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Graduation gift fosters education appreciation
Guatemala WEB
West Forsyth High grad Katie Jarver took a chance to give back during a recent trip to Guatemala. Below, photos of some of the students she was able to meet on her trip. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

The money Katie Jarger received for her high school graduation in May will go toward paying for further education — for a student hundreds of miles away.

A trip working with a nonprofit in Guatemala, which was a gift, inspired the West Forsyth High graduate to pay it forward.

Like her aunt who brought her on the trip to celebrate her milestone, Jarger decided to sponsor a student.

She remembers seeing the two students her aunt sponsors running to her through the streets of Antigua with smiles and hugs in thanks for the opportunity to continue their education.

“I want to be able to do that for someone. I can, so I should,” Jarger said. “The money I’m using from graduating high school will help someone go through one year of high school or middle school.”

She traveled for a week in late July with a group of volunteers working with Cooperative for Education, whose mission is to help Guatemalan schoolchildren break the cycle of poverty through education.

Since 1996, CoEd has worked to accomplish this “by creating self-sustaining textbook, computer center and literacy programs within impoverished community schools,” according to a news release from the organization.

Jarger said on her weeklong trip, called the Snapshot Tour, she traveled to several schools that participate in the program to bring more books and computers and check on the students’ progress.

The joy and gratitude of the students for the supplies was amazing, she said.

“I’ve never seen a child get more excited about a pencil case,” she said. “Seeing their faces light up was the most inspiring thing I saw.”

The trip was Jarger’s first outside of the U.S. The look at the outside nation’s education system was nothing like what she experienced in her schools.

Working is the top priority in Guatemala, she said, so students often don’t finish more than a few years of school, and teachers aren’t always qualified to be educators.

For Jarger’s aunt, Michele MacMaster, the trip with CoEd was her seventh, and she sees more progress in the schools each time she returns.

“I can see the difference in the kids — in their reading — and they’re very proud of that,” MacMaster said.

The culture of reading program within the organization promotes literacy, which she said schools traditionally didn’t start teaching until third grade, when some students leave to start working.

Schools participating in the program receive training on how to teach the children to read earlier, as well as plenty of books, MacMaster said.

She got involved with the organization after her husband took a trip with a Rotary Club.

MacMaster now does fundraisers in her Alpharetta community and likes to take family members on the tours to experience the culture of the nation — and the culture of giving back.

“It opens your eyes up to what other people have in the world, or don’t have,” she said. “Nobody taught me that until I was quite a bit older.”

She gave Jarger the trip as a graduation present to give her that experience and a gift “that she would remember.”

Jarger said experiences such as a home visit gave her an amazing look at a different culture and a lesson in comparison to her own life.

The women taught her how to make corn tortillas, and a gift for the children brought a smile to her face.

“It’s like Christmas morning, them seeing a bubble being blown,” Jarger said. “[The trip] really taught me not to take everything for granted.”

She has big plans for her next year, including hopefully another trip to Guatemala to visit with the student she will sponsor.