Ale House bartender helps start school in Guatemala

Fred McCormick

Time, energy and a desire to help people in underdeveloped countries live better have driven the growth of Black Mountain Ale House bartender Kelly Waugaman’s non-profit organization.

Lan Vwa, which means “the voice” in Haitian Creole, has been Waugaman’s life for the past several years. The success of its Project Joconal in a small village in Guatemala has put the organization ahead of schedule in what has been a fluid process so far.

“We have had to constantly change our plans,” Waugaman said. “We’re working in the middle of the jungle, so we have had to be flexible with everything.”

Lan Vwa began providing Internet access for children in Joconal in 2012. At that time, the school in the village did not extend beyond the sixth grade.

“The kids that wanted to go to school after that had to walk an hour and a half each way,” Waugaman said.

Successfully creating a cyber school in Haiti helped Waugaman understand the challenges of establishing classes in Guatemala.

Lan Vwa formed an alliance with the Center for Bilingual Learning in October 2014 that allowed the school in Joconal to offer seventh- through 10th-grade classes at the beginning of the school year last January.

“We had not planned on starting ninth and 10th grade this school year,” Waugaman said. “We thought we would be able to start seventh and eighth, so the program is now two years ahead of schedule.”

Graduation for students in Guatemala occurs following the 11th grade, which means Project Joconal will have its first graduating class at the end of next school year.

“This is the whole point of what we set out to do,” Waugaman said. “We wanted to provide a secondary education.”

The program currently has six kids in the 10-grade class. Waugaman anticipates the number of students to double or triple next year as children in Joconal take advantage of the school’s proximity to the village.

One of Lan Vwa’s goals for Project Joconal is to have the community oversee the program within the next five years, according to Waugaman.

“By the time the program is fully grown, it will cost less than half to run than it did at the start,” she said. “Eventually this will not be a cyber school. Once they have access to qualified teachers, that won’t be necessary. They don’t have access to teachers, but the Internet creates access. That opens up so many doors.”

The school is currently staffed by a native of Joconal, and Waugaman is counting on the eventual return of graduates from the program. Lan Vwa will continue to work with school alumni as they pursue the necessary education required to teach.

The success of the organization has resulted in additional opportunities.

“I had three people call me in a period of eight days and ask us to put in another school,” she said. “One of them was in Haiti, and the other ones were in Guatemala.”

No decision has been made regarding the location of the next program. But Waugaman estimates that a new school could be opening as early as 2016.