Nicol, Katie C., Tisa, and I have returned; Back to our towns, back to our jobs, back to our friends, back to our school, back to our lives. We are exposed to the same amenities that we have enjoyed for years-asphalt roads, quality public education, shopping centers, a honest police force, a government accountable for its actions, the high social mobility that comes with living in the United States. Yet the abrupt realization that these things are, indeed, amenities becomes apparent to us. Comprehending that we were born on a pedestal, and were not even aware of it until so recently. I choose the word pedestal to exaggerate the extensive advantage we have on the quest for success than almost everyone else in the world. This fact, to me, brings a burden. A burden that I welcome. A burden that I need. A burden that I will put absolutly everything that I possess into countermanding. I will not only reach my goals, I will smash them and then set new, higher, more ambitious ones. We will change lives, we will provide opportunity. There is absolutly no excuse to not work hard. That would not only be letting myself down, but the endless amount of lives that I have the power to positively affect.
All this makes me wonder why. Why? Why are there more than a billion people in the world living in extreme poverty, yet I was born into the second most wealthy county in the United States of America? We did absolutly nothing different, I am no better than them. We are equal. Did I win some type of random lottery? Was I luckier? I did nothing to earn my spot here, I do not understand why I possess it. It makes no sense to me at all… Needless to say, I am no closer to an answer. I do know that I have a responsibility, down to my core, to improve the world. I have so much power, with hard work I can be part of a growing student movement-Nourish International. Nourish International WILL have a large hand in eradicating extreme global poverty. I, as a student, am at the center of this movement.
Nicol, Katie C., Tisa and I have been shooting around emails ever since we got back. We are working harder than ever to grow Nourish International UF. We will get members. We will take advantage of our wealth of knowledge to come up with the most successful ventures. We will look to see what our campus wants and needs. We will use the money generated from these ventures to fund another project, to impact another community, to change more lives of people now, and of generations to come.
I haven’t been able to write on this blog because there have been so many other things to keep up with! Not only do I write on this blog, but I also have a personal blog in which I write some personal thoughts on my experiences here in Guatemala. I also recently bought a beautifully hand-crafted journal in Antigua that I am trying to put to use and write down some everyday, random thoughts of my travel experiences. It’s a lot of writing to keep up with and although I don’t write the same things in all blogs it still gets kind of confusing trying to remember whether or not I’m repeating myself! Anyways, today was by far the best day I have had here in Guatemala and I think I can speak for the rest of the girls when I say this. We all woke up a bit tired since we stayed up talking about our plans for Nourish International in the upcoming semester. I have never been so excited to be part of something so meaningful and empowering and I really hope that we can reach a lot more people this upcoming year. We spent exactly SIX hours after dinner discussing our plans and opportunities for the club this upcoming year. We bounced ideas off each other all night, it was like a super intense six hour ping- pong game where we came up with ways in which we can amp up our club meetings and the ventures we conduct around campus. We all got so excited and sent out tons of emails contacting people that would want to be part of the growth process that Nourish International will experience this upcoming year.
So, we got ready for a regular day at work except for the fact that we got stuck in traffic for about 2 hours because of some accident/ student strike that broke out on our way to Potter’s House! It was crazy because there were people running around in the streets and drivers going over sidewalks trying to escape the traffic. So after going over the sidewalk we were on our way to work! Today we got to teach the women from the beauty salon class, and originally we were gonna do a lesson on revision and reiteration of their marketing plans and financial plans but, we decided to change this last minute and talk about how to be an innovator. While on this trip I read Steve Jobs’s biography and I absolutely enjoyed all 600 pages of it (even though most people were sick and tired of me talking about his unusual ways). Either way, reading the biography really opened up my eyes to the importance of innovation so I decided to pass down this knowledge to these women. After a couple of encouraging videos of other women who started micro-enterprises I decided that it would be a great idea for Katie Conner to come up and speak about her experiences when she started Nourish International. She talked about all the many failures she experienced while trying to get Nourish off the ground and how she was able to learn from those failures to create money making ventures that succeeded. I explained that starting a business is all about learning to cope with failures and letting go of the fears that hold you back. I read a quote from Og Mandino, the author of The Greatest Salesman In The World, that spoke about turning your ideas into actions. It talked about the fact that success waits for no one and tomorrow is only in the calendar of fools. We noticed that the women were laughing and enjoyed relating to us while we talked about our failures with trying to raise funds for Nourish and how we learned from those experiences. It’s all true, a lot of the times we feel like idiots and we’re scared of what people are going to think about us when we get out there and try to make something happen, but it always turns out to be a learning experience. At the end of the class one of the women, who we have never heard speak before, stood up and said she spoke on behalf of all the women when she said that they have learned a tremendous amount from our classes and that our lessons have changed the way they think about life and business. At this point Katie F., Tisa, Katie C. and I looked at each other in shock as our jaws dropped. This was the first time we have heard any feedback from them and we could not have been more thankful for the words that came out of her mouth. I told them on behalf of all of us that they have taught us more than we could ever teach them, and that this has been such a unique adventure for all of us. I then dismissed the class, and to my surprise half of the women stayed after class and came up to us to ask us questions about Nourish International, our personal lives and what we have done to overcome the struggles that come our way. I told them about how my parents and I immigrated to the United States when I was seven, how difficult it was for us to adapt to a place where we had no friends or family and how my father started washing cars to support our family while my mom worked as a secretary. I told them about how my parents left our past in Bolivia and forced my brother and I to work hard in and out of school so that we could shape our own paths for the future.
