Guatemala, UPAVIM, children, you.
With such a large world, it becomes easy to think that one person cannot possibly do anything to invoke positive change -so it is easy to sit back and watch.
This summer I realized just how easy it is to help. I became involved in a trip to Guatemala through Nourish International, and my experience as a volunteer teacher has been so much more than I expected it to be.
Even at first glance, the level of poverty in the area surrounding UPAVIM -the school in which I worked- is evident. However, there is something about La Esperanza that holds true to its translation: Hope. It both amazed and inspired me to see that those who have so little, yet they are still grateful for all that they have.
I think that was my favorite experience: the cultural change, especially with regards to school. As a first-generation Filipino American, I think that I was more used to different cultures than some of my other organization members. I have visited the provinces in the Philippines in which my dad lived the majority of his youth, and it was actually a bit worse off than the area where we stayed in Guatemala. However, I was never able to experience Filipino schools, and although it was stressful at times, this became my favorite part of my experience in Guatemala.
I worked in Reforzamiento (“Reinforcement”), an after-school program which provides opportunities for learning to those who cannot afford school. However, unlike in America, there are no laws against truancy. Children are not dragged to school by their parents. Children came to Reforz voluntarily. Most always had notebooks with them, always came in smiling, were always happy to be there.
This is not to say that teaching was always easy. Surprisingly, teaching in mostly Spanish was not the difficult part, rather the culture in which students were raised, combined with the lack of schooling, made teaching tricky. Most days, I would help kid of the appropriate age level in writing letters, reading, multiplying and dividing. However, there were days where I would teach a twelve-year-old how a sentence has a period at the end and the difference between certain letters. After a good twenty minutes, repeating “espacio” (“space”) multiple times to show the difference between a letter and a word gets tiring.
But that’s the beauty of it. While there were few who did not want to cooperate fully, there those who would not stop no matter how long it took. My fondest memory (but also most frustrating) was when I had to teach a seven-year-old how to write the number one. Our supervisor – a native Guatemalan- wanted them to write the number one a certain way (like 1 without the base line), and the little boy I was working with could not seem to get it; his numbers kept turning out oblong, even after his friend and I drew examples. I even had to resort to drawing out dots for him to trace, but he still could not write the number one. After an hour of attempts, the moment he finally drew it made me ecstatic! Through cheering and smiles, I made him high-five me plenty of times to show him how proud I was of him.
THAT, is how one person can make a difference.
It was not always instructional time for the kids, as we often went to the canchas, which was the cement area where kids played. Even in the Reforz room we often played games with the kids. We came to realize that anything was good for them, as long as they were not on the streets. In Reforz, they were not exposed to gang violence.
And at the end of the day, many students voluntarily give the teachers a kiss good-bye on the cheek out of respect and gratitude. As an aspiring teacher, I think this is the one thing I will truly miss the most, as I know this would not be considered “okay” in America. Even if the day was exhausting, you were left knowing the kids appreciate what you did for them. Some days, your cheek would be more slobbery than others, and the “Gracias, hasta manana!” was always worth it.
After being home for several weeks, I have been able to reflect on my time volunteering with UPAVIM. Before I got to Guatemala, I was worried about how the teachers and students would feel about some American college student coming to teach English, but those fears soon went away as we were welcomed with open arms from both the students and staff of UPAVIM.
An average day for me at UPAVIM started with helping to teach a second grade English class. Once class was over, I returned to the roof to have lunch with the other volunteers. After lunch, I then went to Reinformaziento, where I helped tutor students in math and reading. Twice a week I would also teach an English class to some of the kids after school.
My favorite memories from my time spent in Guatemala, revolve around the interactions I had with the children. Despite the challenges that many of the children faced in their lives, they were truly the happiest most loving children that I have ever met. I will always remember my first full day at UPAVIM when we took the kids to the park. As we rode on the bus, it was filled with the sound of laughter and singing as one of the students danced up and down the aisle.
