In the second episode of the Voices of Hope podcast Roxana Leal, the communications coordinator, has a conversation with Patty Castillo, head of the scholarship department. They discuss how the foundation has evolved over the past 20 years and the impact it has had on the community of Jocotenango.
The episode is in Spanish. Don’t worry if you aren’t fluent, you can follow along with this blog post which is a translated transcript of this episode.
Patty, how are you feeling?
Pretty good, excited about this interview and having the excuse to remember all the beautiful and interesting moments the foundation has had throughout the last 20 years.
In the last episode, Sophie and David told us you are one of the people that has been here since the start of EFTC. Can you tell us about that relationship?
Sophie was a volunteer at the little school I was teaching at. I remember I started working there in November of 2003. One day I saw someone blonde playing with the kids. She didn’t know that much Spanish and the kids had taken her phone. I was a teacher at the school, so I intervened and asked the kids to give the phone back to Sophie. And then I got to know her really well. That school was also a NGO. There was a student that needed medical care but the family didn’t have the resources. So the director of the school asked me to accompany Sophie with the child to the city for the necessary exams. And that’s where our friendship started. We are both the same age and we got along really well. The boy was young, so it was an adventure with him and Sophie. We started talking about the school, our experiences, the students and everything.
And that student is now a young adult, and graduated from secondary school with us. He has a job and is doing well in life.
When you first started, what was your role?
When we started the School of Hope in 2005, I was a 6th grade teacher. There were only a few of us working: 6 teachers, the director and Sophie as the project director. In 2005 we started the scholarship program because of our students' needs. At the time the school was kindergarten to 6th grade, only primary school. So we needed a system to support our students that had already finished 6th grade, there were around 5 of those students. I was the person who went with them to do their school shopping, for things like their book and I went with them to their new school and made their school payments. In 2007 the Foundation grew and that’s when we started middle school at the School of Hope. The school didn’t have very much physical space, so the middle school students went to a different location close to the primary school, both being part of the School of Hope. Then I had the opportunity to be the director of primary, my main responsibility was supporting all the teachers and students in primary. It was a lovely experience. I got the opportunity to learn what the teachers and students needed and how to best support them. In 2011 the school grew and we moved to the location we are currently at, with the ability to have all the students and teachers together. And that’s when I received the opportunity to be the director of education, which was another good experience. It was supporting more teachers and a lot more students, and getting to be a part of all the different types of situations at the school. I have had two kids while working here and I have had the opportunity to change roles throughout my time here. In 2015 I then became the director of campañas which was in charge of the extra parts of the foundation and the connection between social and academic.
In 2017, I transitioned into the scholarship department. I have enjoyed every day in this position. I have been lucky enough to know some of the students since they were little and so that made it easier to work with them as scholarship students, and understand the specific needs that they have. And I am still in that position today.
This year we have 226 scholarship students, which is a big jump from the 5 we started with.
How has the community reacted to the School of Hope?
The communited has gained confidence in us. I don’t know of any other NGO here that covers all of the finances of their students' education, that’s a big thing for them. They have been able to see the impact education has had on people’s lives, specifically the successful people in their own communities. The impacts are people being able to find stable jobs and support their families. The community can first hand see that because these people are their neighbors.
The School of Hope had multiple physical locations before settling here, how has it been now that this is the permanent location for the school?
It’s been so wonderful. We started in Jocotenango, in a building that only had like three big rooms and we used wooden dividers to create more classrooms. The kids would run around, and the dividers would fall and we would put them back to make sure we had multiple classrooms in the one space.
Having our own school is so great. I remember checking on the construction with Sophie and we would get so excited seeing a new classroom built or a new section finished. It's something special because we are able to offer our students a space to call home. There is no more moving around, this is their permanent home. The older students that have been part of the transitions to different buildings will ask why they didn’t get the outdoor space or other things we have now, and the answer is there was a need to grow and the foundation met that need. Now we have a big enough space for the kids to have a cancha (outdoor space), which is where they do their physical education and we utilize it for many activities. There is even a playground set too. Even though the older kids didn’t get to experience the same things as the younger students, they still comment on how nice it is that their brothers and sisters, cousins, or just the other kids get to have this special space for their whole education experience.
Even the scholarship students see the school as their second home. When they don’t have class, you can see them hanging around in the classrooms designed for them. With this option, they don’t have to go do anything else, they can spend their free time here. They all have different home situations. Some come and eat lunch here, hang with their friends, do homework. There is this tether that unites the older students still with the school.
We think you are the best person to ask, how has the school changed in the last 20 years?
Something that I’ve noticed is the Foundation is always looking to help and for new ways to grow and improve. At the beginning we would wait for any donations and they would be small. It would be people that know us well and sponsors that would help us get basic materials. It’s been a radical change to today. Now we have so much more technology, students have access to tablets that help with their learning. We are always looking for ways to provide the very best for our students. Each year we are improving, and now we have television in many classrooms. Before the general teachers would be in charge of everything but now we have specialized teachers. I look back with admiration at everything we have been able to accomplish. Also I think back with gratitude for those first people that fundraised and donated because then we were able to make this all happen. They made it possible for us.
