Posted by: Project MicroMundo | November 19, 2010

Guatemala and Graduations

The ceremony room.

The festive graduation ceremony room.

This past week has been by far one of the hardest since we arrived here in Guatemala, but there was one significant bright spot, and we don’t want to let it go unnoticed.  Last Friday, Steph and I (Jess) got to go to a diversificado graduation ceremony that included some of Mayan Families’ sponsored students. Now, I’m not usually one for graduations – every one I’ve ever been to has been about two hours longer than my attention span, blazingly hot, and usually involved uncomfortable shoes and/or hats. But a Guatemalan graduation is something special.

Juan Carlos with his class.

The Tourism and Hotel Management Graduating Class

Diversificado is the equivalent of high school in terms of age, except here, it covers vocational training in fields like medicine, teaching, business, mechanical work, or tourism. Students that make it all the way through diversificado have a much higher chance of earning a decent, steady paycheck at a skilled-labor job—as opposed to jobs like carrying loads in the market, washing clothes, or mining sand from the river. (For those of you who remember our less than favorable assessment of education in Peten, we’d like to note that we haven’t seen evidence here of problems on the scale that we found in Peten.) Unfortunately, the completion rate is shockingly low – only 17% of Guatemalans complete diversificado, and here in the Sololá region specifically, that number is only 7.9%.

Juan Carlos with his diploma

Juan Carlos onstage receiving his diploma.


But last Friday, we got to celebrate one such graduation—that of Juan Carlos, a Mayan Families sponsored student. This ceremony was for students earning degrees in computer science as well as tourism and hotel management. Juan Carlos was getting his degree in tourism, a great specialization to have here in tourist hotspot of Lake Atitlan.

The room was packed, and as often happens, Steph and I found ourselves the only non-Guatemalans in the room. But nobody seemed to mind our observation of the event – it was anything but a quiet or solemn affair! Many of the students were the first in their families to reach this level, and I’ve never seen (or heard) so many proud families in all my life. One by one the students were called to the stage to receive their diplomas, take a photo with their families, and then pass through the massive gold and blue balloon archway at the end of the aisle.

I am sure each of the students has worked incredibly hard to get to this point, but we are particularly proud of Juan Carlos and his mother, Isabel. Isabel was already a widow raising four children when Hurricane Stan took her sister’s life, leaving her in charge of seven orphans. Despite having to sell most of her possessions to make ends meet, Isabel has refused to sacrifice the children’s education, no matter how hard things have been. Seeing the Juan Carlos walk across the stage was a moment of well-earned joy and pride for Isabel.

Juan Carlos and Isabel

Juan Carlos and Isabel after the ceremony

But while Juan Carlos is on his way, there are still other younger siblings and cousins to go. His sister, Sandra, and cousins Yuly and Luis all want to follow in Juan Carlos’ footsteps and graduate, but they have all had to go into debt to stay in school, and until they pay these debts, they can’t return. But here’s the good news: while college debts in the U.S. are always discussed in terms of thousands, the combined debts for these three students totals only $330.

So today, I want to make an appeal to all of our readers who had the chance to go to college or pursue the career you dreamed of thanks to the support of someone else—a parent, a grandparent, a scholarship committee. The three of us certainly wouldn’t have had the same opportunities if no one had supported us along the way, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you.  This is a great chance to give back.  These are small debts.  If all of us—those of us who wouldn’t be where we are without someone else’s support—give just $5, we can cover the debts in one day.

A small gift could quite literally change the entire future for these three bright students. Sandra, especially, has a lot to gain; she has just one more year to go before she joins Juan Carlos as a diversificado graduate. To donate, click here, scroll down to the Family Aid box, enter your donation and FA58 in the Family name box.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful news, and please give my congratulations to both Juan Carlos and Isabel. Well done!
    –Eileen Smith

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