By Wendy Pacay, A Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I was a child, I really enjoyed school. I lived in a small town surrounded by the rainforest. Meeting with my friends at school, playing with them, and learning from them are among my best memories. I had a lot of curiosity that drove me to discover new things from books and from my teachers. It was easy to do my homework because I liked it so much.
This year, as I study at the Rotary Peace Center at the University of Chulalongkorn in Bangkok, Thailand, my elementary school celebrates its 100th anniversary. While, I won’t be there because of my studies, being at the Peace Centers is itself a blessing.
For a Guatemalan woman to attend school, even at the elementary level, is not easy. My grandmother and mother-in-law did not go to school and my other grandmother only attended through sixth grade. Despite primary education being compulsory and provided for free by the government, the average years of school attended by women is 4.1 years. Close to 25 percent of the population is illiterate, with rates more than 60 percent in the indigenous population.
Although school enrollment rates and first grade completion rates have been increasing in recent years, it is still the privileged who have access to education. Of the 2 million children in Guatemala that do not attend school, the majority are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, over half of the Guatemalan population is indigenous. Indigenous girls in Guatemala are among the country’s most disadvantaged group with limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing, and chronic poverty.
Many classrooms, especially in rural Guatemala, do not have adequate teaching materials. Many children – especially rural and indigenous children – are forced to drop out of school to help support their families or because they are unable to afford the cost of uniforms, books, supplies and transportation. Recruiting and retaining quality teachers in rural schools is a significant challenge.
When I got the email from The Rotary Foundation saying I had been accepted into the Rotary Peace Centers program, I was amazed and happy. I was a little sad knowing I would miss the 100 year celebration, but knew I needed to take advantage of this opportunity, which is a blessing because I am the first Guatemalan woman to attend this special program at the University in Thailand.
I am still as restless to learn as when I was a child. Education is all about discovering new things. We learn not only from reading but by listening to teachers and our classmates. Here at Chulalongkorn, my classmates are from all backgrounds and cultures, representing 20 different countries.
When I arrived in Bangkok and learned that the Rotary Foundation was also celebrating its 100th year, I immediately thought this is no coincidence. My grade school and this great Foundation are both sharing important milestones at the same time.
When I return to Guatemala, I will continue fighting for human rights there, especially for girls and women to have access to quality education. I am thankful to the Rotary Foundation for this opportunity and I will do my best to share my knowledge with other Guatemalans so we can be more strategic in resolving conflicts.
Learn more about the Rotary Peace Centers
Adapted with permission from a post on the RotaryPeaceChula blog.