Santiago Scholarship Program

Through genuine empowerment, Natik can be not only a “provider of scholarships,” but also a champion of the indomitable spirit in the Mayan communities with whom we work.

Natik’s Scholarship Program invests in young, strong, visionary leaders and their families. We constantly challenge them to find innovative ways to confront generations of poverty and cultural violence through entrepreneurial ventures that will provide them with the financial capacity to invest in educational and economic opportunities in their own communities.

The Students—Growing Themselves and Their Ideas

When we first started the program, our only criteria were that the applicants have good grades and be from poor families. However, there are many families in Santiago that can’t afford for their children to continue studying beyond 6th grade, so every year, more students applied for the few scholarships that we were able to offer.

Each year, in order to narrow the field of potential candidates, we were forced to intensify the academic requirements, and we increased the expectations for the privilege of continuing to receive the scholarship. And each year, ten amazing students managed to do everything we asked of them—and then some.

The first requirement we added was that each student complete twelve hours of ‘social service’ in local organizations to practice the professional skills they were learning at secondary and high school, and as a way to contribute to their community, where very few people have the luxury of higher levels of formal education. 

The Guatemalan educational system is based on ‘memorize and repeat’. Therefore, reading for comprehension and writing for communication are not taught until the university level.  So our next requirement was a reading circle and monthly essays. At first, reading the same book and talking about it was awkward for the students, since the violent history of Santiago has tended to reward those who know how to keep quiet. However, soon their excitement about the subjects they were reading overshadowed their shyness, and the reading circles became animated discussion sessions.  

When we asked them to write a monthly essay, they acted as though it was cruel and unusual punishment, and (like all self-respecting teens) they wrote begrudgingly; only doing it because it was a requirement. Let’s just say that the woman who worked with them on grammar and syntax had a very big job!

Gradually, over the course of that year, the students began to realize that they were becoming transformed from all the new and different concepts they were absorbing. They were surprised at the intensity of appreciation they felt for authors who lived in different times and places, and slowly, imperceptibly, they fell in love; first with individual authors, and then with reading itself.

In a place where the only relationships people have are with the people they know personally, it took a while to understand that time and distance don’t matter if someone has made the effort to express themselves by way of the written word. At the end of the academic year, the Grammar Sargent commented that their essays had improved exponentially.  When we asked the students why, they confessed (sheepishly) that their genuine appreciation of the authors they were reading inspired them to make the effort to compose their own thoughts so they could be shared with, and enjoyed by others.

The next new requirement was an incredible opportunity that Unlocking Silent Histories offered the scholarship students: training to shoot, edit and produce their own videos!

After that, we challenged the students to participate in generating money for their own scholarships. We initiated a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions with the students, local organizations, and Natik volunteers and advisors, to collectively conceive of an enterprise that the students could do with the technical skills they were learning at school. In other words: create their own work-study program.

After a couple years of meetings and written agreements, we were ready to begin making our dream a reality. The requirement for that year was that instead of investing their service hours at other organizations, the students would invest those hours in the creation of the entrepreneurial venture that we had conceived. When we asked if that was too much, and if they wanted to forego the reading circle and/or the video classes, they told us that they could not imagine discontinuing either, and unanimously agreed to keep doing both, even though it meant they’d have to invest more hours to stay in the program.

The good news is that the students are working toward a formal project launch in October.  In 2018, they will begin to generate income to help finance their own studies!

How the Students Will Fund Themselves

Ruk’ux Language and Cultural Immersion Enterprise will offer international students a selection of week or month long, volunteer work with local Santiago organizations, where they can learn new skills and polish the type of working vocabulary that most interests them. Participants live with local Santiago families, practice Spanish or Tz’utujil by way of a personal tutor during their volunteer work hours, have formal language classes, participate with the students in their reading circle, learn about the Mayan Cosmovision, and have the opportunity to participate in many other social and cultural activities that these youthful visionaries and leaders have organized for their international guests.

Ruk’ux means “heart in action” in Maya Tz’utujil. This is a win-win project that will bring additional visitors and income tourist dollars to Santiago, will generate jobs for university students to help finance their continuing studies, subsidize scholarships for younger students, and contribute to local organizations doing important work in the community.

The program is flexible, and can be adapted to the needs of university and graduate students, professionals, high school Spanish classes, and even families!

And that brings us to the present. The students are still dependent on donations for their scholarships. It costs $500 per student, per year to help them stay in school. Therefore, we need $3,000 to make sure we can continue to support all ten students currently in the Santiago Scholarship program through 2017. The Guatemalan academic year is January through October, and we need that money to help the students transition into implementation of the Ruk’ux Language and Cultural Immersion enterprise!  

Support the Students

To make a donation, visit the Ruk’ux Scholarship Donation Page 

To make monthly contributions to Natik, please visit our Friend of Natik Donation Page

Or write a check with the designation “Santiago Scholarship Program” (or Ruk’ux) and mail it to:

PO Box 55071
Boston, MA 02205-5071