When Stickers Build Libraries: Helping to School the World

Wendy, the oldest of six children growing up in Guatemala, became the first of her siblings to finish 6th grade and had plans to continue her education. But she was devastated when her parents told her they could no longer afford to send her to school.

At just 12 years old, Wendy got a job in a nearby city at a tortilla store, where she slept in a small bed in the kitchen. She worked from 5:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, making tortillas. Her compensation? Less than three dollars a day.

It was a grueling schedule for a child, and Wendy longed to rejoin her family and go to school again.

Then Wendy found out that she would receive a scholarship from the global nonprofit School the World, ensuring that she could continue her education and sit at her desk with her fellow classmates again. “I was so very happy,” she exclaimed with a huge smile. “I left as soon as possible from the city because it was so hard being away from my parents.”

Education is such a heartbeat of mine, particularly for girls in developing countries who often don’t get the chance to stay in school. When families are desperately impoverished, it is usually the daughters who are taken out of school so that they can help mothers take care of the family and the home, or work to earn money.

Last year, I began to work with this incredible organization called School the World. School the World partners with communities in Honduras and Guatemala to build schools in rural communities, help train local teachers and provide libraries for these children – many of whom are usually the first in their families to learn to read and write!

What makes School the World unique is that it is not simply a “give-and-receive” relationship between nonprofit and poor community. Instead, its model is based on collaboration, empowerment and sustainability.

Communities and local governments agree to contribute land and help fund some of the costs toward building a school and paying a teacher. Families sign pledges to keep their children in school, provide support for them at home and attend parent education programs. (Many of the parents cannot even sign their own names on these pledges, so they use ink to “sign” their thumbprints.)

School the World offers several ways that we can join in to support global education – not only for us as adults, but also ways in which our kids can get involved … such as sponsoring library books in these schools!

School the World gave our family little stickers so that we could fill them out with our names and a message…

And then the stickers were sent to Guatemala and placed in the books that we sponsored for $5 each! 

How incredible is the gift of literacy, of education? Education brings opportunity instead of oppression, potential instead of poverty. It is a given for us in the United States…but a truly monumental opportunity for these children who are ambitious and excited to learn.

These smiles turn my heart to mush every time I look at these pictures. Their excitement radiates out of their bright eyes.

And in our house, Connor and Brenna were so excited to see how their stickers traveled to Guatemala and showed up in new books for the kids there!! What a beautiful reminder for our family that we are provided endless opportunities in our country, and through our love and actions, we can help to give others the opportunity for education… the kind of opportunity that can change the trajectory of their lives, their family’s lives and the entire communities.

Through a simple sticker, we can send a message to our recipients: “we believe in you, we care about you, and you will do big things with your life as you pursue your education.”

This would be such a great project for a classroom, church group, MOPS gathering, or any other group. Brenna is going to ask her friends at her birthday party to support this initiative and fill out a sticker!

Just imagine how we can be difference makers in these Central America communities and easily get our own kids involved.
Sticker templates can be downloaded here or you can just email School the World to get involved.

And Wendy? She no longer works 16-hour days for pennies an hour.

When she graduates, Wendy wants to be a teacher. She loves teaching what she has learned, helping her siblings with their homework and seeing the joy when children learn something new. Education and literacy mean that she will have the chance to build a career and earn an income to lift her family out of extreme poverty.

Even in just a year, she is filled with hope and excitement for her future: “My life is so very different now.”

Want to learn more? Check out School the World and its empowering initiatives to bring quality and accessible education to rural, impoverished communities.

When my daughter asked why people always question her appearance

She gazed out the window as we pulled out of the grocery story parking lot, a look of thoughtfulness across her face.

“Mama,” she said in a tone not hurt, but pondering. Perhaps a little confused. “Why does everyone always ask why my face is red?”

My body reacts – chest tightening, stomach turning – each time I am presented with this kind of situation… an experience where Brenna’s skin differences are called to the forefront, when I know all she wants is to engage as a typical child, not as someone who is viewed as so “different” that all conversation and reaction revolves around her skin.

I was glad she couldn’t see the strained look on my face, because she notices the slightest changes in expressions, as I responded. “Well, your skin looks a little different that most people’s skin. And since those people haven’t seen skin like yours before, they want to know why you have special skin.”

She contemplated that and was appeased by my response.

But I didn’t give my full answer to that question on that car ride home. There is a second part to explaining why we field questions about Brenna’s appearance nearly every single time we go out in public.

Yes, adults want to know why because they are curious, maybe even concerned. But the hard truth is that they then choose to ask why immediately because they place their own curiosity above another person’s feelings.

We’re not four-year-olds trying to figure out the world. As adults, we know people are different. We know disabilities and differences exist, and we know what genes and chromosomes are, and we know that accidents and war and illnesses happen.

So maybe the first words out of our mouths shouldn’t be a question about someone’s appearance or disability. Maybe the first words out of our mouths should show that we value another person as a fellow human.

I believe that God gives us a unique opportunity when we encounter someone who is different than we are: to choose connection over curiosity.

When we can begin a conversation with a smile, with a “hello, how are you doing today?”, we seek to bridge by recognizing our sameness instead of divide by pointing out our differences. It is in this same regard that we can address a child’s (often inevitable) questions about differences – helping them to relate, showing them how to connect by introducing themselves, and educating them that we are all different.

I’ve been told by other adults that they feel uncomfortable when they see someone with a disability or physical difference, not knowing what to say, how to say it. Let’s not make this harder than it is; simply treat them as you would anyone else. A person is a person is a person.

I offer this gentle reminder to myself, to my children, and to others: while this is the first time you may have seen this condition, disability or physical marking, it has likely been the opening question or topic of conversation for that person nearly every time they go out in public.

I can’t speak for other parents who have children with differences and disabilities. But many whom I’ve talked with agree that they don’t mind educating about their child’s condition or illness… yet they would rather not have to field questions all day long. Life is much more beautiful when we can see our sameness first, and then find appreciation in learning about our differences.
A couple of years ago, I was pushing my kids on the swings at the park on a rare warm day in the late winter. We were thrilled by temperatures that were ideal for Brenna (since she has trouble regulating her body temperature and the outdoors can be tricky) and jumped at the chance to spend some time outside.

A woman was pushing her child next to me and pleasantly struck up conversation with me. When she mentioned how nice the weather was, I told her I was especially glad for the temperature because “my daughter has a skin disorder that sometimes makes it hard to be outdoors if it’s too hot or cold.” And the conversation continued on from there.

I’m sure she was wondering, and I gave her the answer. But it was within a nice conversation where she made it clear that we were just another family at the park to her. She chose to connect with us first, instead of immediately asking. She chose to listen before questioning.

What an opportunity we are given when we meet those around us every day who are different than us…and what a gift we can give, and receive, when we choose to prioritize another person’s feelings and humanity above satisfying our own immediate curiosity.