Targeting high school students is critical in this region of Guatemala. Prior to 2010, only a few primary schools were available in the Polochic Valley, and the ones that were available were very poorly attended -- particularly by girls. Community leaders met and discussed the need for continued education past elementary school.
CHOICE helped to organize the community leadership and assisted in the construction of this region’s first and only middle school.
Access to a middle school boosted primary school attendance for both boys and girls. However, this step in the right direction was not enough, as children were completing middle school with very few options for higher education. As such, many left their homes and families to find low paying jobs in a foreign city or stayed in their community where they married and started families very early in life. Both of these options result in youth who are left without the skills needed to support themselves and/or their family, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
So in 2014, we built Sikaab’e - a technical school found on 50 acres of land owned by CHOICE in a remote village in Guatemala. Named in Q’eqchi’, Sikaab’e means “Seek your Path” and allows students living in extreme poverty to realize their full potential. Sikaab'e provides these youth with a next step in continuing their educational path. With vocational training, they can obtain the skills they need to find meaningful work and place them on a path of self-reliance.
Sikaab’e is a place where a spirit of entrepreneurship, motivation, and innovation is fully supported. Located a 10-hour drive away from Guatemala City, most of the youth in the communities surrounding Sikaab’e do not have the opportunity for an education past the 8th grade, depriving them of a trade -- which denies them an exit strategy from extreme poverty. By providing vocational training, villagers can stay in their communities, find a job, or even create their own small businesses. The purpose of Sikaab'e is to provide education and training to all surrounding communities of about 15,000 people while targeting two specific populations -- farmers and high school students (ages 14-18). The mission of Sikaab'e is to provide students and farmers a world-class agricultural/vocational education by focusing on the acquisition of skills as well as knowledge by:
- Providing classroom and practical training in vocational and agricultural fields
- Creating profitable businesses within the school as a ‘real world’ training grounds for entrepreneurs
- Creating sustainability for the school by generating sufficient profits through the entrepreneurial activities of the school
Sikaab'e provides meaningful opportunities for postsecondary education for both young men and women in the region. This vocational school helps to break the cycle of poverty by reducing premature teen parenthood and giving students a relevant career track.
Accreditation and courses offered:
Sikaab'e partners with INTECAP, a nationally-certified accreditation agency, to teach practical and income-generating vocations. With this expertise, students can find gainful employment and help lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Students can also bring this new-found knowledge back into their communities and share it with the others.
Courses taught at Sikaab’e include masonry, welding, electrical, culinary arts, hospitality, carpentry, small engine repair, and mechanics. A host of agricultural certificates are also offered including animal husbandry, family gardening, crop rotation and diversification, cardamom and cacao production, and sustainable forestry.
Sikaab’e also serves as a boarding school for students. Students live in the dormitories, attend classes, and work in the onsite businesses to supplement the cost of their room and board. The students will choose a trade and gain specific skills in the areas mentioned above. In three months’ time, students graduate with a management certificate in the specific business curriculums mastered and have a trade they can use to bring real income-generating opportunities to their families.
Economic Development and Sustainability:
This innovative technical school not only provides life-changing opportunities to villagers living in extreme poverty, but it also is sustainable. This school serves as a place of education and a place of business. Onsite businesses, such as the ones described below, cover the operating costs of running the school. Student’s tuition payments cover the cost of educators and materials.
Sikaab’e has a chicken business that works at 90% capacity, with a chicken mortality rate of 2.25%. This mortality rate is lower than the 5% standard mortality rate in egg production. The quality of eggs produced through this business exceeds the quality of other products in the region, thus improving the nutrition of people in the area and providing Sikaab’e with a competitive edge. Furthermore, they are the largest egg producer in the Polochic Valley, producing over 350 eggs per day!
Sikaab’e has a healthy improved breed PIG production program. They currently house 33 sows and are using artificial insemination in their breeding program. They average 10 live piglets per litter and are able to wean the pigs in less than 30 days. They sell weaned pigs at one-month-old and mature pigs at 6 months to local markets to generate additional income. The center also invites professionals to come to the facility to do training for interested local members of the surrounding communities near Sikaab’e. Topics include animal care, vaccinations, nutrition, and marketing.
Over 20,000 plants have been planted as part of the 18-hectare nursery garden at Sikaab’e. This garden includes 7 hectares of cacao and 11 hectares of other species like cardamom, patchouli, citrus, maracuya, peppers, and more.
These cabins (cabañas) are separate structures (not connected to the school) that house guests for training seminars, expeditions, as well as travelers/eco-tourists that regularly pass through the area. During peak season around 30 backpackers pass through a day. The cabins are small structures that each contain two bunk beds, a dresser, and chairs. Students from the culinary arts course provide meals for those passing through/staying in the cabins. Thus, their culinary offerings will generate income for the school (promoting sustainability) and provide culinary arts students and graduates with both work and real-world experience.
Cardamom farming serves as a major source of income for people in this region of Guatemala. However, farmers often do not have the necessary resources to sell Cardamom at a fair price, since they depend on intermediaries to buy their green (fresh) cardamom before it expires. By providing cardamom dryers to the community, farmers can independently dry their product (without the middlemen), thus increasing their personal income and the shelf life of the product.
A Personal Story
Arturo Coc is a Guatemalan student from the rural community of Sepamac. Regarding his experience at Sikaab'e, he said: “The things I am learning here at Sikaab'e will serve me for a long time! It’s not just for tomorrow or for the coming months. What I’m learning now will benefit me for my entire life! I feel so grateful to be a part of this CHOICE program. I thank God every day for the opportunity that I have to move forward in my life… and to learn valuable skills that will help me provide for my future family.”