Inauguration of New Classroom in Twi’Ninwitz: A Communal Effort for Quality Education

On a crisp October morning, Don Marcos, the Committee President and an education advocate in Twi’Ninwitz, stood before schoolteachers and AMA staff. The reason for this gathering was to celebrate the inauguration of the new classroom built in the community. Twi’Ninwitz is an indigenous community located in the Highlands of Guatemala. With a population of 1,000 people, the native tongue is Maya Mam, with Spanish as the second language. 75% of the population works in agriculture, mainly for personal consumption, only commercializing a small portion of potatoes. Through a quick visual scope, the presence of extreme poverty is indisputably evident: little access to a potable water system, the deficient quality of crops, the type of materials used to construct homes, poor infrastructure of the school and a low quality of education expediting inadequate intellectual development, malnutrition, unemployment and low self-esteem. These issues have undeniably proven to be debilitating obstacles preventing a process of sustainable community development.

With over twenty years of experience, AMA has learned that development is a two-way street. The importance of mobilizing communities to be the drivers of their own change is crucial to long-lasting, transformational change. Instead of working in communities, AMA works with communities, in a process that is collaborative from start to finish. The formation of the classroom in Twi’Ninwitz was comprised of much more than its physical construction. AMA organized educational workshops in cultural identity, technical and political training for women, as well as civic and political trainings for the community. Focusing on infrastructure without giving thought to the process of its sustainability is condemning a project to a negligent demise. By training community members in subject matters relevant to their culture—to their existence—the building of this classroom was not something that was being done to the community, but rather a movement by the people to invest in a quality education for future generations.

This collective process combats dependency and promotes resiliency, validation and celebration of cultural identity, and empowerment. Vale, a long-time Highland Partner of AMA, had graciously gathered funds to make this project a possibility. Beginning in July, materials were delivered to the community and members of Twi’Ninwitz—parents, students, teachers—worked together on constructing the classroom’s foundation. A few weeks into construction, Vale volunteers arrived and worked side-by-side with community members, making tangible a dream that had been envisioned for many years. During Vale’s week in the Guatemalan Highlands, volunteers and community members worked long days, mustering their effort from a shared aspiration: to provide a more stable, comfortable and appealing environment for the youth of Twi’Ninwitz to receive an education. After saying goodbye to Vale volunteers, community members continued to put the finishing touches on the classroom. Today, with pride and a hopeful look to the future, we celebrated the opening of the new classroom. Don Marcos began the inauguration by thanking the community Board of Directors, AMA staff and affiliates, Vale, schoolteachers and other community members who collaborated together to manifest this vision into reality. He explained, “It is very difficult to receive a quality education if the proper conditions are lacking. These basics are a fundamental to receiving an education.”

The school in Twi’Ninwitz, composed of wooden walls with an iron-sheet roof and dirt flooring, does not provide the conditions for a school-day that can be solely focused on curriculum. During the dry season, dust blows through the cracks in the wood, filling the classroom making it difficult for students and teachers alike to focus on the day’s lesson. Similarly, during the rainy season, these same classrooms flood with water, creating a muddy floor. In conditions such as this, discomfort undoubtedly distracts from learning and students and teacher both suffer from constant sickness. Furthermore, the school has no windows and the doors are made of pieces of wood, thus providing no security for the scarce pedagogical resources.

Conversely, the new classroom in Twi’Ninwitz has cement flooring, walls constructed with cement block, windows, and a door with a lock. This new structure is sturdier and stays clean and dry, rain or shine. Only school officials have access to the building’s keys, ensuring school materials remain safe and secure. Electricity provides students with the proper visibility for reading.Although today was the inauguration of the new classroom, Don Marcos explained that last week, fifth and sixth graders were moved to the new classroom because their previous classroom had flooded with rain water during a heavy down-pour. “This classroom has come to us when we the students have needed it most” explains Don Marcos. Fifth and sixth graders will take their final exams in the new classroom, being the first of the Twi’Ninwitz students to enjoy this opportunity.Don Marcos gave closing remarks, thanking once again all those involved who helped manifest this project, as well as looking hopefully to the future possibility of allocating funds to construct additional classrooms for the remaining students. A symbolic ribbon was cut, indicating the start to a more dignified education. All who were present were invited to a simple breakfast in the house of Don Marcos, a gesture of thanks and communal solidarity.

Karen Mayorga