STARTING THE SCHOOL YEAR IN A PANDEMIC
FROM JULIANNA KONRAD DE PELAEZ, OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR IN GUATEMALA
I want to say goodbye to 2020 the same way that everybody does… but I was listening to a sermon that said if we do that, then we’ll miss the lessons God had for us. So instead I think I want to say that 2020 is the year that we learned that we’re fragile and weak. Structure can feel like strength, but when that’s taken away it’s just you, your family and your relationship with the Lord.
This year we realized just how much we depended on that structure, and we need to depend on the One who doesn’t change, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.
The Bible tells us that His strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We shouldn’t despise weakness or think of it as a negative thing. The Lord doesn’t see it that way. He sees it and says: “I can work through that.”
New hand-washing stations ensure that our youngest students can maintain hygiene protocols throughout the day
When we planned for 2021, we hoped for the best: we wanted to have our students back at school. We started out with the basics: hand sanitizer, temperature checks, frequent hand-washing, separate the desks, mask-wearing. There were a few classes that we moved into larger spaces. We installed hand-washing stations at our elementary school and found a doctor in our church community to serve as medical advisor, ready to direct our response if someone is exposed or becomes sick.
Hand sanitizer and a temperature check are mandatory for entrance
The government has been using a colour system: if our municipality is in “green” or “yellow”, we can open, but our municipality is currently in “red”. That means we’re not currently able to have in-person classes, or even a hybrid model. Our best guess is that we’ll be working online for a couple of months, but things are changing all the time.
We’ve been told we can start some in-person classes if we’re in “orange” — but we’ve also been told we can’t have any classes until we’re in “yellow”. It’s as unclear as it sounds. We don’t know what next week will hold: we could be holding in-person classes, or we could continue like this for several months.
Our parent community is concerned about another year of distance learning. We’ve had parents say they can’t continue — that they need to go to work, they can’t supervise their kids all day.
We know our student population, and many of them wouldn’t make it through another year like last year. Some will simply drop out.
We also know that the largest part of our student population simply doesn’t have access to a computer and reliable internet access. This online system is imperfect, but at this point, it’s the most that we can do.
Instead of parents picking up and dropping off work each quarter, they’re going to stop by the school each week. We found last year that students could fall too far behind in a quarter. It was easy for them to not finish or hand in their homework, and no one would know until two months had passed. This year, there’ll be better supervision and parents and teachers will have an up-to-date picture of student progress.
We have a large number of students in homes where parents are absent, or in the middle of an alcohol addiction. For students in homes like that, their lives are filled with uncertainty. “What’s going to happen today? Am I going to eat today? Are my parents going to lose their jobs?” There are very few jobs here where people can work remotely.
Many people have lost their jobs. Families are on edge. Kids are often really good at adapting, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing well. It doesn’t mean they’ll be fine. It means they’re surviving. It’s not a situation with a lot of hope.
Some classes have moved to larger rooms to comply with distancing guidelines
Teachers are connecting with students online or filming videos for students to watch at home
Hope is what our school does really well, though. We show students how they can have hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. Every day there’s a place where they can go to find refuge and inspiration. They can know that the Lord is working, that this isn’t the end.
Everyone understands that we’re not entirely in control any more, but it’s still hard to start this year like this. When I was struggling in 2020, the Lord spoke to me really clearly. He said: “Do what you can when I give you the opportunity, and stop feeling guilty about what you’re not doing.” That’s what I’ve been focusing on: doing what’s put before me in the ways I can.
There are things we can’t do anything about, where we can’t carry the responsibility. We need to be accountable to what the Lord sets before us, and leave the rest to Him. That’s the way to go forward.
Over and over again, the Lord has spoken to us about how important these kids are to him, and how the Kingdom belongs to them. These are His children.
While we can’t see them every day, we need to be faithful in the priorities the Lord has. We can live our lives in a way that we worship and serve and love Him. That’s our first priority. We do what we can do, and as for when our school will reopen or what that will look like… we’re trusting God to care for us and lead us when that time comes.
Since 2004, Julianna has lived in Guatemala and led the work of Global Shore Opportunities on the ground, while also drinking good coffee, eating good food, baking excellent desserts and enjoying life with her husband, Jacobo, and their children.
For the latest information on our school status and the coronavirus in Guatemala, you can visit globalshore.org/coronavirus.