“Many children believe they just need to get the sixth grade...and then go to the United States to work. I think that Mil Milagros does a great job teaching students skills that allow them to achieve their goals here in Guatemala."
“Reading and writing have shaped the person I am. As a teacher, I love to show children and teenagers the magic of reading. Books are like doors to another world.”
Lester Puac is an author, middle school teacher and Mil Milagros advocate. Born in Totonicapan but raised in Santa Lucía Utatlán, his family home sits near the Pan-American highway at the gateway to the community. Lester loves reading - even the family cat’s name shows his love of fantasy fiction.
“This is Arya, like from Games of Thrones,” he says, pointing to the cat lazing on the floor. “Originally she was named Tyrion because we thought she was a boy, then we were told she was a girl so we changed it.”
As a young child growing up in Santa Lucía, Lester had limited access to books and didn’t enjoy reading in school. It wasn’t until sixth grade that he started to read a little more, picking up materials wherever he could find them: a newspaper in the street on his walk home from school, a random book that was lying around the house. As he moved on to boarding school, this is where he says he “discovered the magic of reading.”
“The first book I fell in love with was Harry Potter. It was so entertaining. I was so inspired that I decided one day I wanted to write my own fantasy novel.”
Although he is only 28, Lester has already realized his dream of writing a fantasy novel for young adults. In 2018, he published ‘Betel y el Triángulo del Invierno’ (Betel and the Winter’s Triangle). The book is the first in a planned trilogy and has proved popular. “People keep asking me when the next one is going to come out,” Lester shares.
With the second book in the process of being published and the third manuscript in development, it’s a wonder that Lester has still found the time to assist with Mil Milagros’ Education program.
“A year ago, Mil Milagros Education Coordinators, Marcos and Isabel came to me and asked for my help,” Lester says. “They told me that they were working on reading and writing with the children in the schools and wanted me to assist. I was thrilled! We are designing a specialized reading program for the teachers to work on with the children.”
In March 2019, Lester, along with kindergarten and first grade teachers from MM partner schools, attended a workshop with Boston-based literacy expert and MM Board member, Juan Antonio Gil, where he learned new techniques for teaching early childhood literacy.
Lester’s love of literature also made him the perfect candidate to be a judge in the Mil Milagros story writing contest. Children from kindergarten to sixth grade wrote and illustrated original stories. Lester and two other judges read the stories and were impressed by the imagination of the children.
“I had the opportunity to read 38 books,” Lester says, a smile spreading across his face. “It was a beautiful experience. They have big imaginations! Talking rats that are knights, a giant tortoise that leaves the ocean to help save his community. They create such interesting stories and we as teachers should celebrate their imaginations.”
It’s people like Lester that are key to inspiring children in the community to fall in love with reading. In Mil Milagros partner schools, 97% of sixth-graders graduate, compared to the regional average of just 51%. This would not be possible without ensuring that every child can read, write, and comprehend from an early age.
“I think it's great Mil Milagros promotes reading because it is a tool for the future of our students. We live in a place where opportunities are few and far between,” says Lester. “Many children believe they just need to get the sixth grade and then they will work, or do a few years of secondary school and then go to the United States to work. I think that Mil Milagros does a great job teaching students skills that allow them to achieve their goals here in Guatemala.”
$50 can furnish a classroom of eager readers with storybooks. Donate today to help instill a love of reading in children in rural Guatemala.
Lea la versión en español aquí.
Marvin has been a teacher for 13 years and now serves as principal of the Los Planes School. Recently, drought has sent many of his student’s parents to the U.S.