Just over two weeks ago we started the work week with finishing the bunny cage that tortured our souls (we tried to upload a photo of finished product, but it repeatedly caused the computer to freeze). It was a great way to begin a week full of completing projects. After finalizing the construction at San Bartolome in the morning we taught all three workshops (accounting, empowerment, and herbs) in the afternoon. The next day (Tues., July 22 if you’re following along), we conducted the accounting workshop at Sumpango and we were treated to delicious local cuisine made by the women of the cooperative.
After lunch and a round of good-byes, we transferred back to Guatemala City and surveyed the site at Junkabalito. Over the next two days, we made, sanded, and sealed three tables, tilled ground and planted mother herbs, installed wire mesh inside a structure (note: getting the wire mesh inside the structure was a task in and of itself), and made two planter boxes from recycled pallets.
The weekend greeted us early – with a trip to Maria’s finca south of Mazatenango. For two days, we were hosted by a fabulous family in a fabulous puebla and stayed in an amazing home built by Maria’s grandfather 60 years ago, who styled it with antique Spanish and Moroccan flair. There was a waterfall, a gorgeous pool, coffee production, vermicompost production, bats, and insanely delicious home-cooked food in a grand hall. It was difficult to leave this wonderland, but we headed back to the city.
After conducting all three workshops for the women of Junkabalito on Monday, we had our first inauguration there that afternoon. It was great seeing the women excited about the work we did and eager to ask questions and provide feedback during the workshops.
We traveled back to Antigua that night to conduct our first follow-ups in Sumpango and San Bartolome. On Thursday, we left early in the morning for a major vacation: Semuc Champey and Tikal. There are no words to describe the beauty and awe of these two places. “The pristine, sky-blue natural pools, waterfalls, underwater caves, cliff and bridge jumping, incredible ruins, and magnificent scenery” doesn’t do these places justice. They seem other-worldly.
We’ve been back in Guatemala City now for the last few days. We visited Sumpango and San Bartolome Tuesday to do a final follow-up and answer questions the women had. We were again treated to delicious food, great conversation, and said our tearful good-byes por ahora – as we are all certain we’ll accept their offers to return. During a debriefing session with Byoearth, we all acknowledged how grateful and positive this experience has been. We are excited to see how next year’s team follows up and are anxious to stay in touch with each cooperativa.
As this trip wraps up, we’re bidding our final adieus and taking in all we can of this amazing country. We’re sad to leave and our good-byes are always tearful, but we’re looking forward to seeing our friends and family back home. Expect a reflective post in the coming weeks, and thanks for all your support, encouragement, and positive thoughts throughout.
Adios por ahora.
Wow, what a couple of weeks it has been for the UCSC-UCLA team in Guatemala. In five days, we constructed seven tables from scratch (well we didn’t cut down any trees, but each one of us learned how to use a chainsaw and cut the lumber into the right-size pieces); cut recycled plastic bottles and installed them on the mesh wall so they could be used as planters; weeded an overgrown area, made it arable and planted over 25 mother plants of 11 different varieties; finished the water collection, drainage, and irrigation system and buried the pipes under ground; built two benches from our own design and modified the construction as necessary on the spot; and taught two workshops about growing and maintaining herbs and empowerment for business.
Oh! And we were rattled awake Monday, July 7 by an earthquake (slightly different feeling for us Californians because we’re now surrounded by three volcanoes). Not only that, every day that week one person was feeling down, yet the team pushed through and accomplished all our goals and more.
During the weekend, several of the team members went to Puerto San Jose and had quite an experience taking a camioneta (aka chicken bus) and local shuttle three hours to appreciate black sand, warm waves, ceviche, and pescado frito. The ride home was something none of us will forget, nor will our tailbones. But, hey we got one helluva deal.
This past Monday, the UCLA-UCSC team started working in San Bartolome at a cooperative that not only generates vermicompost, but also raises rabbits to use their excrement in the compost. We love being surrounded by these cute pals and the babies that boost morale. Within three days we cleared our workspace, installed and painted a blackboard, built two tables, hung wire mesh on a ledge, cut and hung plastic bottles on the mesh to be used as planters, planted 14 varieties of mother plants (in an area the women from the cooperative cleared for us – so sweet and so helpful), built two step stools, and began constructing a portioned rabbit cage. Please give us a few weeks before we can talk about the rabbit cage construction process :-/
We took a few days off during the week to travel to Lago de Atitlan with Maria and Lissette from our project partner Byoearth. Lago de Atitlan is an unbelievably gorgeous place and we had a blast there celebrating Ashley Luna’s 21st birthday. Ayyayayaayayayayayay XD.