I told them to live a life of adventure and curiosity and fun because the only thing stopping them is death, and hey, we’re all gonna reach that at one point so we might as well continue to live each day as if it were our last, because we never know when we’ll be right. Below are some pictures of our classes!
Much love to all! I’ll be back in just a couple of days!
Whether one wants to believe that it happened by chance or that some contributory hand of fate caused it, the influences in my life have specifically (and in my opinion purposefully) tailored me into the individual that I have gown into.
My parents are undoubtedly the most intelligent people I have ever encountered. I say that with the utmost substance, in a way that could not be more genuine. I choose the word intelligent to describe them because in my mind, the word encompasses what it means to be all types of smart. They are the type of clever that includes the ability to succeed in school and trades, to excel with people, to demonstrate inquisitiveness, to be perceptive, and to view life in a holistic way that puts everything into perspective. My dad always taught me the importance of listening to what people have to say, the importance of enjoying all life has to offer. While my mom, the woman with the biggest heart in the entire world, instilled a desire to use what I have been given to challenge the status quo, to make a change for the better.
If you told me two years ago that the random elective that I was placed into was going to even make me think, let alone have a profound impact on my life…I probably would have laughed in your face. However, as life often goes, I was taken by complete surprise. While I was a senior in high school I had the distinct honor of being a student in Dr. David Campbell’s world religions class. Never in my life was I more enthralled by lecture, more determined to allow the insight of a person to penetrate my head and saturate my brain. A particular sentence that he said sticks out above all others. He told us that a person finds his passion when he encounters something for which he is willing to suffer, something for which he is willing to do anything for.
Well Doc C, I’ve found it! I’ve found it, and then some. Casa Del Alfarero deserves to be recognized. Its mission warrants the organization to be put on a pedestal for the world to observe, and hopefully duplicate time and time again. By identifying and targeting the eight forms of poverty, Casa Del Alfarero aims to provide specific programs to empower people to conquer the circumstances in which they’ve been born into. This mission is something that I whole heartily love being a part of, something that encompasses everything that I have been taught and influenced to value, something that I’d do almost anything to see succeed.
Four times a week, we give English classes to five young people who have the opportunity to travel to the United States in June to visit their sponsor families. Each of them has to write a 4-5 page testimony about how Casa Del Alfarero has impacted their lives. We had them first write it in Spanish, then aided them with the translation. Let me tell you…never have I been more moved then while translating these papers. Every so often, I have to fake a cough or quickly turn my head away to get a perplexed frown out of my system, before facing them once again with a smile. The first boy whose testimony I translated is named Jonathan, he grew up with his family relying on the garbage dump. Two f his brothers died of disease before reaching adulthood. I read the sentence in which he was describing the death of his brothers, and was completely taken aback. For one, he used the Spanish verb ‘faltar’ for ‘to die’ and I had never seen that verb used in such a way. So, I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant. But then after asking Nicol and reading the context…the truth hit me. I think it physically pained me just translating this sentence. But, I also knew that the world needed to hear his story…
I want to make it clear though, that this boy was not playing on the unfortunate life to get sympathy or charity. His testimony spoke of his unfaltering faith that God’s plan for his life was one that was sure and right. He did not dwell, on or even seem to realize, how many terrible things had happened to him. But instead, wrote page after page about the opportunity for education and love that Casa Del Alfarero and his sponsor parents have presented with him with. Like my good friend Ana Chang told me… “You come to Casa del Alfarero thinking you’re going to help people, but they end up helping you.”
The second testimony I translated was that of the 24 year old girl Susy. This testimony is the one that legitimizes Casa del Alfarero’s mission, the one that proves that success is possible. Susy grew up near the dump, her dad being an alcoholic. Susy studied hard in school and eventually was able to attain a scholarship to a better private school provided by her sponsor parents and Casa. She conveyed to me that her first few years in the private school were very hard for her because everyone else attending had so much money. She was the only poor kid in the entire school, and because of this no one wanted to associate with her. She admitted to me that she came home crying almost everyday, and was ready to quit countless times. She knew though, that if she stayed strong, she would be able to be a model for all the other kids coming out of the dump. So she studied, fought through, and eventually graduated high school with high honors. She earned a place in the University, and was also granted a scholarship. She graduated college, and now works as a teacher… free from the grip of poverty and out of the dump. Education…Opprotunity…Success…Freedom…
I used to think that peace of mind came from ignorance…from not knowing. I used to think that a free mind, a completely satisfied being was only possible if one was unaware of the injustice that exists. Although this isn’t completely wrong, I know now that this mindset is not even close to correct. Peace of mind comes from working as hard as you possibly can, using your talents, to improve the world. I am in no way insinuating that people need to give money or time that they don’t have. I don’t believe people should give easy handouts. I do think that something as simple as being passionate about what you do on a daily basis is good enough to make the change needed.
