When the coronavirus pandemic closed Guatemala’s schools in mid-March, teacher Gerardo Ixcoy invested his savings in a second-hand adult tricycle.
Every day, the 27-year-old pedals through the cornfields of Santa Cruz del Quiche to give individual instruction to his sixth-grade students.
The classroom-on-a-trike idea was born when Ixcoy quickly realised there were challenges to remote learning in this farming community in Guatemala’s western highlands.
“I tried to get the kids their worksheets, sending instructions via WhatsApp, but they didn’t respond,” said Ixcoy, who tries to visit each of his students twice a week.
“The parents told me that they didn’t have money to buy data packages [for their phones] and others couldn’t help their children understand the instructions.”
The mobile classroom is fully equipped with plastic sheets to protect against virus transmission, a whiteboard and a small solar panel that powers an audio player he uses for some lessons.
Illiteracy in the area is about 42 percent, and only about 13 percent of homes have internet.
“The cellphones they have at home are very basic,” said Ixcoy, affectionately known in the area as Lalito 10. “They can’t download apps like Zoom that would allow you to give a virtual class.”
For the children, the classes break up the monotony of weeks in quarantine. Eleven-year-old Oscar Rojas waited anxiously in the doorway of his home in a black button-down shirt tucked into navy blue trousers. He lined up his notebooks and pencils and slipped on a face mask.
The pandemic has really altered the boy’s routine, “because now I’m not receiving normal classes,” he said. “Teacher Lalito only comes for a little while to teach me, but I learn a lot.”
In the afternoon, Ixcoy pedals home to beat the curfew. He and his wife Yessika and their 3-year-old son Dylan walk to a small plot of land they rented to grow corn as another source of income. They also planted a vegetable garden beside their home.
The families he serves often struggle to stave off hunger.
“One day the mother of a student told me they didn’t have food,” Ixcoy said. “When class ended, and I began to ride away on my tricycle she calls me and, with a look of gratitude, says, ‘Teacher, they gave me some food, I want to share half with you.'”
“I arrived home crying,” he recalled.