The team is truly working as an efficient and skilled unit, making each person and those involved with the project more proud each day. We can handle a chainsaw and circular saw like pros and love speaking with the women from the cooperatives and working with them to improve their working conditions. And, we absolutely love hanging out with each other and are really appreciating our time together – bickering, teasing, and laughing with (at?) each other like best friends and siblings.
The UCLA-UCSC team has settled in nicely in Antigua and is enjoying all that this quaint town has to offer, including a fantastic parque central, lovely people, good food, and ice cream. There seems to always be something going on so wandering the streets (safely, of course!) has become a favorite pastime among us. We learned that the mercado in Antigua is the second largest in Guatemala and we understand why – there are many sections that make getting lost within its maze quite easy.
There were some delays with having materials for our project at Sumpango delivered, but that allowed us more time to work closer with the women in the cooperative and discuss what they hope to accomplish through our partnership. We learned about some of the robberies that occurred on the property and started collaborating about ways to improve the security.
Marisa’s dad, William, joined us in Guatemala last week and was a great, invaluable help in obtaining supplies and working on revamping the water collection system at the Sumpango site, as well as installing an irrigation system for the herbs that will be attached to the wire-mesh walls we installed. And, with much attribution to the tools he brought, we were able to quickly and evenly put up a blackboard on a cement wall. Also with his help we ordered lumber for our project and purchased a chainsaw to cut the wood into the necessary-size pieces.
We had to say goodbye to Betty last Tuesday morning, as unexpected happenings in the United States required her to head back home. She is missed daily and we are constantly thinking of her. The night before her departure we were able to spend a wonderful evening together at a local bar where Jeff had secured a DJ gig for the night!
We also went to our next site in San Bartolome last week to see what supplies are there and what supplies we might need. In addition to vermicomposting, the women at the cooperative in San Bartolome raise rabbits so there are cages of adorable bunnies everywhere!
Last week, some of us went to nearby coffee and music museums at Centro Cultural la Azotea via tuk tuk (covered three-wheel motorcycles with a bench for passengers). We learned a lot about the coffee-making process and indigenous music. We also found out that the next day was St. Peter’s Day so any town in Guatemala with San Pedro in its name would be celebrating – lucky for us, San Pedro Las Huertas is a neighboring town so Paul, Anna, and Jeffrey took a camioneta (aka chicken bus) there and ate the local version of fair food and joined the via crucis procession around town. We also experienced a Guatemala BBQ for the Fourth of July, and witnessed how a fan and a fast-moving wrist can bring flame from a near-completely dead fire.
This week we have been working extremely hard finishing up construction at Sumpango. We’ve recycled plastic bottles to serve as plant containers hanging from wire mesh, built seven tables, completed the water storage and drainage system, and finished a garden for mother plants. Stay tuned for pics and construction details coming soon!
On our way to Antigua, we took a side trip to hike volcan Pacaya. Though we intended to start the hike at 3:30 p.m. to see the sunset from the top, we did not get started until 6:30 p.m. Oh Guate time! So, under black skies and pouring rain we began our ascent. For those that were prepared for a sunny hike, plastic bags served as raincoats over shorts and Vans.
When we reached the peak 4 km later, the rain stopped and we found a warm pocket where everyone eagerly jumped in to get warm. Our guide Manuel also took us to steam vents where we could see active lava flowing down the mountain and he pulled out a bag of marshmallows for us to roast. The moment was as spectacular as the view. (Side note: Anna thought the marshmallows tasted different because they were made in Guatemala or because they were cooked with volcanic heat – in reality, they were just flavored. Hahaha) At 1 a.m. we checked into Hostel La Quinta and some immediately jumped into a warm shower while others quickly fell asleep.
On Saturday we worked hard on the workshops we’ll be conducting. Because we’ll be teaching about certain herbs and vegetables, we did a lot of research on planting, maintaining, selling, and cooking with them, as well as their medicinal uses. That night we hit the town to celebrate Marisa’s birthday. Marisa selected Dona Luisa Xicoteneatl for dinner because it was recommended for its pastries and great deals on food. And it certainly delivered – Marisa rang in 23 with delicious German chocolate cake. After dinner we discovered that the bars and clubs in Antigua close at 10:30 p.m. so instead of dancing the night away we went to Monoloco and chatted until it closed.
To close out the weekend, we worked on our workshops on Sunday and toured the town. We found Rainbow Cafe to be a great place for Wi-Fi, food, and live music. At night the team bonded over several rounds of Loteria, during which we practiced Spanish vocabulary, got to know the hostel’s night guard, Don Jose, and saw our partner architect, Alejandro, being interviewed on TV!
Though we were ready and anxious to go to our first site Monday morning, a protest was occurring so we would have had to walk a dangerous 15 km to the site. To err on the side of caution, the project partner canceled the trip and we continued to work on our lesson plans and check out the city. On Tuesday we were excited to finally go to Sumpango. We met three of the women from the cooperative and surveyed the structure we’ll be turning into a greenhouse. We also got to help with the vermicomposting process at the cooperative and see the herbs that the women are already growing.
