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Culture Shock | Nourish International

May 16, 2012 | Posted in 2012, Guatemala, Summer Projects, UF, UNC | By

We’ve been here for just one week, and I have been amazed by the culture we’ve experienced during this short time. This weekend we got to go downtown where the main road is blocked off to traffic, and is where many Guatemalans go to do their everyday shopping. The streets were filled with street performers and artisans trying to make a living. There were musicians, techno dancers, clowns, caricature artists, and handicraft artists hoping to make some income in addition alongside the many stands full of clothing, food, and other items. We also got to go to the local zoo which cost about 25 quetzales or a little over 3 dollars for adult admission.

When we got back to work, we were able to go on our first house visits to see what the daily life of an average “Treasure” was before starting our first workshop. Casa de Alfarero called the people who scavenged in the dump “Treasures” rather than scavengers in order to give them a sense of dignity, and to reinforce to the treasures that they were not beneath anyone. We are all equal in the eyes of God. In stark contrast to our lighthearted weekend, the three houses or shacks we visited set a more serious and emotional mood among all of us.

The first house we visited was the home of three generations of women: Virginia, Blenda, and Ruth.Virginia was the mother of of Blenda and the grandmother of Ruth, who appeared to be only 3 or 4 years old. The tiny home (maybe 10′ by 10′) consisted of metal and cardboard walls, an un-level dirt floor with one bed, a small tv, and bags and bags of recycled goods from the dump. Outside the shack was a small grill for cooking, and a rampant population of houseflies. Like most other families in this community, this family consisted of single mothers and their children struggling to sustain themselves. All of the people in this community were also living in fear in of being evicted for squatting, or living on government property without paying, and were very aware that this eviction could happen at any time.

Virginia faced mobility problems due to incorrectly prescribed medicine after a stroke, resulting in paralysis until she received the correct medication. Once she received proper treatment, she was able to rent a wheelchair weekly in order to go to Casa del Alfarero to attend workshops. The doctor recommended physical therapy and for her to remain active, which is something she struggles with today. She shared with us some of the difficulties she faced when she was paralyzed. Her daughter would prepare her food for the day before leaving to work in the dump, and little Ruth would spoon feed her. As she told us this story I could see the love that was present in this family as little Ruth hugged her grandmother tightly while recalling these tough times.

I really appreciated how all the families we visited were so open, raw, and willing to share their life story with us. They showed us the jewelry they had made from recycled goods such as plastic bags, posters, and aluminum cans. They were able to sell their jewelry in order to make a small income in addition to what they made from working in the dump. Part of our funds raised for this project will  help workers like Blenda and Virginia who want to start a small business. These businesses include not only those who make jewelry, but also to those who are taking workshops to learn skills as a cook and beautician. We will be giving workshops to the people in these classes as well as starting a “Phase 2” workshop for those who were taking the entrepreneur classes on how to start up a business using the same core steps we used in Nourish to start Ventures.

For our first lesson with the Beauticians we gave a presentation about our project, who we were, and the contingencies of the class. It was fun preparing a small introduction about ourselves in Spanish and showing pictures of our own families in order to create a relationship with the people. We asked questions in order to gauge where they were in the process of creating a business in order to prepare lessons at the correct level for each class. The attendants of our class were very receptive and participated in sharing some personal stories as well as sharing their business experiences.

In future our workshops we will teach a lesson from our book we are creating, and receive feedback to improve our project for future use to those who want to start a microenterprise, and as a reference for those who are currently in the process. We will also facilitate activities where the Treatures can apply the lesson that they  learned and work as a group, which many have trouble or very little experience in doing.

We still have our first lessons to give with the Jewelry Making, Cooking, and Entrepreneur classes, so we are hoping they go as well as our lesson went today. I am so excited to continue working on this project, and to be used as resource for this group of people. I feel that I am learning from them as much as they are from me, and cannot wait to see how everything progresses.



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