Many times when I write, I find that I don’t even know what I have sat down to convey until I am finished. Before I start, I just know that I have the desire to share a story with whoever decides to give up the time to read. I believe in the strength of words. I believe that through their complete disregard for boarders of all kind, they have the capability to share thoughts and influence lives throughout humanity.
I hope this post has found you all well!
I’m writing this post from the comfortable and occasionally lonely desk we’ve been given at Casa Del Alfarero. Events from the past few weeks have collectively changed my understanding and opinions of “development work”. Below gives a little explanation, and a glimpse into the thoughts constantly running through my mind.
The first couple weeks we were here we were given a small glimpse at the life and reality of this community. We were buried under stories of hardship and moved by tears rolling down the hardened faces of people living in a daily battle against their home, themselves, and their surroundings. We learned of the uncertainty of a meal, of the constant medical threats, and of the hope of breaking free from the grip of slavery to an unstable paycheck. We played with their children, and learned that some wanted to grow up to become graphic designers, chefs, etc. Overall the outlook seemed hopeful, and almost immediately attainable…if only we helped them “just” do this, this, and that.
Just. I’ve struggled with that word my whole life, and I’m realizing the struggle continues in this community. While I’ve struggled against “just” doing that calculus problem correctly, or “just” swinging the golf club the right way, or “just” mustering up enough courage to mold my naturally introverted personality into a more confident and extroverted one, these women have struggled against “just” saving a little money every week when it seems there’s never enough to make it through the present, “just” working together to build a business in a team when the tension is so high with your neighbor that when computer sharing becomes an issue, it breaks out in a fist fight, and “just” taking the risk to purchase an expensive tool or rent out a space to grow your business that may give you the opportunity to really break free of the slavery, or may put you in a worse condition than you already are, a thought almost unbearable to think about.
Since the first two weeks, our little group of middle-class girls from Florida, have increasingly been distanced from the raw circumstance we experienced so intimately in the beginning. Our time has shifted from learning about this community, how they live, and their struggles, to re-working our lesson plans to be as understandable, appropriate and relevant as possible, and creating our business handbook, the most sustainable material gift we will leave behind when we leave Casa Del Alfarero and resume our daily lives worrying about GRE exams, building resume’s, and making the “right” life decisions. Spending more time at our desks, and less time in the presence and homes of the women we’re here for has numbed me to the desperation and pure emotion we experienced before. Keeping that in the back of my mind, as the white walls, and freshly washed floors of Casa Del Alfarero surround me, has proven extremely difficult. The reality has morphed into bits of concept in my brain, and the urge to move faster, get things done quickly, and follow schedules and plans has taken over. I know that I need to fight these urges, and find a middle ground to work the most effectively, but somehow, I need that constant immersion into the problem to really try to understand it.
For example, during our class today, with the Jewelry making group, I felt an overwhelming sense of frustration and helplessness. When we see that one person out of 20 is taking notes, and the only feedback we receive is “I don’t know how much money I spend a month, and no, I won’t track my expenses, because it takes too much time.” It’s very difficult to decide whether the concepts we have been taught to be so integral for managing money and running a business, really are that important and worth pounding into the heads of these women, or, if our lives and experiences are so far removed from their reality that what we’ve learned and find important may certainly be in our own environment, but the translation from middle-class America to poverty stricken Guatemalan slums might leave these concepts worthless and irrelevant. From the beginning, the Jewelry class has given us the most trouble. At this point, I can’t decide if this is a positive thing. Do the negative attitudes of this class, and the more apparent competition between its attendees, give us real information we can use to adjust our plans? Are the other classes, especially the beautician’s class, who take notes, and follow along with the problems, and occasionally ask questions doing so to appease us? It’s such a hard thing to think about especially when we’ve been brought here to be teachers, but with such limited understanding of life here, we end up becoming the students. The jewelry class, which literally breaks us down on Thursday mornings, may be the class that teaches us the most about what is really needed in this community. This may not be anything we can provide now, but if anything it will give us the knowledge that will help us reach success if we choose to dedicate our lives to efforts like these.
