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September 26, 2022

Alexis' Social Fellowship: teaching children with special needs in Guatemala

Hi everyone, my name is Alexis and I am a Project Manager in our London office. I just finished my Social Fellowship, which was supported by Roland Berger. Want to know more about it? Then read on:

Right in the heart of Central America, I was living in San Pedro, Guatemala a couple of months, helping out at the school for disabled children Somos Hijos Del Lago each day, as well as having lessons at the local Spanish school - it was pretty demanding (especially telling kids off in my limited Spanish!) but very rewarding.

I was helping out with all the classes - the kids particularly love music and painting, and on my second week I started to teach English as my own class, but only covered the basics in the first month or so, as you can see from some of the pictures.

The kids’ disabilities and ages range enormously; some are very high functioning while others really struggle, and they are aged between 5 and 17! The toughest part has definitely been trying to teach the different levels whilst making sure everyone is learning and feels included, but also part of the reason for why the role is so interesting, because the sheer variety really does force you to try new techniques to keep everyone involved.

I also helped raise money for a local raffle that will help in part to keep the school running. I donated part of the Social Fellowship money to the cause and in the end we raised the equivalent of over £10,000 in about a month, which will seriously contribute to the running of the school (they need around £20,000 each year to function - all the teachers are volunteers).

In the second and third month the teaching of English progressed, with some of the students learning to conjugate basic verbs in the present tense, and being able to have very short conversations with each other. It wasn’t a dramatic rise to bilinguality, but it was fantastic to see the pride some of them had in making such a step, when they had never been taught another language outside of Spanish. Many promised to visit me in England one day - stay tuned to see if this becomes reality.

Overall, the experience at the school was undoubtedly tough, and humbling every day (when you forget the Spanish word for eraser, or purple, your authority starts to erode pretty quickly), but I really got to know the kids and it was a pleasure to help out - it truly calcified my belief that luck plays a defining role in each of our lives, and that if we were just to have been born in semi-poverty, or with hindering learning abilities that require special assistance, both characteristics that we ultimately had no control over, our lives would be completely different in fundamental ways.

I hope to revisit the school one day in the future, and continue to stay in contact with the headmistress, helping her translate documents into English for tourist-centric businesses nearby, and helping her on a variety of issues to strategise ways to raise money.

Outside of the teaching and Spanish classes, I managed make the most out of the beautiful Guatemalan landscape. Most weekends I would go on some hikes, including the largest local mountain (called the Indian Nose hike) at sunrise, and a relatively famous active volcano called Acatenango - you are basically allowed to go right up to the volcano and see the fire. I can confirm that it was pretty awesome.

After a few months, I left the school and the lake, just as the monsoon season was picking up some serious mileage (we’re talking rivers through the streets every day and power outs from lightning and thunder most evenings - one night at 3am I was pleasantly awoken by rain coming through the walls in my room and soaking all my clothes and passport…).

After leaving Guatemala I managed to travel through a handful of other breathtaking countries in Central and South America (Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru) before travelling round the US in a camper van.

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