There are 24 distinct indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala, including Kaqchikel — the native language in Peña Blanca, spoken throughout our film Living on One Dollar. Many in the community speak very limited Spanish, which makes it hard to get an education or work in other regions of Guatemala.
It can also be an obstacle when seeking medical care in hospitals, where many doctors only explain treatments in Spanish.
When we first arrived in Peña Blanca, we didn’t realize how limited people’s Spanish would be. Our attempts at learning even basic greetings in Kaqchikel resulted in a wave of laughter across the community. When we thought we were saying one thing it usually meant something wildly different. Luckily, our first friend Tono had spent years working in a local hotel and became our de facto translator. He spent hours volunteering his time helping us conduct interviews. Unlike his own daughter Rosy — who attends our new preschool — he didn’t learn Spanish in school but instead had to pick it up while he worked as a kid in Guatemala City far from his family.
Our friend Carlos told us he wanted to learn Spanish so that he could find a better paying job in Guatemala City. His father, Victor, doesn’t speak a word of Spanish and has been limited to field-labor; his work is exhausting and often unreliable. That’s the first time we recognized the impact that learning Spanish has for indigenous Guatemalans.
As more people saw Living on One Dollar, donations started to pour in. One of our top priorities to give back to the community was to construct a preschool that would get kids started with their education earlier, serve healthy meals, and provide parents with more childcare flexibility. We also realized it would be critical in helping students who only spoke Kaqchikel at home learn Spanish even sooner.
Earlier this year, the Peña Blanca preschool opened!
Now these little learners are being taught in Spanish as early as age 3, which sets them up to learn the language more quickly. In fact, research shows that second-language learners who begin before age 5 also have a far greater likelihood of achieving native-speaker fluency and tone.
Interested in learning more about Mayan languages? Start here:
- Watch: How to Say Hello in Kaqchikel [Unbound]
- Read: Preserving a Language, Empowering a Generation [Mayan Families]
- Listen: Wanted — Speakers of Mayan Languages, Many of Them [NPR]
How You Can Help
If you want to help a preschooler like the children in this video, you can sponsor a student for just $1 per day. This will ensure they have everything they need to continue learning from school supplies to medical care. And as a sponsor, you’ll receive updates on their projects, photos, and you can even Skype with your student (that’s another benefit to them learning Spanish!)
We are so grateful that, because of your support, this preschool became a reality. To continue to support our filmmaking and impact campaigns, you can donate directly to Living on One.