Guatemalan Mothers, Spanish Students Connect

December 13, 2021 / Andrea Wenger
Students chat with Ms. Eshelman-Robles' mother,  Sonia Maltez, in Guatemala.
Students chat with Ms. Eshelman-Robles' mother,  Sonia Maltez, in Guatemala.

When Covid shut down the massive dump outside Guatemala City, some 40,000 people lost their livelihood. Project Olas helped to re-employ some of those mothers as language tutors, and EMHS Spanish IV students are among the beneficiaries.

The program provides access to relationship-centered language education,  and provides “Olas Moms” with access to safe and sustainable work, according to Project Olas’ website. Georgetown University students launched the project, pairing U.S. students for conversation with mothers who make a living in economies that spring up around the city dump.

Founder, “Rebecca,” is an American who graduated from a Guatemalan high school and contends that “education built upon textbooks can teach us, but education centered in relationships will transform us.”

Valeria Eshleman-Robles, EMHS Spanish teacher, saw that play out with her students. As they dove into a unit on Guatemala, Eshelman-Robles’ home country, she engaged with Project Olas, who paired them with mothers at the dumpsite.

Most students do the sessions at home using  voice notes in Whatsapp, while some have used Zoom, she explained. “It is hard to ‘capture’ the magic happening,” she said when asked about a photo of the interaction. “But it has allowed for  for high-impact language practice online, without a doubt,” she said.

“Our students practice, chat, and get to know real people while women who already had a hard time before COVID, now have a steadier income,” she explains.

“It was a great opportunity,” said Malia Bauman ’22. “It pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to gain more confidence in my speaking abilities.”

Another connection made possible by technology was a recent group class chat with Ms. Eshelman-Robles’ mother,  Sonia Maltez.

Students took turns asking questions in Spanish about Guatemalan Christmas traditions. The comfortable conversation also helped the students to better know their teacher, who shares generously with them about her own journey as an immigrant, now in her third year in the United States.

COVID has made many students and teachers understandably weary, and leery, of technology in the classroom. This semester, however, it has been a gift to EMHS Spanish students, who have learned not only Spanish, but about the economy and culture of Guatemala City.

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