Now that we have a feel for the property, we’ll return tomorrow to begin construction!
We landed in Guatemala Monday, June 16 and though we endured a few mishaps (a delayed piece of luggage and a lost iPhone), we were thrilled to meet our project partner representatives Lissette, Juan Pablo, and Maria. Our trip has so far been a great mix of hard work, amazing people, and delicious food.
After checking into our hostel Quetzalroo and meeting our fantastic host Marcos, we went to Lissette’s home to enjoy a traditional Guatemalan dinner prepared by Maria. The meal consisted of chuchitos, rellenitos, chips, guacamole, salsa, and Gallo beer. Era muy delicioso!
The next couple days consisted of on-boarding training sessions, during which we were thoroughly briefed on the locations where we’ll be building greenhouses (Sumpango, San Bartolo, and Junkabal), met with Alejandro, the architect from Torus who designed the plans for the build outs of the greenhouses we’ll be constructing, and learned a lot about Byoearth’s business. We also gave a presentation for Come y Aprende (Eat and Learn) at Chamba to share information about Nourish and our project with Byoearth. Carlos Toriello, a Nourish alumnus from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who lives and works in Guatemala, graciously chatted with us about his previous experiences with Nourish and provided insight on local culture and our project.
For lunch one day, we hit the streets for shukos – an elaborate hot dog that was so good we all ordered seconds. We were also lucky enough to partake in a traditional Mayan meal prepared by Rosita at La Cocina de Señora Pu. All our food was incredibly delicious, but if you ever go, order the duck. Also be sure to spend time talking with Jorge and Roger – Rosita’s only assistants in the kitchen.
Yesterday, we had our first induction into agricultural work in Guatemala: We were part of a collaborative effort to install a garden at Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta No. 856 in San Jose Pinula. We used Byoearth’s vermicompost in the garden and Aguapac for its irrigation, which is an innovative method that uses a backpack to easily transport and store water for a gravity-drip system. Accompanying a breathtaking view was an engaging community full of phenomenal people and kids that impressed us with their strength, wit, and skill. Our time working, talking, and playing with them made it difficult to leave. The chicken salad sandwiches, leche con arroz (milk with rice) and pan dulce that women at the school made for us made it equally difficult to depart. This collaboration also introduced us to Ecofiltro, a social enterprise that makes a clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver pot that effectively filters water to make it drinkable; Wakami, which helps to create sustainable, artisanal, income-generating opportunities for isolated communities in Guatemala; Quetsol, a company that offers small solar energy systems that can replace the candle-source lighting exclusively used in many rural homes; and learned about composting latrines installed by Rotary International. It was great to see all the efforts being made to alleviate poverty and its related effects within the country.
We’re off to Antigua ahorita (right now!), where we will be based for the next few weeks and Monday we’ll start building a greenhouse in Sumpango.
The Nourish International at UCLA and Nourish International at UCSC team members are really excited as we go through pre-departure planning and training and are looking forward to meeting the team members from ByoEarth and Junkabal, our project partners in Guatemala. ByoEarth is a nonprofit organization in Guatemala whose mission is to improve the living conditions of vulnerable communities by finding solutions through vermicomposing that also improve the soil, nurture the land, and integrally restore life to the planet. Junkabal is a women’s cooperative in Guatemala that promotes the human, social, spiritual, and economic development of women through various means, including schools, job training, and dental and nutrition clinics.
We will be helping to build greenhouses so that women in at least three different communities (in and around Guatemala City and Antigua) will be able to grow and sell organic herbs. Some of the women currently working with ByoEarth and Junkabal use vermicomposting to sell fertilizer and wish to increase their income by selling herbs, but there is a need to control the environment where the herbs grow so that the women can be successful. The Nourish team will talk with the women about business relationships, accounting, and herb growth and harvesting.
Training for the UCLA-UCSC team has included Guatemalan history and culture lessons by reading “Guatemala in Focus” by Trish O’Kane, construction workshops (many thanks to Kyle Berry, Brent Bradford, and William Galasso for their extremely patient instruction), and individualized Spanish classes. We also went camping in Big Sur, Calif. to meet our teammates in person, complete a construction workshop, and have a great time getting to know each other. We leave for Guatemala in three weeks and as we’re winding down our spring quarter, shopping for hammers, and packing our rain gear, everyone is getting more and more excited to start the project.
Jessica, Alba, Anthea, Pavit, and Dylan were removed from their chaotic college lives for six weeks and given the extraordinary opportunity to live amongst the hardworking and generous individuals of Enactus UVG. These students made it their mission to demonstrate to us that through determination and proper education, we have the power to simultaneously eradicate poverty and practice sustainability. After nearly two months of having completed our project, one question remains lingering in our minds: “What did we accomplish?”
