The students at Patzilin Abaj Primary School sang, danced and celebrated because, for the first time in 15 years, when they pushed the lever on the toilet and twisted the faucet, running water splashed out.
Patzilin Abaj Primary School is the ninth school to implement our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools Project. Before this, each student had to carry water from their house to fill up a communal barrel, which was used to flush and wash their hands. Towards the end of the week, when the water supply dropped, flushing and washing hands was limited to only the taller students, who could reach the bottom of the barrel. This method of (sometimes) flushing and washing from the giant barrel of standing water put the students at high risk of getting diarrheal illnesses and as a result, missing school.
Implementing our WASH in Schools Project is a lot more than just building and renovating bathroom infrastructure. To create sustainable change, we work with and train the school director, teachers and students and parents on the importance of practicing proper bathroom hygiene and how to take care of the facilities. One of the trainings includes working with teachers to brainstorm ideas on how to incorporate sanitation and hygiene into their curriculum and using the facilities to encourage leadership and responsibility from the students. For example, talking about germs in science class and assigning students to be WASH Ambassadors and monitor that their classmates are washing their hands and that the soap dispenser is not empty.
We look forward to working with Patzilin Abaj Primary School to help students develop lifelong habits that will keep them healthy and ready to learn!
Nueva Vida School has about 260 students, ranging from preschool to 6th grade. The school is located in a community of the same name approximately an hour from Santiago Atitlan. The school and community are also known by the Kaqchikel name, K’ak’ak’ K’aslem, meaning “new life.” Nueva Vida is a small, rural community with limited economic opportunity, where the majority of families work as laborers on the nearby coffee and dairy plantations.
Pueblo a Pueblo first began working with Nueva Vida School in early 2015 with the Organic School Gardens and WASH in Schools projects. Unlike many of the other schools we work with, the school is owned entirely by the local community, rather than by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, meaning that community leaders are also committed to helping the school progress. Since day one of this new partnership, the school and the community have shown considerable dedication and leadership.
The WASH in Schools project was the first project implemented at the school, helping to address the school’s sanitation issues. Project Manager Tomas explained that “the situation at the school was very bad because they only had 4 latrines for all of the students.” He called it “a worrisome situation,” and added that there was a “very unpleasant smell because of the hot climate.”
Since the project began, the school has made great strides. After beginning WASH trainings and construction last spring, the students celebrated the inauguration of their new bathroom facilities in September. Teachers, students, and community members have been exceptionally active in promoting sanitation and hygiene at the school and in the community. So far, the community support group and the student WASH ambassadors have put on several events, including a community sanitation awareness march and a celebration for International Handwashing Day.
The Organic School Gardens project at Nueva Vida School has proved to be one of our most successful school garden partnerships yet. After planning the garden in the first half of the year, classes and trainings began this past summer. In its first 6 months, the garden produced a whopping 547 pounds of fruits and vegetables -- more than any other school garden produced in an entire year!
Organic School Gardens Project Manager, Ana, credits the school’s success to the commitment and involvement of teachers, students, and community members: “They are very responsive to any suggestions we might have and go above and beyond the goals they set for themselves monthly.”
Most recently, we have worked with Nueva Vida School to implement our new Youth Leadership Project. The project, which officially began this January but first began as a pilot at the beginning of 2015, has brought a group of youth together to serve as community leaders in the organic school garden. So far, Pueblo a Pueblo staff have carried out several trainings with the group of youth leaders with great success.
Ana explained that the youth have helped a lot in preparing and maintaining the garden and have learned many gardening and project management skills. She added, “Another benefit is that they serve as role models for the younger students, who see them getting involved and volunteering their time and effort to help out in the community.”
We are very excited by this new partnership with Nueva Vida School and cannot wait to see it thrive even more in the future!
La Cumbre School is a small elementary school with around 150 students in a community called Cerro de Oro, located about 20 minutes from Santiago Atitlan. La Cumbre is one of 6 elementary schools in Cerro de Oro, which has a population of about 10,000 residents -- 43% of whom did not complete a primary school education.
Pueblo a Pueblo first began working with La Cumbre School in 2011, and despite the community’s challenges, the school has worked hard to take charge of the projects and create real change.
In the words of our Director of Programs, Montse Deu, “The school has done an admirable job at taking ownership of the projects that were started in collaboration with us.”
The first projects implemented at La Cumbre were our Organic School Garden and School Nutrition projects. These projects have seen huge success, as the school now independently runs a productive, sustainable garden (now in its 5th year), which regularly provides nutritious food for its students.
La Cumbre School also participated in our WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) In Schools project for two years, beginning in 2012. We helped the school make repairs and upgrades to their sanitation facilities, provided teacher trainings and educational activities with students, and supported the school in hosting awareness events, like the parade for International Handwashing Day.
Now, with a teacher leading the school’s WASH programming and a community support group in place, La Cumbre’s WASH facilities are working well, and students are practicing good hygiene and sanitation habits every day!
The most recent project at La Cumbre is our Pathways to Literacy project, which began just last year. This project began at La Cumbre because neither the school nor the community had the resources to serve the community or students’ literacy needs.
Our first steps for this project at La Cumbre were to help the school build a larger library space and purchase more books and educational materials. Since finishing construction, our Pathways to Literacy Coordinator, Lidia, has worked with the school to use the new library to its full potential. A school librarian, Deysi, was hired directly from the community, and Lidia has been working to train her in school library management and cataloging systems. Lidia has also worked to provide teacher trainings and class modeling so that La Cumbre teachers can lead age-appropriate literacy activities with their students.
In 2016, Pueblo a Pueblo will continue to work with La Cumbre School in its school library. Overall, the school has been incredibly enthusiastic and eager to take on these projects despite the community’s many challenges.
Montse says that she has seen a lot of progress at La Cumbre over our 6 year partnership with the school.
“La Cumbre School has changed from being a rural school with just classrooms to being a school with a kitchen to provide school snacks, a productive organic school garden, and a well stocked school library, with teachers who put value on the type of educational opportunities that all these new school spaces bring to the students.”
She added, “Two days ago I went to visit La Cumbre School, and it felt like the dream I have for all schools in Guatemala.”