Building Capacity for Community-led Change: Jorge Xicay and his Family Working to Serve their Community in Guatemala

Here’s a blog from an interview with Jorge Xicay that Maxie Gluckman recorded and translated while on a recent trip to Guatemala.   We know from the leadership literature that leadership does not only reside in a few people in an organization.  Leadership is an activity and here’s what she learned from the work of Jorge Xicay.

One year ago, my wife and I began to consider the ways we could work to help the families in our community of Patzicia, Guatemala. Patzicia is a small hard-working community, about two hours from Guatemala City. What I started to see, was that both in and out of the schools, children in this community were relatively abandoned and not being met with the attention that they really deserve. Many come from families struggling with economic hardships, who have one or more parent who is not in the picture or living far away, or who suffers from drug or substance abuse problems. In schools, they were often struggling to succeed in their classes and many are at risk of being held back or even dropping out–a trend that is all too common across Central America when children are not met with the right supports and a welcoming environment.

Volunteer teacher playing educational games with children who participate in the weekly program

So this is where we started–with two kids providing additional support after school and on the weekend. From there it began to grow, identifying specific children and inviting them to take part in learning activities through fun and games. Drawing from my experience as a teacher and as a trainer who has been able to travel across the country sharing pedagogical strategies, I have taken these ideas and mixed them into a flexible program run by volunteers. We focus on three main areas: reading comprehension, mathematics, and learning through play. We meet an hour prior as a team and plan what we will do with the kids that day and throughout the week; we have also been engaging in a book club reading and discussing interesting topics of literature and social acceptance. Seeing as just about half of these volunteers are educators and the other half are community members, I think it is really important that I model different games and strategies for them and that we also practice developing skills, such as reading comprehension, that we hope to develop in the children we work with. As the program continues to grow it is the attitude and dedication of our team that will play a huge role.

We have currently capped our numbers at 40, because we want to make sure we can give personalized attention that our children often need. We have been working with the Waldorf methodology but also ensuring that we fine-tune this to our context. These numbers also help to keep things manageable in raising funds, and we also ask the children to provide a symbolic donation each week based on what is accessible for their family. I am always seeking out community and international support and currently, we are on our way to being sponsored by Actos de Amor (Acts of Love) so that the children who join us will also be provided with a hot lunch every Saturday. Until that happens, my wife has taken it upon herself to make snacks for the kids and it is really wonderful to see how this has become such a family affair.

Jorge Xicay and some of the children they work with enjoying snacks made by his family

Along those lines, our support is not just oriented towards the children, but to the whole family and community. We organize health and dental check-ups, parent workshops, home visits, and community gatherings. Since I grew up in this community and have been working here for many years thankfully many people know and support me and this work. For example, we have been able to get land and seeds that we have been using to create a community garden which the children attend to; it is the children of parents who work in the fields who have been teaching us how to take care of things and we have been able to eat the literal fruits of our labor. We also have been raising chickens–all thanks to the wonderful generosity of the community.

While this process has not been easy, little by little I have been fighting to get the materials and space that we currently have and hope to grow to include a community library that we are about to open. Sometimes this means making sacrifices as a family. For example, we have one girl who has told us she no longer is able to attend school as she needs to work to support her family. As a family, we have decided that if we cannot find a personal sponsor that we will figure out among us how to make it work. I learned through a tough journey that it is not all about making money to be happy. For many years I worked so much that I really did not get to see my children grow up. While they had everything they wanted in terms of clothes, games, etc., they did not have their dad and it took a huge toll on us. It is through this that I changed my outlook and started to really live the idea that it is not about the money it is about the relationships and if we start by just helping one person, and then teach them how to help themselves, that we can make a huge difference.

Jorge Xicay and a group of volunteer teachers preparing their activities for the day

I am happy because I saw the need to make this change for myself and the impact has spread: throughout my family, in these children, and across the community. I invite anyone who is interested to come and see what we are doing and to volunteer their time to teach us something that they are passionate about. For my younger son, that is sharing in music with the kids, and for me, it is pedagogy and literacy. We will not give up and keep pushing, we hope to be able to share this journey with all of you.

I thank Jorge for opening the doors of his community to me, it was a wonderful experience to see their love and commitment in action. Included are a few photos of our experiences together. If you would like to learn more about Jorge Xicay’s work please contact him at ~ Maxie

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