Poverty has proven to be such a simple and complex problem. On the one hand…as Paul Polack, a man who has interviewed thousands of poor people across the globe and founder of International Development Enterprises, says: poverty is a simple issue, when you ask a poor person why he is poor, he will tell you it is because he doesn’t have enough money. Therefore the solution is to find ways to make more money. In the case of Polak’s work, almost completely with small rural farmers, that meant taking advantage of low-cost labor in the areas these farmers live in, and focusing on growing high value crops that also require high amounts of labor, such as off-season vegetables, and even high value cash crops. The solution is obvious…I need more money…lets increase the value of my product, find my place in an international market that will pay, and be consistent in providing that product. But, on the other hand, doesn’t education, political power, and having money in the first place really increase your opportunity to make more money? But, again, won’t making more money allow a group of people to get a better education, make even more money, and gain political influence. How can development efforts be focused to really invest in the solutions that will put development workers out of a job? That’s the point isn’t it? At this point, I feel like I’m leaning more towards Polak’s side. I think that allowing people to provide for their basic needs, by making more money in anyway they can do it now, will provide them with the experience, hope, and desire to provide the more for themselves. I believe that working with these women, as hopeless as it sometimes feels, has been an incredible lesson on perseverance, and overcoming obstacles. We know they want to be here, we know they want to learn, and we know they desperately want to improve the lives of their families, but, the translation from wanting to doing comes with a lot more struggle.
Now I have a few random things I’ve been thinking about this past week.
1.) Just for your information, I found out Ashley’s already lying about here age, her brother explained to me, she’s really 4 not 2. This made a lot more sense because I really thought she was really big and advanced for 2.
2.) Hopefully we’ll be climbing Pacaya this weekend, a volcano located near Antigua, if we do, I will be so incredibly happy. Since we’ve gotten here, it has been the one thing I’ve wanted to make sure we do.
3.) Throughout this trip I’ve been hoping for some divine sign telling me what should be the next step in my life. At this point I’m stuggling between a few options, but can’t decide what really is the “right” choice. I think I’ve realized there is no “right” choice and whatever I decide will be what it is, and will end up being something good.
4.) Being here in the city, surrounded with trash, people, and all things created and constructed by people has shown me beauty in a different way than I’ve ever experienced before. Tisa’s observations about our drive to Casa de Alfarero everyday put it beautifully. But, at the same time, it is no match for the natural beauty experienced on a river, in a forest, or immersed in any wild untouched land. Thinking about this reminds me of something Laura, our main contact at Casa del Alfarero said. She explained that she’s worked in many different poverty environments and believed the people here have a “worse” poverty. She talks about the rural villages, who have many struggles of their own, but are surrounded by beauty everyday. The people here are surrounded by garbage. How would this affect you? I could completely understand what she was saying, and that thought reinforces my desire to work with environmental issues. If my efforts can somehow conserve the beauty and resources we find naturally which are undoubtedly more extravagant and perfect than anything man can create, I will be happy. The environment affects everyone in such extreme ways, its quality effects the quality of our resources, our health, the water we drink, the food we grow, and so many other things. If it’s not healthy, how can we expect for humanity to be healthy.
Untill next time…
-Katie C. ☺
Reaching past the halfway mark of our trip, my mind has been jumbled with thoughts and memories I do not want to forget. On our daily drive to work at Casa del Alfarero, located in the dangerous inner city area around the huge Guatemala city dump, we drive over a bridge where we have an amazing view, and a camera just does not do it justice. The lush green hills which we never see in Florida are blemished with shacks made of metal and cardboard, and sometimes if we are lucky with a clear enough day the combination of nature and man-made shelter are breathtaking with the backdrop of an enormous volcano which offers beauty as well as danger. This scene never fails to make me just stop thinking so much, and to just enjoy the strange scene of untraditional beauty.
As a recent college graduate, I worry about all of the things I wish I had done differently so that maybe I would have a clearer sense of what my purpose is in life. I think about if I’m going to make it into dental school, what I could have said to stand out more to my professors, and if I chose the right major and direction of study. After being here for the past couple of weeks I have had some time to look back and connect the dots. I chose to study Psychology and changed my major from Journalism without having a second thought the first day of school my freshman year. At times I felt stupid for not listening to my father and just choosing a science major or going with my childhood dreams of becoming a journalist. But would I have the same interpersonal skills, social intelligence, and ability to feel empathy for the many people I have met who are less fortunate than me if I had not chosen to focus on learning about human behavior? I also used psychology when designing a way to encourage our classes to open up and participate. It involved the use of a cooperative contingency for the class to work together and encourage more positive interactions in order to receive reinforcement at the end of our final class. My hand dexterity learned from my studies in ceramics (also opposed by my father) has also come to use on this trip as I showed some of the women some new ways to turn paper into tiny stars and pinwheels after they asked me to teach them so they could incorporate it into their jewelry. I believe everything happens for a reason, and my choice in my studies has not been fully explained; but what I’ve witnessed so far is a start, as I realize that I plan to continue humanitarian efforts in my future career. We have met many people here in Guatemala, and I have appreciated their willingness to share their stories with us, and even with the language barrier I can tell that they have a sense of hope for something better. I hope that in our time here we can help them make those hopes become closer to reality.
