Growing up in poverty in San Juan Sacatepéquez, Isabel Patzán’s life was filled with turmoil. Her father was an alcoholic who beat her mother. He died as a result of his drinking when she was a child, leaving her mother to provide for Isabel and her four siblings by running a tortilla shop. Isabel and her siblings were required to help her each day. Their responsibilities included gathering wood for the fire or picking up corn that needed to be ground.
But when she was 12 years old, Isabel was invited to participate in the World Vision music school in her community.
“I felt really excited ... it was hard for my family to get opportunities like this one.”
Teachers at the school fitted her to play violin. Each Saturday, her mom would give her 10 quetzales — about $1.50 — for bus fare and lunch, and she would go to the school to learn to play.
“There were many problems at home back then, so the center was like a refuge for me,” Isabel says. “Saturday was a relief because all week long was a lot of heavy work.”
Isabel quickly learned and advanced in the school, despite having only one hour each day to practice after school. The music school director, Martín Corleto, encouraged her. “He said that we had more opportunities as women than just getting married and that we shouldn’t let people discriminate against us because we wear our typical clothing [that] we have to fight for opportunities and new paths.”
Isabel took his advice to heart. As she got older, she was selected to be trained as a Suzuki method music teacher. She earned her teaching certificate in 2014, becoming one of the first and highest certified teachers in Guatemala for the method. She continues to teach at the school in San Juan, but she also has been charged with bringing the method to a neighboring community in San Raymundo.
“I have seen a change of mindset of parents,” Isabel says. “When I started going to the music program, there were many children who weren’t attending school because they had to work making firecrackers. Now the children who are part of the music program, their parents are seeing something different. We’re going to play in the national theater, and they’re saying, ‘If they can do things like that at this young age, what will we they do when they grow up?’ They can see a different future for them.”
And Isabel sees a different future for them as well. As she proudly wears her traditional Mayan clothes, little girls in her program are beginning to take pride in their heritage and their dresses as well. Despite often being questioned about her dress when she plays with orchestras outside of World Vision, she continues to fight for both the past in her culture and all its traditions as well as her future, just as Martín encouraged her to do.
Photo©2017 World Vision, Heidi Isaza