We first met Valentina at a gathering run by Colectivo Vida Digna with her four sisters and two other young women. She was very shy, but also very playful when she warmed up to us. The best way to tell you about Valentina is in the words of Anna from Colectivo Vida Digna:
It is with great sentiment that I recommend Florencia Valentina Agustin Vicente for a One New Education Scholarship. Valentina is an extremely bright child with a special sparkle in her eye, just shy of turning 11 years old. Valentina is Maya Mam from San Juan Ostuncalco, a town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. She is one of 11 brothers and sisters and the fourth youngest in the family. The family has gone through quite some hardship over the years, particularly due to economic constraints. Her mother, Doña Nicolasa, is very loving and affectionate, although she has severe and debilitating lower back problems. Her father, Don Mario, is a hard-working dedicated father and agricultural worker. Due to the distance of the house to the nearest public school, the cost of public education (all throughout Guatemala), and a lack of disposable income, Valentina´s parents had not been able to secure education for their children. However, thanks to her eldest sister, Angelica, this year Valentina and 4 other siblings are matriculated in primary school.
Together with her 8-year old brother, Valentina will start first grade this year. Her sister, Alicia, 13, will also start first grade in an accelerated learning program, along with siblings, Nedy, 15 and Paola, 17 who are in third and fifth grade. Valentina will go to the public school ¨Escuela José Ramón Ovando¨. A scholarship of $400.00 for Valentina for the 2018 school year covers uniform and school clothes, shoes, books, school supplies, contributions for celebrations at school and travel to her home in pick-up truck during the rainy season.
One thing that makes Valentina so special is her love for reading. Despite never having had the opportunity to study, Valentina at a young age would leaf through her older brother Armando´s books and pretend to read, making up stories to the pictures for her younger siblings. Finally one day her older brother decided to teach her how to read and since then Valentina reads every book she can get her hand on. I imagine her being a great storyteller and author herself one day.
Although all of Valentina´s siblings have a demonstrated thirst for knowledge and are actively seeking to change the story for their family, there is a special reason we recommend Valentina. Valentina´s three older sisters work as maids. These jobs besides being degrading, exposing young women to ill-treatment and being low paying, also close doors to other opportunities in life, particularly daily schooling. We know that if Valentina is not able to maintain her studies, in a few short years, when she is 12 or 13 she will go to work, and much like her sister Alicia, will no longer qualify nor have the time to attend regular school classes. Granted a One New Education scholarship Valentina will start a new motion in her family for her younger siblings, working against the odds and in the face of hardship, putting education first.
Here is Valentina’s letter to us for her application, along with a translation. She got a little help on the computer at the Vida Digna office, but she had to give the letter a little of her own style!
Translation: Hello, my name is Florencia Valentina, but I like you to call me Valentina more. I am 10 years old and I will turn 11 on February 15. I have younger and older brothers and sisters, we are 11 in all, the oldest is 25 and her name is Angelica. The youngest is named Esvin and he is 2. Angelica helped me register for school in January and I am going to study from 1 PM until I leave at 5:30 in the afternoon in Escuela Jose Ramon Ovando. This year I will bein first grade and I am really happy because I am going to learn. My mother and father will bring me to school and my sister Paola or my sister Angelica will bring me home because the school is 25 minutes walking from my house.
What I like the most is to read stories, like the ones my grandfather tells me. My brother Armando taught me to read. When we go to husk corn, my grandfather tells me how it used to be and how he grew up. I help my mother with cooking, cleaning in the house, washing my little siblings’ clothes and sometimes I grind the corn. I love to play with my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t study before this because my mother hurt her back and there was no money.
Thank you very much and may God bless you.
We are so happy to be able to help Valentina move forward and fulfill her love of reading and learning, and we can’t wait to travel her path with her and see where she goes!
Valentina is looking forward to going back to school in person. It’s been a hard year for her, partly because of the pandemic and studying online, but also because she is growing up and experiencing all the things that girls hitting puberty experience. It is also challenging because she’s so much older than her classmates. But she is persevering! We’ve included a translation of her year-end letter to us, responding to some questions we asked her.
Date: 14 February, 2021
Greeting: Hello, and a very good day to you. I hope you are well.
Dear Christa, here are my responses to your questions.
1. What made you the happiest of all the things you accomplished this school year? What made me happiest this past year in 2020 is that I had a lot of friends, and I could be with my family. Although in 2020 I didn’t learn much in school.
2. What differences did you see between studying online and in the classroom? Well, when I was in class, I learned a lot because if I didn’t understand something, I could ask the teacher. But when I studied online, it was difficult for me because there were things I didn’t understand. The teacher explained things to me sometimes but it was hard to understand. For me it is difficult and complicated to study online.
3. Would you like to take an online class? Tell us what you would like to learn. Yes, I’d like to do that, but as I said before, for me it is difficult and complicated, so now I am not interested in that, and if I get put into an online class it may be difficult for me to deal with homework from the school.