Accidents. Is there such a thing? What are the chances that in the short month that we are here that an opportunity for renting a space for a beauty salon arose? The one or two women in each class at Casa del Alfarero that actually have a business, run it at home, but this space offers the chance to reach a larger market. I really hope that the space Wendy has been offered can work out, and am excited for our meeting tomorrow with the leaders of Casa del Alfarero to see what their opinion is on the matter. Today we finished an inital draft of the book/workbook on how to start a business. We had to alter our lesson plans numerous times after finding that things that may come naturally to us must be broken down to many people in our classes, and we incorporated these findings into the construction of our business book. For example, we had to dedicate two lessons just on how to calculate daily variable and fixed expenses in order to gauge what revenues would be needed in order to make a profit. Hopefully this workbook will last long after we’re gone to sustainably help the people of the Guatemalan city dump. I hope it will be edited, modified as time goes by, and passed along to friends and other people who want to rise out of the trash and start their own small businesses.
As I write this blog, I realize that I have many hopes for the results of this project, and I know that not all can not be fulfilled. But as long as we can affect one life, our trip would have been worth it. I feel as I have learned so much while being in Guatemala, especially from the displays of gratitude for what little these people have, and generosity to give what they don’t have. I don’t just hope, but I know this part of our project will stay with me. This generous spirit was present not only in the poor, but across the socio-economic classes. I saw this in the Chengs, the middle class family friends of Katie F. who gave up their beds and treated us with delicious food at every meal. They made us feel so welcome, and even though I had just met them I felt at home. I also saw this generosity in Claudia Yesenia, a woman who welcomed us into her home with walls of metal and cardboard, and doors of blankets. She offered each of us some hot cinnamon coffee while she told us how she at times all that her children, sick father, sister, and sister’s children would eat just a tortilla and butter for dinner. Despite their appearance and how they live, all of the different types of people I have encountered have radiated beauty to me, just like that strangely wonderful scene we drive by every day near the bridge. And as I stand in awe of this beautiful feeling I am able to forget all of my previous worries. Anyways, these worries shouldn’t matter because as the famous quote says no one will remember what I did, or what I said, but they will remember how I made them feel. And that is something I now strive to focus on.We have less than two weeks left in Guatemala, and I can only hope that that we are able to make an impression on the people of this country as they have on me.
I hope this post finds all of you well. Today is a very special day, I don’t know why yet, but we could all feel it as we were on our way to Casa Del Alfarero this morning. So, before I begin sharing our plans for the week I would like to give you guys a recap of our weekend! So, we started the weekend at 6:30 AM on saturday, we put on our bathing suits, I put on shorts for the first time since I’ve been here, Katie C. put on her Scrub Jay hat, Katie F and Tisa wore coloful beach outfits and we were all set to go to the Pacific Ocean! So, the five of us (including Brian) crammed into a four person taxi for an hour and a half until we reached the black sands of San Juan Beach. We paid 80 quetzales ($10) to have access to Hotel Santa Maria Del Mar’s pools and with much anticipation we ran towards the shore. We expectred really cold waters but to our surprise the water was warm! What we didn’t expect was the waves to be as strong and as tall as they were. Although we were the only ones at the beach most of the time, we enjoyed each other’s company as we carelessly ran against the current and were swept towards shore with the push of a wave. After 2 hours of intense ocean swimming we moved to the pool and cooled down under the shade. Katie C, Tisa and I ended up falling asleep by the pool side after we ate left over pizza we saved from the night before. 5 hours and a sun tan later we got back on the taxi and both Katies, Tisa and I got dropped off at a Burger King where Katie’s friends (Juanjo and Anna) picked us up!
If I had to describe the Chang family in one word it would be generous. They picked us up and welcomed us into their home with open arms and heart warming smiles and we couldn’t thank them enough for their wonderful hospitality. The Changs have been katie F.’s family friends since they hosted Katie’s mom when she studied abroad here in Guatemala. They took us out for a delicious meal at Saul one of the most creatively designed restaurants I have ever seen. We all ate until we couldn’t anymore and afterwards we took a small walk around the plaza that was covered in pretty lights. We ended the night with a movie and full tummies. The next morning we got invited to a huge family gathering at La Estancia where, once again, Guatemalan generosity was present. We got warm welcomes from cousins, aunts, and uncles who were not only nice, but also hilarious! We ate at a buffet, you already know what that means…. pancakes, cheeses, fruits, breads, egg rolls, omlettes, etc. So with our stomachs fuller than ever we all drove downtown and took a walk by the market. Both Katies bought souvenirs for family members and Tisa bought a random hat she didn’t really need… once again. As we walked by the food market we learned of different Guatemalan candies, and our eyes were filled with a plethora of different colored fruits. After much walking and shopping we went back to the Chang’s and watched a movie (a.k.a. took a nap). Our weekend ended with some Italian icecream and a walk around the mall. We were absolutely stunned by how kind Katie’s friends were to us, complete strangers! It really made us love Guatemala that much more.
