Although many of Saida’s classmates began attending school at 12, this is her first year in the classroom.
She shares, “I studied basic lessons in my community, but I could not continue studying there, because there is only one small institute that only reaches the third grade. Anyone who wants to continue studying has to leave the community.”
Fortunately, Saida, 19, had the opportunity to enroll at the Talita Kumi school in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. There, she studies Finance and Administration.
Saida’s community has limited access to social and economic opportunities, including free and quality education, contributing to an increase in poverty rates — primarily in regions with a majority indigenous population. Recent surveys show that more than 59 percent of the population lives in poverty, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has risen by 8 percent in the last eight years.
The indigenous communities where Saida and her classmates grew up are served by four boarding schools, and most students face poverty or extreme poverty. In this area, more nearly 18 percent of the population is illiterate, nearly 19 percent of people have not gone to school and nearly 48 percent have only a primary school education. These numbers are even lower among indigenous populations.
Fortunately, Saidas has the opportunity to pursue her education. At school, she receives nutritious Rise Against Hunger meals distributed by partner Salesian Missions.
She shares, “I like to study Finance and Administration because I have always enjoyed mathematics and accounting. I want to continue studying at the university level and obtain my degree in Business Administration.”
Saida adds, “In Talita Kumi we do not learn only what the teachers teach in the classrooms, we also have courses in agriculture, animal care, music and cooking. I like cooking classes because we learn many new things and because it is very practical; what is taught is applied hands-on. In my community we eat corn, beans, chili, vegetables and sometimes chicken. We eat rice, but very little because that has to be bought in stores. In Talita Kumi we eat rice and other things that are grown on campus such as milk and cheese. We have cows and other animals that we care for so we learn to work like a farm.”
She says, “At first I was very sad because I had never been so far away from my family, but here we are all very close. To those who are going to listen to my story, I want to tell you that we are very happy with the [Rise Against Hunger] meals we eat here. I want to thank you for helping us always to have food. lf we did not have enough to eat before, I would be very sleepy and could not study. Here we study a lot and we work together, and for that we need to eat well.”
Meylin, a food technology teacher at Saida’s school, says, “Saida is a cheerful and very friendly student. She is very selfless in class and helps her classmates whenever they need it. Upon arriving to Talita Kumi, very few students are aware of what it means to have a balanced diet; let alone know how to go about achieving one. Our work goes beyond just preparing daily meals, it is also about making this a powerful learning experience. In my course they learn about nutrition, hygiene and safety, productivity and, of course, how to prepare rice in various ways.”
Meylin adds, “The Rise Against Hunger meals are very beneficial to the students because of the nutritional value found inside each pouch. They are more attentive and participatory in class as well as physically looking better than when they come from their communities.”
Jorge, director of Talita Kumi, shares more about the school, “Talita Kumi seeks to give opportunities to young people through education from areas that are traditionally marginalized from economic and social development. Our services are totally free. In our boarding school, young adolescent girls come from communities where access to education is very difficult and gender disparity is highly visible.”
He adds, “Rise Against Hunger meals are an important resource for each boarding school because it contributes to the nutrition of our students and strengthens their overall wellbeing. Our students receive five feedings a day at our centers, which includes: breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks a day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In 2017 we served more than 600 students through our four boarding schools. These rice meals have helped us to directly support the feeding of those 600 girls who are transforming their lives through education.”
Meylin shares, “I hope that all these girls can continue to study a university degree. Studying here is already a great achievement, because if it weren’t for this opportunity, these students would be out of the educational system.”