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Can Loretto Help Guatemalan Sisters Learn English?

Posted on May 1, 2018, by Mary Ann McGivern SL

Loretto is exploring ways it might help the Holy Family Sisters in Guatemala conduct a two-year intensive English Language Learning project. Above, Loretto members and Holy Family Sisters join together earlier this year for a group photo.
Photo courtesy of Mary Ann McGivern

The Holy Family sisters in Guatemala have asked Loretto to help them learn English and teach English in their schools. It is a daunting request, and the Guatemala Sister Community Committee has been chewing on it.

Besides speaking Spanish, many sisters speak French and one of the indigenous languages. So, English would be their fourth language. They see that their students, most of whom live in poverty, would have many more job opportunities. Also, more families would send their children to the schools if English were taught. For themselves, the sisters recognize the benefit but they also acknowledge the difficulty of learning English as adults and the constraints on their time.

We answered them that we might be able to help them conduct a two-year intensive English Language Learning project, but it is not sustainable for us to supply English teachers for the schools. The Forum received a report of this request and had many clarifying questions. What opportunities are available in Guatemala? Do the sisters use Duolingo, the free cellphone app? Can they hire teachers there? Could one or more sisters spend a year or two in the United States? Who would develop curricula for young children, adolescents and adults? If we sent Community members or Loretto Volunteers there, what would their situation be? Is it safe?

Yes, there are opportunities in Guatemala, but they cost money. The Belga, their private pre-K through 12 school, has a fine middle and upper school English teacher, but there’s no English taught at the other three schools on the edges of Guatemala City or in Chiantla, Huehuetenango. Duolingo is excellent but requires a computer or cellphone and a strong personal commitment to learn. Learning is hard without a real person to teach you.

The sisters would provide housing and meals for volunteer teachers and support a community experience. But a stipend and the cost of travel to and from the United States would have to be borne by Loretto.

Volunteer expenses also would include visa renewal, which at a minimum means leaving the country for 48 hours (to Mexico, Costa Rica or the United States) every six months. Safety is always a concern, but Loretto visitors always have been accompanied and cared for. One must be alert and careful in any city.

Would you like to spend nine months in Guatemala teaching English? Do you have any ideas how Loretto can respond to Holy Family’s request? Tell a committee member: Irma Avila, Mary Peter Bruce, Pat Geier, Connie Newton, Alicia Ramirez or me.
For our meeting, the Holy Family sisters arranged a fine presentation on migration issues in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It included bishops’ statements, the failure of the courts and police to ensure public safety and reduce domestic violence, the prevalence of guns and the plight of people deported from the United States.

Three sisters have opened a mission in Honduras. Their work is dangerous because the government objects when people gather in small groups to discuss their problems and attempt to generate some local solutions.

Special Needs has granted the sisters $3,600 for transportation around Honduras to continue meeting with the people.


Mary Ann McGivern SL

Mary Ann recently moved from St. Louis to the Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky. She is searching for entry points into Marian County, Ky., civic life — funding the day care center, improving jail services, helping stop a pipeline through Bernheim Forest. She is on the roster of homilists at Loretto Chapel’s Sunday Communion service. Mary Ann has been a Sister of Loretto since 1960.
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