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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

A Safe Place to Learn in Guatemala

"You give our children a safe place to learn." That was the words of a parent who spoke to me at the award ceremony for the children who attend classes at our community center.

It has been five years since we started working in Colonia Santa Fe. I still remember when a fellow missionary asked if I would help set up a computer training center at a school that provided education to the impoverished children who live in what is classified as a "red zone" of Guatemala City due to the excessive violence.

We painted a classroom, built a desk, and started with four old, barely functioning computers. I remember the children's excitement as they gingerly touched keyboards for the first time and worked their way through the typing lessons.

Over the years, the school enrolled more children and became pressed for space. So, we rented a room outside the school to expand the program. Initially, the students had their computer classes with their teachers during the morning school period, but with an increasing number of children in each class, we decided to move our classes to the afternoon and open it up to the local community as well.

At the beginning of the year, 60 children signed up for classes. Of those, about half had near-perfect attendance. These children came in daily, some walking quite a distance, others leaving their work with their parents to come and learn.

The goal of our program is simple, we want the children to learn.

Professor Eduardo is a teacher who has worked in this neighborhood for eight years. He has been the 5th and 6th-grade teacher to children at the school we partnered with and, at times, had as many as 50 children in his "classroom," just some metal awnings placed over the school's outside wall and the next building.

Over the years, he has been offered better jobs, but he has turned them down because of his calling to serve these children.

At the beginning of this year, we hired him to run our program in the afternoons. Our objective was to give the students a safe place to come to hear God's word, receive prayer, learn computer skills, do their homework, and write their school reports. By a miracle, a fellow missionary offered to sponsor the rent for 10 months, which freed up funds that enabled us to pay for internet access, bringing our program to a whole new level.

Try, for a minute, to imagine just how hard it is for a student who has no books, no access to a library, and no computer or internet access to do a report for school?

Giving our students access to the internet, teaching them how to do research online, and introducing them to fantastic learning platforms like Khan Academy and Code Academy has been huge for them.

We have students who come in and are working their way through simple computer programming classes. Seeing their passion for learning is amazing as they plug away through exercise after exercise, so hungry to learn.

Even though we run our classes year-round, the school year ends in October. So, we decided to celebrate and acknowledge what these kids have accomplished.

Seeing the response, the gratitude, and the appreciation people showed was amazing. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles showed up to see the children receive their diplomas. The students, of their own accord, put on plays of Bible stories and chose worship song to perform.

It was truly wonderful to see the gratitude and appreciation of the whole community for what we were doing for their children. One mother said something at the end that stuck with me. She said that as much as they were grateful for the education, what she appreciated most was that someone cared enough for their children to give them a safe place away from the gangs, drugs, and violence that is so prevalent.

All the students received diplomas. We awarded several students for their help and assistance throughout the year. We even gave a laptop to one student who had shown incredible dedication to learning. He had come in at the beginning of the year with few computer skills, never missed a day of classes, and by last month was effortlessly browsing the internet and doing research for his school papers. He cried as he received his computer. It was so amazing to see all the other children cheering and clapping for him instead of being jealous that they didn't get a laptop.

Like so many places, Guatemala is a broken country, yet I believe that God is changing the hearts and lives of these children, and this will bring change and revival to Guatemala.

There is so much brokenness where we serve, and my heart breaks for these children. My heart breaks for the families of the students whose lives have been lost to senseless violence. My heart breaks for the children who save the small snack we give them so they can share it with their little sister at home. My heart breaks for the girl who came in with a black eye from being beaten.

But my heart rejoices in the knowledge that the God we serve sent His Son to die for these precious children and that even if we can't save them from every hurt and pain here on earth, we can save them for eternity through the knowledge of Christ's death on the cross.

Bob Pierce, the president of Worldvision, once prayed a simple prayer: "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."

My heart is broken for these children, How about yours?

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