Guatemalan women know what matters

The party invitation read, “How can you help send a child to school? It’s simple. Empower her Mom.”

Of course this caught my attention. The party was a benefit for Mercado Global, a nonprofit organization founded by Heights High graduate Ruth DeGolia, who has built a successful business that gives indigenous Guatemalan women financial stability. Mercado Global fosters women entrepreneurs and develops sales opportunities for the fashion accessories the women produce in their home-based workshops. It’s been a big success. Revive, on Lee Road, was an early outlet for these crafts, which are now also sold by national retailers including Nordstrom and Anthropologie.  

Mercado Global artisans, indigenous women who have endured civil war, domestic violence, poverty and hunger, know that education is the key to a brighter future for their children. They use their new economic well-being to buy public education, which is not free in Guatemala, for their daughters.   

In the United States we are fortunate to have a system of public schools that are free and open to all, which makes them true equalizers. I fear that many advocates for change in our nation’s current public school reform debate are indifferent to the role free public education has played in our national success. Some seem willing to squander this precious bedrock institution, but the women of Guatemala know something we may have forgotten.

I see us inching slowly but perilously away from our commitment to well-funded and actively supported public schools. In a culture driven by consumerism, is a free public education less valuable? Is it easier to shop around for a school than work to create a system that benefits everyone? Would we rather get away from each other than grow up together, share our gifts and problems with one another, and be bound by our investment in each other’s success? If we allow the public system to become second rate, it will lose its ability to equalize. Public education is diminished if left only to those without choice. Is that what we really want?

Our commitment to and investment in public education must not wither. Each time we remove resources from our public schools in favor of unregulated, selective and often here-today-gone-tomorrow charter schools, we are pulling the legs out from our commitment to equal opportunity.

Each time a child moves from a public school to a charter school, chances increase that a public school—an expression of our commitment to one another—will be closed, destabilizing a community and diminishing the constituency for an effective public education system.

If we don’t value free public schools, we don’t value the students who attend them. The great equalizer of public education has succumbed to a preference for private schools, a widening of class distinction, and an erosion of mutuality and hope. What does this do for opportunity?

The women in Guatemala know what matters for their children. Let this remind us that a commitment to the common good that guarantees all children access to a free and valued public education helps explain our comfortable lives. We’ve been throwing rocks at public education and everyone associated with public schools for too long. What is the value of demonizing an institution that is so valuable, unless we don’t believe in its greater democratic purposes?

Let’s not undercut the future by disinvesting in an established resource with a wonderful history and track record!

To learn more about Mercado Global, visit

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, former director of Reaching Heights, and serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.

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Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 1:38 PM, 04.30.2013