Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stoves, Scarves, Schools and Survivors: More from Kathy in San Antonio Palopó

November 6-21, 2010

Good news that comes from one of our team in Victoria: Miguel Granados, Director of Productos ONIL at HELPS, confirms that by replacing an open hearth fire with an ONIL stove we are saving 3.4 tonnes of emissions per year from entering the atmosphere.  In terms of carbon offsets it is at least two return flights to Guatemala! And I will add in terms of health it is saving lives and suffering from dreadful illnesses.

Greetings all,
Lots of catching up to do.  I got a little distracted when friends (Melanie and Michael) arrived in Antigua to celebrate my birthday!

To pick up where I left off:
While I was in Antigua I managed to do not only the Stove Fair, with a large amiable group of Rotarians from Oregon and California, but I went to the offices of WINGS/ALAS ( to find out what information they have regarding reproductive health and family planning and what tools they might share for teaching it.  We ask every one of our stove recipients to come to a meeting that includes this subject as well as nutrition, health and hygiene.  WINGS is a gold mine and they have an educator that will come for one of our sessions.  This year we will also have a program for men in each village and are in the process of organizing that.  I have no idea what the outcome (meaning attendance) will be.

Women demonstrate the Ecocina Stove
The Ecocina stove looks good.  It is smaller, very portable and is less costly, seems to do the same job as the Onil although I don’t know if it saves as much wood or reduces the carbon output as much.  Research to be done.  The day was fun, began with breakfast at Fernando’s and getting to know a few people.  Then a few hours at the factory, including a traditional dance performed by local children, women selling their woven products, a tour of the factory and a demonstration of how the stoves are built.  One good thing is that in reality they can’t be tampered with or altered (unlike the ONIL with which there is a tendency to enlarge the opening of the fire box in order to put in larger pieces of wood and get a bigger fire going – which can crack the concrete and if used correctly really isn’t necessary).  After this we were transported to a restaurant that fed us Mexican food and then to the main square where the stoves were being set up, lit and eventually women were cooking pupusas (a filled tortilla specialty from El Salvador) on them.  And there were some folks interested in the stove itself but it seemed that it was mostly our group in the square for a long time.  All in all it was an informative day, albeit long.

Two days in Antigua was very pleasant but enough, so I returned to San Antonio with my friends in tow.  And during the week they were here I got some work done and they saw parts of it, and some of the surrounding villages around the Lake as well. They helped me buy scarves to ship back to Canada, had fun in the Bomberos’ market buying old huipiles and fabrics, visiting the market in San Lucas, breakfasting at the Hotel Toliman, picop and boat rides to different places like Santiago and Santa Cruz, all this while I was attached to my cell phone wherever we were so my ‘work’ could continue.  We all went to a young gals high school graduation family gathering and were served the traditional Pulique. 

Melanie (below) did a mandala drawing workshop with nearly 40 children in the Centro Qa Winak’ and started it with Capacitar exercises. The gals have now organized 2 more mornings for groups of children during the school vacation. All in all it was a lot of fun, more or less ending with a delightful walk up to the Catarata or waterfall, high up above this village on a very beautiful day. 
There is still a lot of water coming over, more than I’ve ever seen before.  The terrain was much changed since I was last there. That is true of many of the paths in the village too. 
I went to a grade nine (Basico) graduation at the school (Instituto) as we had two scholarship students graduating and they wanted me to take pictures…… and the Director surprised me by asking me to get up on the stage and give them their diplomas!
As soon as Melanie and Michael left and I realized how much time had gone by, rapidly, I did something to my knee that basically has greatly limited my activities.  It’s gone from canteloupe size to a large grapefruit, with rest and applications of vinegar or aloe, turmeric and traumeel (internally), and use of pressure points.  Let me tell you it is a real handicap in terrain such as this.  BUT the benefit is the stove groups are doing most of the work and I am not playing mountain goat as usual….. and they are getting much more accomplished more quickly than they would with me accompanying them.  Also perhaps, this is the way it should be….. with them deciding and running the show with an ICO representative for oversight and asking the questions that are important to us.

Already the date for meetings with stove recipients had to be changed because of Santa Catarina´s Fiesta day Nov. 25 (St. Catherine´s Day) – nothing will get done for a few days on either side of that.

