Saturday, October 22, 2005
Huge success story in Toledo District Indian hills.

I was really impressed by this article by Valentino
Shal of the Mayan traditional Mountain Villages of the
remote Toledo District.

Taken from the Belize Times

( I usually re-write and condense such things. But this story has so much human interest and is a success story that is self generated, that I use it verbatim with no comment. )


By Valentino Shal

This past weekend I made a special trip to Blue Creek,
Toledo to visit the Tumul Ki'n Center of Learning. A
group of us back in 2002 had decided that we wanted to
create an institution that provided relevant education
to the children of rural Toledo that was sensitive to
their culture. When we inaugurated the school a lot of
people predicted our failure but what I saw this
weekend has proved the naysayers quite wrong. Tumul
Ki'n is going strong and has made significant progress
over the 3 years it has been in existence.

Most of the people in rural areas made their
livelihoods in agriculture yet this was not the basis
of the education of our young people. We have so much
land yet we don't produce much from it and we want to
change that. The rural poverty being experienced can
be reversed if we enhance our agricultural production
and there is so much potential for doing so. The
conventional educational system handicaps our children
in that they are unable to return to their communities
to work with their own resources but become dependent
rather than independent. Also, Belizean society acts
as if though Western philosophy is the only thought
that can order our lives and we believe otherwise. We
have a system that has been in existence way before
the West came into being and not only that, but
supported one of the greatest civilizations of the
Western world. This is not a conflict of thought or
even a clash of cultures. Rather it is the
understanding derived from negotiations between our
way of life and Western influence that we seek.

Tumul K'in is a learn-produce-earn kind of
institution. It is not an institution that does not
discriminate us for being who we are. It is an
institution that empowers us to be whatever it is that
we decide we want to be and to do things on our own
terms. We are promoting independence not dependence.
We have children from all over the district who reside
at the school by 10 day sessions. The children are
allowed to return home to help their families
especially during planting or harvesting season. We
ensure that they are in school when they can and we
also ensure that they are not institutionalized away
from their families. Part of the education of the
students of Tumul Ki'n we believe must also be done at
home. The father must pass on his knowledge to his son
and the son must not be deprived of this simply
because he has to be educated.

I was told that students from TCC and Julian Cho made
fun of our students because, while they ride the same
school bus sometimes, Tumul Ki'n students don't wear
pressed uniforms. There is no need for uniforms. Life
is not uniform. Rather it is complex and dynamic.
However, the students of Tumul Ki'n now have a feather
in their hat. In the recent Food and Nutrition Contest
they captured 1st Place beating out both TCC and
Julian Cho. There is learning going on "back there"
after all. Wearing uniforms for many children across
Belize is one of the many things that inhibit them
from going to school as uniforms are quite expensive
these days. The students who come to our school are
also not faced with prohibitive school fees. They only
pay $150 per year! Not only that but they can pay in
kind. A duck, a chicken, a pig, a sheep, a cow, a bag
of rice, corn or bean. Seedlings to plant at the
school. Whatever it is that they can bring. Sometimes
the parents come and help out at the school. The
school has been making significant impacts on the
lives of the children but also the communities. They
have one of the strongest PTAs in the district.

Today there are 45 students at the school. Eight of
them are girls. At first it was hard to get girls to
come because of the obvious traditional barriers but
the girls who are at the school now are not your
typical Mayan girls. They are radical. I was told by
one of the teachers that at first they were shy but
now they ask to participate in construction projects
along with the boys. They drive tractors and do
everything else the boys do. One of the girls am told
is now raising her own sheep back in her village.
Besides the regular classes in Mathematics, Science,
English and Computer they have specialized classes in
Marketing, Business Management, and Agro-processing.
They also have classes in traditional areas such as
wood work and mechanics. In addition to this they have
classes in Qe'qchi Maya. There are a few non-Maya
students there and they are learning to speak our
local language. In class they are free to express
themselves in Mopan or Qe'qchi. Their languages are
not discriminated against as the experience is in
other local high schools. Why should we have to give
up our language just to be educated?

The cultural component is quite strong at the school.
Besides the Maya language classes their school is
organized according to Mayan institutions. For
instance, they don't have class Presidents but class
Alcalde and the clean up day they have is called
Fajina which is of course organized by the Alcaldes.
This way, we are reinforcing traditional systems of
authority inside the school so that our school is not
alien to our community and our education not alien to
our way of life. Of course the students through this
means also develop leadership skills. On Sundays they
have a free day on which they can pursue their own
interest such as sports, music (marimba) or cooking
and so on. You might think that we are insulating our
children but that is not so. Actually we are doing the
opposite. Only when you appreciate yourself can you
appreciate things outside of yourself. On their Talent
Night they are asked to portray the cultures of their
society. Besides this we expose them to the world
through the wonderful technology of satellite

At the school they have their own rice field, chicken
project, sheep, bee hives, and cacao farm. All the
subjects are made relevant through practical
applications. The Math they learn for instance must be
useful and adequate to meet the needs of their
practical work. Math as a subject is not taught in
isolation. A lot of times you hear students say they
learn Algebra for no reason as they don't use it in
their lives. Well things are not like that at Tumul
K'in. A food processing lab was recently inaugurated.
The students are producing jams and honey which they
now sell locally in supermarkets with their own proud
logo. Besides having their own computer lab, Tumul
Ki'n will be taking to the airwaves shortly through
Tumul K'in Radio supported by UNESCO. The equipment
for the radio station are in the country and only need
to be assembled. The students are already undergoing
training in radio programming. Imagine the pride of
parents who will hear the voice of their own children
coming from the little box. Children whom this society
had no concern for and relegated them to the margins.
TUMUL K'IN is truly living up to is name by bring a
new day to rural Toledo. I give my full support to Dr.
Filiberto Penados who has committed himself to make
this happen at whatever cost. Also, thanks to the many
people who have been involved with us including the
Taiwanese Mission, Ministry of National Development,
Irish Government, PACT and GEF among others. The work
is not yet complete but we have shown that if you act
on your dreams, it can become real. If you wish to
support Tumul K'in you may contact them at
[email protected]