise money for the school, including the horrific experience of having my chest waxed. So many people were extremely generous in donating money, especially work colleagues.
For my return in April 2016, with the Foundation’s help I planned to visit the homes of Rafael and Zulma and to meet their families. And of course both children were really excited. For me, perhaps this is when the message really hit home and in reality, the visit was a sobering experience. It amazed me how little these families survive on and how few material possessions they have compared with us in the UK. It really underlined how important it is for these children to receive an education to have any hope of changing their lives and ending the cycle of poverty for themselves.
“As somebody who grew up on council estates in the UK, I thought I’d experienced my fair share of poverty and going without, but here in Guatemala the living conditions are incomparable to those in the UK.”
After returning to the UK, I quit my job in July as I'd decided I wanted to move to Antigua in the following January to be closer to the school. However, before I moved I joined fellow EFTC supporters and the UK head office team at T-In The Park festival in Scotland to fundraise and raise awareness. Despite the mud and rain and initial tent issues, this was an absolutely amazing time.
Living in Guatamala
I spent seven weeks at the School of Hope from September to November 2016 before returning to the UK for Christmas. I then returned to Antigua where I lived for 15 months. I can honestly say I have never looked back. Having studied for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualifications (TEFL/TESOL), I was occasionally able to help as a substitute English teacher. These experiences were fantastic and for somebody who certainly never excelled at school, mostly through my own lack of effort and low self-confidence, helping to develop belief and confidence in others, gave me an immense feeling of satisfaction. If you have the chance, I would encourage everybody to come and see first hand all of this fantastic work.
“The teachers and staff do such wonderful and amazing things every day to keep the smiles on the children’s faces and make education fun.”
During my many visits I managed to see a small portion of the many beautiful areas of Guatemala, including hiking volcano Acatenango, with stunning views across Guatemala, El Paredon and Monterrico on the Pacific coast, the lakes Atitilan and Amititilan, and the Mayan ruins at Tikal. However, as stunning and beautiful as Guatemala is, nothing compares to seeing the joy on the faces of the students everyday at The School of Hope.
One day I will return
In May 2018, for family reasons I had to return to the UK. Before leaving, the teachers Sarah and Jen set up a really nice surprise goodbye from Rafa and Zulma's class. I just about managed to hold back the tears as I said my goodbyes to the children and the parents. The children at the school have stolen my heart and I know that one day I will return to Guatamala.
“EFTC will always be a huge part of my life and I am so grateful to every single person I have met through my involvement. Everybody has helped me learn, develop and grow as a person in a positive way and I am sure this will continue.”
How you can get involved
Whilst I have certainly been a very active supporter of EFTC, there are many other, perhaps less involved ways, where you can help.
- Some people sponsor and make a donation on a regular basis, which is absolutely vital,
- Many people visit The School of Hope as a volunteer Teaching Assistant for English or Spanish,
- Others keep in touch through letters or skype,
To the children you are part of their family and they love you. You really can make a huge difference to a child’s life.
The people I have met are a true inspiration, not least the children. Each one of them is a hero to me as they face up adversity and struggles in life. Yet still they remain strong, resilient and a joy to be around.
Thank you to the EFTC family. You are all amazing.