Last year Markie Cleaveland-Yeakel and her organization, La Mancha, Inc. traveled to Guatemala to repair a school and distribute 18 solar lights to students who needed them.
By: Markie Cleaveland-Yeakel
We went to the town of Guacamayas in the state of Santa Rosa, the Municipality of Cuilapa. Guacamayas is located off the paved road, about an hour’s trip using four by four in low gear. By the time you got there, you were both “shaken and stirred”. Four years before a storm had partially destroyed the school in the village and since that time the kids, about 30 in total, had had no schooling. We had been told that there was no electricity, but we found that a line had been put up to the “center” of the houses just before our trip down. It passed by the school site, but wasn’t connected. About 50% of the homes had some electricity, but anyone living a ways from the line was still “off the grid”.
When we got there, the Community President and the fathers of the school kids had marked out a small square to add to the old school room to provide cooking facilities so that the Ministry of Education would qualify them to receive school lunches. We found the old room very small for the students who needed to attend, and dark, with only two small windows. We ran our numbers and proposed to the village parents that if they would provide the tough work (excavation and brick/block laying) we would pay for the materials and do the work of roofing, electrical installation, painting and equipping. We agreed on a new school room, larger and with lots of natural light along with energy saving fixtures and fans. The “old school-room” was turned into the new kitchen with a “wood-saving” cook stove, shelving, concrete floor and sink. Water was pumped up to a tank at the top of the village and gravity fed into the center homes, and luckily, the school area. The fathers started work at 6 am every day and the older kids toted blocks, mixed cement and “helped out”. At the end of our second week the school was ready, the chalk boards and maps hung, and the kids moved in.
Once the school construction was underway, with the Community President and our contacts with the Nutritional Agency for the state,we went out and met the families living in the outlaying homes of the village that were not connected to the one electric line. Although the children there would have a new school to attend, doing their homework and reading the books we donated to their new lending library, would not be possible after dark. We were able to provide one or two solar lanterns from One Million Lights to each family. We showed them how to hang them out in the sun during the day to charge, and how they could be hung up for general illumination or set on a table for homework and reading during the evening hours. An additional gift was the plug to charge cell phones. Because Guatemala’s terrain is so broken, it is not cost efficient to string line for land-line phones and the only way to be in communication is through cell phones with “pre-pay” cards. To know that they could easily charge their phones and be able to call friends and relatives, not to mention be able to call for medical help in an emergency, put a big smile on the adults faces.