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The van twists and winds through the breathtaking highlands of Guatemala. Far from our home base in San Marcos, we zoom along, screeching around heart-stopping turns, I tightly grip my seat hoping to keep my head from connecting violently with the ceiling, yet again. Head throbbing, I look out my window to see endless hills of emerald green jungle. Half an hour later they fade slowly into dusty highlands, tilled by ceaselessly toiling farmers who pause to wave at us as we go by; but they quickly return to their work, toiling in the hot sun to scrape together an existence for their families.

â–º  Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

Eventually, our driver screeches to a halt next to a short steep hill and a dirt path in the middle of nowhere. I look around, anxiously searching for the school we are supposed to visit.  Peeking over the edge of the precipice are two brightly clad little girls, no taller than my waist, staring at us with black eyes. I wave; they smile back, their small faces lighting up with giggles as they run away.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned vehicle, I enter their world: a world of color and light, of fiestas and music, of toil and tears, of hunger, and a yearning for the knowledge which is almost unattainable to the poor, rural, Guatemalan. The knowledge which could help them break the cycle of poverty. Walking up the dirt path, small children laugh and play around us. I wonder what they think of us, the foreigners, who may as well come from a completely different planet.

A whistle sounds and the children gather in a small square pushing us all along with them and helping us find seats. When all is calm and quiet a Guatemalan man, the head of the school, and his translator step onto a small platform.  He welcomes us warmly and  tells us about the wonderful program that has given these children a head start.

CoEd Guatemala is an organization with international support. Today, we're joining one of their tours in the tiny pueblo of Pixabaj. CoEd chooses schools in the poorest parts of rural Guatemala and provides “culture of reading” and computer programs through generous donations. The best part: it's sustainable. Each participating family in the school pays less than a dollar a month to rent their textbooks. The money is then saved and after five years the school has enough to replace the textbooks.

Without these programs families are often forced to choose between providing school or food. What would you choose?

The real problem is that without the resources necessary to learn, the cycle of poverty in Guatemala will never be broken and many Guatemalans will never be able to afford both school and food. CoEd Guatemala is a force for good in the battle to break the cycle of poverty because they enable Guatemalans to access better jobs.

Heading back to Lago de Atitlan, I can't stop thinking of the joy in the children's eyes as they received their new textbooks. One girl gave a speech, thanking CoEd Guatemala with all her heart. Her large brown eyes shone with hope as she voiced her wish to become a doctor. I hope with all my heart she succeeds. I realize how lucky I am. I've never had to choose between food for today, or schooling. I've never lived in a tin shack, or gotten up before the sun to work tilling fields by hand.

It's the eyes of those children that drives me, now, to make this world a better place, starting with education.

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