So, today we’re back at Casa del Alfarero making some lesson plans, creating our business book, and figuring out some of the purchases we have to make to gift the people we are serving. So, I will leave the rest of our plans for the other girls to describe!
Until next blog post!
So it’s been a rough week here in Guatemala and by rough I mean a bit hectic! With all that we have on our plate we really had to start taking advantage of our downtime. So we started the week by going on some house visits. This time we visited Wendy and we learned that she had been given the opportunity to rent out a place for 1,200 quetzales a month ($150) to open up a beauty salon. As soon as she said this I immediately thought it was a great opportunity! $150 dollars to rent out a space for a business is an incredible deal! However, Laura and the people at Potter’s House brought me back down to Earth and explained the many difficulties and risks that Wendy would run if she decided to take the offer. Since Wendy does not have the money to pay the rent of the space each month she would have to get 2 other people to work with in order to split the cost of rent. This is a huge risk because most of the people that we met at Potter’s House haven’t worked with a team. I understand where the insecurities to work with others would come from, since most of the women have been left with 3 or more children by their husbands so, trusting others is something that doesn’t come easy to them. Also, Wendy doesn’t have any experience owning her own business. Although many obstacles have presented themselves in front of Wendy and her dream to own her own business, I still believe that there is a way to overcome all of these and make her dream come true! So, Katie C, Katie F, Tisa, and I started planning on ways that we could help Wendy. We started observing the students in our classes that we noticed were always taking notes and interested in learning. We made it our goal to look for people that Wendy could work with that are determined and willing to take a risk. Auri is a woman who stood out to us from the beginning. So, we asked Carol, who is part of the staff at Potter’s House, to take us to Auri’s house so we could get to know her some more and see if she would be a good candidate to join Wendy. It turns out that Auri has her own small salon in her home with a small mirror, a chair and a hair washing sink. She welcomed us into her home with a big smile and insisted that we sit on her couch while she told us a little bit about herself and her life. Auri’s husband abandoned her 7 years ago when their fourth child was born and she was left to care for all four of them on her own. Because Casa Del Alfarero noticed her determination to get ahead, they built her a small home near the community so, her home is the nicest one we have been to so far. Auri shared with us that she only works from home on weekends and she cleans houses monday- friday. There are many disadvantages of living in the community near the dump, because people barely have any money to eat much less to get a haircut for 15 quetzales so that is why she doesn’t work on her business during the week. However, Auri has progressed more than any other woman we have seen so far and it is evident that her hard work has paid off.
I was very inspired by Auri’s faith in God. I have always believed in God, but I have never consciously reached out to him like people here in Guatemala do. Auri told us that once her children were begging her to buy juice so that they could have some for lunch and Auri, who was short on money, told her children to pray for some clients to come in and cut their hair so that they could have money to buy juice for lunch. So Auri’s four children kneeled down by Auri’s bedside and prayed to God to bless them with some juice for lunch. Soon enough Auri had 5 clients that day and her children were able to have juice with their lunch. Auri laughed as she told the story but I could tell that Auri wholeheartedly puts her life in God’s hands.
After visiting Auri we decided to go take a look at the space that Wendy has been offered. It was a small place and to our surprise it was completely furnished with Beauty Salon supplies. The previous owner is Wendy’s good friend who used to own a barber shop and he’s offering her the space because he started a new business and doesn’t have time to run the barber shop any longer. He was generous enough to offer her the space at a low cost and with all the supplies included. I was a little too excited and I started thinking about how much potential the place had and how we could help decorate it, but once again we Laura reminded me that we still had a lot to discuss.
I know that there are a lot of risks involved, but how often do you get opportunity like this one? I won’t get my hopes up, but I think that we could really help Wendy figure something out.
Until next time,
Several times I have sat down to make a blog entry, to take advantage of this means of communication to tell a story; the story of several years, the story of thousands of lives, the story of countless struggle, the story of those who persevered and believed enough to overcome. Although it seems a simple act, it has taken more than a couple minutes and thoughts to express, to communicate, everything I was able to witness in these last few days. The story that I share with you is one that encompasses a long, grueling history, and one that is for sure to have an extensive and exhausting future. This is a story in which the dictating problem has no concrete solution. We don’t know if this story will have a happy ending, or any ending at all for that matter. All we can do is use everything that we have been given to work in order to pass along the opportunity that we have enjoyed since birth, to those who have never been given such a chance. I want my writing, this post, to do justice to not only the people of El Basurero and the workers of Casa Del Alfarero, but also to the greater mission, the overall goal…to provide opportunity.