4. If there was something about which you’d like to learn, like a skill, what would you like to learn to do? It could be a talent, an art, etc. What would it be? Tell us why you’d like to learn to do that thing. I’d like to draw a lot better. I like to express myself through drawings: my sadness, my happiness and my fears. I like to express myself through my drawings because for me drawings are art.
5. What are you most hopeful for in the coming year? In 2021 I hope to learn many things. I hope to be able to help my friends, and I hope to be able to get good grades.
We hope that 2021 year is a good one and that she learns a lot this year, too. It’s hard to study online, even with the best computers and teachers who are used to that style of education. We understand that a lot of students in other countries are losing interest, and we hope that we can keep Valentina excited about school!
Valentina has been studying at home, which is a challenge. Since she doesn’t have a computer at home (or Internet), the folks from Colectivo Vida Digna brought over some books and study supplies for her and her siblings. They have been working hard, despite the difficulties. Luckily, they were spared the worst of the hurricanes and were able to continue pretty much uninterrupted. She’s growing up into a beautiful young woman, and she still has that sparkle in her eye that we saw when we first met her.
Valentina ended her second grade year with her usual slate of awards and honors. She won second place in a school-wide chess tournament, received high honors for her grades, and is generally in love with school (which we love!). She will be entering third grade and turning 13 in February. Although she is a little older than a third grader in the United States, this is not holding her back at all. She is an amazing student, loves studying, and writes us terrific letters. We have no doubt whatsoever that she will continue to do really well in school. Our friends at Colectivo Vida Digna do so much to help Valentina and other young women succeed in school and in life, so we are really happy to know that she has that support.
Valentina wrote two year-end letters, one a self-evaluation and the other answering questions we sent her. We have attached both her versions and the translations, since we love to show you her efforts at making a beautiful-looking letter as well as one that says something important.
San Juan Ostuncalco, 27 December, 2019
A very good day to you and thank you for the opportunity that you have given me. I hope that you are all well, with no family problems. Regarding your questions, here are my answers.
1. Tell us something that you learned that you didn’t know before. How did this make you feel?
Individual rights. People have rights from birth. Nationality, sex, ethnicity, religion and economic situation don’t matter. For that reason they say these are universal.
Human rights are freedoms that when they are respected allow human beings to have a healthy and happy life.
This made me feel that when I grow up and respect them I could have a happy and healthy life.
2. How have you changed, and why?
I have changed a lot. Now I understand more things that I didn’t before and I have changed in the way I think. When I started school I was happy because I was going to learn new things. Now I better understand the subjects that I didn’t before. For example, math, English, and Mam.
3. What have you done that you are proud of?
I was a flag carrier, I finished second grade, I lived together with my family, I received good grades. All of those are things that make me feel proud of myself and I thank god for that.
4. What are three goals for the coming year?
My three goals that I want to achieve are to be a bandadera (flag carrier), pass third grade, and to be a better person every day.
5. What are you going to do during your vacation time?
Help my mother around the house, teach my little sister Edith to walk, learn to ride a bicycle and read new books.
I hope you have a happy new year and may god bless you.
How did this year go?
This year was good, but there were a few difficulties and problems at home, but in school things went really well.
What have been the difficulties that you had this year and that you overcame?
My difficulty this year was that in the middle of the year I got a new teacher because they changed directors and our teacher taught another class. Another difficulty was that it was hard to take care of my sister Astrid.
What did you accomplish this year?
I got good grades.
I was a bandadera.
I was able to attend school every day of the year.
I was able to help my classmates with their homework.
I passed my grade.
Valentina has been awarded valedictorian of her second grade class! She works so hard, and it obviously pays off. She’s smart and dedicated to her studies, and we couldn’t be prouder of her. She gets to share the spotlight with three of her siblings, who were also honored as valedictorians in their respective grades. This is obviously a very special family.
We got to visit with Valentina during our trip to Guatemala with students from the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. It was great to see her! She’s just as sweet as ever, and she’s super excited about having started second grade. She and her sister Alicia participated in some art workshops with our students, and we also met with them both and gave them some presents.
We received some wonderful news recently from our contact in Guatemala. Anna tells us that Valentina was the valedictorian for first grade in the entire town! This is always a high honor, but it is especially so for Valentina, who didn’t start first grade until she was 11, and for whom Spanish is her second language. She marched in the annual Independence Day parade as a bandadera (flag bearer), and Anna sent us some wonderful pictures.
We couldn’t be more delighted and proud of her accomplishments. Congratulations, Valentina! Bien hecho!
Apparently, Valentina loves school! Anna says she is doing really well and is a “perfeccionista,” wanting to get everything just right. Anna says, “The truth is we could not be happier with Valentina and her enthusiasm for her studies. She was a little nervous at the start but everything is turning out really well, she’s quite the perfectionist!” Anna sent us a wonderful video of an interview that Valentina’s teacher did with her. She talks about how much she likes school and that she wants to be a teacher to help children learn. We hope you enjoy it!