HELPS International, organized in 1984, is a US 501 (C)(3) non-profit corporation that partners with individuals, businesses, corporations, and local and national governments to alleviate poverty in Latin America. HELPS integrated programs (medical, community development, clean stove and water filter systems, agricultural assistance and educational programs) include the William M. Botnan Experimental School in Guatemala, serving approximately 130 Mayan children, preschool-sixth grade. HELPS supports the preservation of the local culture and language through the development of the dual language Cotzal Ixil/Spanish program taught by indigenous teachers. HELPS envisions the school as a “hub” for education throughout the region.
Cotzal Ixil is an oral language and one of twenty-three indigenous languages of Guatemala. The challenge to teach literacy in Cotzal Ixil is multiplied by the lack of Ixil print material. The Ixil Emergent Reading Bookmaking Project began in November 2010 to address this lack of Ixil print material. First language Cotzal Ixil speakers and teachers from the school write and illustrate books appropriate for kindergarten and first grade. Although formal academic work has been done with Mayan languages, this project positions the teachers and first language speakers of Cotzal Ixil as the language experts. Throughout the process of book writing, teachers debate, question, and work through the issues of standardizing their language. The goal of the project is to produce quality, culturally appropriate books for emerging readers (kindergarten and grade one) in Cotzal Ixil to promote early literacy in the indigenous language and increased success in second language acquisition.
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