Friday, October 31, 2014

A bump in the road

This week we had some bad news here in the village. We were informed that due to vacation time we would now have to give back our key to the school since no one is allowed to use it during these two months. This came as quite a surprise since we had already asked permission to use it and since volunteers from Li Ch’utam have used the school during vacation for a number of years.
The reasons we are given for this decision are very vague, just as we have not been able to get a clear answer as two has made it. We have so far contacted the director of the school as well as members of the COCODE, neither of whom can give us clear answers except that we should talk to someone else about it if we absolutely insist to take it further (which, of course, we do). So next step is to take the issue up with the Parents’ Committee and hope they can help us get back the key.
This unfortunate turn of events makes it quite difficult for us to keep up our usual routine. Because while sports activities might be perfectly fine to carry out in open air, reading, mathematics and computer classes are another story. And with 10-30 kids every day we have no other location available.
Determined to keep on with lessons we have therefore had to come up with new ways of teaching, today we learned math by searching for geometrical shapes in nature and then creating the same figures with rope.
In spite of this bump in the road, we are still in good spirits, and hoping that both children and volunteers will learn something new from using alternative teaching methods, while fighting our way back into the class room!

To be continued…

Sad volunteer and sad student outside school

Hexagon made with rope and students

Sports day

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Welcome Kinga!

Welcome to our new volunteer Kinga who joined us two weeks ago. She came in the middle of a very busy period of finishing the school year and starting new activities, and has therefore already participated in a lot of things. Read Kinga’s first impressions here:

"It's my second week in Nueva Mercedes and everything has been going so fast so far. The place
is busy like a beehive. I have met so many people that I can hardly retain their exotic names. The
children we are working with are funny, full of energy and open to new learning experience as
much as I am. I 've already gone through Eva's farewell meetings, cooking workshop, computer
classes for men and young ones, loads of extracallicular activities para niƱos and now have that
funny impression of being here for a very long time. The volunteers' house I moved to is cute and
placed in a very alluring settings among papaya, bannana trees and other flora I am unable to
name yet. The weather is bearable still might be quite surprising sometimes with its heavy rains
that block access to the outside world. There's so much to acquire but feels good, looking forward
to new projects to come."

 - Kinga

Furthermore, the school year in Guatemala is coming to an end and though Li Ch’utam volunteers will keep having classes with the children every day, we have decided to change the schedule a little since it is now vacation time. Every one or two weeks we will introduce a new theme to the students and the activities of each day – whether it is reading, arts, sports, games or others, will be connected to this theme. This week and the following we are learning about different animals.
Here are a couple of pictures of our activities so far:

Learning about animals
Making our own zoo

Preparation of animal crowns

Team Lion against Team Rhinoceros!

Spider walking

Preparation of animal crowns

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cooking Workshop

As a follow up on the vegetable garden-project, we did a cooking workshop where the women could share recipes and learn to use the vegetables they are now growing in new ways.
The workshop took place tuesday (7/10) at the volunteer house, and both volunteers and the local women participated in showing the others how to prepare different dishes.

Some of the food prepared was sweet yucca, vegetable soup and spanish tortilla.

As a delicious end to a good day, we finished off by eating all the different dishes together, and everything was really good!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Once I had a dream

I came to Nueva Mercedes a year ago. I was supposed to leave yesterday – rain and closed roads made me stay at least 2 more days – Polochic life J.

At the beginning of October 2014 coming here I felt like everything is a big question mark. Will the scorpion bite me? Will snake do? What are local people like? Do they like volunteers? Will they cooperate with me? Is it a safe place? What is Li Ch’utam actually doing in the village? Why are mosquitoes around me all the time? I still don’t know the answers for some of these questions but for sure I have experienced a lot during the past year. Killing a scorpion with machete, frying pan, spray to kill scorpions, flip flop, I finally reached a point when I was too lazy and I was sleeping with a scorpion over my head. No water – buy some to drink, use the river for other purposes, save it, no electricity – used electronic devices only in emergency and apart from that - no problem, you can always find a way to deal with it, creativity and positive thinking – that’s what living in Polochic needs. I learned that local people are amazing people, they need a lot of time to understand and trust “gringos” (in q’eqchi means foreigner), but they also open their houses and hearts for us if we let them do it. 

I learned from local people what does it mean to be human again, to help someone without any profit, just because she/he needs that, sharing the little they have with someone who has less, saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” even if I don’t know the person, smiling to people in the pick up, talking to people on the way, cry on the funeral and be happy on the wedding. Here I could count on people, I supported them and they supported me. I learned asking for help, and many times people were doing for me more than I asked for. Especially when it comes to nature I could not imagine being alone here.

Life here is actually big struggle with the nature – no electricity, no water, dirty water, scorpions, snakes, rats, tarantulas, bats, ants, dust, humid heat, heavy rain and bridges under water, almost every day you get at least one of those and you have to deal with it. Carrying things all the time – computers to school, food from Teleman, gas, bad Internet connection. Even though the house has very good conditions still there are many issues to deal with. Half of life here is actually surviving – fighting with nature or preparing food J.