I have visited Guatemala two times in the past, once in 2007 with my family and once in 2010 on my own. However, the mass poverty that plagues the nation is not something that I, a Fairfax County native, will ever be able to forget. On a similar note, the people of Guatemala will always have a special place in my heart and mind. Let me tell you, when I came to Guatemala in 2010 on my own, with very little Spanish speaking ability, and naïve/sheltered mindset, I probably was not the most joyful person to be around. (and that’s an extreme understatement) But I can say with 100% confidence, with every fiber of my being, that my attitude turned around real fast thanks to the people of Guatemala. Never in my life was I able to spend time with better, more quality people who were willing to put forth every effort to make sure that I was having a great time, that I was able to be exposed to their fantastic culture, even though I did not deserve such wonderful treatment. One of the several things that strikes me about Guatemalans is their distinct ability to appreciate life, to have fun no matter where they are or what is going on. Needless to say, I had the trip of a lifetime in 2010! And thanks to the love of Guatemalan people, my life was changed. I made a promise to myself that I would return and try and pay the endless debt that I owe to these people. I came to Guatemala for a reason, these people without a doubt made me a better person, and I will always be more than thankful.
…Which brings me to now, May 24, 2012. We are here. We made it! Our ideas and hard work all year have turned into actions, and our actions hopefully will make some sort of difference, no matter how small. I arrived in Guatemala City on Monday and the first thing I was able to do upon arriving at Casa Del Alfarero was drive out to the overlook of the trash dump with Katie C. Pictures do not even come close to encompassing what we saw. Hundreds of people walking down to the dump, hundreds more already there scavenging, trucks driving through to crush the existing trash and to drop off more…all barely missing the people who were down there. Talking with Laura, our helper from Casa, we were informed that about 11,000 people try to make a living from the dump, and living in the surrounding “neighborhoods” (for lack of better word). As the trucks drove into the dump, we took notice that some trucks seemed to be more popular than others. More people swarmed around some trucks, and Katie C. and I did not understand…all of the trash trucks were the same right, I mean it’s all the same trash… wrong. Laura informed us that the people know which trucks come from which zones, and the richer zones provided better trash. That idea sickens me…
The next thing we were able to do was go on a house visit in the middle of the barrio. The house was crunched in the middle of several others, with a dirt floor and tin walls. There were two beds, a makeshift kitchen, and what looked like piles of junk. The woman runs her own sewing business, but lacks a proper sewing machine and does not have the means to buy one. She has one child of her own, but has taken in several more under her care. As she explained her living situation, I was astonished by the things she was telling us so matter of factly… So casually. She shared with us that four of the children under her care were without birth certificates; they didn’t even know when their birthdays were. Without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school.
As the day progressed, we were able to do some English and business classes to those who had previously signed up. Before leaving for Guatemala, I was very nervous about giving these classes. I did not think I was even close to being qualified to teach people about business. I didn’t think the lessons that we had planned were near advanced enough to do any good. I was very wrong, the women taking our classes have such limited business knowledge (most only have a fourth grade education) , that our lectures are able to do some good. We are currently planning for next week’s lectures as well as compiling a basic business book to distribute after our classes are over.
We have much work ahead of us, but I am honored and blessed to be a part of this mission. I hope that something that we are able to do, maybe some knowledge we are able to share, will benefit someone in some way.
Until next post,
Although we have been working hard at Potters house, it seems as if everything is run in slow motion. I’ve found it difficult, despite everyone’s warnings that this would happen, to differentiate between the rushed, efficiency conscious mindset we bring to the project, and the steady pace most people here are operating at. I think this is a challenge for many people who come from one world and are dropped in to work on a project with an established organization has been focusing on for over 25 years.
Many of the women we work with in our classes have grown up with Potter’s House. They have spent their entire lives enslaved by poverty, and the desire to break free has been softened through years and years of struggle and slow progress. Apprehensiveness about their abilities flood their minds, and make quick action almost unattainable. Consequences of failure are so real and looming, that it requires so much bravery to take the plunge and try new things. In contrast, our culture is so fast paced, and focused on quick results, so it’s very hard for me to see the value in our contribution of a few short weeks. These women have taken business classes before, will attend our classes, and will take more in the future, so, I hope that we will be able to make an impact on at least one of the entrepreneurs here.
Yesterday we started teaching our second class about the relationship between revenue, expenses, and profits. At first we were nervous that our lesson plan was too simple, and that we would be done to quickly leaving our students bored, and disappointed. In actuality, it was the complete opposite, we received good feedback about the content of our lesson, as this was something the women wanted to learn to use while pricing their products, but we were asked to repeat the lesson next week, and take it a little slower. Our anxiety over our limited knowledge of business practices has been relieved realizing that concepts we have grown up thinking are logical, are the ones we need to explain to those who haven’t had the same exposure.
To lighten the mood, I’d like to share a few funny stories of us adjusting to life in our hostel in Guatemala City. Every night we wrap our heads in our t-shirts to protect our ears from the buzzing mosquitoes that make their way into our rooms through the cracks around the doors and windows. It always makes me laugh when I wake up in the morning and see Tisa with her turban on trying to pry herself out of bed.
