For the children who live in the garbage dump community of Guatemala City, March 3, 2011 marked a momentous day – the dedication of the community’s first seventh to ninth grade school. The Santa Maria Basico School was built by International Samaritan (I.S.), in partnership with the municipality of Guatemala City.
The bright yellow school is a sharp contrast to what Father Don Vettese, S.J., founder and president of I.S., witnessed on his first trips to the garbage dump community. In the mid-nineties, children were still allowed to work in the garbage dump collecting recyclables and food to eat. Babies crawled in the garbage, amidst rats, pigs, vultures, toxic fumes and frequent fires. Children were killed by bulldozers and suffered from fleas, skin and lung infections.
In addition, the only public grade school in the area was closed due to lack of government funding. Most of the parents in the garbage dump community struggle to afford food and clothing, much less private schooling. The adult illiteracy rate of the parents living in the garbage dump community is 70%, and their children were following in their footsteps.
“Most of us at the dump do not have the opportunity to study because we have to pay for private schooling and we do not have money for that. Sometimes there is not enough money and we have to borrow some to buy food,” said Berenice Rosales, a 13-year-old who will attend the new school. “I want to improve my life by continuing my studies. When I finish school, I would like to work in a bank or a hotel or perhaps be a great entrepreneur to help my family and the poor people of the dump, those who do not have a home or food.”
Over the past 16 years, International Samaritan has, along with its partners, brought hope to thousands. I.S. programs in Guatemala have included the Santa Clara Nursery, Francisco Coll K-Sixth Grade School, Step by Step advanced learning program, Medical and Mission Trips, as well as food, housing, soccer and microloan programs. International Samaritan is now serving in six other countries including Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Haiti and Egypt. Feasibility studies are being conducted in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.
“We have seen an incredible change in the mindset of the garbage dump community,” said Vettese. In 1999, the graduation rate at the Coll School was at a mere 49%. This year, the sixth grade graduation rate was 99%.
“Our students are succeeding and finding good jobs outside of working at the garbage dump,” said Vettese. “Parents are recognizing the great value of educating their children.”
Twelve-year-old Lidia Tzoy will also be among the first students to attend the Basico. “My parents work at the dump, my father as well as my mother,” said Tzoy. “They work since very early in the morning until very late at the end of the day to buy food for the family. I plan to continue studying to be somebody important in life. I would like to become a teacher, help my community, find a good job and support my family. Through the education we are going to receive at the básico, we have hope.”
The Santa Maria Basico will serve 400 students in three shifts. The children of garbage dump workers, most of whom live in the severest poverty in the world, now have a chance to earn a ninth grade education in a country where the average is fourth grade. The school will have a computer lab and a library, another first for the garbage dump community. There will be courses in welding, carpentry, hotel management, tourism, computer technology and other technical areas. Teachers will follow the Cristo Rey Educational Model, with students participating in a work-study program to help finance their schooling, gain real-world job experience and grow in self-confidence.
“I think it [the básico] is great because it will help us to continue studying and be somebody someday,” said Edvin Huit, 12 years old. “My goal is to graduate as an accountant and continue studying at college to get my Bachelors degree, get a good job, support my brothers in their effort to study too and, of course, support my parents. I really want my community to see me as a well educated, honest and respectful person.”
International Samaritan is currently in need of donations for the operating costs of the Santa Maria Basico, as well as books for the library, computers and other basic school supplies. To learn more about International Samaritan, or to make a donation, go to www.intsamaritan.org.
Other Facts About International Samaritan:
• International Samaritan is the only nonprofit in the world solely dedicated to helping the people who live in garbage dump communities.
• Over 3,000 meals are served to the students of Francisco Coll School each week.
• International Samaritan’s administrative costs are approximately 7%, while 93% of its donations go directly to the programs benefiting garbage dump communities.
• International Samaritan has been organizing service trips for volunteers since 1995.