Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jacqueline and John arrive in San Antonio Palopo

A new team has arrived in San Antonio Palopo providing a transition from all the wonderful work Kathy has achieved over the last three months. The 2011 initiative will provide energy efficient stoves, much needed medicines, support for our vibrant Social Center, donations of school supplies and repairs to the temporary school to provide a safe and healthy environment for the 450 young children. Dr. John Snively (below) is new on the team this year as the first community dentist, providing already some excellent groundwork for this initiative, and bringing promise and hope for many.
Consumable products are necessary for the volunteer dentist  to begin his work, and ample medicines are needed to fill the empty shelves in the local clinic for 10,000 people. All our preliminary paper work was approved, my volunteer secretary spoke personally with the wife of President Colom, we had an interview in the palacio, but the medicines remain in customs after two weeks. Still, I do not give up hope. I found a female doctor in the clinic today willing to be persistent on the case, the mayor has volunteered to take a full day  to  drive to the capital and get the last permit from the Minister of Health, and then go to the airport four hours away. Positive thinking, good responses, but still no medicines. These medicines are a sizable gift for Guatemala, consisting of $10,000 in medicines selected by the town and a large amount in dental consumables and anaesthetics. We have partnered with the established organization of Health Partners International which covers the bulk of the cost of supplies, and with the generous help of Nelson Daybreak Rotary and ICO Foundation. Who knows, maybe tomorrow, or next week, it will happen and you will be the first to know! Such is the style of Guatemala. It is here we learn the lesson of patience. [UPDATE:
Yesterday, January 26, was a happy ending to a difficult three weeks of correspondence from SOSEP. Luis Ruiz, the First Lady's secretary called the aduana to advise them to give us a break. Although it took over two hours the meds were released for $120 US. This is wonderful as all the transports were done with no charge.]

Arriving back after a years absence  from this once idyllic village is a journey to a very different reality. A pervading sadness lingers over the community. I am pulled aside constantly in the village for the dear
residents who, each in turn, share their story of the disasters that occurred in 2010. So many have lost loved ones in the mudslides, many are still digging out or living in temporary accommodation. The economy is at an all time low, and the picturesque village is now a sea of rubble and dust. Roads are barely passable but life must go on, so we are here to bring smiles, listen carefully and assist wherever we can within our limitations.

Kathy's presence in the community has been so very well received over the last three months. Despite her injured knee (that resulted from too many ascents up the steep mountain paths of the ever expanding village) she managed to bring an excellent program together, present more opportunities to develop young leadership in the town, giving greater confidence for all concerned.

Everything takes longer than expected here. Banking should be simple but it took us three hours and three banks to finally cash a money order even though we have established accounts.

Today was delightful as Dr. John (Juan José) accompanied me for the first time up and around the mountain paths of the town. During this one full morning we were invited into many small casitas all ravaged by the storms, but making the best of what they have with their incredible resilience, so strong to their character. I was offered two more babies to become the madrina, which regretfully I must pass on to some other loving arms as I already have 25 godchildren. We were gifted weavings, told many stories that required compassionate listening, and were able to promise stoves to seven needy families and place orders for some of their beautiful weavings. A day of smiles for all of us.

 Back to our shared Casita, a kilometre away, for a short rest on the hammock overlooking the lake, and then more appointments beginning at four when the sun is less aggressive. John and I were taken aback by the very poor condition of the teeth of both children and adults. There has been no dental education and therefore no brushing, combined with a generous amount of sugar to balance the somewhat bland repetitive diet of the very poor. The results are damaging indeed. Many children have already got missing or rotten teeth. We have selected a wonderful young village girl, Carmen, who will be trained by John in this work. The public clinic has opened the opportunity for exclusive use of one of the rooms in the building for our dental project. There is a very great need indeed. John  will use a table to examine patients, pull teeth and clean. It will be a challenge, but if anyone can make it happen he will indeed. At least we have access to running water and soon the consumable supplies will be let out of customs. This is only the beginning of something good and beneficial for the children.

Today marks our first week on this project. We are so blessed to be here and have the resources to make a difference, thanks to all of you who have taken the time to be apart of this endeavour. We look forward to the arrival of two Rotary couples who will be here in February to help with the stoves and in painting the clinic and school rooms.

Jacqueline Mealing

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kathy's Last Hurrah!

