Friday, December 16, 2016

Greetings from Nueva Mercedes and the new volunteer team!

Ma zala chol?

(How is your heart doing? in Q’eqchi)

I would like to present myself, a new member of Lichutam’s volunteer team. My name is Anna and I come from Finland. My heart burns for climate change, sustainable development issues and of course, Latin America.  Last spring, I spent two months in Peru where I conducted a field study for my master’s thesis that handled impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations. After finishing my studies, I wanted to further explore Latin America, do something that matters and achieve some professional experience. To have been welcomed to join Li Ch’utam’s team seemed like a perfect opportunity to do all these things. So for the next three months I will be on board! :) 

I would like to apologize for the radio silence of the blog despite already five weeks have passed since I arrived to Nueva Mercedes. We have lately had regular power cutsand the Wi-Fi has barely worked at home. In addition, the user account of the blog was on the lost ways for a while. However, in the future, Daniel (a coordinator of Li Ch’utam’s project since September, Daniel will present himself in no time) and I will aim to update the blog in a regular basis. In Li Ch'utam’s Facebook group one can also follow what we have been up to here in Nueva Mercedes.

At the moment, the children have their vacation from school. Despite that we have continued to organize different kind of extracurricular activities on a daily basis. During the holiday,it has sometimes been challenging to attract children to participate in the activities. However, we have managed to have a bunch of 6-16 children appearing to the school every afternoon.

The focus of the activities has been kept in computer classes since it has been observed to be the most preferred activity. We have tried to use “a carrot system” in the computer classes, i.e. focusing on educative games for 1-1,5 hours and then letting the children choose themselves what they want to play. This method has shown its effectiveness since often the kids would rather just play something entertaining. We are also happy that through computing games we have managed to provide some more personal support for children that obviously struggle with basics of Math and reading.

In addition to the computer classes we have also organized other extracurricular activities such as “nature&recycling”, reading traditional Q’eqchi stories translated to Spanish and practicing writing. All the activities have been well perceived by children. In our nature&recycling class, for instance, we prepared our own bowling game made of the abandoned plastic bottles that we gathered from the village. The idea of the activity was to explain children why we should and how we can take care of the nature. In couple of afternoons we had tough and emotional bowling tournaments between teams of “Barcelona” and “Zuluk”!

I thought that it would have taken a long time before the children would build trust in a new person. Therefore, I am a happy how fast they have accepted me. Now it is impossible to pass through the village without hearing a young eager voice shouting: Anaaaaaa!! Cómo estas???

 Otherwise the time here in Nueva Mercedes has flown with the “garden project”, taking care of the scholarship applications of the secondary and college students, getting to know people of the village as well as planning new activities and projects.

Shortly after I arrived, we began to saw seeds of new nutrition rich vegetables and fruits that are suitable for the tropical climate together with the families committed to the garden projects. So far, spinach,for instance has been a great success. The families seem to be at the same time curious and enthusiastic of the new seeds (and especially that the spinach has grown so nicely and fast!). Many of them have begun to organize more space to saw more seeds and constructed new beautiful huertos (home gardens). We have had in mind to shortly organize a cooking workshop and teach the families different manners how the new vegetables and fruits can be cooked.

There is also a new interesting project getting started with a local agricultural institution “ITACASAN”.  The institution is a secondary school level school that with is simultaneously with schooling, teaching practical skills for the pupils. For instance, the youngsters are responsible to take care of the cultivations of the institution and cook food for themselves. The pupils are also involved in the preparing process of the institution’s own organic product “Pinol” (a powder made of corn, cacao and amaranto consumed as a drink here in Guatemala) that is currently sold in a local scale. The aim of the collaboration project is that the students of ITASACAN would be involved in the garden project of Li Ch’utam as their internship, ITASACAN would introduce new seeds for the garden project (for example the seeds of spinaches we received from the institution) and reciprocally, Li Ch’utam would facilitate in marketing products of ITASACAN. We are eager for the project since these kinds of steps are like seeds for establishing sustainable development in practice.

