La prensa

A Journey of Self Discovery and Giving Back

Author: Mimi Pollack
Created: 27 July, 2017
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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4 min read

When Juan Martin Sajche left his small village in Guatemala in 1997 at the age of 15, he never dreamed he would one day be a respected Spanish teacher at Morse High School in San Diego.

Juan Martin came to this country sponsored by his father. Many years earlier, his father and uncle had migrated here, looking for a better life.

They left their families behind like so many others, sending money home every month. Then, as a teen, Sajche joined his father in El Cajon where he lived.

It was a lonely life for him. He spoke very little English at the time and his father worked long hours and did not have time to give his son much support or supervision.

When Sajche began high school here, he fell in with a bad crowd. Gang life beckoned and he could have easily taken another path in life.

Fortunately, he met Carmelina Pantoja, a teacher’s aide who took him under her wing and guided him. He finished high school and enrolled at Grossmont College in 2002.

It was in his ESL classes at Grossmont that his teacher noticed how good he was at helping other students and explaining things in a clear and patient way. She encouraged him to become a teacher and major in education.

His path of working with and serving others had begun. In 2002, he went back to Guatemala for a summer and worked as a teacher’s assistant at a school in his hometown of San Andrés Xecul.

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He realized that the students there were not receiving the kind of education they deserved and made a vow to remedy that by opening up his own school one day.

In 2004, he started working at San Diego Community College Continuing Education as a teacher’s aide in the ESL program. He quickly became a favorite among the teachers for he was a quick study and related well to all the students there. He also worked as a cook at various restaurants to make ends meet while juggling a full time load at school.

In 2005, he enrolled at San Diego State University. At the same time, his active community works flourished. He volunteered at the San Ysidro Health Clinic as an interpreter for the CASA program which provided help to individuals with HIV.

In addition, he volunteered at the Center for Social Advocacy as an outreach worker for human trafficking. In 2006, the health clinic hired him as an AIDS counselor. He did this while still maintaining a full load at SDSU.

He also began to think of how he could give back to his homeland, and in 2007, he organized a toy drive to bring toys to all the poor children in his village and surrounding areas during Christmas time.

Teaching still came first to him. He graduated in 2007 from SDSU and obtained his teaching credential. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school, let alone college.

He found work as a temporary full time teacher at Coronado High School. This led to him being hired as a full time Spanish teacher at Morse High School in 2009, where he has been working ever since and has served as the chairperson of the Spanish department.
He is very dedicated to his students at Morse. He wants to not only teach them Spanish, but also guide them on their path in life and stays after class many afternoons to meet with them.

Remembering his volunteer work in his village in 2002 and his vow to come back and help, he enlisted a good friend to help him realize his dream of opening a school. After much work, they opened up their school, the Colegio San Andrés, in San Andrés Xecul, in 2012, where he now goes every summer to work as a volunteer teacher.

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Today, he lives with his girlfriend and young son, Christian, in Tijuana. Everyday he commutes to work across the border. He sees his daughter, from a previous relationship, and his parents every Saturday. His father still lives in El Cajon and his mother has since migrated here. He likes living a cross border life as it suits both his Latino and American sides.

Sajche will be entering a master’s program in education at SDSU in the fall to continue his life journey and to find other ways of giving back.

“I want to be an example for my children and provide them with a good life to ensure they have a bright future and in turn, help others themselves,” Sajche said.

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