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A learning haven among guns and violence in Guatemala

Children in Guatemala's Salvation Army schools learn in a safe and nurturing environment, despite the ongoing crime and violence in their neighbourhoods..

In communities across the Central American nation of Guatemala, known for its violence and high crime rates, The Salvation Army is working hard to provide a place of refuge for students, parents and primary caregivers.

The Salvation Army in Guatemala operates four primary schools and two after-school programs in the southern part of the country, all within three hours’ driving distance from Guatemala City. The Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO) School and Teacher Empowerment project supports five of these schools.

Salvation Army schools are also hubs for community engagement and support.

Located in extremely disadvantaged communities, these schools not only provide an education for children, but they are critical to The Salvation Army’s ministry in Guatemala. Guns, violence and criminal gang activity are part of daily life here. Schools provide a safe learning environment for children and also provide support for parents, such as socio-emotional training, and a food pantry when supplies are available.

Educational support

However, schools are reliant on tuition fees to cover operational costs. As disenfranchised families struggle with meagre incomes, collecting school tuition has been increasingly challenging. Instructional material, teacher salaries, and professional development opportunities have been under-resourced. These factors, combined with a lack of infrastructural investment, significantly impact the quality of education on offer.

Specialising in ongoing educational support in countries around the globe, SAWSO has been supporting this project for the past three years, along with temporary operational community resources. SAWSO’s goals for this project include improved quality of education and financial self-sustainability. To reach these goals, SAWSO collaborated with the local Salvation Army, seeking to transform the four primary schools into renowned centres of educational excellence. These schools will also serve as community engagement and outreach centres for children from disadvantaged families and those seeking quality education for their children.

SAWSO immediately improved the allocation of funds for temporary salary aid and other classroom needs. Schoolteachers, principals and administrators were provided with a two-year professional development program, tailored to meet local educational challenges. Active learning, literacy instruction, subject-specific training (including special needs), monitoring tools and skills, assessment and inclusion, financial administration, after-school remedial and enrichment activities, and community engagement were identified as key trainings for success.

Community engagement

Community engagement is also a critical aspect of improving home-learning environments and educational capacity to tackle future public health challenges. Prodessa, a Guatemalan educational Non-Government Organisation, provided much of the training for this project. Prodessa’s focus on inclusion, community engagement and localisation are uniquely suited to the community-based education offered by The Salvation Army.

Teacher empowerment gives children positive learning outcomes.

The four Salvation Army schools in Guatemala provide more than an education to children; they serve as major sources of community outreach. The teachers and principals of these schools provide a safe and encouraging environment for children. Motivated by their values and passion, they work to set the next generation up for success.

Kendy Diaz, a primary school teacher proudly working in The Salvation Army school in Tierra Nueva for six years, said, “We are always here as teachers, regardless of the circumstances that may occur with nature or the environment in the community.”

Another teacher, Patricia Ordonez, said, “Our mission is to give (children) an education with Christian values so that they can be blessed in their families.”

This article first appeared in the SAWSO Annual Report 2023. To read the report, and for more information, click here.


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