I’m really glad that I don’t have to drive in Guatemala. Our driver takes us on a road where a bridge collapsed during tropical storm Agatha, two or three years ago, but no one has bothered to rebuild it. On the other side of the river, a truck starts towards the river, showing the water depth to be about one foot. Julio, our expert driver, obviously knows he’ll go through. As I travel in this and other underdeveloped countries, I’ve found that people don’t seem to worry about things like a river crossing. They know a bridge or other infrastructure will not be built any time soon. They’ll deal with problems when they occur.
The same happens with their educational system. The central government may build schools, but it doesn’t seem to supply the books. A child may show up at school one day, but not the next, if the family’s priorities have changed one way or another. New teachers find themselves assigned to classes they can hardly manage, without prior experience of assisting another, more experienced, teacher.
We’re driving to a couple of small villages to visit schools supported by an organization called Child Aid http://www.child-aid.org, with John van Keppel, their national director. Started some 25 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a school for deaf children, and then expanded to Guatemala as a developer of libraries in villages where there were no books, it has focused more recently on supporting and developing the human aspect of books: stimulating readers by making the material more accessible through enthusiastic teachers. I started to support their efforts at the end of one of my annual trips to Guatemala. I found Child Aid, read about them, thought they ran an operation worthy of my support. Today, finally, I was about to see it in action.