Thursday, April 6, 2017

Saying goodbye to Nueva Mercedes!

Sadly my time as a volunteer at Li Ch‘utam came to an end. Saying goodbye to Nueva Mercedes was not easy for me and I left this little wonderful village with mixed feelings. All in all, I really didn‘t want to leave and would have loved to stay longer.
Since my last post was one where I introduced myself as a new volunteer, this post will be about my experiences, impressions, and about what I achieved during my time at Li Ch‘utam. What have I done and how could I contribute in these short 2 and a half months to the school and town of Nueva Mercedes?

First of all, I started getting to know the kids more and more during the afternoon activities. Attending them during „computacion“, playing logic or language games, or deportive games like „juego de la araña“ (the spider game), „pescador“ (the fisherman), „el pañuelito“, „stop dance“, a circus workshop, or recycling activities like making flowerpots out of old plastic bottles, has helped a lot in gaining their trust at the beginning of my time.
Once the new school year started, I begann to help Abelino with „Preprimaria“ (primary school), which I already wrote about in my introduction letter. It was a great experience to work with the youngest of the entire school, assisting them in learning things like holding a pen or tying their shoes, and spending time with them in their school breaks. After one month I left „Preprimaria“ and started to work with Seño Elda in „Segundo Primaria“ (second grade), where I stayed for one and a half months.

During my last week in „Preprimaria“ I joined the „family visits“ with the school teachers, where we detected, which of the kids in Nueva Mercedes and La Ceiba didn‘t visit school at all. One of these kids was Veronica, who is 9 years old and had only finished first grade. Veronica is a very smart girl, whom I knew from the afternoon activities like „computacion“, and she was definitely one of the kids, where I saw a lot of potential, interest, and motivation in. Figuring out that she wasn‘t inscribed in school surprised me and made me want to further understand her situation, which is why I was looking for a conversation with her and her mother. After finding out that she apparently had some writing issues and was bullyied for that, I asked her, if she would like to work on writing together one by one. She did great and surprisingly I did not see any difficulties. That was when I asked her, if she would want to go back to school again, and she said yes. This was a beautiful moment for me. Further, I reassured this with her mother, and asked the school director Profesor Reginaldo and Seño Elda (second grade teacher), if there was the possibility of her going back to school and joining „Segundo Primaria“ (second grade), even though the school year had already started. They also said yes, and that was when I started assisting Seño Elda with „Segundo Primaria“ (second grade). I first stayed with her, mainly for supporting and motivating Veronica and catching up what she had missed during the first weeks of school. Now, she is back in school for a month and a half and is loving it. After we overhauled the topics she missed, not only Seño Elda but me are very positive about her future development. She is a great student and I am incredibly proud of her of taking the big step of going back to school, which I can imagine was not easy for her.

Since the day Veronica started joining „Segundo Primaria“ (second grade) again, I had been helping Seño Elda with teaching and assisting the children. After only one week I noticed that there was a kid (Max, 9 years old) who had heavy reading difficulties and was also bullyied for that. Since he seemed very upset and depressed about this, and had also already repeated this class, I decided to also focuss on him working together on the alphabet and the reading chapters step by step from the beginning on. It was not easy for me to understand the fact, that even though he might be suffering from a reading disorder such as Legasthenia, the circumstances in Nueva Mercedes will not allow him to be correctly diagnosed or find a special help for him. The school in Nueva Mercedes doesn‘t have the capabilities of concentrating on kids, who learn in a different pace or have learning disabilities. But I believe that is a field where volunteers can help a lot with. However, after working with him a lot on reading, he took steps into the positive direction. The more important thing to me is though, to see him more self confident in class and with a smiling face every once in a while.

I have to admit that leaving both of them behind was very hard for me and worries me. I am positive though, that both Max and Veronica have huge potential in them and will keep working hard on passing this school year. My greatest wish is, that even though I was only there for a short period of time, I could give them some inspiration for their future life and studies, or just their personal development.

As I already stated, my time at Li Ch‘utam was just too short. There are still so many things that I would have liked to achieved and I learned that you have to endow more time to such a volunteering program. I believe its not fair for kids like Veronica and Max to start working with them one on one so intensively and then leave them, and I feel upset about that. Also, it takes you like one month to get used to the life in the jungle and understand the system of the village, open yourself to this kind of lifestyle and get to know the people in town. I learned that one needs more time to achieve all the projects that come along the way and one would like to achieve. Another thing that I strongly believe is that a lack of volunteers can be prevent the progress of Lichutam instead of developing it. Daniel and I started to have our own little projects but would have loved to contribute way more and have many ideas of what else we could work on, such as a nutrition programe, a gardening project with the school, a sex education programe with the women, English and computing classes.