In answering this question, it is important to reflect on who we are as individuals versus who the people are we aimed to help. Each of us has the fortune of waking up in a house to electricity, a warm shower, and a refrigerator full of food. Additionally, we are pursuing educations that precede a world of opportunities. Contrarily, many of the children of Santa Catarina and Santa Fe are forced to care for their younger siblings and face the ongoing temptation to turn to a criminal lifestyle to help their families survive. The people of Tzunana and Chuitzunchaj live on less than one dollar per day and have a scarcely limited access to clean water. Most importantly, 75% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line.
With confidence, we can assert that our efforts made a lasting impact on the people we helped. We served as positive role models with environmental consciousness to the intercity children and influenced them to pursue their educations. We also provided abused women with companionship and taught them how to earn income through embroidery. We helped the rural communities grow moringa, which will both nourish them and provide them with revenue, while creating a product to meet the demand of Americans. Our team helped build physically sound houses in an agricultural community prone to floods.
Throughout our six weeks in Guatemala, the students of Enactus UVG served as our hosts, teachers, translators, coworkers, and most importantly, friends. Words cannot adequately thank their organization enough, as we are eternally grateful for having been blessed with this experience.
After spending 6 weeks in Guatemala, time has finally come for us to pack up, head home, and reflect on what we have learned. To each of us, the experience was different, but we have all grown immensely from this project and have a deeper understanding of the complex problem of global poverty and the hard work necessary to counteract it.
The past week here has been full of both productivity and adventure. Mauricio took us back to Santa Fe to help Juan Jose clean the day center and dispose of the waste. After hours of labor, our team successfully moved over 1000 pounds of cardboard from the building and loaded it into the truck of a recycling company who agreed to purchase it for $35. This is enough money for the center to turn their water back on after it had been shut down due to insufficient funds. Juan Jose jokingly told us that the children will be disappointed that all the cardboard is gone because they loved to wrestle in it, but the center will undoubtedly benefit from having an extra room for recreational activity.
Fernanda came to our house on Monday so we could help her design a construction manual REcyclathon’s greenpoints. This will allow future Enactus members to build them uniformly after Fernanda leaves. Anthea, our resident desginer, formatted the report while Alba helped with wording.
We have also spent countless hours this week working on our final report for Enactus. The final report was not one of our requirements, but we agreed that formally assessing our experience here for Enactus in writing is the least that we could do for everything they have done for us. We divided the report into the following 4 sections: Eco-Weaving, REcyclathon, Harvesting the Future, and Human Resources. In each section, we commented on the project’s strengths, weaknesses, and our suggestions for improvement. We understand that we have a relatively small scope of what their organization is capable of and that not all of our recommendations can be implemented, but hopefully we provided them with some feasible ideas in ways to take the direction of their projects.
On Wednesday evening, we also witnessed Enactus UVG compete against 7 other Enactus Guatemala chapters in their national competition. Although the entire competition was in Spanish, it was very exciting seeing them express their enthusiasm about their projects and each other in front of hundreds of people. They even gave a shout out to our project team! UVG has won the competition the past 5 years, but unfortunately did not take the gold this year. Their stage presence at this competition was second to none, so we speculate that the judges wanted to give another university the chance to compete in the world competition this year. However, Enactus UVG did win various other awards, such as the best Annual Report of the year, 2nd place in their league and Andrea, the vice president of projects, won Enactor of the year.
Our team was given two days off after the competition for us to use as we pleased. Dylan, Anthea, and Jessica went with Jose Paiz (Pepito) and Pedro Pablo (PePa) to experience some of the gems of northern Guatemala. We left on Wednesday night at 1:00AM and drove straight through the night to arrive at the ruins in Tikal National Park by 10:00AM. Tikal is located in a beautiful rainforest and many of the gargantuan ruins are still well preserved. In the rainforest, we saw toucans, turkeys, pizotes, and giant spiders. We also had a great time climbing atop of some of the temples which reached heights well above the canopies, giving us a spectacular view of the rainforest.
On Thursday night, we drove to Flores, a small backpacker community on an island in the middle of Lago Petén Itzá, where we checked into a youth hostel. In the hostel, we shared a room with a Korean woman, two Australian men, and a man from New Zealand. Each of them had fascinating stories to tell of their travels, and we offered them all the opportunity to stay at our house if life brought them to Guatemala City before we fly home on Sunday. On Friday morning, we stopped at Rio Dulce on our way home. Our first stop on the river was at a hot springs waterfall that intersected with a chilled river. There, we enjoyed relaxing in the hot springs atop the waterfall, jumping into the river from about 25 feet high, and exploring the caves behind the waterfall. We also took a boat out on Rio Dulce and checked out a bird island and another natural hot spring. We drove back through the evening and arrived at our house by 1:00AM on Friday night, successfully completing the trip in 48 hours.