I look back at the 6 weeks I spent in Guatemala and am very grateful for the experience. Even though I came to UPAVIM with the intent of teaching the students, they taught me more than I could have ever imagined.
You guys may be wondering how do I clean? Cook? Shower? Wash clothes?
It’s totally understandable! I had a friend ask me if I was staying at a hotel, which I wouldn’t mind, BUT I am actually staying in the roof of UPAVIM!
The building in which we are staying has at least 5 floors, and each floor has a different purpose! For example, the first floor is the nursery and kindergartners classrooms, the second floor is a pharmacy and doctor’s office, the third is where the women make crafts, the fourth floor is the location for the classrooms for the grades 1st through 6th, and finally it’s the roof floor!
The roof, or my home for the six weeks, has four rooms, along with a kitchen, bathroom, and a pila! The pila is where all of the dishes and clothes get washed! NO, we do not have an official sink in the kitchen nor do we have washing machines! We all have to handwash our clothes, which is terrible because in the morning there is always the older women washing their clothes and they are PROFESSIONALS! One said that we [volunteers] didn’t wash our clothes, we just soaked them in water and hung them up…. [I AM GUILTY]!!
We are all assigned a day to cook and clean! My day to cook is on Wednesdays, and I must say that people really loved my “half-cookings” yesterday! I guess when you only have a limited amount of food and meals per day, you’ll literally eat anything!
Yesterday the shower stopped working! Now we all have to shower with “buckets!” The water, I must admit, has been the coldest water that I’ve showered in since I don’t know when! But usually we do have hot water! And In order to turn on the hot water, we literally have to turn on a switch!
Even though, we lack basic commodities, I have learned to look pass those things and really enjoy the simple basic things! I love the simple life that I am living!
Tomorrow seven interns of NourishUTK will leave for Guatemala City, Guatemala, for their humanitarian project. This summer, NourishUTK will be partnering with UPAVIM to help teach English and science classes in the impoverished community of La Esperanza. Being able to speak English provides access to better opportunities in the Latin American job market. UPAVIM’s English program, along with their sponsored extracurricular activities, helps keep children off the streets away from gang violence by placing them in safe nurturing environment. Our goal is for our interns to return having created a curriculum that can be successfully implemented long after the project is completed. Stayed tuned for weekly blog post and updates from our interns as they document their stay in Guatemala. Hasta proxima vez!
It is the night before our flight to Guatemala, and we could not be more excited! After weeks of planning and discussing our goals for this trip, the time has finally come! Although it might be difficult to leave our home, family, and friends behind, we cannot wait to experience the amazing moments we will spend there. We will have the opportunity to immerse ourselves within the culture and grow throughout the process, so hopefully we can bring back some valuable knowledge when we return. We are so grateful for this wonderful opportunity!
Time to make a positive impact in some people’s lives!
-The UTK Family
On Monday, we were told we would be helping out members of the community with small projects and home development type things. On Tuesday, we got up early and went with our friend, Fred (the handy man of House of Hope), down the road to get to work.
There are two main roads you can take to get to House of Hope from the central street of Kyazanga. These roads follow along a valley and have small brick houses located every several hundred feet away from each other. Their residents tend to sit in their front yards preparing meals, clothes, or mats; and they are always ready to greet people as they walk by. When we were told about the community work, I just assumed we would be working at one of these house, but that was a totally incorrect assumption, to say the least.
Fred took us to the the edge of one of the main roads and began cutting down bamboo-like plants from some farm–the farm that we are actually working on now :)– and throwing them to us to take the leaves off. These bamboo are often used in the building and stabilizing of houses here. Little did we know that we were about to be carrying these bamboo on our shoulders 1-2 miles up mountains and through plantations, and over paths, and down and around and under… and it just seemed to go on forever, basically.
Finally, we reached a house and stopped. We dropped the bamboo and laid on the ground to recuperate for a few minutes. We eventually discovered this was not our final destination, though. We got back up, but left the bamboo there, and kept going up the hills through the banana trees. We finally reached the house at the very tip top of the mountain. The view would have been AMAZING had we not all been dying of exhaustion.
