My name is Cornelio Poou Moran, I am 25 years old, and I was born in Coban, Alta Verapaz. I grew up in a humble house made out of wood. While other children were enjoying playing with their parents or were taken to school by them, in my case it was different. At the age of three years, my parents got separated, and my father, unfortunately, sold our lands and house; we did not have anywhere to live anymore until my mom bought another place for us, maybe five or seven years later. Even though I had a hard childhood, I enjoyed it as much as I could. I started school a little older; I remember it was at the edge of nine or ten years old when I just started my first grade. Besides school, we needed to work hard to help mom at home when she goes to sell food or tortillas, my brother and I go to find firewood for mom to cook and prepare the sale for the next day. My mom used to make tamales for sale, and I remember that we needed to help her during the night to cut the meat or clean the leaves to wrap the tamales. It was a hard time, but I am glad to remember, and I was fortunate. 

When I finished elementary school, I did not know if I would continue because of the lack of resources. I was sad and worried about not knowing what to do. Well! I started in an adult program to study just Saturdays, and on weekdays I worked to cover my education. Unfortunately, it was not a good program because I was learning nothing. I was receiving classes by radio. I felt I was learning nothing, and I needed to look for another type of education. I visited many schools, including private ones, looking for a scholarship, but unfortunately, none of them gave me the opportunity. I never gave up, and finally, I got to “Asociacion Comunidad Esperanza” which is the name in Spanish, and it is in charge of a priest, and that association was and still supported by some international organizations, including the Spain Embassy. With this private but public school at the same time I finished my secondary level, which was the 9th grade. All the three years I was there, and they did not have any complaints about me, and they always congratulated me on my academic performance.

When I finished there, I needed to study high school, and that was another challenge because I did not know where to go. The school I was in “Asociacion Comunidad Esperanza”, they told me to stay, but I honestly did not like the high school career they were offering I wanted something different because here in Guatemala high school is not the same than in the U.S.; here we have some specializations, we could say short careers in something in special like: education, accounting, health, law or something else. In my case, I decided to do education “Bachillerato en Educación”. Well! If I would had stayed at “Comunidad Esperanza” maybe now I would be in Germany or Spain studying for my degree but it was not my destiny yet. I did my high school at a public school, it was in the biggest public school in the north of Guatemala. I was working part-time and in the afternoons I was attending classes. I did some projects in my institute, one of them was creating a product as part of our classes in projects and seminary, this product was going to be presented at the University of Delaware in the U.S. but unfortunately, we did not get the VISA on time because we did not receive economical support to pay the VISAS, we were 4 students going to travel. 

Since I started to study I knew about the different hard situations I was passing through when I got to “Asociación Comunidad Esperanza” I learned more about life and start reflecting on our life in a country that does not provide enough opportunities for the youth like me. In regards to this, I was thinking about a career in the University that can give me the tools to make the change in my community and my country, I was going to study medicine but I was not enough decided and I finally heard about International Affairs when I was assisting some workshops because I am part of a scholarship provided by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and I frequently was invited to these workshops and they talked about scholarships and also different type of careers. I was interested in International Affairs and I investigated more about it and I liked it because it has some topics about politics; not only national but international as well, and I thought that would give me the tools I need to support my country and to make a change. However, I did not want to focus only on politics but I also wanted to learn how to work in international organizations and how to get cooperation. One of my plans in the future would be to create an organization that can support young people, especially in their education, and other types of support for the population in general.   

My plan after graduating from the university with my degree is to first to find a good job, and then I want to start a business, I might study for another degree here in Guatemala, and it could be Law or Economics. After I have some resources I would like to go to another country to study for a master’s degree, it could be in Canada or Europe. I would like to study in the United States but is not that easy to get a scholarship there. For now, that is what I have in mind.

Education System Glossary

Since the Guatemalan government only funds education to the end of elementary school, it is not all that common, especially in the rural areas, for someone to graduate from middle school. Thus, these students are awarded an actual degree, called the Basico, which carries some weight when looking for a job, etc.

High school comes in a variety of flavors in Guatemala. All of course are private, and there are seemingly as many curriculums as there are schools. Some high schools focus on particular careers, such as teaching, accounting, surveying, etc. Usually, it takes 3-4 years to complete, and they are awarded with a certificate of competency at the end. In teaching, the certificate entitles one to teach at the elementary school level only. More academically-oriented high schools have a curriculum similar to US schools, which includes language arts, math, science, history, etc. These typically require 4-5 years to complete, and graduates are awarded the Diversificado degree, which is required if the student wishes to continue their education at the University level. This is the degree that most GSSG-supported high school students are pursuing.

The University system in Guatemala is like the high school system, in that there are many degrees, and many ways to get a degree. There is only one public university, the University of San Carlos, and about a dozen private universities. Like high school, students can decide early to specialize in a particular field, and after 2-3 years, graduate with a “tecnico” degree. In education, this degree awards them the title of “Profesor”, and qualifies them to teach all the way through high school. For those wishing to go further in Education or other fields, there is the “Licenciatura” degree, which is awarded after four years of study in one’s major plus an additional year researching and writing a thesis that addresses some national problem in Guatemala. So far, three GSSG students have been awarded their Licenciatura degree, with several more hoping to have theirs by next year.

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