While Dylan, Anthea, and Jessica were gone, Alba and Pavit were having their own fun. Alba got to spend some time in Antigua and Lake Atitlan with her tia (aunt), and even made it back in time on Friday night to go with Pavit to a reunion with some of the people we worked with at Techo.
Tonight is our last night in Guatemala. We are filled with a mix of emotions, but are incredibly thankful for the time and energy put into this trip by the Nourish headquarters and Enactus UVG. We will be hosting a goodbye gathering for Enactus tonight, and look forward to reuniting with our families and friends tomorrow!
We mentioned in our last blog post that we would be spending our weekend building houses with the nonprofit, Un Techo Para Mi Pais (a roof for my country). Jessica, Anthea, Alba, and Pavit left Guatemala City at around 6 on Friday night and headed to a gym near the community where they would be working.
We traveled about half way to our final destination. The place arranged for our stay was a large gym. After getting to the gym, we got to hear encouraging words from some of the families beneficiaries from Techo. We even got to witness a dance performance some of the local kids came up with for us! After eating dinner, all the volunteers played some icebreakers to get to know each other better and then went to sleep early to rest up for the long day we had ahead of us.
Saturday morning started off at 4:45 am for us, as some volunteers blasted Bob Marley to ease us awake. After breakfast, we headed out to Villa Nueva- the community that was to receive twelve houses that weekend. We were all split up into teams that were to build houses for different families. Many of the volunteers were actually employees of corporate McDonalds, as their foundation had recently donated 300 houses to Techo. Some teams even had help from the community members themselves. Saturday was an interesting day to start building the houses, as it was pouring rain before we had even eaten lunch and did not stop until the next day. However, everybody working on the houses was extremely dedicated and determined and did not stop until they had accomplished their goals for the day. We left Villa Nueva at around 6pm on Saturday and returned to the gym to eat dinner and warm up after a long and wet day.
We woke up at 4:45 again on Sunday to get ready to finish our houses and have them ready for the families. After busing out to Villa Nueva, we all went back to our specific building sites and went to straight to work. We were luckier with the weather on Sunday, as it did not rain until most people already had roofs on their houses (however, Pavit’s group was not one of the luckier ones and ended up working in the rain again).
After putting the finishing touches on the houses (putting in the windows and the door) and decorating them with balloons and streamers, we presented them to the families. We even set off firecrackers! In the end, the houses were one room, 6 by 3 meters, with wooden floors and walls and aluminium roofs. The families were all extremely grateful and many tears were shed from volunteers and community members alike. After the houses were built, members of the community as well as volunteers came together to share their thanks and reasons for wanting to help Villa Nueva. We had some coffee (the best any of us had ever had) and food. After our get together we made our way back to the city. It was a truly eye opening and inspiring weekend. We all made new friends and had the opportunity to help give somebody a roof over their head. For anyone that has the opportunity to work with Techo, we highly recommend it!
Here are the descriptions of our experience from each of the Nourish members who volunteered this weekend at Techo:
For me, building a community literally also builds the community symbolically. This feeling was most tangible when the volunteers and community members were standing on land that the community had cleared for a school. Community leaders, families and a district politician took turns speaking about gratitude, solidarity and hopes for the future. After securing housing for the community, the next step is clean water and a school.
The family I worked with consisted of a single mom and her 3 daughters, ages 11, 9 and 2. The women worked whenever she could, sorting through a waste dump for recyclable material. She related to us that all the money she made went to food and soap. She was mourning the loss of her 13 year old daughter who ran away with her boyfriend. From what I understood (as my Spanish is imperfect), this event moved her to save the 800 quetzals (approximately $100) to buy the house.
The original home the family lived in was made of leaky scrap metal and wood. It was one small room, with 2 beds for the family to share. There was also a make shift shelf fashioned from trash cans and plywood, as well as a small table for food shortage. I noticed there was no fridge or sink and the dirt floor was crawling with insects.
After my team finished construction, I met a family who all seemed to have deep, unsettling coughs. When I was holding their baby, I noticed that he was having convulsions every 20-30 seconds. Alejandra, the organizer of the event, explained the family was sick because of their living situation, although I didn’t understand the specifics. They were one of the families receiving a new home.
I have often hear it said that giving “hand outs” is a negative act – encouraging laziness and disincentivizing the poor. However, even though the families only paid about 10% of the cost of the homes, I did not feel that constructing these homes was a hand out. I felt we were working in the community with hard-working and deserving people to make a better life for them, for their community, for Guatemala, and for the world.
