Ashdown on Guatemala School Board – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Ashdown on Guatemala School Board

Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown recently joined the board of directors for a charitable organization called “Education for the Children” that operates a school in Guatemala, Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza. The organization was looking for an educator to join the board and Ashdown had an existing relationship with the school.

“I have been working with the school through my research for years now, and I’m excited to be able work with them more closely to achieve their goals,” says Ashdown.

As a member of the board, he will participate in monthly meetings, most of which will be conducted virtually through Skype or by phone as board members hail from a number of countries. Their focus is helping the school achieve its goals.

Escuela Proyecto La Esperanza is a private school where the enrollment is derived from donations, not tuition. The school is committed to providing educational opportunities for a population Ashdown describes as the “poorest of the poor, those with the least opportunities or alternatives.” To be certain the students are truly in need, the application process includes home visits by staff prior to acceptance. Once enrolled, the school also provides students and families with social welfare services, such as legal services, medical care assistance, and the provision of water filters for families of students, as well as lunch and two snacks a day for the children during school. The teachers are local Guatemalan instructors or volunteers who come for a short time to help.

“My role will be more one of measuring outcomes,” explains Ashdown. “For example, they have been providing water filters and containers to the children – many of whom frequently suffered dehydration – so they could drink throughout the day. They have not, however, been able to analyze the outcomes to see if school performance, weight, health and other factors have improved as a result. My role will be to help them determine this type of information.”

In the summer of 2012, Ashdown visited the school as one of three primary research projects he worked on in the country. While there, he gave disposable cameras to 25 teenagers, asking them to take 10 pictures of things that symbolize religion for them. That fall, he asked 25 teenagers in Geneva to do the same thing and used this information in his coursework, working with HWS students to code the photos and examine them to make cultural comparisons.

“HWS students help with the data once I bring it back, and I’ve used the information I gathered in Guatemala as data for class projects,” says Ashdown. “One of my motivations for joining the board is that it opens opportunities for students to be involved in ways in which they’re interested, such as volunteering for two or three weeks in the summer, or setting up a fundraising program on campus.”

He first worked in Guatemala nearly 13 years ago, but has returned numerous times over the course of the last eight years for research and outreach efforts. Most of his research deals with racism between the Mayan Indigenous groups and the Ladino (mestizo) group in Guatemala.

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