The Power of Education in San Lucas

Felipe Bajan is the Assistant Principal at Colegio Monseñor Gregorio Schaffer in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. Felipe studied at the school as a child, and later, he taught fifth and sixth grade at the school for 20 years before becoming Assistant Principal. He serves 650 children from age four through sixth grade, and almost all of them receive scholarships based on financial need.

On this Give to the Max Day, Felipe is telling us his story so that we can raise $6,000 for the school — the salary for one teacher in San Lucas. This school is one of the cornerstones of the San Lucas Mission because we believe education is the foundation for lasting social change. Read on to learn more about Felipe, and why he believes in the power of the colegio.

What was your childhood like?

I was raised on a sugar cane plantation in Quixaya. There, I attended first and second grade. Then there were no more grades, so I couldn’t continue to study. My situation was difficult, because my dad was a plantation worker and answered to the plantation owner, who said that after second grade, I should start working on the plantation. My sister took second grade over and over again until she was 14. When she turned 14, they told her, “There’s nothing more we can offer you here. There’s not anything this education can do for you, so it’s best that you find a husband.”

Many times I went out to work sugar cane with my dad, and one day, he told me “This life is not for you. It’s suffering. Some day an opportunity will come up for you.” And it did. One day, Father John and Father Greg came to the plantation promoting the school in San Lucas. I was 9 years old. My dad loved me a lot, but he said for them to take me to school. Father John agreed to take me home to see my family once per week when he would go to the plantation.

Coming to the new school from the public school on the plantation was an enormous difference. The public school used corporal punishment. They hit us, they used rulers on us, they pulled us by the ear and the hair. But here, there were wonderful teachers. They loved their work, they were kind, and they were passionate about teaching. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. So I continued studying, and in 1962, I celebrated my graduation in the school’s first sixth grade graduating class.

Why teach?

Since I was a child, I felt called by God to be a priest. And Father John told me, “You will be a priest. But be very careful about women!” When I got older, I got a girlfriend. So I changed my mind. But my mentality of service didn’t change. I had always liked children, and I never liked to see them suffer or cry.

The vocation of a teacher is very interesting, to see how children develop, how they grow and change. That is wonderful. I didn’t gain much economically from teaching, but I gained a sense of satisfaction. I had to make many sacrifices to pursue my teaching degree, but it made me a stronger person.

My dream is that we become the model school – the best school in the town, the best school in the state, and perhaps the best school in the country. I work to learn the best educational methods and strategies from all around the world.

Our teachers work very hard, and we expect a lot from them. People come to see this school from other cities and states. And recently some educational representatives at the state level evaluated local schools for quality of education, and we were named the top school.

Why donate?

The development of a nation is carried on the backs of teachers. The teacher is the agent for change in every community. It’s a great responsibility. Teachers put their heart and soul into this work. Without teachers, there is no change.

Our job is not done when the children graduate from sixth grade here. Our job is done when they complete a professional degree and find a vocation. Many times we run into former students who graduated years ago. They are excited to see us and grateful for what we did for them.

Sometimes kids run into my office, excited to greet me. I ask them how they are and if they’ve eaten, and sometimes they haven’t. They’re hungry. And I give them my lunch and say, “Go ahead, eat.” I understand them, because that happened to me when I was a kid. I went hungry many times. Other times, I help them get a hair cut or a new pair of shoes.

I would like to thank the people who are considering donating. The funds that you donate, we work hard to make them count. This is not like a broken bag, where you drop something in the top, and it falls out the bottom. This money is something we will make multiply with our hard work. Your sacrifice will not be in vain. Our children need your donation.

Each year the Mission in San Lucas impacts the lives of over 25,000 people. Each dollar donated makes a difference in the life of someone Felipe and all the students he serves. To support Felipe, his teachers, and his students, please make your gift today. Thank you for your generosity.