Two evenings ago, on my balcony, I met with a small group of 6 women weavers from the group that lost everything including family members, in the Agatha mudslide.  We were trying to figure out a way to help them get back to work.  The Hornby Island weavers gave a nice sum of money for women weavers affected by the disaster so this seems like a perfect fit. It was nice just sitting here with them, listening to them discuss things in Kaqchikel and then explain to me a bit of what they had said.  Some spoke no Spanish. However, I think I have mentioned before, the pain and suffering is often almost palpable. 

The next couple of weeks will be taken up with stove meetings, trainings, deliveries and installations; getting some computer classes running at one of the schools (part of our Centro Qa Winak’ program), upgrading the temporary school, checking up on scholarship students who don’t seem to be doing their volunteer service at the Centro, and spending more time with families and assessing needs, for future ideas in the Centro Qa Winak’.

Meanwhile the weather has been beautiful. There is a wee bit more activity on the tourist front in spite of the fact Americans (and maybe Canadians) have been warned not to come to Lake Atitlan for the next month because the main road from Solola is closed for major repair since the land slide and an older route (which involves fording a river where the bridge was washed out) is being used which ‘they’ say is very dangerous (meaning robberies).  I have taken that route with no problem and Guatemalans are making sure it is safe.  So, if you have plans to come don’t change them….. the Mayans need you and your business.

A couple of nights ago I was woken by a very loud and strange sound emanating from just outside my room.  It turned out to be a Taquacin, 2 in fact, squabbling over something.  I only saw the tail ends which looked hugely ratlike.  Evidently they are marsupial, related to possums.

And for now you have read enough and enough has been written.  Bless you for your interest.  Hope you get to take advantage of scarf sales in Victoria, sounds like they will come in handy for the weather!

Warm regards from beautiful Guatemala,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas is Coming - consider these cards for your family and friends

This Christmas season, instead of searching through the malls for the perfect gift, have you thought about giving an ICO gift card? Your family and friends will have the joy of knowing that money has been given in their names to buy a clean-burning stove, to help a child get an education, or to help a community move ahead. We're happy to send you a number of cards for one contribution. For example, if you want to send a donation to buy a stove ($110) we could send you 2 or 3 cards which you could send to different friends. Several families we know have decided to put in together to buy a stove, or to make a contribution to education, rather than to give presents to each other.

And a great benefit is that you will receive a tax receipt (Canada only) for your contribution. 

For more information on how to receive these cards and make your donation, email
These are samples of the cards that are available:


Thursday, November 4, 2010

After the Mudslides with Kathy in San Antonio Palopó: Eating Alone, Kite Making and Flying, El Dia de los Difuntos, Scarf Buying, Cemetery Vigils, School Reconstruction and Stove Fairs.

November 2, 2010
Hello all, time to catch up!

The last few days have been full of meetings and visits.  I helped hand out threads and pots and pans to families who lost everything in the September slide last Friday. In the summer we raised money to buy looms and weaving equipment for the families who lost everything and this evening I will meet with a representative to see samples of what they have been weaving.  Hopefully there has been some quality control so things are saleable.

Saturday I was invited by a family to their child’s First Communion (mainly so I could take pictures at the end!!).  There were 98 children from 12 to 15 years old being confirmed.  The children have been going to catechism classes for months and were quite prepared to answer the priest’s questions.  He spent some time just joking with them too.  I got quite dizzy from the heat and incense in the tightly packed, overflowing church so spent much of the time on the front steps watching the scene on the street! They invited me for lunch after this.  A traditional dish called Puliq.  It involves a tomato and chile ‘soup’ and a plate full of chicken and vegetables which you can eat separately or put in the soup. And a basket full of tamalitos cooked in corn husks --  mainly just masa with no flavouring.  They are filling which is about all I can say about them!  This meal was quite an experience, not new to me, but I’ll share it.  I was given my meal to eat way ahead of the rest of the family, and they told me not to let it get cold.  I was eating slowly thinking they would join me. One family member did sit and talk to me for a while before he got up and went into another room. Finally I was finished and decided to say my goodbyes and found them all sitting on the floor in the kitchen and another room, eating their meal. I joked that I liked socializing more than sitting by myself and next time I would join them!!  Interesting traditions.  At least I had a utensil to eat with (that doesn’t always happen, fingers are more common).

Sunday the Centre Qa Winak’ had a children’s program and about 25 children from ages 3 to 12 were making kites.  They were quite wonderful, very engaged in cutting colourful tissue paper, gluing it onto the sticks they had tied together with string, making decorations and streamers to add to them and then attaching the necessary string that eventually would connect to the long line they would need to fly it!  There were only 2 little boys who were acting up – they were quite a bit louder and running around – and of course they belonged to the coordinator!!

