Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pennies for Pencils

We are excited to announce and share details about our upcoming fundraiser, "Pennies for Pencils"!

"Pennies for Pencils" was born out of one sentence that I blogged months ago..."in Guatemala, we can buy pencils for pennies..."

We have always believed that education is key to poverty alleviation. While the effects of education aren't felt within a community immediately and so much more has to be done to alleviate poverty, education has proven to eventually break the cycle of poverty in many families.

So why aren't a large number of children in developing countries, such as Guatemala, receiving an education? Over the last year we have spent a lot of time with families in Pueblo Nuevo trying to get answers to that question. What we discovered is disheartening.

The village of Pueblo Nuevo is fortunate to have a school, but like so many areas of Guatemala, having a school within the village doesn't mean that the children enrolled there receive an adequate education. The school in Pueblo Nuevo is government run and does serve to educate more than if it didn't exist, so I will continue to be thankful that at least there is a school there. Children that attend school do not attend the way children do here. Because the school is too small for all of the children and there are so few teachers, children attend in shifts. From what I understand, this is customary. Younger children attend in the mornings; older children attend in the afternoons. The school is overflowing. The exterior can be deceiving. Within the walls of this school, children are crammed into classrooms, some overflowing into the halls. The principal, a kind man born in Guatemala that once studied in France, but returned to Guatemala because he loves "his people" could recite a long list of needs that funds are non-existent for. Without any type of support they continue on doing the best they can with what little they have.

A lot of children attend school. If I had to estimate, I would say that half of the school aged children that live in Pueblo Nuevo are enrolled and attend on a regular basis. But where does that leave the other half?

I have spoken with mothers that do not allow their children to attend school because their husbands died or abandoned them and they need the older children to either stay home to help take care of the younger children (girls) or go work in the fields to support the family (boys). Other mothers have stated that their children simply do not want to attend school. Because they (the mothers) do not understand the importance of education they do not force their children to attend. Both of these cases are heartbreaking and we will continue to work with these families to encourage the enrollment of their children in school and to help single mothers/widows however we can. But there are children that we can help NOW. They want to attend school. They long to attend school. Their mothers know the importance and their hearts break each year that they are unable to go, but there is nothing that they can do about it.

These children cannot attend school because they cannot afford the few required school supplies and the required black shoes. Never in this country (U.S.) will you hear of a child unable to attend school because his parents cannot afford a notebook and a pencil or crayons and a bottle of glue, but this is reality in the lives of many Guatemalan children. Those that do somehow provide their child with these things struggle to do so. And then there are black shoes. These shoes are not "cheap". They certainly cost more than the typical jelly type shoes you can buy for 20Q (less than $3 USD) at the market. We have seen children's feet crammed into black shoes 2 sizes too small and children walk right out of shoes that are 2 sizes too big just so they can attend school. But then there are those that cannot even afford shoes that are too small or too large or too worn. Other school fees are just an added reason why parents are often unable to send their children to school and why those that do often have to face the harsh reality of choosing education over meeting immediate needs within the family.

Last year we distributed school supplies that had been donated and shipped to Guatemala. We received a lot of school supplies and many children received some of what they needed to attend to school, but it was far from enough. This year, we are doing things a little differently to ensure that the maximum number of school aged children receive all that they need to continue attending or maybe for the first time ever enroll in school.

In Guatemala we can literally buy pencils for pennies. School supplies are very inexpensive and there are tiny school/office supply storefronts scattered everywhere. In the small village of Pueblo Nuevo there are two that sell school supplies. Their pencils, pens and notebooks for at least the last year have been covered in dust as no one has been able to shop there. As we work on education, we must also continue to work on supporting the local economy and employment. So this year, instead of spending so much money shipping school supplies to Guatemala, we will purchase all of the children's school supplies and shoes from local (in Pueblo Nuevo and surrounding villages) small business owners so that they will be better able to support their families. As always, we need your help to do this.

We are in the process of contacting every teacher, Sunday School teacher and church leader that we know or just know of through someone else. "Pennies for Pencils" is a change drive (though we welcome dollar bills, as well). We love having children involved in helping less fortunate children around the world and this is an easy and inexpensive way for them and their families to get involved. We are looking for teachers, Sunday School teachers and church leaders that are willing to lead change drives within their classrooms and/or churches. To make this even more successful, teachers encouraging other teachers within their school to get involved could result in quite a competition between classrooms and we would love to throw a pizza party (or something similar) for the winning class if more than three classes within a school participate. It would be ideal if entire elementary, middle, junior high and/or high schools would compete. We are also encouraging parents to speak to their children's teachers to encourage participation or to be responsible for carrying out the drive for the teacher.

Do you or someone you know want to be involved? If so, contact me at
terry @ acrossallborders. org. Change drives in schools will last only a week. The length of drives in churches should be determined by church leaders or the person leading the drive. "Pennies for Pencils" will run through the month of September. All supplies will be purchased and distributed during our December mission trip. More details will be provided to those interested in leading a drive.

It is our prayer that this will be a success and become an annual fundraiser. So much more is needed than just school supplies, shoes and supplies for the actual school. Having this annual fundraiser grow each year will bring us closer to being able to build a community center that will provide before and after school care and support and a much needed new school in or near Pueblo Nuevo or at least provide tuition assistance for students to attend a nearby private school. Big dreams, but we'll get there. In this case, it is true...every penny counts!

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