by Sarah Clark
The incredibly bright, 15 year old Roberto is already shining as a young man and promising leader in the community of Todos Santos. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he has been chosen by AJEDE to represent Guatemala in an upcoming trip to the United States. Roberto is an excellent student and his favorite subject is math — “I get good grades in math,” beams Roberto. He also excels as a soccer and futsala player — his team won second place in the region last year. And oh yeah, he’s received recognition for getting the best grades in his class — twice.
Roberto wouldn’t be in school if it wasn’t for the GAAP scholarship. About 2-3 years ago when he first met the GAAP team he was working in the same hotel as his older brother Cristino and their friend Mario. Roberto and Cristino’s mother didn’t have enough money to keep them in school, and she needed every penny they could make working in the hotel in order to have enough income to survive and keep her three children fed and clothed. Roberto explains: “Nobody could help us. But the GAAP gave us the opportunity to study! Without the scholarship we wouldn’t gain anything, we’d just keep working. My mom, my brother and I — we’re very grateful to the GAAP.”
Roberto knows a few other children and youth around his age who are in the same situation as he used to be two years ago: “I know a neighbor of mine isn’t studying. It’s the same situation as us, the lack of money. There is work here in Todos Santos but they don’t pay like they should. Maybe they pay 30 quetzales (between $4-5 USD) a day. You have to leave to work at 6am and we return at 9pm at night, it’s really late. The salary doesn’t pay for everything you need. Thirty quetzales can only cover the household costs and it isn’t enough for going to school.”
As a young man keenly aware of the challenges faced by his community, Roberto easily responded to our question about what he would like to see improved in Todos Santos: “I think now in Todos Santos there’s a lot of trash. Dumping the trash should stop. And people should stop buying products that produce the trash, but it’s hard to prevent these products from entering the town also. Our city would look good without trash but people insist that they can’t live without buying junk food. I want the trash to disappear here. Like what we saw when the GAAP arrived to help the animals. Before, the situation with the animals was bad — they were in the streets, dogs were sick from sarna (scabies), a lot of puppies were born. But the town is very thankful to the GAAP for helping us with the animals. The GAAP has been coming here for years and the town has improved, there’s not as many dogs in the streets with their offspring. In the same way I hope the trash can disappear, maybe it can improve in 2-3 years. If the people help each other we can get ahead.”
Needless to say, we are all extremely proud that Roberto will be representing Guatemala in an upcoming trip to the United States in May! Because of his excellent grades, Roberto was invited to participate in an interview in October 2016 in Huehuetenango with AJEDE (the organization that is managing the trip to the US.) Roberto describes his experience: “I went with my Mayan clothes — we have typical clothing in Todos Santos with a hat, shirt and pants — and the theme of the interview was, “What are the primary challenges of adolescence?” They gave me five minutes to explain it. They told me that I needed to wait 2 weeks after the interview to receive a phone call about whether I’d won. Two weeks passed, there wasn’t any sign. And then they called me on a Monday and they asked me if I was Roberto and I said yes and they gave me the news that I had won the trip to the United States!”
Roberto glows when he recounts the story of receiving the good news: “I got very excited, my family was very excited, I became so happy. How could we imagine that I, from a small town in Guatemala, was going to represent my whole country in the US?! And I got so excited. How can this be? How did I do this?! I want to do something good for my country, I’m going to represent my town.” Roberto is going to attend a week of pre-trip activities in Guatemala City and then in May the student ambassadors will be traveling to the US for three weeks where they will be staying with host families in Washington DC, Michigan and Florida.
There is no doubt that the trip to the US is going to make a huge impact on Roberto’s life. In his words: “The trip is about an exchange. I want to know what happens in the US: what is it like in the US? What are their laws? I think that’s what they’re going to teach us. And then we’re going to come back to share our experience with our people here in Guatemala. And the Americans are going to learn what our town is like, what our country is like, what our country needs. What I hope from the trip is that they teach us something important for our life, for our country, how to improve, and how to get ahead in the future.”