By Shirley Kinsey
In Guatemalan villages, pine needles covering a floor signify happiness in receiving honored guests. As our July Nicolas Fund for Education (NFE) team entered the house of Juanita, an 18-year-old girl with disabilities, we loved the aroma of pine which greeted us. Sitting on wooden benches along the walls, we noticed a rustic bed in one corner of the room, a beautiful painting of a mountain and lake on one wall – created by Juanita – and a small white board on the wall just inside the door.
Juanita and her mother and father gave us warm welcomes and expressed their gratitude for NFE supplying Juanita with her own computer and regular tutor. To Al Lopus, who encouraged Juanita to set goals, this family presented an original Mayan weaving – created by Juanita’s mother – embroidered with these words: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you forever.”
As Juanita thanked us and showed us her work with Ricardo, her tutor, she shared a poster on which she had written three main goals for her future: to teach her mother and father to read and write, to write her own story, and to help young people in her village.
Yet as we left her small wood-framed house, she showed us how she already helps the children in her village. A creative entrepreneur, Juanita runs a tiny tienda (store) built of wood and situated at the opening of her parents’ Agros-earned property. As well as selling snacks and school supplies, Juanita recently began loaning books to children in her library-less village! Her one wooden shelf, about one-fourth of the way full, holds about 20 books, among them Spanish versions of Green Eggs and Ham and Charlotte’s Web.
I picked out a book called Frida about the life and artwork of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist who was married to the even more famous Diego Rivera. When I showed it to Becci Merritt, she told me that NFE gave this book to Juanita because they thought she could identify with the pain of Kahlo’s life and her artistic expressions of that pain. Juanita, who suffers from spina bifida, creates her own works of art.
Juanita says that children return the books she loans. On previous days on this trip, I gave teacher, tutor, and student training workshops explaining the importance of reading and the research finding that children need to spend about two hours a day actually reading. The problem: they have few books, and in their classrooms, the books are locked in cabinets or small rooms for fear that the children will ruin them or take them away. NFE wants to expand Juanita’s library, to fill up her shelf, and to add more shelves.
Please let us know if you have high-quality Spanish children’s books to donate, wish to contribute to the purchase of books, or want to join an NFE adventure to the villages in which we work.