By Caitlan and Luke Smith
Pueblo a Pueblo combats the epidemic of children leaving school to peddle to tourists on the streets to support their families. I cannot recount the many instances in which a child of age seven or eight tried to sell me key chains, bracelets or any other trinket only a tourist would buy. It is the goal of Pueblo a Pueblo to keep these kids in school for as long as possible.
Based in Santiago Atitlan, a small community on the shores of Lake Atitlan, the organization focuses on five public schools in the surrounding rural communities.
Pueblo a Pueblo, founded in 2001, built a hospital focusing on health care to the community, but it was destroyed by hurricane Stan in 2005. In the years following the disaster, they chose to instead work with private clinics in the area to promote health care. Yet, seeing well-being as only part of the issue, they also began concentrating on education. Today they see the two as a pair, each important and each, without the other, less productive.
Pueblo a Pueblo supports several programs: a school lunch program giving parents the incentive to send their children to school; a maternal health program that provides health care to expecting mothers and their children up to the age of five; a library program that allows students to have easier access to literature; and a school sponsorship program that grants Pueblo a Pueblo the opportunity to equip schools with resources to better serve their students.
The day we visited Pueblo a Pueblo we were fortunate enough to see the organization in action, working through their school sponsorship program. After a quick interview with Johanny Quieju, a young woman who grew up in Santiago Atitlan who is well aware of the problems the community faces, we loaded a van with 60 backpacks full of school supplies, and never had I realized how heavy school supplies could be.
With the van loaded, we rode to a small rural community about 30 minutes outside of the main town. We parked the van and proceeded to hike up the hill, which was at about a 45 degree angle, carrying backpacks to a small school house.
Children and their mothers soon entered the room and awaited the giving away of the backpacks. Montserrat Deu Pons, education sponsorship and program manager, then explained the purpose of the backpacks, the goal of the project and how to use the identification cards.
Since Pueblo a Pueblo partners with private clinics too, they took pictures of all the students involved in the sponsorship program and created identification cards.
The children and their families can then use the cards to receive free basic health care at the local clinic.
It was a delight to see the children run to get their backpacks as their names were called, knowing they will stay in school longer than the average Maya child, who only completes the third grade. Pueblo a Pueblo understands the need to combat illiteracy, poor health, and nutrition and uses its programs to assist these communities since the Guatemalan government refuses to do so.