What I learned from hidden stairs & the power of community


Amanda Brown
Lead Designer
June 22, 2015

Siete Vueltas, Guatemala

Since arriving in Guatemala I’ve started to think of it as the country of hidden stairs. Traveling to remote communities to see Pencils of Promise’s work in action, I have seen countless numbers of these hidden stairs.

Along the winding and steep mountain roads, in what seems to be part of endless countryside would suddenly appear jutting steps, a path made by locals to get to where they need to be, just wide enough for one person.

Tucked behind tin-roofed houses and cut into the side of cliffs, I counted seven hidden stairs on my way to the community of Siete Vueltas for the inauguration of its new school. The community had gathered to celebrate in the shadow of the beautiful two-story yellow building, undeterred by the heat and relentless humidity. In front of a banner declaring the new school “un sueño hecho realidad” (a dream come true), prominent community members spoke of powerful achievements that can be made when we work together.

“What you’ve done is not an easy thing,” they said to us after students wow’ed the audience with dancing and song. “You brought together the community, the municipality and yourself to make this school.”

Every PoP school requires a community contribution and for Siete Vueltas they made their contribution by assisting with the building process. While the construction was happening, community members volunteered their homes to serve as temporary classrooms for the students so that each student’s education could continue uninterrupted.

I am humbled by the dedication of this community and by the generosity of supporters who may never meet these happy children as they race up the stairs of their new school to marvel at their bright, clean classrooms.

Often it takes many people to come together create a path to a more prosperous future. It takes people thinking not of themselves and their immediate needs but of those who will come after them, much like the makers of those hidden stairs cutting through Guatemala’s countryside. It took someone to blaze the trail, someone to ready the ground and someone to lay the stones so that others, not always those directly connected to them, could have an easier passage.

Education is like those hidden stairs. The groundwork needs to be laid in advance but once finished there is no limit to how high we can climb. The community, the municipality and PoP created a staircase to a better future for the children of Siete Vueltas and now it’s up to the students to scale those steps.

The journey is long and the mountain is tall but the path is there. Climb on.

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