Scholarships provide education, help fight poverty in Guatemala

October 6, 2014

“A Guatemala City street vendor in a 10-gallon hat, with no lower body, propped on a cushion and selling scarves is another memory I have of the Land of Eternal Spring.”

Since I wrote this article, I once again spent time in Guatemala a couple of years ago. This time it was to house sit in Antiqua, Guatemala, a part of the country that I had not visited before. I have one memory that reminds me of how lucky I was to spend time in a three level house in Guatemala. Each morning, I took my cup of tea up to the open rooftop, sat down and picked an ripe orange off the tree growing there. I would look up, while peeling the orange, at a benign volcanic mountain spewing smoke out of its top while the sun poured down on me and the unruly jungle around me. The mountain was so near, you could say it was as close as a neighbouring house. Flowers were blooming all around and birds were singing there little lungs out. Paradise.

But there is extreme poverty in this Paradise for the people who live there and this can also include the gringos. Someone from Chile told me that Guatemala is the poorest country in all of Latin America. I would walk by the people each day on my way downtown and each one would return my Ohla yet I could knew many were wondering if they would eat anything that day or the day after or the day after. When the servant (yes, there was a servant who worked for the Canadian insurance agent who owns the home) used sign language to tell me about her small child’s toothache that kept them awake one night, I knew there was absolutely no money available to her to get dental work done.

The following article describes Guatemala’s beauty and its need to get support from people who live in much more prosperous countries like Canada:

Gulf Islands Driftwood
April 5, 2000
Scholarships provide education, help fight poverty in Guatemala
by Tanya Lester

This is the Guatemala I remember: breathtakingly beautiful scenery of a lake surrounded by volcanic mountains and a jungle where peacocks dance at the foot of a Mayan monument, while deeper in the forest, monkeys swing from vine to vine.

A Guatemala City street vendor in a 10-gallon hat, with no lower body, propped on a cushion and selling scarves is another memory I have of the Land of Eternal Spring.

I remember, too, those who dress in an array of colourful hand-woven cloth that rivals the hues in a peacock’s tail. They are among the poorest or the poor, are the least educated, most malnourished and discriminated against.

They are the Mayan people. (You might recognize the culture’s name from the calendars made once again popular by “new age” North Americans who use them for daily guidance.)

This is why author W. George Lovell had titled his book Guatemala: A Beauty that Hurts.

This is why Salt Springer Sheila Reid goes back there each winter to disburse funds she raises here and elsewhere donated to the Mayan Scholarship Fund Guatemala (MSFG) that she founded.

This is why Reid, along with Rosemary Baxter and United Chruch minister Rohana Laing, who visited Reid in Guatemala early this year, are hosting a slide show…

They want the generous people of this island to dig even deeper into their pockets in support of MSFG.

Reid’s literature tells the story of an 18-year-old named Manuela who could not complete her first year in a bilingual secretarial program because her family had gone into considerable debt to pay for the medical costs of her father who was suffering from diabetes.

Just before he died at age 48, Manuela’s father expressed his hope that his daughter would complete her studies.

“It’s the only hope for the family,” he said.

Both Baxter and Laing met this young woman who, through MSFG, is now enrolled in a three-year program. They have seen first-hand that she and others gain a strong sense of self-esteem, along with awareness and love for their Mayan culture, by continuing their education past the Grade 6 level provided by the Guatemalan government.

In Manuela’s case, self-esteem will be even more crucial for her than some others as she is handicapped with a club foot in a country that has no government social net for the disabled.

“They are realizing they are not junk,” said Laing, who hands me a postcard of armed Guatemalan guards brandishing machine guns up against Mayan women and children. “Education will help them to figure out how to survive and use their wits.”

Laing and Baxter explain the people eat little besides tortilla, despite the fields of crops spread out on the hills around their communities. The crops and property they grow on are for the profit of a few wealthy landowners. There is no running water in their small houses with dirt floors and little furniture.

With no medical system, Laing said illness can “wipe” the whole family out. People in their 50s look like North Americans do in our 80s, she said.

MSFG-sponsored education includes teaching the young people in the Mayan language called K’iche and aspects of their race’s cultural traditions.

Leadership training is another important aspect of the education that MSFG funds help provide. “Our only hope is on rising up against our abusers,” said Laing, in solidarity with the Guatemalans’ struggle and linking it with our own island challenges. “It’s like having a blockade on your (Texada Land Corporation) road to keep you from clear-cutting.”….

To read the first posts in this blog, please go to
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Readerby Tanya Lester can be bought from the author or by going to the title and author, to read the first few pages and buy, at


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