I’m a fan of the Apple TV show “Ted Lasso” and one of the characters, Dani Rojas, has a saying “futbol is life” … so, in the spirit of Dani Rojas, “Education is Life” is the title of this blog post!
I’ve been a public school educator in suburban Chicago, Illinois, USA since 1992. I’ve been a superintendent of schools (PK-8) since 2010. Education really has been and in some ways “is” my life too!! My daughter is in college studying to become a special education teacher, my son is a park district day camp counselor, my wife taught pre-school and worked in park district recreation, so I guess it’s in our DNA as a family too!
Education, of course, is essential – everywhere.
Together with my son and our other adventurers, we’re helping construct a bottle school in the indigenous Mayan community of Zaculeu in the Tecpan region. This is our third such trip together and my seventh since my first experience on the 2016 LifeTouch Memory Mission to Constanza, Rio Grande, in the Dominican Republic. I have written on my blog about past experiences and adventures! Feel free to search the blog (enter Dominican Republic or service learning).
The father son time is priceless, the father/educator in me also finds this time affirming and spiritual on many levels. To be able to serve and share these Peak Moments with my son is greater than any words I can piece together. The opportunity to make new friends from around my country as well as from all over the world is pretty amazing too.
During this bottle school building trip and Guatemalan culture, history, and ecology trip, we are fortunate to have amazing guides and leaders. From Guatemala, we have Vivi, Andres, Lilian, Enrique, Christy & Marta, from the USA Hug it Forward team we have Adam and Jennifer. Together with veteran Gary and so many others – we are engaged in lifetime memories and incredible learning. Our team is aged 9 to 67, we hail from multiple races, religions, ethnicities, vocations, locations, and together we are now one!
Working alongside of our Guatemalan hosts, working with the children of Zaculeu, and building walls made of eco bricks to help demonstrate care for the ecological needs of our planet, we learned, lived, felt, experienced, and did each day on this incredible set of experiences.
When we arrived in Zaculeu, as the first representatives from Hug it Forward, ever, and among the very few foreigners who ever have come to visit and serve with the Mayan people of the village, we were welcomed LARGE! The assembly from the nearly 400 students in grades K-6, the teachers, the principal, the mayor and the village elders, the parent organization and many of the parents of the children – we knew we were not in Kansas anymore! The assembly with speeches, songs, dances, signs, and an unbelievably warm welcome was so energizing and so motivating, that when we got to the job site, the excitement was palatable.
I’ll share a bunch of photos as a picture is worth “1000 words” in an effort to illustrate the incredible set of experiences — words alone cannot capture the power of this experience and even the photos & videos don’t do it justice – but I’m so moved and so inspired, that I am compelled to share my story.
Feel free to follow Hug It Forward on Facebook and on Instagram to see not only our trip, but previous and future trips. Anyone with the motivation can reach out and serve.
Service, education, cultural immersion, and more is what we found on this trip. Food was prepared for us daily by cooks Marta and Christy – the food was outstanding! Enrique drove us in our bus (chariot) through city streets, highways, country/rural roads, mountains, hills, and dirt roads with angles approaching 80 degree inclines – incredible!
We also met individuals who shared their personal stories and histories regarding various timely topics including the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), migration from Guatemala to the United States, economic conditions in the nation, social history, and much, much, more.
We also engaged with local artisans who make their living creating cultural and personal effects for sale and for more than a “side gig” – for some folks, this is their primary income.
As I write these words, I realize, as best as I try, nothing can capture the power of this trip and the series of peak moments more than actually experiencing this, but my aim and my effort is to celebrate the good and highlight the hope of serving, learning, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and joining amazing people who do this all the time.
Education in Guatemala is different than education in the United States. The public school system is not always present, fully available, or even funded in the rural/indigenous areas of Guatemala where we were serving. There were classrooms from a USAAID project in 1987 and in 1993, and then there is our project in 2023! The classrooms for this village of Zaculeu serve children in grades K-5 — there are not classrooms for children in middle school, grades 7-9 (YET). High schools in Guatemala are fee based – not free.
Creating classrooms for children in grades K-6 and ultimately in grades 7-9 changes lives and changes cultural, historical, and economic opportunities and access to opportunities for generations of children. This bottle school project in which we are involved is one step to provide chances, hope, opportunities, and change for people.
Our public ambassador programming and efforts represent efforts afloat all over the world and efforts I have had the privilege of participating in in the USA (Puerto Rico), in the Dominican Republic and now, in Guatemala! In addition to the bottle school construction, the engagement with the villagers via the welcome ceremony, the artisan markets, and the community walk/hike and home visits, we also visited sacred Mayan archeological sites, learned from first hand historical accounts and engaged with the powerful beauty of this incredible country!
Sharing more images of our incredible journey to Guatemala!
Education is Life