“God has gone before us. He has prepared our school in ways none of us could have anticipated.”
These are the words of Becci Merritt, NFE President, and Board Chair, as she explains how Nicolás Christian School has been able to help its students, staff and their families in Guatemala during the COVID-19 crisis.
Who could have known what 2020 had in store for the world – governments, schools, businesses, transportation, and healthcare have been turned upside down over COVID-19. While schools around the world scramble to figure out how to educate their students with their doors closed, Nicolás Christian School miraculously finds itself able to keep its students learning through a just-in-time final delivery of electronic tablets and a pre-planned approach to deliver digital learning to remote villages. The system, initially designed for distance education, is ideal for at-home learning.
Within 24 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified in the country, Guatemala instituted strict quarantine rules which affected NCS overnight. In Ixil, the quarantine rule is called Kaen Ta Kab’al, which means Stay Home. All schools were closed, both public and student transportation were shut down, and the means to provide the breakfast and lunch for students during the school day were cut off. But, through the grace of God, Nicolás Christian School’s preparations during the previous three weeks were able to be implemented quickly.
To be ready if and when the first case arrived in Guatemala, a cleaning plan had been established the first week of March using a solution of diluted bleach to disinfect all surfaces in the school, and a nurse was brought in to teach proper handwashing techniques. When the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the nearby town of Cunen where the school principal lived, they were ready to be safe inside the walls of their school.
Tablets Delivered Just In Time
However, when the government of Guatemala moved immediately to close schools on March 14, that is where the planning of the previous year for tablets to promote digital learning became the timely miracle of keeping the school going for the Nicolás students. The last of the order – the final 22 tablets – had arrived a month earlier with the February team – and incredibly there were enough for all the students to take home. Teachers quickly loaded SIM cards with 30 days of lessons and learning into the tablets, along with devotionals and encouraging words. Students took them home, empowered to keep up their education.
Teachers plan to visit those students having the most difficulty and have been provided PPE – protective personal equipment – when they do so.
Food Delivery Project
But at-home learning isn’t the only challenge NCS faced. A healthy plan for nutrition during this time was clearly needed. As part of Guatemala’s tight restrictions, not only were schools closed, but all public transportation stopped and a 4 pm curfew established, with severe consequences for those out after that time. Because many people live miles from grocery stores or farmer’s markets, it now required a lengthy walk to the store, plus shopping, and then another long walk home, all before 4 pm or risk being jailed. With malnutrition already a serious problem for the people in the Guatemalan Highlands, access to healthy food became even more challenging. All the Nicolás students had been receiving two meals a day at school – breakfast and lunch, but now this option was shut off to them. To address the problem, the school embarked on its first food delivery project to all the students’ families and all school staff – from principal to custodian – wherever they lived. Each family received a delivery with the following items:
- 5 lb. corn
- 2 bags oatmeal
- 1 lb. salt
- 2 lb. sugar
- 2 cans beans
- 1 tube toothpaste
- 2 bars soap
- 1 bottle hand sanitizer
- 2 bags Incaparina formula (high-protein nutritional corn drink)
The school’s bus driver is making 150 deliveries in a week in his own vehicle with each bag of food costing $10, totaling $1500 per week. Future deliveries will depend on fundraising.
The Threat Continues
Guatemala as a nation is doing an above-average job of containing the virus due to stringent regulations. At the end of March, there were 32 cases and 1 death in approximately 2 weeks. However, Guatemala is surrounded by countries with less strict controls. The borders with Mexico and Nicaragua are porous so the threat to the Guatemalan people is not over.
Fulfilling a Dream Online
On April 25 Nicolás Fund for Education will sponsor an online giving event to raise money for January 2021 scholarships. The annual Fulfilling a Dream fundraiser had to be postponed when COVID-19 hit Washington state and has been rescheduled for September 25-26. But fundraising now is more important than ever to ensure that full scholarship funding is in place for each of the students for 2021 before then. Nicolás Fund for Education will hold an online Fulfilling a Dream event on April 25 at 7:00 pm via Zoom. Check your email for the link to the event. To make sure this program runs smoothly, please download the Zoom app to your device ahead of time.
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NFE Answers the Call
The people of Guatemala are strong individuals, accustomed to suffering and dependent on God for their daily needs. God has led Nicolás Christian School in unexpected ways this spring to find innovative ways to help meet the educational and nutritional needs of the students, staff, and families. None of us know how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, but we do know God has provided already and we trust he will do so again.