Even though only being two volunteers sometimes was hard, I really enjoyed the time with Daniel and Anna (who was there the first one and a half months of my stay). It was the first time for me living with someone, at the same time working with the person and basically being around the person 24/7 since there is hardy privatesphere in the house, but it turned out really great and I sure miss them already.

Also, through Jonas and the intensive time with the women, I studied some Q‘eqchi, which I really enjoyed and would have loved to study more of this interesting language, that I finally started to understand more and more.

Another thing that I happily achieved was my personal study with the women of the village, such as a photo project. As I already commented in my introduction letter, I planned to do a little investigation about beauty standards, body statisfaction, body- and self-esteem with the Q‘eqchi women. Through my friend Jonas (from la „tienda de Jonas“) I found a Spanish-Q‘eqchi translator, who helped me to translate my questionnaire. Apart from the interesting data I got through the study, it was a wonderful experience to spend some time with the women of Nueva Mercedes getting to know them better. Although many women couldn‘t read, they were helping each other (when one of them could read) and tried so hard to understand my questionnaire. I even got a couple of female friends in the village through this experience, that I already miss.

I felt very lucky to have had this experience with the women and was thankful and surprised about their openness and trust. Since I learned that especially within indigenous cultures you cannot only expect someone to give you something (in this case: information), but you should give them something back, I decided to give them a beautiful portrait of them as a reciprocal gift. I started the photo project on women‘s day, since many of them have never had a picture of them taken, and printed it out in Teleman. We had so much fun taking the photos. Some even borrowed me their traditional clothing (Po‘od & Uq‘) to take a picture together with them.

My stay here and getting to know some of the Q‘eqchi kids and women better has changed some of my perspectives on life, or reinforced perspectives I already had. There is something I will take home as a memory, something which I already knew but after living it, it became more clear to me: I feel so priviledged about the life I live in Germany. We are so lucky to have access to good education. We don‘t have any reason to complain the way we do about things, either if it is about infrastructure, politics, or education. Life is a lot more difficult in a village like Nueva Mercedes. Every day is a rough day and you have to work hard to survive and satisfy the basics needs of food, safety and health.

I have to admit that at the beginning I felt a bit agitated by the way many of the Q‘eqchis lived. I didn‘t know how to deal with the fact of women being pregnant are such young age or many kids having symptoms of denutrition. I saw a lot of poverty and also focused on the materialistic part, on what they had and didn‘t have. Especially coming to Guatemala right after Christmas, where kids in Germany are overwhelmed with gifts, I saw such a big difference in childhood life and unconsciously compared their lives to the one of many kids in my country. Now I know that kids in Nueva Mercedes might not own a single toy to play with, but they live in a giant playground full of treets to climb, branches to play with, with so much space to run, and they are happy children. Similarly, even though many women are living in really rough living conditions they always have a smiling face on them and are happy about the little things in life, such as when a sweet potato grows in their garden.
This made something even more clear to me than it was before:  Its not about what you own, all the materialistic things, friends or clothing that you can identify yourself with and be a happy person due to other people liking you for that. It‘s about an inner happyness, disconnected from all materialistic and everything that you can own. That is why happyness is inside, and not outside.

Besides that, there are also a lot of good things, that we can learn from the Q‘eqchis: The friendlyness, the strong family connection, and helping each other at every time. That is why you will never feel or be alone in a place like Nueva Mercedes.

I will miss the smiling faces screeming „Juliaaaaaaaa“ throughout the village, I will miss the friendlyness, I will miss that you greet each other when passing by and sometimes even have a quick chat, even if you don‘t know the person, I will miss the most beautiful nature and wildlife of Polochic valley, I will miss this life, where every day is like an adventure and you really feel like contributing to something important.

There is one thing I am looking forward to returning back to civilization: a shower with good water pressure!

Tat naq‘ sa‘ in xchool ut lain waj sut qiik‘ chaq‘ Mercedes! (I will miss you and I will be back, Mercedes!)

Xchawil aawib‘! Bantiox! (Que les vaya bien! Muchas gracias!)