Guatemala Part Two...

Charles Bryant

What a whirlwind these past couple of days have been. Yesterday team SYSK and the CoEd gang traveled to Santiago and Lake Atitlan. The lake itself is unbelievably beautiful, and surrounded by three volcanoes, two of which are active. Santiago is a very poor town and was the sight of some pretty extreme fighting at times during Guatemala's civil war. It was really hard to comprehend gun battles going on in the narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways that we walked. We met with a family that the CoEd has worked with over the past few years. They were incredibly warm and loving people who have sacrificed to allow their teenage daughter to attend school instead of working to help make money for the family -- truly amazing people.

The CoEd folks then took us to a lovely outdoor place of worship that had an ugly background -- 13 people, mostly teenagers, were massacred there in the early 1990s during the war. They then drove us to the sight of a devastating mudslide that killed more than 1,300 people five years ago -- a very sacred place. We met a 13 year-old boy who lost both of his parents in the tragedy at only eight years old. Very hard to take, but his attitude was somehow positive and truly inspiring.

Today we traveled by boat and bus to the Pixabaj Cooperative School. This is another very poor town, but you would never guess it from the spirit of these kids. It was a big celebration, with parents coming out to take part in the ceremonial presentation of the textbooks. Josh and I were honored to be presenters and even though it was a ceremonial affair, you could feel just how real it was. Seeing these kids lining up, so excited, as other volunteers handed out pens and pencils was really something else. We met and interviewed several of the teachers as well. The folks only make about $150 per month, but can't really even count on their paychecks coming at all many months. It's truly a labor of love for them to be able to provide these kids with an education and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. Again, team SYSK is left blown away by the kindness and warmth of the Guatemalans.

After that we traveled to Chimaltenango and the Cerritos Asuncion School for a computer center inauguration. Most of the town came out to welcome us and celebrate the ribbon cutting. These kids, most of which didn't even have access to textbooks a few years ago, now have a computer center and instructors who teach them Microsoft Office programs and basic Internet search skills. The kids here put on a real show for us, complete with singing, dancing, a marimba band and what we thought was going to be a sacrifice of a live chicken. Thankfully, it ended up being a symbolic sacrifice and the chicken was spared.

It was a very long day and I'm worn out as I write this. It's emotionally exhausting seeing these children who have nothing, so gracious and excited to have the opportunity to just learn. They aren't clamoring for a new Playstation, cell phone or whatever clothes are all the rage. They want pens, pencils and textbooks. There are lessons to be learned all over this beautiful and great country. From the man we passed on the road cutting his grass with a machete, to the children who get up at four in the morning to farm with their family so they can attend school in the afternoon. To call this an enriching and eye-opening experience doesn't begin to do it justice. The sustainable cooperative effort that the CoEd staff has brought to more than 200 schools (and counting) across Guatemala is one of the most impressive and effective programs I've ever witnessed. I feel lucky just to be a fly on the wall and report on the work they're doing.

I hope everyone out there in the SYSK Army is having a great week, safe and sound with the people they love. Until tomorrow, goodnight and sweet dreams.