Our scholarship department continues to provide guidance and support to our teenagers hoping to progress into higher education. Working with the students from home has been a massive challenge and we are so fortunate to have wonderful staff; our educational counsellor, professional counsellor, psychologist and purchasing staff.
In the fight to continue with their studies during the crisis, scholarship students are facing severe economic hardships and family problems. They often have to try to study in a single room surrounded by five or ten people. So to support them during quarantine, we’ve been making around 400 calls per month to discuss academic issues, give counselling and provide job support. We’ve also been finding out how their families are coping and where needed, we’ve visited their homes. We aim to ensure that we do not lose track of anyone.
Academically, we have been able to provide much needed tools for our students to continue their studies – including Facebook and WhatsApp groups. The biggest challenge has been lack of technology and access to the internet. To deal with this, every 20 days we have provided 7 GB phone chips.
We have also built partnerships with bookstores in the communities where our students live. Here, they can collect their learning materials and access a computer and the internet. Our students are determined to continue to learn. On one occasion when we gave out phone chips, a student arrived, very out of breath and rather tired. She was determined to get access to online study and because there was no public transport, she had walked 6 kilometres to pick up her chip.
Ordinarily, the main source of work for our scholarships students is tourism, so many have been left unemployed. In response, some of our students have become entrepreneurs. One such student began to make and sell face masks, others have sold vegetables in the street, another became a shoe polisher. Sometimes, a scholarship student is the head of the family and the main bread-winner. For these young people, our provision of monthly emergency food hampers frees them from the responsibility of providing food.
Despite the emergency, in the coming weeks we will be starting the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC) entrance examinations for our 34 scholarship students. They will be given one-on-one support to ensure that they make the best decision of their lives. By matching their skills with their aspirations, we’ll help them to study towards the most suitable career.
I am very proud of our scholarship students for the initiative and resilience that they have shown during the crisis. We will continue to support and guide them and we will look for solutions to the many problems that they face. We cannot let the coronavirus situation take away their opportunities. We will strive to keep their dreams alive.