Overall, the highlights of my experience were:
- Hearing the life story of a fellow volunteer when we were hoisting and hammering the aluminium sheets for the roof. He was born in the mountains in an indigenous community, but was forced to leave after his community got caught in the civil war and every member of his family was killed. And here he was giving back.
- Praying with volunteers and family after we unveiled the house. Every person was praying loudly and passionately at the same time, creating a strong sense of solidarity and gratitude.
- Understanding the meaning of “building a community”
- Getting a ride on a motorcycle with a police man
For more comments about the nature of building a house, please read the other ladies’ posts.
My weekend working in Villa Nueva with Techo might just be the best weekend of my summer thus far. It was a little scary to be split up from Alba, Jessica, and Anthea (especially because of my very limited Spanish speaking skills). However, I had the opportunity to work with some really amazing and inspirational people. Our team consisted of Techo volunteers, McDonalds volunteers, and a neighbour of the house’s owner named Jorge. Everybody was a really good sport the entire time we were working, even when it started pouring rain on Saturday. I actually discovered my love for the dirt and the mud while digging holes for the foundation of the house; everybody was laughing at the foreigner with the passion for la tierra! Nobody was afraid to get down and dirty, and I loved that. We knew what we had to get done and we did it. We were a bit slower than other groups, and were among the last to finish our house, but in the end it didn’t matter. Presenting the house to its owner, Maria, was one of the more emotional moments I’ve experienced in Guatemala. Knowing how much that house meant to her, and knowing I had a part in helping her receive it (however small) was a humbling moment. This weekend definitely left me a little bit in love with the entire organization at Techo and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have worked with them.
This weekend we spent at Villa Nueva was unforgettable, from the moment we arrived at the Dome (the meeting place for all of the volunteers) on Friday to the moment we were dropped off two nights later. We were welcomed by all volunteers and leaders of Techo as soon as we arrived at our meeting place. Everyone wanted to know our names and our reason for being in Guatemala. I was waiting impatiently for my tia Moira and her son Gabriel who were joining us for this great adventure. They both come from Davis, California to do some volunteering and our time here in Guatemala happens to overlap!!!!
Friday- After all volunteers arrived and all of the leaders had been introduced, we listened to some Marimba brought by the students at UVG. At 6:30pm all the volunteers got in their assigned buses which took them to their respective destinations, where they were staying for two nights. For us who went to Villa Nueva, (Anthea, Jessica, Moira, Gabriel, Pavit and I ), we arrived at a gym. Several of the families who we were building houses for were waiting for us with a nice, warm Guatemalan dinner. We had ¨chuchitos¨which are very similar to tamales, accompanied by nice warm coffee. I ate my dinner with two girls; Lesvi, 14 years of age, and her 9 year old cousin whose name I did not catch. They were both very curious about the culture in America and though I could write a whole essay about our conversation and my own observations, I will keep it short and just write about what struck me. By this I am referring to their dreams. These two girls are very involved in their household- they help with household chores, cooking, and taking care of their younger siblings. They both go to school in the mornings where they study the basic subjects (English not included). Though they have a lot of responsibilities they also have very ambitious dreams. Lesvi dreams of being an English teacher and her cousin dreams of being a veterinarian.
Saturday-The next day we traveled to Villa Nueva where we met our family and started the construction. I learned all kinds of construction tricks and was able to apply some of the knowledge obtained during my undergraduate years. Everyone in the group was essential! Especially the families who were able to put so much effort into building their own house! Kids and adults all came to cheer us up through the sunshine and rain. Guatemalan weather is vicious, as we have described in earlier posts, and it rained and shined on us all day Saturday. I came prepared with rain-proof gear and managed to stay fairly dry all day Saturday. We advanced quickly with all their help. The hardest thing was setting up the pillars for the house but all our work was eased with a nice homemade meal. These last couple of days definitely met all my cravings for Guatemalan food! 😀 By the time we left on Saturday we had our floor down, as well the walls and reinforcements.
Sunday- Since we had gotten done the most important work on Saturday, we got to business on Sunday and finished the work promptly! We also took a walk around town and even played some soccer with the kids. After we presented the finished house to our family we had lunch with them. Once again it was amazing food! Our group then split and went to help other groups with their houses. I went to Pavit´s house. I especially liked working with groups because I was able to work on different parts of the building project. Building the roof was fascinating and very scary at the same time, especially when it started raining! This time I did not save myself from the rain, I just decided to enjoy it! Though my contribution to the second house was minimal, I was still thanked like everyone else who put in a lot of effort.
Finally, after all houses had been finished we all gathered in the new school. This school is not yet built but it is a standing promise from the mayor of Villa Nueva. There were a lot of inspirational speeches as well as many thanks from the community to us, the volunteers. I hope us volunteers showed our appreciation to these people who welcomed us from the very fist day we set foot in their neighborhood.
