This story has been on my heart and in my mind constantly since it happened and is a perfect picture of someone hungry for an education. Cesar wakes at 4 every morning to make the walk to school along trails from a village. He arrives each morning, cleans his shoes and is the most attentive student that we have. He has a hunger and thirst for knowledge and has become a leader among the students. I often see him explaining the day’s lessons to other students using terms and concepts that they can relate to. During recess he will walk around with his notebook open studying and reviewing concepts aloud. When I am speak to the students in English, be will pull out his notebook, ask me to repeat what I just said, write it in his notebook phonetically and then write out the translation. When we offer extra tutoring sessions, he will walk the five hours it takes him to and fro, for an opportunity to learn more on a Saturday or Sunday. If he only had one more day to live on this earth, I’m afraid he might spend it learning. That defines Cesar.
On our last day of exams, most of the kids were playing soccer and sitting around relieved that their exams were over. I noticed Cesar over to the side with his head in his hands looking as if he were lost. I sat down beside him and simply asked if everything was OK. He looked at me, dug through his bag and pulled out his notebook. With a sparkle in his eyes and sincerity in his voice he asked, “Can you give me some math problems for the week?” I looked at him and laughed. For a week the students had done nothing but study. I was sure he slept no more than five hours on any given night. Any student in their right mind would not be asking for more work. Yet he was serious. When I told him he didn’t need to do study that week, his brain needed a break, he asked if I had a book he could have for the week. And not just any book, he wanted a physics book. What seventeen year old wants to read a physics book during their vacation? Yet, he begged for it. I asked if he had ever read a book before and he said no. And so I went into the school and came back with two books, one on physics and one that was a lighter read. He spent the next hour thumbing through the book, looking at the pictures, reading the information and was mesmerized. We eventually had to tell him to go home because we were all leaving.
Upon returning from break, I asked Cesar if he read the books and he was excited to tell me he had read both of them. His next question was if I had more. He continued to tell me what he had learned and how much he liked the books. Today I walked into the school at dusk and found Cesar in the classroom with two of the boys that struggle with math. He had problems written on the board and was conducting his own teaching session. His enthusiasm for learning is difficult to quench.
Cesar’s aspirations are to be a doctor. Yet, is that even possible? Can a boy who doesn’t even have work clothes or a bicycle make it in the Guatemalan system? Does he really know what it takes? Education is not free. It comes with a price. Many families sacrifice all they have on the hopes of one child. He is that one child. I have put some serious thought into how we are going to raise up leaders through our school after a man was here from San Pablo University. He talked about the fact that he was that child – the one who didn’t have shoes, a means to buy what he needed for school, or the money for education. But another man saw his potential, saw his drive and provided scholarships for him so that he could pursue an education. He now is providing the programs of education for others, just like Cesar, who have creative, bright minds. Cesar has the drive and perseverance to go beyond. He walks further than any of our students every day, works within the work program, and often leaves the school after dark at night to walk the two and a half hours home and then study. He has proven himself, never complains, and oozes with eagerness.
At the end of the first phase of classes the students had to write an essay tying the movie “Gifted Hands” into the challenges that they have had to face in the first phase of classes. Hear his heart as Cesar wrote:
I tried many times to change or achieve my goals but I have realized I cannot change or improve without the help of God . I see others who can do things easier than me and many times believe that I cannot achieve. I do not know why they get it and I do not. I have struggled much in my past. Now I believe I need to keep going forward knowing that what has often been impossible now is possible because now He hears me when I pray. Now is the time for me to overcome the things that were once difficult for me. I have learned that we often neglect good things for things that have no benefit for the future. Things that instead destroy our lives. The time I have is important. I have to have a good attitude if I want to move forward. It is now that I will learn better because my help comes from God who is the top and the owner of the wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
In reality, Cesar doesn’t realize his own ability. Many times it takes him twice as long to solve a problem, yet what he doesn’t realize is that his classmates aren’t able to do the work and have only completed half of the exercise. He perseveres until he arrives at the end. And so as this next phases of classes gets underway and the intensity increases, I am reminded of many former students I had. Each of them unique, each of them capable in their own way. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to believe in you so that you can believe in yourself. Students who have what it takes and were told by others or their culture that they can’t do it…. When in reality they can. They just need someone standing behind them reminding them they are able. And that’s why we’re here.
Cesar “coaching” the other students (in the middle)