Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to the Valley

So much has been going on in the Polochic Valley ever since Caleb and I have returned from renewing our visas. We had a chance to hit the open road for a week or so and talk to all sorts of people about all sorts of ideas regarding Li Ch’utam.  After discussing the project with so many people and running everything over in my head for days on buses from Mexico City back down to Guatemala I returned to the volunteer house in the Polochic more impassioned than ever. The timing is perfect as well, because all of the seeds we planted in our first few careful months here are now coming to fruition in these months before we have to say goodbye. When we first got here all we had was a great big house on a hill that none of the people were allowed to come into.  We started playing sports with the kids every day and then the adults invited us to their daily soccer games. This initial connection to the people led us to the town hall gatherings and the parent/teacher meetings where Caleb and I were asked to help out in the 1st and 2nd grade. After 4 months in the classrooms, we both have seen great progress in the students as well as the teachers. Not only do they show up every day to work, which was the biggest issue in the first months, they even stayed with us after hours this week to construct a huge float for the kids to ride in the big parade in Teleman.  A big issue in local education is that the majority of the kids still can’t read, so the school definitely has a ways to go before everything is A-ok, but with 3 volunteers helping out in 4 grades we are currently as effective as we have ever been in improving the local primary schooling.
Since opening the doors of the house to the kids every afternoon some very interesting projects have risen as they explore different interests and activities. Our most recent project is a compost and garden in front of the house which will give us plenty of vegetables for free cooking classes and restaurant/movie nights. All of the kids helped us plant various seeds in old tin cans that we poked holes in. With pulp from cleaned coffee beans and great soil from a lombri compost the plantation provided us with the perfect mix for our new plants. About one week has passed and the plants are ready to be transferred directly in our garden which is sectioned off with fallen banana trees.
It has become a tradition for Osman, Caleb and I to take the kids to the river for a swim every weekend. It’s so hot here, but no one really minds the long walks because we all know what’s waiting at the end of that long dusty road…We have our own hidden swimming hole tucked into a quiet corner of the woods. It came fully equipped with a white sandy beach, a nice tall rock to jump off of, a clean not so strong current to play in, and 20 funny, fearless kids learning how to swim. 
Osman, our newest volunteer from Guatemala, is an artist and has brought an interesting dynamic to the house. The kids have been painting and incorporating natural materials like rocks, leaves, and twigs into their designs. Also on walks to the river and in the hills we collect things like seeds from the corosso palm and rubber tree saplings to craft rings and earrings with some tools we picked up in the neighboring town. Hopefully all of the kids will have made their own rings by mother’s day…

The computer literacy program has been running for close to 2 months. By now everyone is familiar with the keyboard, knows how to handle the computers, and can find the programs they need to practice their typing and upload/view photos they’ve taken with various volunteers who have visited. The kids have the majority of the letters and keys memorized (we make sure they aren’t cheating by covering their hands and keyboards with mats) which is a huge accomplishment since most of them didn’t know the alphabet very well before the  computer classes started.  This means the computer classes have helped with basic literacy as well as giving the kids an advantage for future careers, entrepreneurial endeavors, and the challenges posed by modern society in the age of information and technology. There are 18 students from 1st through 6th grade that have been attending the 2 hour classes 5 times a week for the last 2 months. Six of those students are typing close to or above 10 words per minute while the majority is typing at 5-6 words per minute.
Caleb and I have 2 months left with Li Ch’utam before our Co-op with Northeastern is over. That puts us right on schedule to maintain our pilot projects in technology, art, agriculture, and primary education while linking our project to the national leaders in educational reform at the Universidad del Valle convention in May and at Tech Camp Guatemala in July. We will speak at these events with a team of local leaders from the community (ages 13-26.) This will be a good opportunity to transfer some of the ownership and management of Li Ch’utam over to the people who live in the Polochic Valley. This will assure sustainability and relevance of projects as new volunteers take over as 6-12 month consultants to the local leaders.
We give a big thankyou and hug to all of the people who have ever read a Li Ch’utam blog post, thought about our project, or came down to visit and share this amazing year with us.
1 Love – Li Ch’utam 2012