Fighting for Literacy in Guatemala’s Highlands – Interview with Child Aid’s CEO, Nancy Press

Global Grandmothers President, Diana McDonough sat down with the CEO of Child Aid, Nancy Press, to get a sense of a non-profit which embraces the same values you do, and with your help, is putting them to work for kids.  

Diana interviewed Nancy in her Portland, Oregon office on August 29, 2017.  Child Aid is a Global Grandmothers recommended non-profit.


What does Child Aid do and where does it do it? 

We work in 71 schools – soon to be 100 – in Guatemala’s indigenous Central Highlands, helping thousands of children learn to read. Each school partners with us for a 4 year period. The teachers train in our Reading for Life program and the school receives a library.

I understand you are Child Aid’s co-founder. How did you get started doing this?

I was trained as a cultural anthropologist at Duke so I’ve long been interested in other cultures. Professionally I pursued this interest with post-doctoral grants from the National Institute of Health and others.

In the early 1990’s on a visit to Guatemala for an intensive training in Spanish, I visited public schools operating on a shoestring and met indigenous students with little chance for self-improvement. I had been wanting to do something to honor my father, a deep believer in education and a prime influence in my life who had died prematurely. In his memory, my husband and I decided to begin Child Aid, an educational program for Guatemala’s schools which we hoped would offer real opportunity.

What is unique about the students you teach?

In the indigenous highlands, the typical home language is of ancient Mayan origin — Kichée, Kaqchikel, or T’ztujil — all languages that are not written. Often school is the first place a student sees written language, or hears Spanish.

The government of Guatemala provides little training for primary school teachers and any innovations they develop rarely make it out to the indigenous highlands where Child Aid works. No surprise – more than 60% of the indigenous population is illiterate. Only 4 of 10 students reach the 6th grade. There is a subsistence economy. Life is hard and short. Parents pick coffee berries to earn a living, carry firewood on their backs, and send their children to school hoping to prepare them for something better.

What do the schools you serve need?

In school after school, there are very few textbooks or books of any kind. Often there is not even a piece of paper or whiteboard where words can be written. Typically teachers have a seventh-grade reading level. We wanted to change this, but in a way that made the change welcomed, useful, and replicable.

What does your program offer?

We work with schools where the leadership (superintendent, principal, etc.) want our training for their staff. 

Then we mutually commit to a partnership of 4 years. Our model relies on training and in-class practice. Each school receives two rounds of the following each year:

  • Day-long workshop for all teacher
  • Follow-up demonstration in each teacher’s class with a lesson taught by the Child Aid trainer to model the techniques
  • Second follow-up demonstration in each teacher’s class with a lesson taught by the teacher-in-training using the new techniques

The school also receives a library with books at the beginning of the 4-year partnership. The library is expanded each year so that by the end of the 4 year period there is an average of 7 books per student in the library.

Who leads your training?

We have 25 paid staff in Guatemala. Twenty-three of these are Guatemalan indigenous people themselves and they lead the trainings.

Are you seeing results?

Yes!  We just finished a case-control, independent evaluation which showed that students in Child Aid schools made 65% more progress in reading comprehension in one school year than similar students in non-Child Aid schools. We were very pleased.

How can we help?

Our program takes resources. Any donation you can make will help us change the lives of our wonderful Guatemalan students. Click here to learn more.


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