Upon reaching the top, we each got a good swig of water and followed Fred back down the hill via a different path. We reached a pile of dirt, and it appeared to be what he was looking for. He began filling up baskets and jerry cans with dirt. We suddenly realized our task for that morning. We were going to be carrying this dirt up the hill to the house. They were then going to use the dirt to make a wall for their house.
We got ourselves together and started moving the dirt. After a few treks up and down the mountain, someone suggested an assembly line that made the work much easier, but still difficult. I actually got one of the women that lived there to make me a cushion out of banana leaves and started carrying the dirt on my head. We went back and forth for about an hour and a half to two hours before resting.
Upon creating a sizable pile of dirt next to the house, the family was incredibly grateful and made us matooke (bananas) and posho for lunch. We had run out of water, though, so we were beginning to get desperate. Luckily, Jenifer–the manager of House of Hope–showed up in her Prado off-road vehicle and saved us with water and sodas. She also gave us a ride back down the mountain and showed us another house we would be working at on Thursday.
The next day was fairly uneventful. We taught, we played with the kids, we brainstormed for the farm.
(One of the things that became frustrating right around this time was that World Action had still not transferred our money to us yet. Because of this, we were not able to actually start working on our project without any of our money.)
On Thursday, we went up the house we were showed and started to get to work. This work consisted of breaking down the dirt from a massive termite pile about 30 meters away from the house, moving the dirt to the house, wetting the dirt with water from a pool about 200 meters from the house, mixing the dirt into mud, and making bricks/throwing the dirt at the house to make walls.
As you might have already determined, this was incredibly tedious work. As we broke down the termite pile that was at least 6 feet tall, the termites would pile out from its core. Although all the mzungus (white people) were questioning the idea of using a termite-infested mound to build a house, we just went along with it.
After moving a lot of the dirt, a group of children from House of Hope came up to help us move water. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like without them. They were an immense amount of help.
After the whole moving process of dirt and water, the mud mixing and building of the walls was actually really fun. We all got down and dirty and the walls were constructed within two hours.
Looking at the house, it still was just four walls of mud. Sure, it wasn’t that impressive, but it will totally keep that woman that lives there and her five kids dry the next time it rains. I am pretty proud that I got to be a part of that improvement in their lives. I know the rest of the team is, too.
Later that night, two more mzungu girls showed up to volunteer at HoH. One was from GVN (Global Volunteer Network)–Danni–and the other was through a previous volunteer at HoH–Rakel. They were both 21-year-old girls. Danni from England, Rakel from Australia. We spent the evening getting to know them. It was a great end to an incredibly tiring day!
So, I had initially planned on filling the blog in on a day-to-day basis of what we were doing and how the progress with our project is going, but there is just too much happening too quickly to go back and do that for every day. I will try to give a brief synopsis of the last week below:
After the first days we have become more acquainted and comfortable with the kids. They are unbelievably sweet and wonderful to work with. Africa time is starting to frustrate a few of us because people and projects here just tend to move at a slower pace. Joy and I have been working with grades 1-3 and David and Mary have been working primarily with grades 4-7.
Wendy, an Australian woman we picked up on the way to House of Hope has raised enough money for the HoH to build two classrooms. The past Friday and Saturday we moved about eight tons of wood for them to cook with, as well as a similar amount of agrogate (really big pieces of gravel) and sand for them to make cement for the foundation. It was also a joy to carry up water in jugs up the hill for them to actually mix everything together–the children helped us immensely, though. They were all so willing to shovel and help us wheelbarrow everything up the hill.
After a full day of shoveling and wheel barreling and manual labor on Saturday we decided to head over the Kampala for the weekend to relax a bit. On the way, we paid about 6 bucks to get on a taxi meant for 12, that actually held 21 passengers. Luckily the surplus got off within the first hour and a half on the road, though.
