Teacher from Madison NJ Helps Build Schools in Guatemala

Repost from: http://m.newjerseyhills.com/madison_eagle/news/teacher-from-madison-helps-build-schools-in-guatemala/article_979d67d0-ff8b-11e2-baf4-001a4bcf887a.html?mode=jqm 
Original Post Date: August 7, 2013

Nancy Kuster of Beech Avenue doesn’t just talk the talk. A second-grade teacher at the Sundance School in North Plainfield, she recently had the opportunity to walk the walk during her second trip to Guatemala to help build schools for the impoverished people of the small Central American nation. “I believe schools play a major role in shaping environmental/global consciousness and behavior that leads to long-term impacts affecting the future of our planet,” she said.

In late March the Madison resident, along with a dozen other educators from around the U.S., took part in the ecological construction of the infrastructure of a “bottle school” in rural Chimaltenango insulating the building’s walls by recycling plastic bottles that otherwise would have been discarded as garbage.

The project was part of the “Great American Teach-Off Part 2” in partnership with the nonprofit organization “Hug It Forward,” which is dedicated to both the education of children and a better life for them and their families, and a “sustainable” world in which “trash” is not thoughtlessly “thrown away” into the environment.

Bottle Schools

The concept of a “bottle school” was begun by a Peace Corps volunteer who was dismayed by the mountains of plastic trash she saw in Guatemala coupled with the number of schools that had no walls, Kuster explained.

“Bottle schools” are not only ecologically-friendly, but they help get the population “to commit to the process,” by stuffing every plastic bottle they see with 100 pieces of inorganic trash, Kuster said. Those bottles, called “eco-bricks,” are then covered with cement and used as insulation in school walls that are supported by professionally built, structurally sound frames, she stressed. Because of the civil war waged between the Guatemalan government and leftist rebels from 1960 to 1996, most children didn’t go beyond the sixth grade in school, Kuster noted. “Hug It Forward” is now working on building its 30th school, she said.

On Kuster’s first trip, in the spring of 2012, she traveled to Guatemala with 15 other educators from a charter school in Chicago, Ill. This year, the project drew 25 educators from across the country. “It was a much more eclectic group,” she said, adding that the volunteers bring nothing with them except their labor. This year, Kuster mainly mixed and threw cement, while last year she cleared dirt, she said. Kuster called the project a great experience, even though the volunteers were warned not to eat anything unless the food was provided by the “Hug It Forward” organization.

Make A Difference

“I learned about living through a civil war and the immigration experience,” she said, pointing out that after earning some money in the U.S., immigrants return home to Guatemala. This is not a one-shot deal – you become connected and spend time with the kids, who are unbelievably un-jaded,” Kuster said.

During her work in Guatemala, Kuster blogged with her students back in North Plainfield. “Empowering students in the U.S. to make a difference in the lives of students in a Third World country is one step toward peace education,” she said. “It has truly been an amazing experience to partner with ‘Hug It Forward’ and see the empathy and generosity of my students, who fund-raised for the project this year through many events including foregoing birthday money and donating it the project.

“They see how kids in other areas live and still are happy without lots of stuff. “It taught my kids to be global citizens,” she said. Kuster, who paid her own way to Guatemala, hopes to make another trip next year. “It’s a beautiful country, and I wasn’t nervous at all about being there,” she said. “I have been very committed to this project, as it ties into education and awareness by empowering communities in Guatemala through construction of schools,” Kuster said.