Saturday, March 31, 2018

Where education has the flavor of Vanilla

The first thought I had once in Nueva Mercedes was that I have never seen such a place full of life and connection with nature. The village is literally immersed in the forest covering the hills surrounding the valley, and here the daily habits of 70 families are kept in time.

In this context Li Ch’utam is working with the youth bridging the amazingness of the colors and flavors of the Polochic Valley with the external opportunities deriving from the education, helping them to invest in their future.

Almost finished!

The realization of the IT & Knowledge Centre best represents this goal, and it is finally ready after 10 months and a very struggling but satisfying March. Since the last update, indeed, electricity has been completely cut off for three weeks compromising the construction works, and the finishing material delayed more than a week. Notwithstanding, everything is now going on the right direction and the 7th of April the inauguration will take place. The founders, the board members, the local volunteers and the families of Nueva Mercedes together with the most important donors will be reunited to start at best.

We already started to work at the centre!

The occasion of the inauguration created the good condition to reinforce the collaboration between Li Ch’utam, the community, the people part of the projects and the local authorities. All the village of Nueva Mercedes, together with the students part of the scholarship program, indeed, are willing to do their part! The women will cook the traditional chicken soup and every family offered to contribute how they can with chicken, rice, chocolate or tortillas. I am very happy about the engagement of the people with the Centre, the projects and us.

                  To sum up these first months, the work with the youth and adults of the communities gradually started. In preparing the activities with the youth, we kept the connection with those of our predecessors therefore we developed and increased the scholarship program, organized extracurricular activities as games, sport, gardening and art with the kids and provided support to the local school. On this last activity, we are focusing more on teaching English since otherwise the students will not have any opportunity to learn it. We planned in addition a series of meeting and workshops with the kids and adolescents.

           Nevertheless, also the involvements of the adults restarted and we have already been able to organise a first meeting with the families part of the scholarship program to discuss with them the importance for their kids to go to school and study. The director of a local school, who has an extraordinary attachment for these communities where he has grown up, held the debate. He strongly believes in education and he wants to support our activities to “leave something for the future of the youth here” as he said. We are planning to develop regular meetings with the parents and adults of the area to face multiple themes.  

Bread-making workshop with women 

Next to it we are setting up as in 2017 the activities with the women. They are willing to learn and discover therefore we restarted a previous workshop on bread and cookies making. The reaction is very positive and the results impressive! We are trying to use the traditional tools for cooking they have at home so that can keep try and cook on their own. 

We took this period to get into the context and know better the people we are working with; I am amazed how wonderful and collaborative they can be. Though flexibility is the keyword to be able to work here and every day there are new issues to overcome, the incredible landscapes and the people with whom I am sharing this adventure make it unique. I am really happy and I am looking forward to fully start with the Centre and all the activities.

We will update you soon on how things are going here!

The vanilla plantation right next to the centre

Extracurricular activity - Art in english with the kids of Nueva Mercedes

Cooking without electricity =)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2018: Week one of new volunteers

It has been a week since the new team (Giulia from Italy, François from France and me) has arrived in Nueva Mercedes. The journey from Guatemala city was long, but once we settled into the volunteer house, we felt refreshed and was eager to start working and contributing to the projects. First thing we could do was to push a series of social media campaigns to raise funds for the scholarship program given the school year has just started. 

Everyday is a new and exciting day for me personally, and I am sure it is the same for my other two teammates (and housemates) too as we started more or less the same time. There is a lot to learn, anything and everything from this organization, to education in Guatemala and to the social and cultural norms in this village. It is quite overwhelming for me, not only because of the new environment that is totally different from what I am used to, but also because that I am feeling that there are so much we want to do for the children and community but we were not able to do all, at least not yet.

One of the tasks on the priority list is to get ready for the inauguration of IT centre. The IT centre is almost finished. It is looking beautifully from outside. It is built on high ground and is surrounded by a few village houses and green fields, it really stands out among the houses made of wooden sticks and hays. The first floor is nicely painted in white and the second floor is made of neatly shaped and polished woods.  While the IT centre always puts a smile on our faces whenever we walk pass by it, we know that there are still lots to do. For example, it is critical that we get more computers ASAP but it seems impossible to find them. We have been reaching out to various sources, personal contacts, schools and companies, but the response rate has been low. I would have never expected it to be so hard to get a couple of used computers. In the corporate world that I was in before, everyone changes computer every 2-3 years, but it is a complete different world out here. 

Another challenge is to understand the cultural dynamics of all the stakeholders. One might think that with the mission of Li Ch’utam, it is so easy to implement all the programs whenever, and we get support easily from everyone because it is a good cause for the community. The reality is not like that at all. Having an understanding of the perception of each party involved and following the local protocols are very important. For that reason, the team has already been setting up meetings in the first week. Yesterday we had a good meeting with the COCODE, the local governing committee that is comprised of several representatives from the community, to update what we are doing and get their support. Next week, we plan to meet the school teachers and get to know them better. 

The first weekend here, we went to the river that is in the next village for a swim. We met the other volunteers who are teaching English in another NGOs in the next village. We also met families and friends that know Li Chu’tam. We all gathered at the house of one of them and celebrated the weekend with a simple dinner and music. It was a very pleasant and amiable gathering to know the people around and learn about their lives.

To sum up week one in Nueva Mercedes: it is a week of learning and a week of familiarizing ourselves with the place, the community and the way of living. Today there is no electricity after the storm last night so there is no WIFI and our computers are almost out of battery. We have to get used to that. Despite all that, the picturesque backdrop of the blue sky, hills with multiple layers stretching into the horizon and village trails meandering through the coffee and rubber plantation are something that I would never get tired of. 

Most importantly, the curiosity and smile of the children in the village is a constant reminder of why I am here. I think all volunteers would feel the same.

Melody (Singapur)