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.