By Abigail Cukier
Hamilton hairstylist Sheny Rodriguez can feel the fruition of her dream getting closer.
Her organization, Cantabal Health and Education, is on its way to reaching a major fundraising milestone and seeing the construction of three classrooms in the village of San Lucas, Ixcan, Guatemala.
Rodriguez, with the help of volunteers in Canada and Guatemala, has been working and fundraising to build a school in San Lucas for five years. With the help of donors, Rodriguez has raised $20,000. She is hoping to raise another $10,000 to be able to take construction to the next level.
To aid in fundraising, CHE is holding Raise the Roof, a gala fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. at The Pearl Company Arts Centre, 16 Steven St., Hamilton. The evening will feature the 17-piece Jazz Connection Band with global fusion cuisine by chef Gary Santucci.
The community of San Lucas has donated the land for the school and labour needed for construction, formed a community council to oversee the process and completed preliminary work and planning.
The project manager is the lone survivor of a massacre in his village, he managed to finish high school in his thirties and he wants to help children gain an education.
A native Mayan, Rodriguez has held numerous cut-a-thons at Best Hair Salon in Stoney Creek, dances and dinners and has been helped by many local schoolchildren. As part of the project, Rodriguez also runs workshops for children in local schools on leadership, community and about the Mayan culture.
Rodriguez left Guatemala at 14, when Alda and Kino Nardi, a Hamilton couple helping build a church near her village offered to take her in so she could have a chance at a better life.
Rodriguez came to Canada with the Nardis in 1990 at the urging of her mother who saw it as a way for her daughter to escape her country with a history of civil war, massacres and kidnappings.
Rodriguez decided to forego university after high school so she could work and send money back home to educate her brothers and sisters.
Right now, many children in San Lucas don't go to school because of the expense of travelling to another town or due to concerns over the safety of travelling. But Rodriguez's mom, who raised eight children, is a big believer that education is the key to everything.
“Only a lucky few residents of San Lucas receive formal education higher than Grade 6. Even if parents can afford the high costs for each child, they can continue only to Grade 9," Rodriguez said. "The government supports a local primary school, but older students have to travel a great distance to continue their education. That daily journey is extremely unsafe, especially for young women.
"Many adults are illiterate and cannot sign their own name on legal documents and it is not uncommon to find adults learning alongside the children.”
When complete, the school for grades seven to nine will have three classrooms, a kitchen, teacher's room, courtyard, washrooms, office and library. Solar panels will provide energy and a reservoir will supply the water.
A group of engineering students from the University of Western Ontario has agreed to help CHE plan construction. They are now completing soil testing to see if it can be used as a more sustainable building material, along with cement.
"I feel grateful. This started with an idea, a feeling to want to create change," Rodriguez said. "I shared it with other people who agreed it was a good thing to do. Now, we are creating community in two places, here and over there. If we all took care of each other, no one would suffer."
Rodriguez urges anyone interested in supporting the project to see it as an investment, not a donation.
"You are investing in these children's well-being and creating better lives for them, which is going to create a better life for you, since we are all connected," she said.
CHE is holding Raise the Roof, a gala fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. at The Pearl Company Arts Centre, 16 Steven St., Hamilton. The evening will feature the 17-piece Jazz Connection Band with global fusion cuisine by chef Gary Santucci.
Tickets are $100 each and there are only 100 available. For information, tickets or to make a donation, call (905) 308-7450, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cheprojects.