Home / Stories / Mission Monday: Back to School in Guatemala

Mission Monday: Back to School in Guatemala


Kathy Snider, who served with Franciscan Mission Service from 1998-2000, was so moved by her experience that she decided to return to Guatemala. She continues to live in and serve the remote jungle community in Santaigo Ixcan through her own non-profit, Ixcan Ministries.

As students in the U.S. begin the “back to school” season,  Kathy reflects on the experience of students in the Ixcan. 

Teacher Juan Antonio with his ninth graders outside the junior high. Juan Antonio was one of the school’s first graduates.

During a small faith gathering, 5-year-old Jason trotted to where I was sitting, looked me square in the eyes and said matter-of-factly, “I’m going to school. I am studying!” I smiled and congratulated, “Que bueno, mijo,” (that’s good, my little one) and wrapped him up in my arms in a hug.

I was struck by this little boy’s pride and resolve in going to school. He’s only a pre-schooler. His mother told me that he wouldn’t allow her to accompany him on his first day. “He insisted on going alone,” she told me. He did see her minutes later though, hidden behind the door, peeking her head into his classroom making sure he was there. “He was,” she assured. We smiled.

It is a “given” that most young people in the U.S. will go to school and eventually graduate, hoping for opportunity for further education or careers enabling a future full of meaning and economic independence.

Education is not a “given” in Guatemala. I know that this privilege isn’t taken for granted here – not by most- not by 5-year-old Jason. It wasn’t long ago that the standard grade level reached by most boys was the 5th grade and girls were lucky if they were event allowed to study at all.

Things have changed. Those days are gone.

I’ve noticed the importance of education emphasized by the government and nongovernmental entities more and more in Guatemala in recent years. In Santaigo Ixcan, a big factor in renewed interest in education came when Ixcan Ministries built a junior high school 12 years ago.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was a long, rough road. But it was worth it. I am reminded of the fruit of the the donor’s generosity and the hard work of parents and committees when alumnus Juan Antonio Hernandez graduated with a degree in Pedagogy (the science of teaching) from the respected USAC – University in San Carlos in Guatemala City.

Juan Antonio was one of nine boys who were our first graduating class in the school’s history. Now he is in those same classrooms – not studying – but teaching! This is his first year of teaching 9th graders. We’re so proud!

The desire to continue studying after the 6th grade caught on. When more and more young people and their parents began coming to my door pleading for financial assistance to help defray costs of education both for junior high school adn beyond, we were faced with a pressing need.

So, in 2008, Ixcan Ministries began a scholarship program to help defray costs of tuition, school supplies, etc. for students who met specific requirements, good grades and good conduct. This year, Ixcan Ministries is helping 36 young people are study at the junior high, high school and university level.

We are happy to be able to empower the youth of the Ixcan to move forward in becoming literate leaders of their communities and country.

Little Jason is beginning now. I imagine he gazes on certain days from vistas in the village to the big, white school on the hill, the junior high school. I wonder what he has in his heart and mind in becoming. I hope if he needs us, we can be a part of that dream, whatever it is.

Ixcan Ministries provides a prayerful and pastoral presence and strives to be a bridge between two cultures and nations. We pray for Kathy and her lifelong work as a cultural bridgebuilder.

Franciscan Mission Service often invites guest writers to contribute to the blog. Contributors often include board members, formation leaders, Secular Franciscans, Franciscan friars and sisters, and other friends of the organization. If you would be interested in contributing, please contact info@franciscanmissionservice.org.