However I feel like I learned a lot about myself here: what are my barriers, what is it that I can stand and what is too difficult for me. You know that feeling when you are in the mountains, so exhausted, that you feel like you cannot do even one more step? But you also know that you have to so you walk 4 more hours. After that you feel so happy that next day you walk even more. I was struggling with many things here, but every battle won made me stronger and willing to fight more. J

The other half of time (at least at the beginning) is work done “European style” – you plan things and you get frustrated because you cannot make it even if you work very hard – people don’t come to the meetings or are 1,5 hours late, teachers don’t come to school, so you cannot just talk to them when you need it, if you tell people to do something for tomorrow you may have it in a week if you’re lucky. Obsession of planning and ticking tasks can be forgotten here. Then there is “I know what they need” syndrome. You come here and you just know how to organize everything, who should do what and how. So you tell people and they say yes to everything (looking at you like at an alien, that you actually are for them). And they never do. You are surprised, very surprised. So you think what went wrong and make a new plan. WRONG!

January 2014. Li Ch’utam organized computer literacy course for secondary school students and it was supposed to be done in Nueva Mercedes school. The only condition was that students had to pay half of electricity bill. Investigation: parents pay every month for electricity of the school even though it should be paid by the government, checked what is needed so that parents don’t pay it. Planned meeting with parents committee 2 times – never showed up. Finally reaching them and giving them information about how to do it with help offered – never came for help. October 2014 – parents are still paying for school electricity.

February 2014. Parents of secondary students asked us to help in organizing transportation for their kids to the other village where they were studying. We put a lot of effort to talk to parents from few villages, the driver, and finally we have organized transportation that was on a specific time, safe, only for the students, and we managed to lower the price. Everyone seemed to be happy because of that. The transportation worked for one week and after that the driver or the kids were not coming. At the end of February students were using again normal transportation, many times waiting for a long time and paying the normal price.

December 2014. Scholarship programme started. 12 young people started secondary school in January 2014, 6 of them receiving scholarships (in 2013 only two young people started secondary school). This month they finish the school year, 10 of them.
I was sooooo happy when we started scholarship programme, so as these young people who applied and received them were. I felt like dreams come true, not only for European girl coming for volunteering to Guatemalan village, but like dreams coming true is a universal right J.

Beginning of April 2014. One of the students receiving scholarship did not come for a week to receive her money. Her mother told me that she is getting married and she will stop studying and that’s girl’s decision (her mom wanted her to study). She was 15. She is one of the brightest girls in the village. Because of lack of money she could not start studying for the past 2 years.
Her mom wanted me to talk to her and convince her to continue studying and leaving the idea of marriage at least for some time. So I did. The girl told me that her father makes her life impossible and she is thinking since years about living the house, now when she is studying her life is even more complicated and marriage is a way to escape from the house and start a better life. She told me that she was dreaming about education but what she needs more is a normal house when father is supporting his family and is good for his kids. She wants to create this kind of family but first of all she wants to escape from her father. It’s October now. She got married few months ago. Her husband is twice older than she is. She’s already pregnant. They seem to be happy together. It also seems that she will never have a chance to continue education.

During the past year I found out that our work should not be helping community. Our work should be understanding the community, be with people and whatever we do, do it with the community, not for them.

2014 was a year of many activities:
- cooperation with the teachers in the primary school: support in their activities, with literacy for the first and second grade kids;

- afternoon activities about literacy, Spanish, mathematics, art and sport, computer literacy, but also about expression, questioning, interpreting, creation

- preparation of database of activities connected with Guatemalan curriculum
- excursion to Rio Dulce with 4th-6th grade students

- scholarship programme for 7 kids
- encouraging young people to study in the new secondary school (12 started, 10 finished the first year)

- homework support for secondary school students
- support for secondary school in La Constancia with computer literacy course and English classes
- transportation project
- vegetable and cooking projects for women

- computer course for men
- we were participating in many school activities: football championship, Mothers Day, Children Day, Independence Day - helping preparing decoration, practicing poems with kids, dances.

Some of the activities worked, others did not. However there were few big successes: 10 secondary school students will finish their first year this month; we reached around 70 kids with our afternoon activities; we have started dialog with the teachers and at some point they wanted us to support them; people from the village started coming to us to talk to us about what they would like us to do; kids coming for literacy classes take books and read; it seems that they like it; women have ideas for more projects; and sometimes when we talk to people they simply say “thank you”.

Once I had a dream, it was about giving everyone real access to education. I feel that it will still need a bit of work J. But I also feel that a seed of it is already planted in Nueva Mercedes and will grow during the coming years.

Thanks to all of you for giving me the opportunity to spend a year of my life in Nueva Mercedes – I learned and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks to Albert, Anna, Astrid, Dodo, Kinga, Miguel and Nicoline for sharing this experience with me. 

I wish good luck to the current team and remember that I’m close if you need me J.