Education: who's missing?
An enterprising group of young leaders in communities in Guatemala conducted a study with support from Plan to highlight which children do not go to school and why.
"The neighbor's son, my friend Lucía and her brother, the girl who works in the store and three of Doña Juana's daughters don't go to school." When the young people in the study told stories about their community, it became clear that education is a right to which a large number of children do not have access.
Young people in Los Amates in the department of Izabal, Guatemala, make up a Municipal Child-Youth Council that represents the interests and needs of all the children, so their voices can be heard by local and municipal authorities. The Child-Youth Council is composed of 14 young people who won their municipality's youth elections.
The Child-Youth Mayor, 17-year-old Arux, shares her concerns about one of the issues on which they have chosen to work: "After we realized there are many children in our communities who do not receive an education, we organized groups of young people in the communities to do a study about how many children can not go to school."
Plan works with 1,200 youths known as community youth promoters, who are trained to promote the rights of children and youths in their communities. They took the initiative to conduct the survey and asked Plan's personnel for support in printing up a form with three questions: "How many children do you have and what are their ages?" "How many of them go to school?" and, "Why don't they go to school?"
Young people from 20 communities went door to door and asked parents about their children's education. Ana, one of the youth promoters who conducted the survey, remembers one case in particular: "I arrived at their house and only the father was there. He had come back from working in the field and he told me he had 13 children and could only provide schooling for three. He also told me about his deaf-mute daughter."
But, why do these children care so much about education? Arux replies, "Because if someone's children don't like to work the land, they can choose to work in other areas by obtaining an education, and because when someone has an education it is not as easy for them to be taken advantage of as someone who doesn't know anything."
The survey's results gave the group a much broader perspective on the problem of education. "Very few families say they don't send their children to school because they don't want them in school. Most of the time, it's because they don't have money to buy supplies or uniforms," Ana says.
The survey also brought many other factors to light, such as the scarcity of schools for children with special needs, lack of high schools and the problem of child mistreatment and negligence. Nohemi, 18 years old, tells of her own experience: "I stopped going to school after a year because the teacher treated me badly. Everything I did seemed wrong to her. But I decided to go back to school, so my parents supported me by talking to her. That's why I felt very upset when I saw how many children don't go to school because their parents don't think it's necessary."
Motivated by this study, members of community youth promoter groups from different communities have undertaken the work of resolving cases where children can not attend school. Among other activities, they have organized raffles to buy uniforms for two children who could not pay for them and went to the Civil Registry to request a new proof of registration for a 10-year-old girl who wasn't going to school because her father burned the enrollment papers.
The members of the group have inexhaustible energy and are very creative. Jonathan, 16 years old, says, in commenting about the value of education, that his father always says, "Education is the best inheritance he can leave me."
When asked about their parents, it turns out that only one parent of the youths in the group finished high school. All of these boys and girls study in their communities and are committed to having fewer children who do not have access to school.
The group is preparing to present the mayor in the municipality of Amates with the results of this study. They plan to talk about public policies which favor children and adolescents and show why it is so important to allocate funds exclusively for the benefit of children and adolescents.
Through this experience, the youths are learning to manage information responsibly. They are learning to build proposals that work and are applicable to the reality of the communities, and to work closely with municipal authorities. Authorities recognize their maturity and efforts, and open more spaces for their participation with new ideas and tremendous enthusiasm.
Learn more about Plan's work in Guatemala.