As my personal project during my stay in Nueva Mercedes I will conduct an evaluation assessing what have been the impacts of the activities and aid Li Ch’utam has provided in Nueva Mercedes in terms of strengthening schooling skills and encouraging children to continue studying.The goal of the evaluation is to find out which activities and services of Li Ch’utam have been successful so far and what could be done better in the future.

I am happy and curious to investigate the relation between sustainable development and education on local level. Hopefully, the results of the evaluation will also later serve for the best of the project and providing even better basis for children for their studies!

From the next week Daniel and I will have a Christmas break for couple of weeks. People here in Nueva Mercedes have already starting to get ready for Christmas and we will also load our batteries to come back with even more energy in January. In January, our team will also get strengthened as a new volunteer, Julia from Germany will join us. For now, we want to wish Happy Holidays for all the followers of the blog!

Hasta pronto y che numsi chi us li xamaan ut wulaj chik! :)        

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Saray's first weeks

When I first looked for Nueva Mercedes in Maps I ended up with a big interrogation sign on my screen. But Nueva Mercedes exists, and it exists since long. One arrives to the village without rush, slowly but surely, like the women making corn tortillas. It was like a back through trip, where every mean of transportation was smaller and slower than the previous one. A plane which flies at I don’t know how many feet and almost thousand kilometres per hour brought me to City of Guatemala's airport, Guate as the locals call it.
From there, the thunderous engine roar of an old US school bus brought me to San Julián. After some hours we dropped off and took a smaller bus which droved us to Telemán through a pretty bad conditions road for which the money to asphalt never comess. The driver tells us he is from La Tinta, a village nearby connected with the same road, and that he’s asking for subsidies and grants for sport equipment for the school, computers and other stuff. He said he does it for free, because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s for the community. For a moment I saw my own effort growing smaller, when comparing it to the willingness of a man who spends the time he is not driving a bus through dusty roads under a cracking stones sun, helping others. Chatting about this and that we arrived to Telemán. No more pick-ups on Sunday afternoon, so the last stretch was finally done on a tuc-tuc, which engine moaned at every slope of the road to Nueva Mercedes. With my backpack on my shoulders I arrived to the house feeling like climbing a Maya pyramid, mainly because of the tiredness. There was Hugo waiting, the one that together with Filipa was going to be my partner during my stay in Nueva Mercedes.

Through the window of our room the day lean out reddish every sunrise. Little by little the darkness of the night and its sounds fade and the birds' trill welcomes us to a new day. On the way to the school we comment about this and that; sometimes simply engrossed, silently, each one in our morning thoughts.

One by one the pupils arrive, clean and tidy with their satchels, shoulder carried and the impish or shy smiles they bring with them. They put their head out the door, asking for permission to come in:
-              Good morning miss, good morning schoolmates!

Miss Marta is tidy, because she likes what she does, one can notice it in the reflected in her satisfied face when a student answer a question properly. Miss Marta is the third grade teacher, the grade I support, most of times, in the morning. To teach those kids is sort of an art, maybe not understood by everyone, but if one gets from a piece of mud something beautiful by patiently moulding with patient and determination, I can’t imagine a greater contentment.

It is however not an easy task, as the concept of education does not at all resemble the one we are used to. It’s hot. It’s very hot, and that the classes begin early in the morning is only partly helpful. It won’t be long until the sun collapses upon the sheet metal roof and the air becomes thick as the heat seizes the classrooms. This doesn’t make it any easier for the kids to keep properly sit and pay attention. Often they stand up, they may be visited by schoolmates from other grades, or become self-absorbed on their wooden desks and scream, they scream a lot. Generally kids like to scream and make noise, all over the world. In Nueva Mercedes they are not different; they are enthusiastic about sharing their feeling very loudly, whether is joy or sorrow. So after some days, I got used to hear the quiet voice of Miss Marta sneaking among the shouts, onomatopoeias and thuds on the tables of the kids. When I first meet that scenario I thought that chaos was ruling and nothing is working. But I realised later that it’s not exactly like this. The kids, as any other worldwide, they have in their inside the blaze of the curiosity, burning within them much more than any other. So when I stopped and started observing more thoroughly that apparent chaos, I realised that in between whistles they all shut up to listen what the teacher brought new today.

