Giving the gift of learning

Igor Xoyon was in town to share his story and seek support for My Melody School in the highlands of central Guatemala.

Planning: Maureen McTavish and Igor Xoyon discuss plans to help fund a school in Guatemala.

Given sanctuary by the Canadian government following his father’s assassination, a Guatemalan of Mayan descent has returned to his community to pass on the gift of education.

Igor Xoyon was in town recently to share his story and seek support from two Rotary clubs for My Melody School in his hometown of Chimaltenango in the highlands of central Guatemala.

Xoyon’s father, Jose Lino, had managed to become educated, something that made him a leader among his people and a target of the Guatemalan government.

Education was and continues to be rare for Guatemala’s indigenous people.

“The government was afraid a Mayan leader could gather the population and cause trouble,” Xoyon says, noting his father was murdered in 1980. “It was not just Mayans, it was teachers, lawyers and intellectuals. And many students were also killed.”

Xoyon says life became more difficult after his father’s death because his mother was harassed by the army and not permitted to work.

The situation changed dramatically for Xoyon, who arrived in Toronto in 1986 at the age of 15. Following high school, he attended the University of Toronto, earning a degree in  mechanical engineering in 1995.

After seven years as a process systems engineer with a company affiliated with IBM, Xoyon says he decided it was time to go back to Guatemala to work on a project that would help people there.

“The war was over, it finished in 1996, and it (Guatemala) was much better than when we left,” he says of his decision to return in 2005. “My mother had mixed feelings, some fear. It was also very hard to get where we are in Canada and my sister thinks I’m throwing my career away.”

But Xoyon was adamant in his desire to use his education and training for the betterment of his people.

His uncles in Guatemala own and operate My Melody School, a private institution far beyond the reach of most Mayan children. As principal, Xoyon thought it would be a good idea to get financial support from Canadians in order to include those who could not otherwise attend.

The school currently has 50 students from the ages of two to six, 33 of whom are sponsored, and is the reason for Xoyon’s return to Canada and his trip to Salmon Arm where Dr. Maureen McTavish arranged for him to speak to Rotary.

A member of the noon club, McTavish had met Xoyon when she was in Guatemala on one of her many medical-surgical volunteer trips to that country with Medicos en Acccion.

Xoyon had volunteered to help with translation.

“Once you’ve been to Guatemala, you see the people are so inspiring,” says McTavish. “They’re kind and hardworking, but it reinforces that in order to get back to a standard of living that allows people to thrive, it’s going to be about education.”

McTavish notes that connections students from poor and wealthy backgrounds make, links that will hopefully last a lifetime, are as important as the education they receive.

“At first they didn’t understand why kids at two should be going to school, but we’ve now put one full group through four years and we’re seeing the results in reading and math,” says Xoyon. “We’re pretty excited. There’s also a big waiting list that we could accommodate with more money.”

Current students will now proceed to elementary grades, with the hope they will all be able to eventually graduate from high school.

“In Guatemala, Grade 6 is like wow,” says McTavish.

It costs $840 per year per student per year to sponsor a child, support that covers, education and school supplies, uniforms, health care and food because they’re malnourished,” says Xoyon.

“We don’t realize how much we take for granted,” says McTavish, who points out donors do not need to provide the full sponsorship.

Other options include – $350 buys a computer, $200 provides breakfast for one child for a whole year, a school uniform costs $67, school supplies for one year are $85, $40 buys two medical check-ups a year and $435 get an extra teacher for one month.

There are numerous opportunities for volunteers to share their time and skills at the school, where constructing a new classroom is high on the list of needs.

For more information or to offer help, go to or email


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