Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I was a child, I really enjoyed going to school, which was next to my house. I lived in a small town surrounded by the rainforest. Meeting my friends, playing with and learning from them was the best. I had a lot of curiosity to discover new things coming from books, and from my teacher’s explanations in each course.
It was easy to do my homework because I liked it so much. And this year, 2017, my elementary school is celebrating its 100 anniversary. My town´s name is Carcha and has more than 200 villages. Forty years ago these villages did not have a school for the kids to study in, only in the urban town where I had the privilege to study. During these months, there are many academic, social and sport activities that the current teachers have organized to celebrate this anniversary and the alumni will gather and share in a social event but sadly I won’t be there. I am in Thailand studying at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, which is a blessing!
For a Guatemalan woman to have an access to education is not easy even at elementary level. My grandma did not go to school at all, my mother in law neither, my other grandma only did until the 6th grade. Despite primary education being compulsory and provided for free by the government, the mean average years of schooling was 4.1 years per student. 25.5% of Guatemala’s population are illiterate, with illiteracy rates up to more than 60% in the indigenous population.
But today, primary school enrollment rates in Guatemala have increased and first grade completion rates have increased dramatically (by 18%) in the last four years because of the implementation of several quality education policies and programs. Still, more than 30% of students did not pass first grade. In addition, only about three-fourths of those enrolled in primary school graduated from the 6th grade (80% of boys and 73% of girls), and the enrollment rate for middle school (7th-9th grades) is less than 40%.
So, it is still a privilege to study in my country and let me explain why. Of the 2 million children in Guatemala that do not attend school, the majority are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, over half of the Guatemalan population is indigenous. Indigenous girls in Guatemala are among the country’s most disadvantaged group with limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing, and chronic poverty.
Also, the current state of the education system is substandard. Many classrooms, especially in rural Guatemala, do not have adequate teaching materials. Additionally, with more than half the population living below the poverty line, many children – especially rural and indigenous children – are forced to drop out of school to help support their families or because they are unable to afford the cost of uniforms, books, supplies and transportation. Recruiting and retaining quality teachers in rural schools poses a significant challenge too.
When I got the email from the Rotary Foundation saying that I was awarded with this great Program to study Peace and Conflict Resolutions, I was amazed and happy, but the only thing that made me sad was to know that I was not going to this 100 years celebration of my elementary school and meet all my ex classmates from my childhood. But I must take advantage of this opportunity, which is a blessing because I am the first Guatemalan Woman who attended this special program at the Royal University of Thailand.
It is an honor to be here! At age 46 I’m still looking for more learning and training, still restless as when I was a child wanting to know more. Education is discovering new things through a book, reading it with hunger, active listening is so important and not only listening to a teacher but also the classmates, especially where I am now at Chulalongkorn University. Because both teachers and classmates come from different backgrounds, identities, cultures, 20 different countries, so many things to understand to make this world a better place for all. When I will be back in Guatemala, I should continue fighting for human rights in Guatemala especially for girls and women to have access to quality education. I am thankful to the Rotary Foundation for this opportunity and I will do my best to share my knowledge with other Guatemalans and be more strategically to resolve conflicts.
Finally, when I arrived in Bangkok and knew that Chulalongkorn University is celebrating this year also 100 years of foundation this year, I immediately thought this is a signal, it is a link between my past and my present, these two academic institutions shared the same time to be established, although one is a small girls school in a small town in a small country called Guatemala!
Wendy Guillermo – Guatemala
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 23