TACOMA, Washington — Paso Por Paso is a 15-year-old charity organization working to better the educational experience for students in Tierra Linda, Guatemala. Following a trip to Guatemala, a group of eight retired teachers learned about the educational challenges facing indigenous populations. Since then, they have committed themselves to help. The primary goal of the group and Paso Por Paso continues to be supporting education for indigenous populations and providing financial assistance to women starting business endeavors.
Most recently, in May 2021, Paso Por Paso sent 56 new desks to primary school students in the Tierra Linda school district. It allowed four classrooms to operate safely following social distancing guidelines. According to a press release, during a visit in 2020, local school teachers expressed concerns about the desks, regarding student safety and concentration.
“We try to do a project every year,” Bob Goodwin, the treasurer of Paso Por Paso, said in a phone interview with The Borgen Project. “Last year, they talked about the desks. We have quite a few pictures, they were in absolutely atrocious conditions.”
Goodwin said the lack of quality desks was an educational advancement concern, as well as a safety concern. This concern especially increased with the spread of COVID-19 during 2020. The press release described the desks as “broken beyond repair” and “dangerous for students to sit in.”
Other projects Paso Por Paso has worked on include a scholarship program set up to help students with primary and secondary education. According to the Paso Por Paso website, the scholarship program is aided by a U.S. charity organization, Amigos Mayan Familias. The program primarily helps indigenous populations in the Tierra Linda area, as well as some students who live in other nearby villages.
Through fundraising and donations, Paso Por Paso’s scholarship program helped fund education for 38 students at the primary level. Also, a student was sponsored to continue their secondary education to pursue medical training.
The Importance of Education
Education was also a significant concern during the pandemic. According to Goodwin, the school year starts in January. So, early in the year, the schools were doing a hybrid style of learning. “Not very many, if any, in the primary school in Tierra Linda have access to the Internet,” Goodwin said in an interview with The Borgen Project. “They don’t have the device, they don’t have wifi, they don’t have modems.”
Additionally, according to The Associated Press, about 60% of people living in Guatemala are living in poverty. This population primarily consists of the indigenous populations. Moreover, The Associated Press also states that almost one in four will move past primary school, with the rest dropping out of school. While primary education is typically free, this is not always true for indigenous populations, according to Paso Por Paso.
Making a Difference
Goodwin said Paso Por Paso didn’t have any other major projects planned for this year. Currently, the organization is focusing on an initiative with Mayan Families, working to reduce poverty in education.
“We have made a substantial donation to the Mayan Families program and acknowledged the importance of nutrition and health in education,” said Goodwin. “We recognize the importance of having a child go hungry when they sit down in the morning to try and learn something because if they’re hungry, they are not going to learn something. The education is not going to work.”
With poverty reduction efforts and educational opportunities such as those initiated by Paso Por Paso, vulnerable groups in Guatemala are receiving the aid they need during these tumultuous times.
– Monica Mellon