Chel is more than a 2-hour journey from PoP office headquarters in Nebaj, in the Quiché region of Guatemala. The small town is located deep in a green valley, on one side of a river. Coffee plants and banana trees line the road; the landscape is green and lush due to the rainy season. This is a larger community, with a population of over 2,500, in which community members speak both Spanish and Ixil, an indigenous language.
Adults in Chel make a living through agriculture, cultivating products such as coffee, corn, beans, cardamon and yucca. The community has a difficult history, suffering a lot during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala in which many community members were killed, including mothers and children. The community lost everything during those years and by the time the violence ended, it was in extreme poverty. In more recent years, the community was promised development projects by various politicians and a hydroelectric company, but unfortunately those projects were never completed.
When our team first visited Chel Preschool and Primary School, we found dilapidated, provisional structures made of rusted metal sheets haphazardly patched onto decaying wooden frames. The open-air layout exposed students to dust, dirt and the distractions of their surroundings. Teachers were not only concerned for their students’ safety, but also noted that they were unable to focus and properly learn in a deteriorating environment. There were dirt floors and the classrooms got uncomfortably hot when the sun beat down on the metal roofing and makeshift walls, which also exposed students to the wind.
“The old roof allowed for too much heat to enter, and too much water when it rained,” Rosa, a 15-year-old student, said of her old school structure in Chel.
You recognized and responded to the needs of Chel and their children. Your invaluable support and commitment from community members helped us build a four-classroom school equipped with formal blackboards and benches, desks and doors, walls and windows. You made possible a school with a strong structural foundation upon which Chel’s 129 students can learn and realize their potential and their promise.