Roanoke student teaches in Guatemala

Jessica Randall ’11 worked with the non-profit Global Vision International to find a summer teaching position

Roanoke College student Jessica Randall '11 chose to make this summer a notable one when she decided to work with a non-profit organization called Global Vision International, a program that provides support and services to international charities, non-profits and government agencies. An international relations major with a minor in Spanish, Randall has no background in teaching whatsoever-but that's what she did all summer long, in a classroom akin to a front porch with only one wall.

Randall applied for the program with the hopes of doing something over the summer  that would both cement her Spanish language skills and allow her to give back to and work with the indigenous community. She hoped to work in Guatemala, as she has family there and she wanted to contribute to a marginalized community. Guatemala  was a good match, as it has one of the largest indigenous populations of any country in Latin America. Randall originally thought she would be teaching primarily Spanish but ended up teaching math, science, social science and Spanish language to second graders. The school where Randall volunteered,  Pajaro de Fuego, had about 300 students and was a supplement to the national school the students also attended. Randall taught about 40 students throughout the day in two separate instruction periods.

Randall explains that the national schools in Guatemala are technically free to attend but have many hidden costs, making it difficult for many indigenous families to afford, especially when their children could be out making money by shining shoes or selling goods. "Part of the fee that I paid to volunteer became a scholarship for one of our children to attend the national school," Randall says.

She says that most students were very small for their ages because the majority of indigenous children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition, which stunts their growth and can decrease their IQs by about 50 points. "We fed our kids atol (a corn based protein drink) in the morning, and before recess they got a piece of fruit. For many of our kids, this was the only food they got all day," Randall says.

Randall describes her young students as wonderfully curious, explaining that they were eager for knowledge. "They would use their pencils and crayons down to nothing, which most U.S. kids don't do. The school had a library and we'd pull out books for the kids to read when they finished their other work. We had to pry them out of some kids' hands to get them to finish their course work," Randall says.

Randall says her time spent teaching in Guatemala was the best experience she has had during college. "Education is the foundation for progress so it's imperative that the future generations of indigenous people learn Spanish and even English as well as their native Maya dialect so they can communicate with their government and advocate for their own rights," Randall says.


About the Author

Megan Semmelman is a sociology major with a communications concentration from Pennsylvania. She is a student writer for Roanoke College Public Relations and is active on campus in several organizations, including Chi Omega and Relay for Life.