Mariela Chay Sion loves to teach, and she loves to learn. “The greatest contribution from Compassion in my life was my schooling,” says Mariela, who graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program and finished high school with a certificate to teach. In her native Guatemala, students can add an extra year to high school to get teaching certificates and start work immediately after graduation. Mariela has taught at a private high school in Guatemala for more than seven years.
But before she began giving academic lessons in the classroom, she was learning difficult lessons at home. Abandoned by her parents at 10 months old and left with her grandmother, Mariela grew up in a house of tin sheets and plastic tarps.
The dirt floors became mud floors during rainy seasons, and there was no running water. Mariela and her grandmother, Vicenta Sión, walked to a river to bathe and wash their clothes. Mariela knew there must be a better way to live. Her grandmother — whom Mariela calls "Mommy" — knew it, too, so Vicenta enrolled the girl in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. "Being able to attend the Compassion project was a blessing for me, especially because during my time [there] they paid half of my school tuition," Mariela says.
Through Compassion, Mariela was able to attend private school through junior high. The public school system in Guatemala is underfunded and notorious for low-quality instruction, decaying buildings and overcrowded classrooms, according to Avivara, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving education in Guatemala.
"The greatest contribution from Compassion in my life was my schooling," says Mariela, who graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program and finished high school with a certificate to teach. In Guatemala, students can add an extra year to high school to get teaching certificates and start work immediately after graduation. Mariela accepted a job at a private high school, where she has taught for more than seven years.
"It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how much the [Compassion] project had sown in my heart. I particularly remember how one of our teachers would tell us, 'You were created to accomplish something big because God is big.' Those words are engraved in my heart forever."
— Gilda "Mariela" Chay Sión, 27, a high-school teacher in San Felipe, Guatemala
She's not only educating children, she’s also getting further education for herself. "While I attended the project I realized the importance of education. I think Compassion had a lot to do with the fact I wanted to be a university graduate," says Mariela, who is on track to graduate later this year from a private university with her psychology degree.
"I love to teach," she says. "Also, with the pay I get from teaching, I pay my university fees."
She lives with Vicenta, and the women no longer have to rely on sheets and tarps for protection from the elements. They live in a home with concrete walls and floors, and a tin roof.