Hometown: Baja Verapaz
Current employment: Project coordinator for a teacher incentive program
Do It All on Your Own?
“When I was six, my mother left. At eleven, my father died and I rented a room for six dollars a month. My sister gave me a bed and a dresser but, beyond that, I was on my own.”
Luis and his four sisters grew up in the verdant Baja Verapaz province of Guatemala. Life took an unexpected turn when Luis was six and his mother left the family and moved to the United States. Two years later, she cut off all communication. Left alone, Luis’s father continued the work of raising his five children until Luis was eleven. That year, his father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and a few months later he died.
The orphaned children dispersed. Two of the sisters moved to Guatemala City, the other two married and remained in town. Luis was expected to fend for himself. He cobbled together money from every job he could find to pay for rent, food, and clothing. Over several years, Luis carried heavy loads in the market for tips, worked as a beekeeper, baker’s assistant, construction worker, farmhand, fruit and spice merchant, store clerk, painter, and metalworker—all while attending school in the evenings. Finally, during his last two years of high school, Luis’s sister invited him to move into her home. With his financial burdens partially alleviated, Luis redoubled his efforts in school.
“For me, the ITA scholarship was a real-life miracle. It not only changed my life but the lives of everyone in my family and many of those around me.”
Luis graduated from Universidad Francisco Marroquín in 2014. Luis currently works with a privately funded educational initiative that conducts a yearly nationwide search for teachers who have implemented innovative approaches in their classrooms. Since its inception, seventy teachers (from public and low-income private schools) have been recognized with cash awards, college scholarships, and other prizes. Some have gone on to travel internationally, educating other teachers and policymakers abroad about their projects. In addition, Luis is a teaching assistant for university economics courses. Since Luis attended UFM, other students from his hometown have been awarded ITA scholarships and several of his cousins have gone on to complete high school and attend universities.