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Retired teacher does good in Guatemala

BY COLBURN MOWRY

Intern

Working with children in Guatemala is an opportunity most people never have. If the opportunity even came, most would be steered away by fabled accounts of drug trafficking and gang violence throughout the country. But for Karen Hedrick, working with youngsters in Guatemala is a gift that keeps on giving.

Since she retired in 2005 from Bird Rock Elementary, Hedrick has voyaged to remote areas in Guatemala to promote a local school and bring in the ever-growing number of donated items. After she “fell in love with the school” in Tzancha, Guatemala, she said, she has felt the urge to return numerous times per year.

Hedrick’s journeys in Guatemala started when she was invited to go with friends from Penn State. One of the places she went on her first trip was Tzancha, an agrarian village just outside the city of Santiago.

“All of the children in Tzancha come from coffee field families, who work long hours to support their children through school, along with many other things,” Hedrick said.

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When she first visited the local school, there were no books. A mere whiteboard and some chalk were the only way the young students could be taught. After her most recent trip, which she just returned from, there are a total of 2,000 books, all used by teachers and students.

One of the many things Hedrick had to overcome was the language barrier. In Tzancha, the natives speak a local Mayan dialect known as Tzutuhil, just one of the 22 Mayan dialects in Guatemala.

“Ninety-nine percent of the students are Mayan, and they still learn Spanish as a second language,” Hedrick said.

Because all of the books are in Spanish, knowing the language is mandatory for a student’s success in school.

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But Hedrick certainly has not forgotten her roots. She still has a pen pal writing program with students at Bird Rock Elementary. Hedrick relates the language barrier she has in the Guatemalan school with Bird Rock Elementary students. The students in the local elementary school quickly pick up on the Spanish the letters are written in, something that just might come in handy for any San Diegan, she noted.

Hedrick will return to Tzancha in January for a trip that will span three months. She will teach music and English to the local students, and continue to organize the book collection the school is gathering.