No one wants to be left behind; competition is a tenet here. So even the most unconcerned wants to understand what his or her schoolmate already did. Because what we understand is best learned and once you start enjoying learning is almost impossible to stop wanting to learn more. This is at least what encourages me on my way to school.

The same concept comes to my mind when we go across the gardens, delivering seeds, listening to Edwin explaining how and how not to plant radish and at what distance in the earth. Some women get discouraged, as productive gardens require time and care. But many other don’t; they keep the enthusiasm despite some failures, and this also can be seen in their faces when we praise their well done work, they reflect pride and this satisfaction is contagious. Well, those women welcome the sunrise already working, they take care of the children, the food, the house and they do tortillas for all the family surrounded by wood smoke. That’s why when I see a clean garden or when they ask for more seeds and advices to plant them, when they are not embarrassed to ask for help, then I think that something it’s going well and it is worth to keep on fighting for what I believe in. Maybe sometimes I am even too thrilled, but I confess in my head I imagine huge gardens occupying the surrounding of the houses, full of vegetables to feed the families… dreaming is for free.

There is much to be done in Nueva Mercedes, and it will still be when I will leave. But Li Chu'tam will be here to remember.....above all, everything that has been learned, what they learned and what I will learn, that will also stay. Because knowledge is nothing but that, a seed, which is almost nothing without some help, but if someone sows it and take care of it, it will grow and even put roots down, roots that will remain. We are working on it…

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hugo's first weeks in NM

These are our volunteer Hugo first impressions after two weeks around, they're written in the first person. Due to technical problems a part of the text came highlighted in white, but we didn't want to keep you waiting, so here we go :)

Getting from Spain to New Mercedes took me 2 days. I spent the first one in a plane, so you can imagine how boring it was. However, I spent the second one travelling Guatemala by bus, so it was a really fun experience. Going from Guatemala City to Nueva Mercedes in one day was a stunning shock. I changed the noise of cars by the sound of the multitude of animals that you can find around here.
It was night at the time I arrived, so after talking with Filipa and taste the delicious dinner she had prepared for me, I went to sleep thinking about all the things I would be able to live in the following weeks. The next day was Wednesday, and that means it's the day to do all purchases in the market of Telemán. It was full of colors, smells and tastes. Before going there I had a first contact with the children and teachers at school, and they welcomed me with open arms. In the afternoon, we had an activity with children, and afterwards I visited with Filipa and Edwin the orchards that are within our program. So, aside from getting a lot of information on it, I could walk around throughout New Mercedes, a really pretty village, and meet its people.

It was a very intense and exhausting first day for me. In addition, all was accentuated with the weather: very hot and humid, so I was sweated all day. I had to take a shower three times that day!
During the following days I got to know the functioning of various primary grades and kept doing afternoon activities. It is my first time as a volunteer, the first time I have to deal with children and the first time I'm in Latin America. Therefore, the beginnings were not easy for me, but with the support of everyone here in Nueva Mercedes I was able to adapt quickly. I think every time I'm knowing more about every children and I hope that, in the future, I will become one more for them.
Mainly, I help in the teacher Rony classes in second grade. They are improving their reading and mathematics skills. I feel very comfortable with them and I feel I'm helping. We are also trying to start tutoring Básico and Diversificado students. Of course, afternoon activities and kitchen gardens program also interest me very much.

 I think the next few weeks will pass very fast, and at the end of all I hope I have contributed in everything I can. I will have many memories and I also want to know, at least, some Q'eqchi! Till now it was sunny almost every day, but we are about to begin the rainy season, and I am sure that with it many more adventures and experiences will come.