We got to Kampala completely exhausted Saturday evening and got up early Sunday to eat a delicious breakfast at the Red Chilli and head out to buy some souveniers and experience the city a little more. Elise was the best tour guide we could ask for. We spent the day at a market, and then one of David’s friends who is also in Kampala this summer took us all out for Ethiopian food. We had so much food, and fun, and great conversation.
On the way back, we were forced to pass by these street children on the sidewalk. Some of them were literally infants, some had peed themselves. For me, personally, it was a moment that won’t leave me any time soon. We had been warned about this by Lee when we arrived, but tonight was the worst of it that I had seen. The parents or guardians will set their kids on the street and tell them to get money from muzungu.
When I saw that–children that couldn’t even walk yet, sitting on the street with their hand up for money– it was a true feeling of hopelessness. I cried all the way back to the Red Chilli and continued once we got back. At some point, though, I just realized that sitting there crying was not being productive at all. While walking past and ignoring them is not productive, weeping and being over emotional won’t do anything either. The group resolved to wake up early today, and we are going to buy bread and some fruits and vegetables for them. Although it seems incredibly insignificant, at least it’s something. That’s what we are doing this morning and then we are heading back to the House of Hope tonight.
After spending the morning in Masaka after the last post, we got a heads up of a demonstration to go on at about 5pm, so we left for the House of Hope at 3:30. Got on the main highway that goes all the way from Uganda and through Rwanda. We passed through numerous little villages with children shouting “Muzungu! Muzungu!” as we passed. It’s my guess that seeing a muzungu (white person) in Uganda, is something like the punch bug game pack home, because every child and a fair number of adults yell it every time they see us.
When we reached Kyazanga, (pronounced chee-ya-zanga) it was no different. As we made our way from the highway to the small back streets children would run from their houses to the street yelling “Bye Muzungu” and waving and jumping. Every once in a while there would be one infant that would start crying and screaming upon seeing their first muzungu, but the vast majority were extremely adorable.
When we actually arrived at the House of Hope, all the children ran to the vehicles, waving and yelling, “Hello!” or “How are you!” and hugging us with all their might as we stepped onto the dirt in front of the school. It was the greatest welcoming anyone could hope for!
We quickly met the headmaster and the volunteer, Elise, 18, who has been at the House of Hope through GVN (Global Volunteer Network) for the past month.
As we were shown the guest house and introduced to various staff, the children carried all our luggage from the vehicles to the porch of the guest house.
During our introduction we were given our basic weekly schedule, which is roughly: Monday: free, Tuesday: community work, Wednesday: teach, Thursday: project/community work, Friday: teach, Saturday: project/community work, and Sunday: free. We all volunteered to teach various subjects and classes and promptly had our first true Ugandan meal. Dinner consisted of rice, beans, and cabbage–which is to be our dinner every night for the rest of our stay at the House of Hope.
That evening the Nourish team, our Australian friend, Will, and our Canadian friend, Elise spent a lovely evening just talking, getting to know each other, and preparing for the following day.
The next day, we hadn’t had our official class schedule yet, so we just sat in a few different ones to see how they ran. It soon became obvious that the children were all incredibly well behaved and genuinely passionate about learning. It also became clear that the only real form of teaching here is rote memorization. As I sat in and listened, I attempted to formulate slightly alternative ways of teaching the same lessons.
At lunch time, we had the same meal as the children : posho and beans. Posho is a type of incredibly dense, flavorless, maize concoction. Although incredibly filling, the taste is amazingly similar to dirt. But, we all ate and remained satisfied until our next meal.
Our second day in Kampala, Lee took it upon herself to show us the ropes. First, she took us to a popular muzungu (white/wealthy person) shopping mall, called Garden City to exchange more money. Next, she helped us get a working cell from a guy working in a tiny open electronics store. One of the strange things for us to understand is that EVERYTHING is used. Almost nothing in Uganda is new- from the clothes people wear, to the cell phones they buy. So, we bought a relatively nice used phone for 70,000 shillings and went on our way. The craziest place we went was the open air taxi market. There is an area in the very center of the city with entirely gridlocked traffic and a maze of these taxi buses. People were shouting in every direction trying to sell things and get around the various obstacles. I imagine it is something like the stock market in New York only outside, with as many vehicles as there are people, and not much calculation at all. There must have been some sort of method to the madness, but I sure wasn’t around long enough to figure it out! On the way out, we bought some of the most delicious mangos we’ve ever had and spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Red Chilli.