Monday, was All Saints Day.  I went to visit a young gal at her house after breakfast, not realizing there would be more food at her house:  the traditional elote and guiskil (corn on the cob and a green vegetable you won’t have seen unless you’ve been here)!  Both tasty with salt and lime juice.  This took me into a part of San Antonio I had noticed I was a little reluctant to visit, where the first mudslide took place.  The pathways (there are no roads in this area except down by the lake) are now quite treacherous, homes are left hanging or partly disappeared, what used to be gardens have gone, where there were terraces planted with onions, trees growing, in a lovely valley, there is now just a huge gully of boulders and rocks and the remains of a bridge and pathways, vacant areas where houses had been.
I finally had to tell myself to think like a new visitor here, seeing all for the first time.  Perhaps it wouldn’t seem so awful.

Today, Tuesday, is an unofficial holiday but it feels like Sunday!  It is called El Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the deceased) here. EVERYONE has been out flying kites, large and small and all a bit different. I took pictures of them in the sky, they are like dots.  But it was very festive and fun to watch mainly groups of boys and especially young men with huge homemade kites turning it into a contest to see whose kite lasted the longest….. there is great competition to ‘cut’ the other guy’s string.  The wind was really good for this today.

Last evening I spent some time in the cemetery with much of the village.  I went with Maria del Carmen, a young gal whose cousins, a family of four, were killed in the May mudslide. Everyone was sitting or standing near their deceased, in candlelight, with flowers, some in tears, some quietly communing with each other.  And others, getting quite drunk!  It smelled like someone was cooking hotdogs (for sale) too. Folks spent the night there; it was beautiful to look at from afar, as there were so many candles.

I ended my day (Tuesday) at a meeting at the Centre Qa Winak’, planning how to best employ our scholarship students who will be doing some community service, helping out with our groups of women and children.  During the school holidays we will have more opportunities for children to come and do planned activities. 

In the meantime I have been looking at some beautiful weaving, purchasing some scarves to send to Canada for Christmas sales.  I met with Antonio at the weaving Cooperativa to get Global Village´s order expedited.  Spoke with the Mayor about helping us by fetching ONIL stoves from the factory for us, so we don’t have to pay the freight. Celebrated the 6th birthday of Manuelito, the youngest son of Manuela, the hotel owner.  She made a chocolate cake that was quite hard (and she kept laughing about it, so we did too!).  I went to Panajachel to do many errands and forgot my ATM card and just did whatever I could so the day was not completely wasted.  Decided to ask for a bank draft to move ICO money from the Panajachel bank to a different one in San Antonio Palopó.  The process took about an hour and ended up with the teller having to cut a piece of clear packing tape a bit longer than the draft and then covering the front of it with the tape so it couldn’t be tampered with, then trimming the ends.  He was holding his breath that it would work, so as not to have to go through the whole process over again.  Ohhhhhh what we take for granted!!! 

Thursday, and nearly the end of this installment.  From 1pm on it has been like a wild stormy  mid- summer day on Vancouver Island.  Lots of rain and wind.  Loved it! But I don´t envy the people of the village whose fear level must have risen substantially during 4-5 hours of rain.

Before the weather changed, I had a long visit with the school director (of the condemned school) who has been working to maintain a school in less than ideal conditions (partly in the basement of an unfinished church – rather dungeon like).  We raised money to help construct doors and windows, to put in more (energy-saving) lights, to build shelves for a bit of a library, to buy shelving for classrooms,  and whatever else they need.  I am now waiting for him to cost out the list and prioritize – in case we don´t have enough for everything. He is extremely dedicated to the children and their well-being and wants to get all the work done during this school vacation (October to mid January) so as not to cause any more interruptions during school time.  He basically said this last year has been a nightmare. 

Tomorrow I will go to Santa Catarina and meet with our stove team there… get them working.  Saturday, after a couple of hours with children at Qa Winak´,  I will go to Antigua for a couple of days because there is a Stove Fair and the Ecocina stove will be presented there --- we´ve been hearing a lot about it.  It is supposed to be very efficient and have many of the benefits of the ONIL stove.

So, as you can see there is a lot happening here, too much to include without tiring you.  But thanks for reading this far!  It is great to know there is someone interested.
Abrazos, Kathy
To Contact Kathy: kpcoster[at]