When I first began at Safe Passage six months ago, I had a choice of where to work: the main educational reinforcement center with its older students, or the Escuelita filled with the littlest learners in the program. While volunteers who are staying for six or more months generally work in the main building—and I will admit, the children there were a little intimidating at first for an intermediate at best Spanish-speaker—I decided to work with the younger children.

The original plan was to move to the main building after a month or two, but from there the stereotypical Safe Passage story begins. I fell in love with my students, the teachers, and the welcoming environment of the Escuelita, could not possibly imagine leaving, and decided to spend the remainder of my time in Guatemala working with my five-year-old students as a classroom assistant.
                     However, after a few months, I began to notice an unfulfilled need in the Escuelita. Several students in each class were struggling to reach their grade-level benchmarks, and seemed in danger of being held back for a year—some of them already had. Safe Passage had a tutoring program in the main building, and I decided to work towards bringing a similar program to the younger students.
                     The fellow volunteers and staff were incredibly accommodating to this new idea, and I was amazed by how supportive they all were in helping to realize this program. After only a few weeks, I began giving individual lessons, twice a week, to fourteen students aged four to six. I can honestly say that I had an incredible amount of fun every single day, and it was the most rewarding work of my life. Teaching a child to count to ten and seeing one’s excitement at reading her very first sentence are memories I will hold close for the rest of my life, and the administrative work that went along with the job—tracking their progress, creating individual lesson plans—became joyful exercises rather than daily hindrances.
                 Now I am back in the United States, thoroughly satisfied with the work accomplished in Guatemala and already looking forward to my eventual return. I was lucky enough to find a replacement tutor before I left the country, but the children in the Escuelita will always be looking for a caring individual to come and donate their time for several months to instill excitement in their schoolwork and confidence in their worth as people.

This is just one Safe Passage story. What will yours be?

-Peter Bailinson

Safe Passage Volunteer