In our new house in Villas Majen, there is no source of hot water. Therefore in the shower, there is an electrical water heater that heats the water at the spout. We found out later that these showerheads are appropriately named “widow-makers”. Last week Tisa was taking a shower, and we heard a loud pop, her scream and saw a flash of light come from the bathroom door. We yelled for her and she said she was ok, but that the showerhead blew up on her! We have a new shower head that works, and hasn’t blown, but it causes the breaker to switch a few times during the shower, so we all keep watch while each other is bathing to turn the switch back on as quickly as possible if it switches off.
As I explained before, we’ve grown used to bugs in our room, trying to avoid the buzz of the mosquitoes, falling asleep to the knocking of the big bugs running into our windows and doors, and watching the glow of the fire-flys that dot our ceilings at night. But, one thing I don’t think I could get used to is waking up in the middle of the night with a bug on my lips, and when I tried to brush it off I squished it and had a little snack. I couldn’t stop wiping my mouth and wanted to laugh and scream at the same time.
Our time in Guatemala so far has been a mixture of rushing to finish our lesson plans, hanging out for hours chatting in our room, hoping our “students” are learning something from us, and being given gifts of food and jewelry from those we visit during our house visits. This week we will be adjusting our focus on creating our book, hoping to create a resource for many people to read and follow along with long after we have left Guatemala City. I think I speak for everyone when I say that our experience so far makes us feel as this is our second home, and encourages us to continue working with projects like this in the future. The pace can be frustrating, and the roadblocks almost unbearable, but the small steps we see being taken to improve lives, are worth all the frustration.
Utill next time…here’s a picture of a community we visited, with the cemetery in the background.
Hello to whoever is reading this post!
Our second weekend here in Guatemala just passed and we actually got the opportunity to visit the former capital of Guatemala, Antigua! We stayed the night in a small hotel called Casa Antigua, a couple of blocks from the central square where you can find women balancing fruit baskets on their heads and kids with jewelry hanging from both arms trying to make a living. Brian, another volunteer from Potter’s House joined us on our visit and we were able to split the cost of one room with three beds for $20 each! We got a chance to explore the markets in Antigua, which are very different from the markets we saw in downtown Guatemala City. Antigua really targets it’s tourists and everything in the markets had Guatemala written on it, and the vendors were a lot pushier than the vendors in Guatemala City. Tisa actually got followed by a vendor down the street until she bought an oven mit she didn’t really need. We took the advice from a friend from Potter’s House and ate at a restaurant called Monoloco. There were a lot of tourists in the restaurant enjoying the Bayern VS. Chelsea soccer game so the restaurant had an energetic and invigorating vibe as fans stood up to cheer as soon as the ball got remotely close to the goal. We ate a ridiculously huge plate of nachos with chicken, lomito (steak), steak, lettuce, pico de gallo, and TON of guacamole that the four of us split. Before I left to Guatemala I told everyone that I was going to lose weight while in Guatemala because I thought that since I lost a lot of weight while in Bolivia (my home country), I would also lose weight here in Guatemala. Boy was I mistaken. We are fed plates full of hearty meals everyday and we all eat until we are completely full! We once got up at six in the morning to do some yoga but that’s a tradition that’s hard to keep… (I write this as I am eating some jello for dessert). Plus we don’t have a full body mirror so its basically impossible to keep track of the weight we’re most probably gaining.
Antigua was such a wonderful experience because it was kind of like a little vacation from all the work we do at Potter’s house, which is very rewarding but overwhelming at times. After a wonderful weekend getaway, we got right back to work by doing some house visits! Today we actually got the opportunity to visit Wendy, a woman in the entrepreneurship class, who told us about an offer she got from a friend who owns a space that she could use to start a business for just 1,200 Quetzales a month ($150). She told us about her fears of opening up her own business and how she doesn’t have the resources to pay for rent. So, Tisa, KAtie, and I committed to go check out the space and help her find business partners that she can trust to split the rent.
After the house visits we got the opportunity to meet the students who we will be teaching English to, Susie and Katy! They shared stories about what they do for fun and what type of music they liked to listen to. It’s so funny how different people are! Susie actually graduated recently and is now working with Potters House as a high school tutor and she hopes to become an interior designer in the future, while Katy wants to be a translator when she graduates.
After spending just over a week here in Guatemala my dreams for the future have changed so much. My goals for working at a marketing firm have now been replaced by dreams to travel and do some development work. Now more than ever I am realizing that life is so short and I can’t imagine myself being stuck in the same place. There are so many different paths that have been opening right in front of me and just the thought of travel and sustainable development work is really giving me some sort of purpose.
Until next time,
PS. Thank you for all the wonderful emails and all the support that I have been receiving from friends and family. They really give me the strength and encouragement I need to complete my job here in Guatemala. Much love to all of you!