Creative Careers in Languages, Part 2
By Christine S. Maxwell
Pedro de Pedro Lucas has a dream. Growing up in a small, impoverished village in Guatemala, he seeks to improve the plight of his people. Like many other visionaries, Lucas realizes that education moves a society forward. He continues a lifelong effort to combat the extreme poverty under which more than 90 per cent of native Guatemalans live. See
Centro Maya Language School
After graduating from Rafael Landivar University in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala with a degree in education, Pedro began his teaching career. In 1993, he and a group of indigenous people established Centro Maya Language School. A non-profit educational institution, its initial purpose was to provide jobs for educated Mayans and to share the beauty of the language and cultures with others throughout the world. Since its inception, Central Maya Language School has offered Spanish and instruction in the indigenous languages of Q’anjob’al, Mam, and Ixil to more than 2500 students in 30 countries worldwide. In addition, the school offers classes in special Mayan traditions, such as natural medicinal therapies, weaving, spirituality, and cooking. Students range in age from 7 years to 88 years old.
Although all language instruction includes conversation, grammar study, vocabulary, and verbs, the lessons focus on the student’s individual needs and interests. The school offers on-site instruction at its Quetzaltenago campus for students on a weekly basis. Students receive four hours of daily one-one-one instruction with a native Guatemala instructor. In addition, students live with a local family and participate in several local excursions.
Since 2010, Central Maya has offered an alternative method of language study in effort to make language instruction more affordable and accessible to students worldwide. Students may elect to take 50-minute one-on-one or small group Skype lessons with a Guatemalan teacher. Currently approximately 30 to 40 students participate in this instruction, many of whom take several lessons per week.
Mayan Women Scholarships
Lucas initiated the second mission of the school in 1995: to help indigenous Guatemalan women receive a university education. In Guatemala, native women face both ethnic discrimination as well as gender discrimination. More than 70 percent of indigenous women are illiterate, and the Guatemalan government offers no financial educational assistance to these women. See https://centromayaxela.org. To combat gender and ethnic inequalities, Lucas has established the Guatemalan Indigenous Women’s Educational Scholarship. Approximately 25 percent of Centro Maya’s income funds this program.
With this mission, Centro Maya, although a small school, has far-reaching influence. In order to select women for this program, Centro Maya distributes applications to secondary schools throughout the Mayan rural communities. Applicants must be indigenous women who speak an indigenous language. Further, they must maintain good academic standing at the universities and have a desire to serve their communities upon completion of their professional studies.
So far, 12 women have graduated with professional degrees under the Indigenous Women’s Educational Scholarship program. They are doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, and agronomists. All of the women have returned to their villages to fulfill their careers. As educated professionals, they are eradicating poverty and illiteracy within their communities. Three women currently participate in the program.
My Experiences at Centro Maya
In 2010, I won a teacher’s scholarship to study at Central Maya Language School. I began an invaluable, three-week intensive study of Spanish at the school. The instruction has helped me to maintain a high level of Spanish proficiency as an educator. Since that time, I have returned to Guatemala three more times, twice with my students on service learning trips and one more time to study Spanish at Centro Maya. In addition, I have continued my Spanish lessons via Skype with the school for the past seven years.
My students are also beneficiaries of quality instruction in Spanish. Centro Maya has added valuable cultural and authentic instruction to my advanced high school classes. During our excursions to Guatemala, the students studied Spanish with Centro Maya instructors, and now current classroom students have biweekly Spanish lessons via Skype with Lucas. We are gratified that we are improving our Spanish and, at the same time, helping to provide educational opportunities for Guatemalan women.
For more information on Centro Maya Language School, visit www.centromayaxela.com.