The Kateri Tekakwitha Fund’s first scholarship went to Carmela Paz in 1993. Now as the Kateri Tekakwitha Fund’s Scholarship Coordinator she has the amazing opportunity to help young women receive the same support that helped her realize her dreams. Below is her inspiring story.
“My name is María Carmela Paz Bal. I am originally from San Juan Comalapa in the department of Chimaltenango. My parents were interested in ensuring that my siblings and I were successful. They did not distinguish between their sons and daughters, as they wanted all of us to have a good quality of life, especially my mother, who was illiterate. She knew that providing us with an education was necessary. She dreamed that we would find careers where we could develop ourselves.
In primary and secondary school I studied in my town. While in primary school my parents helped me study. When I started secondary school, my parents continued to help, but I needed to work weekends and during school breaks to save money for my studies. For one year I worked in a grocery store, while I studied to become a teacher. I lived in Antigua, Guatemala with my family’s support, loans, and working during school breaks. I graduated in 1987 and I became a teacher for small children. I worked as a teacher for six years in schools in and outside of my community.
The interesting part of this story is when I got to know Kay Sweeney in San Andres Semetabaj, Sololá. It was 1991 and I was studying to become a history professor on the weekends at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala in the capital. I was able to study for a semester but it was a big sacrifice. I had to travel long distances between my place of work and to study. Where I was there were scarce library resources to conduct my research. But it was especially difficult because my resources to cover my education were very limited. These challenges required me to stop studying. I never imagined then that my story would remove a mountain and open a door for many women.
I told Kay Sweeney my story and that I decided to leave my job in 1992 to find new work opportunities that would permit me to return to my studies. As 1992 came to an end I had a serious problem with my health. I was so depressed and I thought I was about to throw it all away. Then in April of 1993 I received a letter. It said that “I, Carmela Paz, could find a university and a career because Kay had found had found the means of providing support for me to study. This letter was incredible to me. Afterwards I spoke directly with Kay, and I realized that my dream had come true.
I went to the state university in the capital and pursued a career in Social Anthropology. There I not only gained knowledge, but I discovered a totally different environment than I had ever experienced in my life. I made friends with many distinguished professionals.
After leaving university, I continued to develop my skills in different jobs and activities. I worked in many different institutions and even international organizations. Now, I am working as the Scholarship Coordinator at the Kateri Tekakwitha Fund, where I have the opportunity to continue to develop.
I was the first Kateri Tekakwitha Fund scholarship recipient and the start of the project. I consider myself very fortunate because the scholarship allowed me to pursue the career of my dreams, which helped not only me but my whole family.”