I used to think summer school was something that kids were forced to do by their parents, something they dreaded and got over with as quickly as possible. It turns out I was utterly wrong. Although the first hours of the day at Niños de Guatemala’s two primary schools consist of “refuerzo”–revision classes of the previous school year—I have honestly never seen a group of children with such enthusiasm for their work. Be it maths or simple drawings of letters, they approach it with a gusto that I in my own childhood reserved only for playing football and eating pizza.
The school itself is beautiful in all senses of the word. The decoration is mostly done by the students themselves which give the buildings a homely vibrancy, which is hard to describe but easy to appreciate.
When I first arrived I was greeted effusively by every member of the staff, an occurrence that, to my surprise, continued every day throughout summer school. For me, every person in the school, be it pupil, teacher, cook or cleaner; defined what is normally an overused term: “pleased to see you”. There was never a sense of being an outsider intruding on their workplace, the philosophy seemed a simple one, if you help, then you belong.
To have had the opportunity to see children introduced to activities as diverse as Astronomy and Dodgeball, kite-making and break-dancing, is one that I will always cherish. For my part, the clear joy on the face of a previously rather surly twelve-year old when she has correctly identified “an apple” in English class is not something easily forgotten.
At our second school El Porvenir, the sound of immediate change is rung out by the hammers and drills of the workmen building the second level. But the changes that you see in students who have only been in school for a matter of months are without doubt the most profound. I was truly privileged to see the children introduced to Drama and Science for the first time, and to see a basketball game of true beginners- tiny parts of a traditional education for so many of us, but for these students, a memorable day at the beginning of a massive adventure.