Though we were only a minimal part of this project which was organized by hard working Techo volunteers and sponsors it was all a wonderful and unforgettable experience shared with wonderful people!
The 2 days spent with the Techo team was one of the best weekends of my life. I am so honored to be part of this fantastic crew of passionate and inspiring individuals. Just stepping into the carpark where the volunteers gathered on Friday, I could feel the excitement and energy in the air. No, it wasn’t due to the free Redbull or DJ in the background–it was the eagerness of hundreds of motivated individuals who were ready to make an impact in Guatemala. Needless to say, I was immediately infected by everyone else and was pumped up for the weekend.
My team and I worked for a lovely family of five. The father is the main breadwinner of the family and he earns an income by working as a security guard at Amatitlan. In order to support his family, he wakes up at 5am in the morning and sets off to work on his motorbike. He works a total of 18 hours, from 6am to 12 midnight, and rests only on Sundays and Mondays. As his kids ran past us while we were deep in conversation, he paused and said, “My kids are beautiful.” This is a man who touched my heart deeply because I knew how hard he had to work to earn this new house for his wife and three children.
I was deeply inspired by every member on the team. Although not everyone was gifted in manual labor, it was evident that each person gave their all and wanted to contribute to the best of their own abilities, be it screwing in a nail, sawing wood, or moving large planks of wood. The team members were so determined to complete the house before lunch the last day, and only rewarded themselves with a delicious homecooked Guatemalan lunch at 3pm when we were done. That simple lunch never tasted sweeter.
I was not one who was most useful in manual labor and thus ended up teaching the children, Paola and Minale, English during my construction breaks. Paola, an 11 year old, is the oldest child of the family and spends her afternoons after school taking care of her two younger siblings while her mother busies herself with household chores and a job. She only owns one English book and has been studying the book by herself in her free time. Sitting on the ground by the construction site with just a pen and paper in hand, we went through numbers, days, months, colors and food in English. Minale, her 6-year old sister who has yet to begin school, sat by our side and recited English words with us. As I continued working, I couldn´t help but smile when I spotted Paola reciting her newly learned words and writing them over at one corner.
After we were done constructing the house, Paola and Minale took my hand and walked me around their village. They excitedly showed me their fields of tomato and maize, their little cement court where they played football with their neighbors, their grandma´s house where another four of their family members lived in. They spoke Spanish slowly to me and Paola occassionally used her new English words in our conversation. Karen, a kind 15 year-old I befriended, invited me to her home and showed me the room she shared with her mother and her different pets (4 roosters, 1 little chick, 1 cat and 4 newborn kittens!). This was the most precious moment of the weekend–I was no longer a stranger to them, but a friend (:
The Techo experience also gave me a better understanding of the workings of a non-profit organization. I was amazed at the large pool of new and existing volunteers that Techo draws in order to make each building project successful. When I asked Tato, the director of Techo, what he thinks the role of a non-profit organization is, he shared that non-profit organizations not only work on agendas that the government have not sufficiently supported, but also serve to build a culture of volunteerism among the people. As I have witnessed over the weekend, Techo has definitely succeeded in achieving both goals and is a great organization to model after. I came out from this Techo experience with a heightened respect for all the Techo staff and their work, and a greater interest in non-profit organizations.
This weekend with Un Techo Para Mi Pais was an unforgettable and rewarding one. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by passionate and motivated individuals,each coming from different backgrounds, but all united with a common goal to improve their beautiful country. The villagers of Villa Nueva also moved me with their kind hospitality and love towards us.
Much more than just building houses, this was a weekend about building relationships (:
“I feel that we are teaching that we care.” – Alba
We spent the majority of our fifth week in Guatemala working with people. We worked with children, down-syndrome patients and Enactus members.
On Sunday afternoon, we met with Josué to help plan the biodigestor project (for more information, see “REcyclathon and Other Adventures”). During this meeting, we suggested calling the project “Bio-CH4nge”. “Bio” alludes to the enviornmental aspects of the project while “change” represents both economic and chemical transformations. “CH4” is the chemical formula for methane, the gas produced from the biodigestor.
We also discussed plausible directions that Enactus could take in the second stage of Bio-CH4nge. Josué explained that Enactus would like to use the methane gas produced from the biodigestor to also produce cheese since the current community already has cows and goats. To facilitate the selling of cheese, we weighed the options of selling in mercados versus in stores. We also suggested that Enactus introduce both the Bio-CH4nge and Harvesting the Future projects within the same communities. This way, the methane produced from Bio-CH4nge could be used to fertilize the moringa plants for Harvesting the Future. Later, moringa could be added to products produced by families using the biodigestor.
