Vocational Training: Building a Better Future for Guatemalan Youth
“Helping those who are trying to help themselves” is the theme for a new Vocational Training Center in Guatemala. Seven District 6440 Rotary Clubs, together with the Sterling Rotary Club, Sterling, IL (District 6420), are delivering on the promise made possible by a Rotary Foundation Global Grant valued at approximately $60,000. The Illinois contingent is also partnering with Guatemala Sur Rotary Club (District 4250) to make a lasting difference in the lives of rural Guatemalan youth and adults.
Vida & Esperanza (Life and Hope School) is one of the primary beneficiaries of the grant. The region is challenged by youth and adults alike lacking in vocational training to qualify for better employment opportunities. The purpose of the grant is to equip a wood shop and a metal shop with modern machinery and use the center to train youth and adults alike in these trades.
The school is operated by Mission Impact, a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). The school is located in the town of Santa Lucia Milpa Altas (Saint Lucy of Tall Corn) that has a population of around 4000. Many of the people work in agriculture or in nearby factories. Some people commute to Guatemala City for their work.
Vida & Esperanza is entering its 11th year with 292 students enrolled from Kindergarten through 9th grade. The school has a staff of eighteen. It is encouraging to see a growth in the number of students who are now completing their ninth grade at Vida & Esperanza, as well as some who are pursuing advanced studies. Those who enter the work force go into trades or apprentice type work such as masons, carpenters and metal workers.
With the availability of modern machines, the classes in wood and metal work will help the students prepare for a better occupation with skills that are more marketable. The courses will also assist in good project management practices by helping to track material and labor costs. Class periods will be structured in the afternoon and continue four to six weeks. Two evening courses will be offered for the adults in the community.
During February 2011, a team consisting of Rotarian Mark Gibson and Friends of Rotary Dale Wittenberg, Bob McGowan and Steve Young went to Guatemala and were engaged in training youth in the wood shop. Dale Wittenberg, one of the team members described the experience.
“Our project over two days was to teach 9th grade students how to safely use hand tools. This was accomplished by helping each student to build their own basic toolbox. Three separate classes of 8 – 9 students worked with our team of four people. On day one, basic safety skills and the use of each tool were taught to all three classes. At the end of each class, the students were shown a prototype of the toolbox they would make the next day.
On day two, the students in each class got right down to business measuring, cutting and assembling their own toolbox. The 90 minute timeframe for each class was pretty tight and each student had to work diligently to complete their project. In so doing, we could see a very keen work ethic and interest on the part of each student, both male and female, in order to finish on time. During the time, we observed students helping each other and having fun learning and practicing new skills.”
The Vocational Training Center offers significant benefits. It gives the youth and adults an opportunity to develop their own micro-enterprise in addition to good employment. Bob McGowan noted “With the right kind of training the students can learn most of the skills necessary to make cabinets and furniture. Mark Gibson commented, “It was very rewarding to be a part of weaving together Rotarian ideals with community support to make this project a reality.”
The following Rotary clubs have provided financial support for this project: Lead Club - Barrington Breakfast, Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers, Dundee Township, Evanston Lighthouse, Lake in the Hills, Palatine, Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates, Sterling Rotary Club and the Guatemala Sur Rotary Club. Additional support has been provided by Rotary Districts 6440, 6420 and 4250. Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Barrington also contributed funds to purchase materials to build tool boxes and several hand tools for all thirty students.
Throughout the global grant project, Rotary followed three guiding principles.
- To help people who are trying to help themselves. The "sweat equity" that youth and adults at Vida & Esperanza will invest will be significant.
- Emphasize empowerment, not dependency. When the wood and machine shops are fully operational, Rotarians will leave Guatemala with fond memories, but the Vida & Esperanza School will continue on with a viable business and better future for its students.
- Focus is on opportunity, not charity. Vida & Esperanza will raise and sustain its community’s professional levels by itself for years to come, not just receive a short term benefit.