Sometimes, a child does not have the opportunity to graduate from high school. Sometimes, a child does not have the chance to attend high school. Sometimes, a child's life takes a different path.
Mirian lives in a small home made of adobe. She helped to build it with her own hands. She lives there with her family. The kitchen is old-school, with a hard-packed earthen fire surface under the front porch area, where the bean pot bubbles all day long and the comal is ready for cooking tortillas. The smokey house is dark inside, with beds across the room, and a hammock from which the family watches a tiny TV. Mirian has had a hard life. She suffered tragic loss during the war. One of her sons died when he fell from a mango tree while picking mangoes.
One time, Mirian gave me a piece of white cloth on which she had stitched a bouquet of flowers with brightly colored yarn and the words, "hecho por Mirian" across the bottom. She's thoughtful that way, always inviting and sharing. She works hard, along with her man and her kids in their milpa - the small garden plot where they grow corn and beans and radishes. That milpa is their life, the source of food and income for the family.
Mirian cannot read. Neither can her man. Nor can her older children.
Ana is the youngest child. She was just starting school when we met her. Quiet and eager to laugh, Ana did well in school and eventually entered the scholarship program. She studied hard, and loved to try to learn English. "Como se llama?" she asked me once, holding up her new pet. "Puppy," I said. Puppy...puppy...we repeated back and forth. From then on the little dog has been known as "Puppy."
One day I was walking through the community, filming the pathways and the activities of a weekday morning. Ana wanted to come along - a little "mothering" instinct showing as she guided me around the "mean dogs." She told me all about her work on the farm, and showed me the horse her family uses to ride out to the milpa. Then, back at her house, she pulled out the tools, one by one, showing me the homemade blades and wooden handles. I said that I had always wanted to hold a cuma, and she was enthusiastic about explaining how it is like a sickle but different and how her pappy had made it.
Shortly after that visit, Ana dropped out of school. She wrote a letter about it, and was clearly sad. Her sponsors were sad. I was sad. But, in a way, I also feel like the scholarship program has been successful for Ana. She can read. She can write a good letter. She can write a story and express her feelings. She can read a contract and do math so as not to be cheated. Ana did not have the chance to attend high school, and we continue to look for ways for Ana to participate in agricultural and sewing education.
Ana will not have a high school graduation ceremony or a party. She will not be able to get a job in a shop or an office. She will probably never be able to enter the formal economy to obtain health care benefits for her family. Her life has taken a different path. Her education has provided her with the wisdom of the earth with the wisdom of the book, the wisdom of the cuma with the wisdom of the pen. She will be able to read stories to her children, and, perhaps, to write them too. Happy graduation, Ana.