From the Corn Fields to the Class Room

Daphnee grew up in a rural town at the foot of the Acatenango volcano. Although she loved her childhood a lack of financial resources left her struggling in extreme poverty. Luckily NPH Guatemala helped break that chain.
November 19, 2020 - Guatemala

Daphnee in her traditional Mayan clothing.

The Acatenango Valley is an ecological gift, with green forests and blue creeks in the middle of the Mayan Kaqchikel territory. Constant eruptions from the nearby Fuego volcano keep the coarse, sandy soils full of minerals. The sunny climate from the Pacific Ocean enable the campesinos - agronomists and farmers - to grow coffee, corn and other crops, which flourish widely throughout the region. Located approximately 18 miles from Casa San Andres, Daphnee grew up as the oldest sister of four children in rural Guatemala, along with her parents and her grandmother, and remained faithful to their Mayan traditions both in clothing and language.

Acatenango is also a municipality of the Chimaltenango department known for its natural beauty and indigenous diversity, and has a population of over 24,000 people. However, according to SEGEPLAN – the government entity in responsible for planning and programming – 67.7% of the inhabitants live in poverty, above the department average of 59.4%, with 14.6% living in extreme poverty. Unfortunately for Daphnee, 18-years-old; Lidia, 16; Edson, 14; and Hilario, 9, they were among the 14.6%.

The family only ever spoke in Kaqchikel when they were together, as did much of the Acatenango community. It was a small home, which consisted of two living areas and a kitchen with a fire burner stove. The walls were made of wood and plaster, with zinc laminas forming the roof. Daphnee remembers the holes in the ceiling which would leak during the rainy season and cause floods on the muddied floor. They had electricity but it didn’t always work, nor were the water provisions constant. But despite living in extreme poverty, Daphnee looks back fondly on her childhood, especially supporting her parents, and caring for the family pets Dacey the dog and Xoc her cat.

“I loved to go with my father in the fields to help him harvest corn, coffee and other crops, while also attending to livestock with my mother, who looked after chickens, cattle, and horses,” says Daphnee. “I used to go into the woods to gather the firewood for cooking with my sister. I also used to do domestic chores like cooking and cleaning. Working on the land was my early education. But I enjoyed it. I liked it so much that I couldn’t imagine anything better. We didn’t go to school. I found it boring and our parents needed us to help make money.”

There are very few opportunities of formal employment in Acatenango. According to the Global Living Wage Coalition, the informal sector employs up to 85% of the workers in rural Guatemala, with the agricultural sector absorbing the majority. Workers only earn between US$66 and US$92-a-month. Considering monthly rent costs a family approximately 700 Quetzals-a-month (US$90), one can see how parents struggle to put food on the table, even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One morning in September 2011, social workers from public ministry arrived at Daphnee’s home. They spoke to Fabio and Paula, who at first looked angry, but then sad. “One of the workers tried to speak to me in Spanish but I couldn’t understand, then someone translated that my siblings and I would be leaving; we didn’t understand why,” says Daphnee, tearfully.

The social workers sent a court order to the Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (CNA) - the government agency that manages residential care institutions for children – requesting that Daphnee and her siblings be removed from their parents’ custody due to the poor living conditions and being unable to provide adequate support for Hilario, who at the time was 2-years-old and suffered from severe malnourishment. This caused stunted mental and growth development, which still impacts Hilario today.

After spending a few days in a temporary residential care facility, the CNA decided that Daphnee and her siblings should go to NPH Guatemala, which had the adequate facilities and excellent reputation for providing medical and psychological support to children and youths with learning and special needs, as well as a providing a quality education. It was also not far from their hometown and the siblings would be able to stay together. They then entered the gates of Casa San Andres on 1 October 2011.

Up to the age-of-9, Daphnee didn’t know how to speak Spanish; neither did her siblings. Initially, they struggled to communicate with their new NPH family. “I was scared to speak to people. We were given our own beds, food, we had medical examinations, and meeting all these new people, who smiled a lot and wanted to help, but we were in shock. I cried a lot and I wanted life to return to normal.”

It took time for Daphnee to adapt and understand that her life was changing for the better. “At the time, it was very traumatic, especially seeing my younger brother Hilario suffering.”

“I remember my first day at the NPH Guatemala school. It was compulsory to attend, which was strange for me to understand. I finally learned how to speak Spanish properly!” she laughs. “We also had three meals a day, which helped me concentrate better. The more I learned, the more I was able to communicate my feelings with the caregivers and psychologists.”

She tries her best to stay close to her Mayan routes, celebrating festivals and wearing the traditional clothes. She also tries to stay in contact with her parents, and she worries about them a lot. “My father has injured his foot and can no longer work. He relies on my mother to make a living. They have especially struggled with COVID-19 and understanding the protocols.”

Much time has passed and Daphnee has just finished middle school, graduating successfully at 18-years-of-age. Her favorite subjects are natural science, social science and sports. However, she realizes she and her sister Lidia are lucky to even receive an education. In the 2018 USAID Guatemala Gender Analysis Report, indigenous people receive just four years of schooling compared to 6.6 years for people from non-indigenous backgrounds. It also found women and girls fall behind men in nearly all education indicators, including net enrollment at primary and secondary levels and attainment in primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, and more likely to be out of school between the ages of 15 and 24.

NPH provides a solution to break the cycle of poverty for girls and young women from rural areas through education and open up future opportunities. Next year, Daphnee will start high school and one day she would like to study marine ecology at the university.

“NPH has opened my eyes to a new world through education. We can study here and live a better life. Even if I didn’t liked school when I was younger, I understand now how important it is in my life. If we hadn’t arrived at NPH, I would probably be working on a coffee farm like one my friends in Acatenango,” Daphnee concludes.

You can help provide an education for girls living in rural Guatemala. Support the NPH Guatemala education program by visiting – make a difference.

Thomas Hartig   
Communication Officer

You may be only one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.
—Fr. William Wasson




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