Some of my first childhood recollections come from looking up at a long narrow sweltering hot road, as I would start my commute to school. The sun would have barely started its day, but my village was already hard at work.
Looking back now, walking three miles to school as a six-year-old child sounds absurd, but in that moment all I felt was how lucky I was to be able to show off the beautiful Barbie book bag that my father had sent me from the United States! While all the other children held their books in their hands, I had the luxury of carrying them on my back and in style.
By the time I reached my school it would already be a toasty 90 degrees. The neighborhood drunks would have already taken their seats at the cantina across the street and the cafeteria lady would be in the process of squeezing fresh milk.
When I started my walk to school my mother was already at least 10 miles into her 13-mile commute to the school where she taught for eight years. She was the only teacher assigned to a class of 60 plus children. She taught Kindergarten to sixth grade all in one classroom. There was little room to accommodate the large class and limited desk space. My mother’s school was in a much less developed part of the region, but the sacrifices she made for these kids, you would of thought they were her own. I remember when I was growing up how she would carry a pot full of corn on her head the entire 13 miles to her school just to provide a family in need with food for the night.
My mother was given many opportunities to teach elsewhere. She was even given the opportunity to teach at my school. She declined every time. Her heart lied with that community. Her passion for education continues to inspire me throughout my life.
As I progressed through my elementary career, my classmates diminished. The last year that I attended a Guatemalan school in the third grade, the class was a third of the size from when I started. I would often run into my old friends on my long walk home. You could find them at the local market or on the side of the dusty road selling candy, water or fruit. Later, I realized that was it for them. That was as far as their education would take them. As soon as they knew how to read and write it was time to put those skills to work, and off to work they went.
While my parents were making major strides to insure my six other siblings’ success (along with my own), I was oblivious to what was in store for me when I jumped off that plane and landed my feet on American soil. After I got over how easy it was to access food anywhere you went and how structurally sound every single building was, I began to focus on the opportunities that were being thrown in my direction. They were endless! As I slipped out of my culture shock and into a pair of Nikes and Levi jeans, the Americanization process started to take place.
“I always saw myself walking up that dirt road and at the end of that road was my education.” — Abigail
During my transition and move there was one thing that remained constant. I always saw myself walking up that dirt road and at the end of that road was my education. Even in the midst of poverty and limited resources, my parents knew that the opportunity to educate myself, be it in a school without windows and doors or a school from one of America’s top educational systems, would mold and determine my success.
…And here I am now working at 2U, a company that is focused on reaching all corners of the world with higher education and real outcomes. It means so much to me to be a part of a company also giving back to my homeland through a partnership with Pencils of Promise; it is truly amazing and heart warming.