I am Erwin Oswaldo Cajbón Macz. I am 19 years old, and I live in the village of Las Mercedes Pasacuc, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. I am studying for a two-year nursing degree, at the Galileo University in Ixcan Playa Grande, Quiche.

I grew up in poverty; most of my clothes that I wore were torn.  When I studied in elementary school some of my classmates made fun of me because of the old clothes I wore. My father works and sacrifices himself in the fields to support us. I still remember that when I was a child we had a very humble wooden house and without good living conditions, because when it rained, water would enter the house.  I would arrive at school in my brother’s sandals, because I had none to wear. 

My life has been very difficult, so I will not stop striving for my education to be able to change this reality. I help support my family to buy clothes, food, medicines, only by working in the fields, since here in Guatemala we cannot get a job with just having a diversificado [high school] diploma, My life is very difficult because of the work that I do along with my studies, but still I will continue to try hard day after day. 

In basico ;middle school, I studied in Nimlajococ, a village that is close to my village; about an hour away by foot. I always walked to school because there was no transportation. I studied for two weeks at a time, from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. I always brought food for my lunch because I did not have money to buy lunch. The two weeks that I was off I used to earn my money to pay for my tuition or necessities. 

Some of the great difficulties that I have faced in my academic life are the discouragement that some of my relatives give me, the lack of financial resources, and the doubts I have without being able to question anyone, because there are no people who have [higher levels of] academic education where I live. The only one I can question is Google. These days it is also difficult for me to get transportation to get to my practical training. I always walk thirty minutes on foot to get a bus, and I always get up at 3:00 in the morning. 

In the beginning of May the theoretical part of my degree was finished; now I am already in hospital practice. What I do is attend to patients, take vital signs, start IV’s, order equipment used by doctors, and other routine activities in the hospital. I chose this career because for me the most important thing is life, more important than material things. That is why I am interested in taking care of my own life and the lives of others. I am also interested in taking care of the lives of animals. 

My goal is to graduate with a licenciatura [bachelor’s degree] in medicine and to help my family by giving talks on self-care. I want to help my community through supporting other young people so that they can get ahead in their education, and give talks explaining the importance of education. The change of educational authorities for the elementary school is also approaching, and I am sure that the community expects a lot from me because I am the first and the only one who is a student at university in my community. I am willing to collaborate in whatever way I can to help my community. 

In five years I want: to have a job so that I can help my parents financially and help my younger brother so that he can continue his studies, to serve my community in whatever way I am capable, and to be surrounded by professionals so that I won’t give up, because those who have achieved high academic levels always motivate you. 

What I have to do to achieve what I want in five years is to be honest, punctual, responsible, and above all to continue with my academics; these are four fundamental things in my life that will take me very far. 

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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