Thousands in developing countries have no access to education. Without it, they can do little to change the socioeconomic status of their impoverished lands. Phillip Marzocco Jr. wants to change that.
“Over the years I’ve heard many times, ‘Give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.’ If you don’t give him a fish, and you don’t teach him how to fish, how is he going to get a fish?” he asks.
Marzocco’s simple analogy is at the heart of his quest to provide education to the people of Guatemala.
For the past six years, he’s served as the director of a baking school funded by a Guatemalan milling firm and endorsed by the nation’s Ministry of Education.
The baking school, La Escuela de Panificación de Molinos Centia-Emceco, forms part of the Department of Technical Affairs, which Marzocco heads. The school is based at the milling facility of Molinos Centia in Guatemala City.
While in high school in New York, th sse then-VICA member studied baking and graduated with honors. In 1988, he won a gold medal in Baking and Pastry Arts at the state championships. A scholarship awarded through the organization took him to Johnson and Wales University, where he met his future wife, Raquel, who is from Guatemala. Marzocco went on to study and teach at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. In 1992, he moved to Guatemala with Raquel.
Today, “our [training] program has greatly benefited the local vocational-technical schools by giving free professional instruction with free materials. In Guatemala, the students at vocational-technical schools typically buy their own materials,” Marzocco explains.
“Our program has also given new hope to former gang members and street kids. Many of these teen-agers have lived for years on the streets of Guatemala City.”
Finding a moral compass
Marzocco’s empathy for the street kids of Guatemala is personal. Reluctant to discuss the past, he hopes sharing his story will help others find the strength to follow a good moral compass when others seem to have lost the way.
“At the end of my junior year, due to many serious family problems, I decided to leave home,” he says. “Family members at home were taking and dealing drugs … The basic philosophy at home was you could do anything you wanted to, as long as you didn’t get caught. They did get caught, and they were in and out of courts and jail all the time. Our house was even raided by the police.
“It was very difficult, seeing the morals at my home had erode, and there came a point where it was time to move on.”
In situations like this, choosing the right road may seem almost impossible. Marzocco says it wasn’t.
“I am proud to say that I never took drugs or even smoked. It’s a matter of doing what’s right or wrong. I am not saying that I was a complete angel, but there comes a time when we all have to grow up.
“Before leaving home, I had found a small room in boarding house, but when I left home and arrived at the boarding house, the room was already rented. I had no choice but to sleep on the streets for a few nights,” he says.
Then he talked to the manager of the bakery where he worked as a part-time cake decorator. The manager allowed him sleep for a few nights on some flour sacks behind the oven. A week later, he found a tiny room to rent in a nice area.
You can hear the gratitude in his voice when Marzocco tells how his vice principal, teachers and friends at Islip High School helped him.
“They nudged me along. Although I had to work hard to maintain myself during my senior year, my grades soared. When I graduated, I was on the honor roll.
“I believe bad situations make us more empathetic, can be a true motivators and impel us to act.”
Seeking win-win situations
“Taking our company’s school as a model, if other companies start doing the same in other countries around the world, this could enormously reduce poverty worldwide. I would be thrilled to see this project replicated, and I would also like to see graduating SkillsUSA members help set up schools in developing countries,” Marzocco says.
“Where do you begin? By writing to companies in countries where you would like to make a difference. Second, by traveling to those countries to visit those companies. There is no substitute to meeting with people face-to-face. When I first came to Guatemala, COLTEC, a Guatemalan yeast company, helped me by paying for my Spanish classes and then by giving me a stipend for my living expenses. In exchange, I conducted seminars for their clients.”
To help him establish his own skills development foundation, Marzocco is applying for an award from Rolex, which chooses Awards for Enterprise recipients who are initiating ventures to advance human knowledge and well-being.
His foundation would set up an international exchange program in which individuals could go overseas for a short duration to teach their skills. And, locals would go to developed countries to learn.
“The foundation will create a master’s program, which will, in an alliance with the Ministry of Education, certify master tradesmen in different areas,” Marzocco says. “The master tradesmen, upon certification, would be obligated to instruct for a certain period of time, either in person and/or on video.
“The foundation will work to seek win-win-win situations where society wins by having more productive citizens, where the business community/private sector wins by having a more educated workforce and where the individual wins by having a new skill.
“Learning a skill really changed my life, and I enjoy seeing how, when others learn a skill for the first time, it changes their lives,” Marzocco adds. “However, I could not do what I am doing if I did not have the support of the milling firm for whom I work.
“I would like to encourage anyone who has excelled in a skill to go abroad to teach it. You will see the world from another dimension.”