This year we have 3 graduating from university. One with a psychology degree that started with us in middle school. One with a degree in hospitality and tourism who started with us in primary school. And another that will have a nursing degree that started with us in kindergarten.
COVID has made the university system more complicated, so we are hoping to have more graduates this year. There is a student that will hopefully graduate with an engineering degree this year. I was one of his teachers.
The students' interests have also been changing, and there has been a shift in the mentality of the parents. At the start of the program we saw a lot of teachers and accountants, jobs that the parents were familiar with. As the Foundation has grown we have held workshops on different vocational options, giving our students more information and options for their futures. Now we see students choosing many different career paths, which is great because they have in their mind those options such as mechanics or electrician.
What has been one of the hardest times/biggest struggles for the scholarship department? And how did you get through it?
One of the hardest parts is that we normally have the oldest children in our program. They are the ones that have the biggest responsibilities at home. A lot of them have thought about it or tried to leave the program in order to be able to financially support their families. The biggest struggle is making it clear to the parents the importance of their child finishing the program. And trying to get them to understand that their child will be able to support them better and with consistent work if they finish their education. Telling them that overall the family will be in a better position. It is really complicated and honestly we have been really lucky because our students fight to accomplish their dreams. We have a student right now that sells items such as shoes and bags of fruit for work, and he is in high school. He still has a few classes left to graduate, and he does them virtually with his phone while he is working. He was acknowledged as a distinguished student at the school he is attending. I think he is one of the youngest of 11 siblings and he is trying to make a change for his family. It's tiring but he is pushing through. In Guatemala you take a series of tests to be accepted into university. He has passed his general tests, so we are just waiting for him to take the more specified ones. It’s students like these that tell us we need to keep going even if it’s challenging. I can tell you many other similar stories that fill me with joy, especially getting to see all of it as the director of the program. It also energizes me to motivate my team when we are frustrated that students aren’t coming to meetings or training. Always reminding and remembering that the kids are trying and we have to support them.
As the Foundation has grown we have also been able to grow this department. We now have a department psychologist. We do many house visits, and continue to follow up when students don’t show up. And after they are finished with their schooling, we support them with the transition into the workforce. We help them find the necessary papers to enter into the formal work sector, help them with their CVs and take them to career fairs. This lets them see that there's a way out, if I dream it I can achieve it.
It fills me with joy to see the students accomplishing their goals, especially for the kids that have a harder time and for the kids that can’t work while they are studying. We try our best to support them as much as we can so they can continue their studies and career paths.
What impact has the Foundation had on the community of Jocotenango?
The biggest impact is that parents don’t have to worry about the education of their children. We just finished parent surveys, and we asked why they send their kids here. They answered because of the quality of education, because they get food, and because I know I don't have to worry about paying for their school materials when I have inconsistent work. With their other kids they have to take them out of school because they couldn’t afford all the necessary materials. The biggest is the confidence they have in us and the promise we make to them.
Patty, you have been with the Foundation for over 10 years, what has motivated you to continue working in educating for your community?
I haven’t felt all the time that has passed. Every day is something new, every day is a new person to help or a new case to deal with. You know that you have people relying on you and young people that aren’t ready to make the big life decisions alone. Students wait to talk to me to work everything out. The trust we have in each other, that is what motivated me. I don't see it as work but as a second home. This year we have students that wouldn’t even show up last year. We make sure we try with all our students and understand the lack of support some parents give. Some of our parents are illiterate, which means they can only help so much anyways. These students are hard cases not because of their attitudes but because of their upbringing. And then a year passes and the student is completely the opposite, they get more security by working with us. A few weeks ago we took a picture of one of those students because he was one of the distinguished students. While I was in a meeting I saw him out of the corner of my eye and I was reminded that he is why we do this. He is excelling, he has a dream of graduating and getting a job to raise his family up. All of this because we helped and supported him. That gives me the strength to keep coming back everyday.
What is one of your favorite memories?
There are a lot. In reality, every case and student is different. The compassion and respect I have for them is the same. I was a teacher many years ago, and now I see my former students around town and I still say hi and they are now professionals. One is a manager at Domino’s pizza and one is a manager at Subway. Those are the moments that stick with you, seeing the radical changes they have made in their lives. Some of them now have their kids in schools and can afford all the fees. And of course the graduations are some of my favorite memories, they are so motivating. Seeing that the students have reached one of their goals. There isn’t just one moment for all my time here, there have been many significant moments that have impacted me.
Our special segment: What is a hidden gem in guatemala?
Not everyone likes it but the kids here love it, it's an essential food in Guatemala. Revolcado.
Our third episode will be with Sara Miller, the current project director. She will be discussing what it has been like living in Guatemala and being part of EFTC as a foreigner. Make sure to follow us on social media!