A Montessori School in La Esperanza, Guatemala City

Published: June 30th 2014
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UPAVIM buildingUPAVIM buildingUPAVIM building

In front, 1st floor - Montessori I, 2nd floor - Montessori II, and a health clinic, 3rd floor - fair trade Guatemalan crafts factory, 4th floor (roof) volunteers quarters. Second building in back - 1st floor - soy dairy and bakery that sells high protein, low-cost food to the public, a small school library, a tutoring center where children learn English, 2nd and 3rd floors an elementary school that goes to 6th grade.
So here I am sitting on the roof of the UPAVIM building, looking at the beautiful view of the volcanoes off in the distance, and eating a dinner of black beans, a roll, and fried plantains. I can hear several evangelical preachers around the neighborhood blaring their amplified sermons and songs. Ladies are in the street calling out the wares they are selling… “¡Aguacate!” (Avocados), “¡Elotes!” (roasted corn on the cob), “¡Tamales!” and so forth. There are dogs barking, roosters crowing, and children playing in the streets. The heavy base beat from music coming from nearby homes permeates the air. This is no longer exotic for me, but an atmosphere to drink in when I arrive. Ah, yes, I’m back in Guatemala!

I’ve been treated very well here. This makes me think that the picture we have of the poor is one only of suffering and sadness. While these people have difficult lives with suffering and needs beyond what we would most likely ever experience, they are also some of the warmest, most loving people I have ever met. They may be impoverished with incredible hardships, but they also have rich family lives and big hearts. When I
Most of the donations for Montessori IIMost of the donations for Montessori IIMost of the donations for Montessori II

There is another class with smaller children for which I bought a few things. This was mostly sensorial and practical life material this year.
landed at the airport with my heavy bags, I was met by a pack of people to pick me up. I love how everyone and their cousin comes to get me when I arrive. At UPAVIM, they put a bed in the Montessori office next to the classroom and for once I have my own little private space. Many of the women of UPAVIM have asked me if I’m warm enough or if I slept well. The ladies in the kitchen always make a special (I hope) vegan lunch for me to make sure I’m eating. They don’t want me to shrivel up and blow away … which will never happen, but the food is wonderful.

For those of you who do not know, I arrived in Guatemala three years ago with an idea that I wanted to see a Montessori school I had heard about in one of the roughest parts of Guatemala City. When I arrived at UPAVIM (Unidas Para Vivir Mejor – United for a Better Life) I found a school with a few Montessori materials, but not really much else Montessori. When the teachers heard that I was a Montessori teacher, they were
Sra. Marisol is overjoyed to get a new spindle box. Sra. Marisol is overjoyed to get a new spindle box. Sra. Marisol is overjoyed to get a new spindle box.

Spindle boxes are used to teach counting 0 - 9. For years, she only had a box that went from 0 - 4 because the other part of the box was lost.
amazingly open to any suggestions I could give. I started a project for myself to improve the educational quality of the preschool. I was told not to bother with the Montessori class because, the teachers only do the lessons when they are being watched and then go back to their old ways as soon as the Montessori supervisor is gone. In some ways, this is true. The teachers are not highly educated or Montessori trained. Here it is more like two steps forward, one step back.

This year I have been lucky enough to have the parents and children of Montessori by the Sea in Pass-a-Grille, Florida raise enough funds for me to fill four suitcases full of classroom materials. They sent home little juice bottles with all the students to fill with change and some parents returned with coffee cans full of change. Two of my students spent a Saturday selling lemonade in their homemade lemonade stand and donated the proceeds. Also, my elementary class sold some of the Guatemalan crafts made by UPAVIM for even more money. This is going to go a long way towards filling the shelves with meaningful lessons for the children
The old spindle boxThe old spindle boxThe old spindle box

The 5 -9 half of the box was lost years ago.
in a world where a good education means the difference between poverty and a job.

In the classroom, I have been surprised at how many of the lessons they have continued to use since I left last year. The children seem more independent than before and there actually Montessori lessons on the shelves that the teachers have placed themselves without my help. After my first day here, I started bringing out all the new materials. One teacher was so overjoyed to see a brand new spindle box to replace the ancient, incomplete spindle box in the classroom, she started to tear up when she got it. Another teacher was happily surprised with the new Spanish sandpaper letters.

When I first walked into the classroom the children recognized me from last year and immediately started asking me for lessons. I think they see me as that lady that brings new things to learn. I love their hugs and their fascination with the materials I bring. They always seem grateful. The best part of it all is that this year the teachers seem more determined than ever to learn how to use the materials. They have stayed several hours after work every day and have pushed me to teach them more. This is not a permanent fix and I am by no means a Montessori trainer, but it’s a place to start. A goal for the future is to find funds for scholarships for people from the community to become trained Montessori teachers and then this becomes a self-supporting project. For now, there is slow, but measurable progress. It’s a promise of hope and possibilities of a bright future.

There are more photos.... scroll waaaaaayyy down to the bottom to see them.

Additional photos below
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Tortillas fritasTortillas fritas
Tortillas fritas

Usually they put cheese in it but the cooks made it without cheese for me.
Me on the roof.Me on the roof.
Me on the roof.

I just love this view.
Information booth at AMI Refresher course. Information booth at AMI Refresher course.
Information booth at AMI Refresher course.

At the annual AMI Montessori teachers refresher course, I had the opportunity to promote UPAVIM.
My students selling fair trade Guatemalan crafts from UPAVIMMy students selling fair trade Guatemalan crafts from UPAVIM
My students selling fair trade Guatemalan crafts from UPAVIM

As part of a community service project, my students sold UPAVIM crafts. It helped give them an understanding of ways they can help others in the world.
New donationsNew donations
New donations

Knobbed cylinders donated by a primary class teacher. (Thank you, Ms. Cox) and a lot of unopened materials bought with money donated from the the parents and chilrden at Montessori by the Sea in Florida.
My class viewing the materials My class viewing the materials
My class viewing the materials

The elementary class at Montessori by the Sea got to view the materials their sales and donations bought.

30th June 2014

Wonderful work!
Outstanding, Natanya! I am so proud of you and the work you are doing in Guatemala City, and happy for the children and teachers there are being helped. Well done!
30th June 2014

Amazing--good news we all need to hear
Inspiring and thanks for sharing. This work is so important. I am so glad they appreciate you. I am reminded of what Maria Montessori said about children and the future: "Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future." Love from Austin. Please keep posting!
30th June 2014

Great story. Your Rock, Sister
22nd July 2016

You are partially responsible for me being here.

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