We made our way to Masaka the next day. Jenifer came to pick us up at the Red Chilli around 10:30am the next day. She brought a 15-year-old girl named Sala and 2 drivers with her. They stayed and enjoyed some food there, as the food at the House of Hope is not as varied. We ended up staying there until about 12:30.
Next, we took a drive back to Entebbe to pick up two more volunteers from a different organization. I was assuming we would go straight to the House of Hope from Entebbe, but we definitely did not. We took the 1-2 hour drive there from Kampala, picked up the 2 volunteers, and went all the way back to Kampala. (I think this was one example of a communication problem) While back in Kampala, we went to Garden City for snacks for the road and started off for Masaka.
Masaka ended up being about a 5 hour drive. It was a full taxi with our packs, but it ended up being a good opportunity to converse a bit. We passed tons of little markets and got a little bit more into the jungle/forest area of Uganda. One of the coolest things about the trek, was that we actually crossed the line of the Equator on our way from Kampala to Masaka! (Or, at least that’s what somebody told me.)
We wanted to get all the way to House of Hope, but it started to get too late, so we had to stop at Masaka and stay at Jenifer’s house for the night. I cannot describe the maze of forest, small houses, and muddy roads to reach her abode. As we went around corner after corner, we just kept thinking- “this must be it.. no? okay.. wait.. this one.. it must be… okay.. maybe not.”- When we finally arrived, we were welcomed by a man with an AK-47 guarding the her house. I m just glad that he was on our side. We spent a great, relaxing night in her house and woke up the next morning to head into the town for internet and to get a few more random bits of supplies. We will be heading to the House of Hope later today. We will probably not be able to update the blog again for about a week.
We arrived in Uganda Friday, May 20th at the Entebbe Airport around noon. A volunteer coordinator named Lee came to meet us at the airport. She was holding a sign with our names on it and wearing a bright blue dress and an even brighter smile. She helped us exchange some cash, and we promptly found a taxi to take us to Kampala. Taxis here are basically vans with 16 seats for passengers. The one we got into had half of the seats folded down for our luggage. The words, ‘THE GUNNER,’ were splashed across the windshield. The two boys driving appeared to be in their teens, and both had big smiles on their faces, as we attempted to say, “Ki kati! Oli Otya?” (Hello! How are you?). The first thing we passed as we left the airport was field filled with retired airplanes and a fenced in area with UN boxes piled high. As we kept driving, we passed numerous pedestrians walking along the roadside, tons of bota-botas (motorcycle taxis) flying past us, and a number of other taxis like we were in. Surprisingly enough, the most common business along the main road was the sale of paint. (I know, it surprised me, too!)
As we got closer to Kampala, the roads became more crowded and the land surrounding the roads became more clustered as well, only with homes and shanties and such. Within Kampala, there are three main roads and a slew of smaller roads that appear to be spread out in chaos around the main roads. When we were paused at stop lights, boys would run up and attempt to sell us maps and other merchandise through the windows. We worked our way through the city until we reached a slightly less crowded road with an arrow pointing to some place called the Red Chilli Hideaway.
We entered the Red Chilli through a guarded gate and made our way to our home for the next two nights. This area was pretty much a safe haven for the muzungu (white people) coming to Kampala. It was such a strange sight to see so many outsiders in the one little area. After getting settled, Lee brought us to a table outside and we discussed more details of our upcoming time at the House of Hope. We discussed bugs, clothing, cleanliness, expectations, and so on. After our talk we had an excellent dinner at the restaurant located within the safe haven of the Red Chilli. I promptly fell asleep afterwards at around 8pm and didn’t wake up until it was necessary the next day.