Candelaria: Student Volunteer to Educator

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Wendy, Candelaria, Chonita

Below is a story from Candelaria Esquina Damia (pictured center), a teacher at La Puerta Abierta and its first librarian!

Hello! My name is Candelaria Esquina Damian, I am 24, I live in Santiago Atitlán, and I am a teacher of  primary education bilingual intercultural Tz’utujil-Español.

When I was a student of Sexto Magisterio in what was the last year of my schooling, I had a half scholarship from what is now Natik.  For this scholarship I started to do hours of community service in the Puerta Abierta library on the weekends. I had a beautiful work experience with a teacher who narrated stories to the children and who created some terrific work books.

When I graduated I sought work at the Puerta Abierta library, and it put me at ease because I already knew Amanda the director and the work they did. In 2008 I started my work with as librarian and teacher in the mobile library which brought different types of stories, songs and activities for the children at different schools in town. During this time was born my passion and my love for books and children’s stories.

The years passed and the Puerta Abierta school was created. With Amanda, we started to work with a group of preschoolers, and I rose each year with the same students.  Today though, I am the managing teacher of “pre-primary,” which includes the children from five to six years old. I teach them the fun that is the world of school through games, children’s songs, rounds and above all reading, writing and mathematics. The most satisfying part of my work is to see the children happy, enjoying themselves in school and learning new forms of fun and creativity.

My desire for the school is that it incorporates more grades from the primary level along with those we now have, which are accountable for making students competent, creative and active in the real world.

Natik has been working with Puerta Abierta since 2009 and has witnessed its many impressive accomplishments. If you support their work, why not like the Puerta Abierta Facebook page? Click on some of its recent pictures below:

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Full Circle

Amanda Flayer

 Amanda Flayer is the Co-Founder and Director of La Puerta Abierta Children’s Learning Center and Library in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. La Puerta Abierta was established in 2006 and is the first free child focused learning center in Santiago. Below is the impressive story of Juanita! 

If I close my eyes and squeeze them tight, I can see Juanita as I met her when I first arrived in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala in 2004. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, working as an environmental education teacher in rural schools and Juanita was a 5th grader in my class. She was one of two female students amongst a sea of male classmates, and while she was the smallest student in her group, she made the most memorable impression on me. Juanita shimmered with confidence, kindness and diplomacy.

JuanitaAfter she graduated from elementary school, my life continued to intertwine with Juanita’s. In fact, she “grew up” with La Puerta Abierta. We opened our library and learning center in 2006 just as she graduated from elementary school. She was eager to participate in her community and was hungry to read and learn more about the world beyond the boundaries of Santiago Atitlan. She was one of our first local volunteers at our center and would dedicate a few hours every week to organizing books in our library collection, preparing materials for our story hours and designing our bulletin boards.

As the years passed, Juanita became increasingly busy with high-school projects, extra curricular activities and family commitments. (Juanita is the oldest of 4 sisters.) Even when her days felt full, Juanita would find small windows of time to collaborate at La Puerta Abierta.

Four years ago La Puerta Abierta expanded to incorporate early childhood education classes into our program. The development of our preschool coincided with Juanita’s graduation from teaching school in Santiago Atitlan. As we interviewed Juanita for a position as a teacher at our center, she shined with the same confidence, intelligence and creativity that I detected in her years prior. After “growing up” in our center, she was an ideal match for our school.

Juanita(2)Juanita has dedicated the past four years to working with children at La Puerta Abierta. She’s had experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, first grade, early stimulation, and managing our traveling library.

Today, Juanita is the assistant director at La Puerta Abierta and helps to ensure that our programs are strong, stable and smooth. She greets parents in the the morning with warm smiles, helps our staff develop curriculum, organizes field trips, evaluates students, and welcomes volunteers to our center. In fact, I’m quite certain that we’ve come full circle and that I’ve nearly worked my way out of a job…a satisfying revelation for those of us in the field of development.

Juanita continues to dream big. In addition to working at La Puerta Abierta, she is studying psychology at the university and hopes to develop community programs that benefit youth, teens and elders in the future.

As I reflect on Juanita’s experience, I realize that La Puerta Abierta is much more than a learning center for children. We are also a training center for teachers, providing a space to cultivate young educators. And I couldn’t be more proud that Juanita is now training our new teachers at La Puerta Abierta.

Juanita and Kids

Memories of Zinacantán

KylaKyla Wargel came to Chiapas in June 2014 for a summer internship with Natik through the University of Loyola Chicago School of Social Work. She also took classes toward a migration sub-specialization prior to the internship. During the summer, she collected information from the women in Mujeres Sembrando la Vida and assisted with the Yo’onik Saturday tutoring program. Upon returning to the United States, Kyla will start a job in Hispanic Ministry in Evansville, IN.

I returned to the US a few weeks ago after spending an incredible three months in Mexico. As I have been readjusting to life back home—the abundance of clean water and toilet paper, the lack of daily farmers markets, and the generally faster pace of life—I have been reflecting on what I will take away from my time working with Natik in Chiapas.

unnameadTied for first is the memories of the children in the Saturday program and seeing what a huge difference one person or a small act can make in a community. Two women in Zinacantán, Yoli and Xunka, started the program as a college community service project, and now the program serves up to forty children per week by helping them supplement their schooling and have recreational time. I will also remember the group who donated books, teaching materials, puzzles, and games partway through the summer. It was amazing what a profound difference a seemingly small gesture could make. The children were re-energized and further motivated to engage in their studies. The first Saturday after the donation, many of the children arrived early to read the new books and throughout the day were still eager to try the new activities and read the donated books.

Another takeaway from the summer is the cultural richness of the family with whom I spent much time in Zinacantán as well as the Mayan culture in general. A moment that stands out in my mind is the morning of one of my last days in Zinacantán during the festival of St. Lorenzo, the patron saint of the town. I had arrived in Zinacantán early, anticipating a 9 a.m. running of horses down the main street. The horse running probably started thirty or forty minutes late, which gave me time to sit and soak in the sights and sounds of Zinacantán one last time. I was able to see everyone dressed in their best floral attire and enjoying popcorn and fruit smothered in hot sauce and conversing in Tsotsil as they waited for the event to begin.

As I move forward, I hope to continue to deepen my respect for diversity and my understanding of various cultures, and I hope to remember that one person or a small action can make a large impact in a community. I am extremely thankful to Natik and Loyola Chicago for giving me this opportunity, and I know that it has helped me to grow personally and professionally.