Volunteering in Guatemala With Pencils of Promise

Interview with Melissa Rodriguez on her experience with POP's school building initiative
Sep 28, 2018 8:00 AM ET
In 2017, American Apparel launched a capsule collection  of hoodies, t-shirts and bags in collaboration with Pencils of Promise (POP) to provide support for teachers and fund the construction of new schools in Guatemala, Ghana and Laos, contributing U.S. $220,000. POP is a US-based not-for-profit organization that works to increase access to education and raise global awareness of child illiteracy as there are 250 million children worldwide who lack basic reading, writing and math skills.
To date, a two-classroom school was completed at Línea B-6, Sector Icán, Guatemala, a two-unit classroom block at the Obemla DA Preschool and Primary School in Ghana and a new school is to be completed in Kiew Oung, Laos for 2019. 
In July of this year, Melissa Rodriguez, Communications Coordinator, Gildan took a trip to Guatemala to see the results of American Apparel’s contribution to date and to get involved. 
Q.  What did you do in Guatemala? 
Melissa:  Our five-day trip brought us to remote communities in east Guatemala where POP has formed deep relationships with the communities it impacts. It is thanks to this visit that we were able to appreciate first-hand the warmth, gratitude and hope the people of Pochol, San Miguelito and Línea B6 were happy to share with us. The trip also gave us a chance to get involved in a volunteering/community outreach opportunity.
What did you do while you were in each of those cities?
Melissa: We visited communities where Pencils of Promise has either built schools or is implementing their educational programs. In Pochol, we participated in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, a Unicef program implemented by PoP) activity in Canton San Miguelito we helped community members build a wrap-around sidewalk.  At the Linea B-6 school, we inaugurated two classrooms built with the support of American Apparel.
How do community members feel about having this new infrastructure?
Melissa:  We met several parents and community leaders at the schools and they were all very grateful for POP’s help and felt very proud to have us visit them.
What was there before?
Melissa:  Before PoP built the new classrooms, the students had a small shack made of wood boards and chicken wire.  The school in Linea B-6 had a school where classrooms were being shared by multiple grades and doubling as offices.  In many cases multiple grades of students were taught by one teacher or multiple classes and teachers in the same classroom, not allowing for the privacy needed for a quality educational experience.
How will this expand opportunities in this region?
Melissa: As per PoP’s website: “A safe, sound school structure is the first step to providing students with a brighter future. Pencils of Promise is also changing the way teachers are trained to ensure students are learning effectively.” Together with the implementation of the WASH methodology, PoP provides a well-balanced approach to setting the base for healthier and better- educated children.
How do you feel about our ability to contribute in this way?
Melissa:  Guatemala’s rural environment and communities are very similar to Honduras, so in that aspect I was familiar with our surroundings. However, having the opportunity to experience first-hand how grateful and happy these children and their communities were to have either new classrooms or to participate in the fun WASH dynamics, was very rewarding and made me feel quite proud that our donation was able to make their lives better.
I also felt very proud that through our involvement with PoP these communities were receiving quality education through well thought out, effective and fun programs designed to help them with sanitation, hygiene, literacy and reading fluency.  It was truly a joint effort, with all parties, students, parents, teachers and communities, working together with the purpose of giving their children the best opportunities and resources. 
To view the progress of the American Apparel donation, view PoP’s  impact report.