The Capitan Victor Manuel Barrios Free School
The fourteen year old Capitan Victor Manuel Barrios Elementary School in Guatemala City takes in kids who would not be going to school otherwise. Starting with a handful in 2000, we now have 90 six to seventeen year olds studying in five classes. 5th & 6th grades are together. Each of the children has their sad story, the reason they need us. Very few have a man in the house. Some live with aunts or grandmothers. A number of siblings come from multiple fathers, none living with them. All come from poverty. Over seventy-five percent come to us over the age government schools will accept for first grade students. Due mostly to their poverty and he eventual need to work but also some cases of incredible family disfunction, many will not graduate. Nonetheless, a number of our students have made it through high school and a few are now in college. We strive to prepare those who will not be graduating for all facets of their future lives as well as, when possible, getting them into night school programs
The school, located in the huge working class and poor Bethania Peninsula near the center of Guatemala City, is free. We provide all our students' academic needs plus medical and dental care and once a year new clothes and shoes. All have their personal toothbrush and use it every day. A high nutrition drink starts their school day. Since over half come each day with empty stomachs, we hope soon to provide breakfast. That’s actually why we’re looking to sell pictures, to support that program.
When a child graduates, their secondary educational expenses are covered as long as they continue to pass. Once again, due to government school age restrictions, we have to put many of our older graduates in private schools. Then, we help with university expenses for those who go on. The school program features all the important academic subjects plus art, music and physical education. Art includes photography and special after school training for those with particular talent. We also participate in community affairs like inter-school sports and important celebrations.
The vast majority of our kids are of Mayan extraction with several speaking different Mayan tongues. Rather than march in the annual Independence Day parade in Spanish inspired military attire, our students show respect for their heritage by participating as pre-Columbian Mayans. It's given our kids a certain amount of notoriety in the community and invitations to take part in other area events.
Over 95% of funding for the school is provided by a local commercial kitchen equipment, parts and service company. The rest is from a few small donors, money mostly used for art, music and extracurricular needs. We don’t use fund raisers or have any paid executives. All the proceeds from sales we make from this website will to actually operating the school. By the way, our kids don't just study, there's fun too like the annual Carnival Day and Day of the Child celebrations or a visit to the National Museum, such as the one pictured below right, a few years ago when we had fewer students and could afford uniforms.. By the way, the girl in the middle of the museum visiting trio on the left, Nancy Lopez, sister of one of our grads currently in college, is now in her second year of secondary school at the top government junior high for girls, accepted overage due to her high grades and excellent character. It looks like she will again be their top student this year. We are very proud of her.
We invite any of you who wish to come and visit us. Sure, there are a lot of stories about the dangers of coming to Guatemala but be assured, the Bethania Peninsula where the school is located is a very safe area, one of the safest. We don’t have to lock our car door when parking anywhere in the area. But beware, most folks who meet our kids usually end up helping. One pair, Carlos and Patrice Valladares of New Orleans, music producers and musicians (Ecoslatinos.org), come down a couple of times a year, sometimes bringing pro musicians to perform for the kids, once forming our students into a sort of chorus and having them sing at a downtown festival then recording over half of them in a fancy studio as the chorus for a selection on a CD. That’s Carlos at the far end of the studio. They’re coming back in November to put them in a music video.
Who is Capitan Victor Manuel Barrios? That's him on the right above. In 1978, an Aviateca (now defunct national airline) plane was on the way at night from Miami with a load of cows and horses. Over the gulf, it lost one of its four jet engines. The highly respected and much experienced pilot, Air Force Captain Barrios, radioed ahead to turn on all airport lights as he would be coming straight in. Someone accidentally turned them all off. Captain Barrios had to take a turn around the airport and lost another engine. He could have tried for the airport but thousands of homes lay under his flight path. Ahead, he spotted an empty area, three darkened soccer fields. Rather than risk the lives of so many, he gave his own life and that of his co-pilot doing a nose dive into those fields. His story was in the newspapers for three days then forgotten. We've never forgotten that great Guatemalan hero. We've also heard stories about how he saved the passengers on a flight some years before that with another defective aircraft, making a miracle landing in a valley. He’s been described as the best pilot of his time by several. We've named the school and four soccer leagues after him and make everyone in those programs know who he was and the great things he has done.