Fayne and Catherine Bullen, founding members of Paso Por Paso, were honoured by the Tierra Linda School on Thursday February 5th, 2014. Fayne unveiled a plaque recognizing his key role in the construction of 7 classrooms at the school as well as other improvements since 2005. Valentines made by the Warminster students were delivered to the students at Tierra Linda and Paso members accepted the valentines from the Guatemalan students for Warminster.
Canadians would consider Anastasia Xon’s life ‘living on the edge’. She is used to it and has been doing so since she was a child.
Anastasia is 37 years old. She and her husband and five children live in Panajachel in the upstairs of Guillermo’s mothers house. The municipality cut off the electricity three months ago. There is a penalty that just keeps accumulating until they can afford to restore service.
Even at that Anastasia is up at 5:00 am every day to do the laundry before nine when the water supply is turned off.
Millions of Maya survive on a few torillas and a little salt, often all they can manage each day for food. Getting enough food became a serious problem for Anastasia recently. Her husband Guillermo is allergic to bee stings.
His breathing has been affected and as a fisherman he can no longer dive. A few weeks ago the Bomberos, the Fire Department, rushed him to the hospital following a diving incident fishing to feed his family.
Guillermo needs an epi-pen, but no one here seems to have heard of it. He also needs a medical alert bracelet; if he is bitten and has an allergic reaction, people will just think he’s drunk. Or worse, Anastasia says the doctors tell her his life is at risk.
Is it surprising that he also has high blood pressure? There is no money to pay for medicine.
This past week visiting Paso Por Paso members arranged to have Anastasia’s electricity restored, and for Mayan Families.org to supply Anastasia with bag of corn for torillas and a supply of beans and rice.
There is another connection with Anastasia.
During the past year she has been a Canada-Maya Scholar. The Orillia Committee thought that she was graduating in November with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and that Anastasia would then be able to seek a well paying job.
The fact is that she was eligible at this point in her studies for a technical certificate. But she would have to pay Q10,000 to sit the exams. Further, she needs two more years to complete the degree or face an increased cost for every new course she might want to study.
Anastasia’s Canada-Maya Scholarship has been extended for two more years. When she graduates she will be part of less than 1% of Maya women with a degree.
Anastasia speaks excellent English and Spanish. She also is fluent in three Maya languages. She has worked since she was nine. She knows first hand about poverty and she puts her faith in education and determination.
There are holes in Anastasia and Guillermos’s metal roof. There is no railing on the stairs. The plastic on the open windows is ragged. But soon there will be electric lights, a little more food, and the chance to study at the university.
Tropical storm Agatha did Q378 million (about $54,000,000) to agriculture, livestock and food production. Crops most affected are maize, beans, banana and plantain. There will be shortages.
“The roads in and out of Panajachel became virtually impassable because of the mudslides,” Patti Mort of Mayan Families reports.
“Things have not improved since the rains stopped. “The road to Solola (the main administrative town in the area) is completely closed for repairs and it is a two hour trip (instead of fifteen minutes) to go the back way,” she adds.
Medical student Leonardo Elias reports, “The economic situation unfortunately is very poor. The state of the roads is so bad that goods cannot be moved. Prices are rising and this is forcing students out of university.” He also reports that the public violence and high crime rate is impacting severely.
The 2007 financial crisis flattened Guatemala tourism by 75%. Tourism is the economic mainstay of Panajachel and other Lake Atitlan communities.
Reports of cyberbacteria in Lake Atitlan the following year (when many parts of the lake turned red) had a further major impact on tourism.
“This has lead to low occupancy rates in Panajachel hotels, business failures, job losses, job sharing,” says businesswoman Patti Mort.
Patricia Gutierrez, the volunteer Guatemala administrator for CMS says, “Our scholarships were not meant to cover total student expenses, but now it is impossible for them to get part time jobs. They really are unable to help themselves.”
Anastacia’s drive for an education has been up hill all the way. She started working at nine years old. She is now 36.
She is bright and forthright. Anastacia speaks three different Mayan languages (Quiche, Tzutujil and Katchiquel); also she knows perfect Spanish and enough English too. She can call a spade in all the languages.
“As a little girl, my parents sent me to work. For many years I carried a baby on my back for 10 hours a day to earn a little money. I had to have faith by myself to open a real world for me,” she says.
Social Work is a major university degree. The top qualification requires the equivalent of a master’s, and that would mean another three years of study. But now Anastasia will be able to seek work.
Guatemalan university programs seem unlike any known to Canadians. Major research reports are required but with a Quatemala twist. The university assigns projects that require students to be fundraisers.
In the final semester, the student either produces or doesn’t graduate. Anasatasia’s university wanted her to raise and build a school classroom for a local village. It would cost $4000, a sum her family could not earn in two years of hard labour.
Anastacia managed to get the assignment changed and to find a sponsor for different assignment.
Her minor project was to equip a community kitchen. The cost totalled $453 CAD that Paso Por Paso/ Scholarships managed to cover.
“It was either that or lose our investment,” Roger Pretty says. ” We don’t always understand the Guatemalan approach. And we sometimes suspect deliberate road blocks put in the way of indigenous students. We hope that is not the case.”
PASO POR PASO and CANADA MAYA SCHOLARSHIPS suffer major loss of co-founder Jerry Smith
by R. Pretty
Apparently Jerry Smith died in his sleep the night of June 10. Oliva Lopez is one of the scholars Jerry recruited for a Canada Maya Scholarship; she saw him Thursday night. He looked tired and ill. When she went to check on him on Friday, he was gone.
The owner of Santander Rooms just off Calle Santander in Panajachel found Jerry Friday morning, informed the police, who then informed the American Embassy who then collected Jerry and the contents of his room.
Only a week ago Jerry offered to come to Canada on a fund raising tour for the scholarships. I am sorry he could make it.
See JERRY SMITH PAGE
Leonardo David Elias Rios is only 17 and has already established an exceptional academic record. Currently he is completing a bachelor degree in Health Sciences at Universidad de Rafael Landivar in Quetzaltenango.
In January 2010 Leonardo will enroll in the medical school at Universidad de San Carlos Quezaltenango to begin six years of study to become a doctor. He will receive a Paso Por Paso “Canada Maya Scholarship” to fund his first year.
Leonardo lives in Quetzaltenango with his mother. He has no siblings. His ambition since childhood has been to become a medical doctor. Leonardo has been the recipient of numerous medals and citations for academic achievement during his schooling.