On Monday morning, Isa took us to Si a la Vida, a shelter for pregnant women who have been abused. Women here have been crafting Ecoweaving products for 2 years (for more info on Ecoweaving, see “Guatemala City, Antigua, Ecoweaving, Ziplining, and more!”). The bracelets, bookmarks, key chains and picture frames made here are crafted out of advertisement materials donated by companies. We spent our morning making intricate key chains with a friendly young woman who was 8 months pregnant with a baby boy. Some people picked up the craft quicker than others (ahem, Jessica), but each of us made a 7-link key chain. We were impressed by the amount of work that goes into something so small. We enjoyed learning from her and hope the opportunity to teach others gave her confidence and greater optimism.
After leaving Si a la Vida, we visited Maria (the marvellous) at JUNKABAL, where we met her Arizona State intern, Natalie. At JUNKABAL, we helped women with their Red Worm Composting by extracting the materials that the worms did not eat from the composting bins. We also assisted in rolling balls of fertilizer that were ready to be sold for $2 per pack. In our last blog post, we mentioned that Maria hoped to eventually expand her work with JUNKABOL to sell organic herbs. So we are excited to begin planting oregano! Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to go back to JUNKABAL and further assist with the new garden!
This weekend, we will be going to build a house for a family with an organization called ‘Un Techo para mi País’, also known as Techo. We visited their lively office on Monday night and met with Tato, the 26 year-old director. He began volunteering with the organization in 2006. The office was bustling with spirited young people, not unlike ourselves. We toured an example of the 18 square meter house that Techo builds. The solidly built home consists of exactly one room, without a kitchen or bathroom. Tato explained that Techo was founded in Chile in the 1970’s. At the time, the goal was to build 2,000 houses by the year 2000 – a goal far surpassed. Recently, Techo opened offices in Miami and New York and plan to open one in London. Almost all of the staff are volunteers, with only 10-15 paid workers. They have approximately 150 permanent volunteers and about 1,500 pass-by workers. Beyond building houses, Techo also works with other companies to improve the community’s access to clean water, electricity, and to teach them how to grow vegetables. The community is also involved in physically building the house and contributes $100 to the project. The rest of the costs are covered by donations from companies and volunteers. Overall, it costs approximately $1,500 to build a house. Each house takes 2 days to be completed, but requires months of planning. Our visit to the Techo office left us inspired and we are looking forward to working with the organization this weekend.
On Tuesday, we paid another visit to Santa Catarina Pinula to give English lessons, at the children’s request. We had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of their new play structure which was donated by a church in Canada. The children were ecstatic to play on the new big toy, and stampeded toward it after the cutting of the ribbon. We enjoyed losing our age with them and joining in on the excitement. However, the play structure was very distracting to the kids when we began separating them into groups for English lessons. Each age group presented their own challenges in teaching a second language. The younger kids couldn’t sit still and focus while many of the older kids were apathetic and unwilling to participate. Despite the initial difficulty, we eventually managed to find ways to connect to the children and successfully encouraged them to participate! Alba’s even had a student ask for homework.
This week, we presented a PowerPoint about public speaking to present to first year students taking LIFE, a required class that Enactus helps teach.
The classroom professors told us they preferred that we present in English because UVG requires all students to pass an English fluency exam in order to graduate. We found that all of our audiences were very attentive and showed considerable interest as to what we are doing in Guatemala. One professor even asked that we share our presentation with him so he could use it in later classes.
On Wednesday morning, we visited a local care center for individuals with Down Syndrome. We were separated into five different classrooms, each of us assisting teachers with different groups of people. In Dylan’s room, individuals in their late teens with Down Syndrome socialized while eating breakfast, while Jessica danced with a group of people in their twenties. Dylan’s group then merged with Jessica’s and they made cookies in a production kitchen. Pavit supervised snack time and play time for a class of 2-3 year olds, and played with them during their physical education lesson on bowling. Anthea repaired chairs with adults in a carpentry workshop, and Alba worked with 5-year-olds who sang lots of songs and joined Pavit’s group for play time. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the individuals attend different workshops, such as industrial food production, carpentry, and beauty treatment, while every Tuesday and Thursday, they take conventional academic classes. These classes equip the individuals with the necessary skills, and many of them eventually get hired by companies such as McDonald’s and San Martins Bakery’s. The whole experience was eye-opening! Some walked in a bit hesitant because they didn’t know what to expect or how to help but we walked out with a whole different perspective of these children. These are kids like any other, they know how to laugh, how to play and how to love and take care of each other.
We spent today meeting with various leaders of Enactus to analyze projects and discuss solutions to challenges and brainstorm opportunities for growth. We hope that these discussions positively impact our partner organization.
Overall, we worked on a variety of projects this week and we are pumped for a weekend of house-building with Techo!