Friday, August 23, 2013

Turning Dreams Into Reality

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words –
and never stops at all.
Emily Dickinson

While money for Ashani’s schooling was hard to come by, she and her family never lost hope that they could make her secondary education a reality.

One of the first things they did was buy a piglet. Yes, a piglet. It was Ashani’s job to raise the pig and keep it healthy, so they could get the best price possible when it was slaughtered and the meat was sold. 

During the time she was taking care of the pig, a series of fortunate coincidences came to pass. For starters, her father, Andreas, was earning a steady salary working as part of the crew excavating the Santa Rita ruins, located right here in Corozal.

Ashani and her father, Andreas

Temple face at the Santa Rita Ruins, Corozal

Andreas is a font of knowledge when it comes to all things related to the Maya, not to mention the local flora and fauna. He’s also thrilled to pass on what he knows to anyone who might be interested. Turns out, there were two ladies volunteering at the dig who were more than happy to have him be their teacher.

Cathie Grondin Kelly

Colleen Steege
As the weeks went by digging in the dirt at the ruins, Cathie and Colleen came to learn not only more about the history of the ruins, but also about Andreas and his family. A strong bond of friendship was forged.

Andreas introduced Ashani to Cathie and over subsequent meetings, Cathie came to find out about Ashani’s desire to attend IT-VET and enroll in the Cosmetology program. Her long-term goal is to open a shop of her very own.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it costs over $600 BZD to walk in the door of the Vo-Tech school. On top of that, there is the cost for uniforms, books, and school supplies. All told, Ashani and her family were looking for ways to come up with $900+ BZD to turn a dream into a reality.

Cathie knew about the pig Ashani was raising for education funds; matter of fact, she and Colleen had already placed their orders. But might there be some other avenues worth exploring to bring in more money? 

During subsequent get-togethers between Cathie and Ashani, Cathie learned Ashani had a love of painting and had won an award for one of her pieces while attending primary school. After Cathie saw the painting in question, a thought came to her mind. What if Ashani did more paintings and sold them at the monthly Art in the Park festival, held right here in town? 

Ashani was keen on the idea, so Cathie offered to cover the costs of canvases and paints. Ashani got down to work and started producing some one-of-a-kind paintings.  

Photos courtesy of Cathie Grondin Kelly

And what about that piglet Ashani was raising? Well, when the time came, the pig was butchered, the meat was packaged, and Ashani hopped on her bike to make deliveries. Now I’m not talking about a quick, around-the-corner bike ride either. With 15 pounds of pork tucked in her backpack, she pedaled for about an hour and a half to make deliveries here in Corozal Town, then made the return trip home.

Between the sale of the pig and the possibility of sales from the art festival, Cathie determined there just might be enough money to move ahead with enrolling Ashani at IT-VET. But there were a few bumps in the road that had to be dealt with.

For starters, Ashani’s uniform:

Uniform pattern from IT-VET

According to school rules, girls attending IT-VET need to wear a beige blouse and brown skirt. Sounds simple, right? Well, you can purchase the blouses in town, but they only have one pocket. School rules state the blouse must have two. That means material has to be purchased and a seamstress or tailor hired to make a matching pocket.

Ashani modeling new school blouse with two pockets
School rules also dictate that girls must have a straight skirt with a kick-pleat in the front. Again, pretty straightforward, at least on paper. Problem is that only box pleat skirts are sold in the stores. So, once again, material must be purchased and the skirts have to made. 

Then there are the books. Ashani will need at least six books, which can only be purchased at the school. Unlike some other IT-VET programs, her books will only be used for the upcoming school year. Next year, she’ll need to buy the ones for the next level of her studies.

On top of that, school rules state separate notebooks are required for each subject, plus a separate notebook to write down assignments. Then there are the pens, pencils, backpack, and whatever other school supplies she will need, and whatever other supplies each of the teachers may require of their students.

During this time, Cathie was posting about her relationship with Ashani on Facebook. People took notice and wanted to help. Some wanted to donate supplies; others money. Cathie set up an education fund, in Ashani’s name, at a local bank. 

In the meantime, Ashani was busy preparing for the August art festival. As the day of the festival neared, she had an impressive array of paintings, some magnets she made of some her paintings, along with a collection of clothespin dolls.

Then inspiration struck Ashani again.

She noticed Cathie had a mobile in her home, one made out thorns and bits of nuts and coconut shells, which look like dancers. 

On the day of the festival, Ashani arrived at Cathie’s house with a few thorn dancers she and her mom, Betty, made. One thing is for sure – this child is tenacious and creative.

With the help of some of Cathie’s friends, Ashani had two tables for her display.

Two of Ashani’s paintings were sold prior to the festival, along with a couple of the dolls. During the festival she sold two paintings, one magnet, one clothespin doll and one of the thorn dancer mobiles. Considering that August is the slowest month for the Art Festival and it was her first time participating, it was a great start.

I had the opportunity to chat with Ashani a couple of days ago. She’s incredibly excited to begin school in just a couple of weeks. And what was patently obvious is the fact that she recognizes that it’s a privilege and a luxury that many other children her age can’t have.

Through Ashani’s hard work and the generosity of people like Cathie, Colleen, and their mutual friends, a dream is about to become a reality. But there’s more work to do, as Ashani is a few hundred dollars short of her education funds goal. Another bump in the road came about when the IT-VET supervisor strongly recommended that Ashani take a taxi to the school each day versus riding her bike. It makes sense, because it’s safer, but that means figuring out a way to cover the taxi fare for the school year – about $200 BZD / $100 USD.

But Ashani isn’t deterred and plans to continue her painting, adding more craft items, and selling them at upcoming Art in the Park festivals, all the while keeping up with her studies. In the meantime, her parents are figuring out ways to come up with the money needed to purchase uniforms and school supplies for their 4-year-old son, Ilan, who will begin primary school.

But Ashani and Ilan aren’t the only ones heading to school. Their father, Andreas, is too! He is one of only a select number of people invited to receive training to obtain an official Tourist Guide license through a program sponsored by the Northern Tour Guide Association. And while it means making the 45-minute bus ride to Orange Walk to attend his classes, all the books and lessons are free, and he sees this as a golden opportunity for he and his family.

Speaking for myself, I am honored to tell Ashani’s story and that of her family. It is a not-so-subtle reminder of things one takes for granted…the relatively small gestures that can make the difference in the life of a child…the reminder that there is hope and dreams can come true.

In future posts to our blog, I’ll share Ashani’s progress, hopefully more stories of local school children, along with some possible avenues on ways our blog readers can lend support.


  1. These would all make good souvenirs to being home when we come in November. Hope they are still available then! Thank you for sharing this inspiring story, Elizabeth!

  2. great, really nice work has done. like it.