January 17, 2011: Greetings/Saludos and a belated Feliz Año Nuevo to all. 

It is the eve of my departure and who knows where the last month went. Everyone here says it is cold (and the nights are chilly) but I only have to think about returning to Canada and how much I will miss the heat of the day here, the lovely blue skies and the vista of volcanoes, blue lake, wonderful cloud formations, sunsets, etc.  Never mind all that – I have much to look forward to upon my return!

Three days ago Jacqueline Mealing, an experienced hand here, and John Snively, a retired dentist from Victoria arrived and will be here for a couple of months.  We have been busy making the transition and talking about what initiatives will come next.

And now I will catch you up on a month’s worth of activities (more or less!). Happily the stove team in Santa Catarina finished their installations quickly giving us time to meet with recipients in both villages; with much fanfare we gave each family a set of pots to use on their new stoves, and everyone expressed their gratitude to all of you.

The last few weeks have been really focused on determining scholarship recipients - assessing need and ability. Not an easy choice and not a very scientific process! I relied to a great extent on the gals working in the Centro Qawinaq.  I believe I mentioned that one of our students from last year appeared to be very pregnant in November;  she wasn´t being very communicative about it so I thought that there was no possibility of her carrying on in school, at least for a while.  However, she gave birth just around Christmas and unfortunately due to complications and the ambulance not coming, the baby died.  A while later she phoned me and asked if she could continue so I invited her to come over to talk about it….. and ended up agreeing that we could support her in her last year.  She´s a good student and says she´s learned a lot from her experience. In a year’s time she will be able to work and help support her family.

We are also supporting 4 middle school students with typing/computer classes, uniforms and school supplies; 4 high school students with tuition, uniforms and school supplies as well as giving about 12 primary students some school supplies.  It is a mere drop in the bucket of need but Jacqueline will be working with the school directors to see what other ways we can help. 

Meanwhile the classrooms of the temporary school now all have metal supply shelves, windows, doors and padlocks.  A small space in the main building has been transformed into a library with new wooden shelves. There remains one window to do which was forgotten because it is in between classrooms and the two windows that face the street need ‘balcones’ which translates as bars that will prevent anyone from breaking in (though not necessarily from breaking glass).  The director of the school, Odilio, is so pleased with everything that one classroom will be named after ICO!

School starts on the 17th and last week the Papeleria in Panajachel, where we buy a lot of supplies for the students, reminded me of bookselling days the week before Christmas.  What a zoo. 

The Centro Qawinak now has an expanded board of directors as of last week.  It’s a pretty dynamic group of mostly young people. The program for the next few months has been planned and includes one morning a week for 3- to 5-year-olds, 4 to 5 afternoons with groups of women (Spanish, cooking, needlework etc.), Saturdays with 2 groups of older children doing a variety of activities, educational and otherwise. There are also computer classes organized by the Centro but taught by volunteers in the community. In March the K´aslem Mandala environmental education team will start a 3 month program, part of it with children, and part of it with women. I have wanted to partner with them for a couple of years now and finally it is happening. At the moment we are in negotiation, designing a program and a price. Also the Asociación Xocomil will be giving classes for youth on the responsibilities of parenting, sex education, and I´m not sure what else. Already 20 are signed up.  

And Jacqueline has many plans to work with groups of women in the Centro while she is here.

Last Wednesday was HackySacky Day at the Centro.  A huge group of kids from 4 to 14 years old came in the morning and there were hackysacks flying all over the place.  The afternoon group was much smaller, calmer!  Fidel, the fellow from Panajachel (not San Pedro), who came to teach the kids was having a great time just playing, having never taught before.  And the kids learned.  The hacky sacks were all beautiful colours, made right in town here.  Fidel picked 4 out of the whole group who had really mastered the juggling of two hacky sackys and out of the four, three were girls.  A surprise to me because often they are too shy (and several were) but these gals were very focused!  The prize was a third hackysacky.  Felipa, our coordinator, will invite them all back one day with their hackysackys to see how the juggling is progressing! Everyone had fun and I actually learned to juggle 2 balls.

In the last few days Sandi Chamberlain from Victoria visited for a week and made herself most useful with some of the finer details.  I have been busy sorting out money from different accounts, things I brought down or purchased here – deciding where they should go, collecting receipts, parceling out school supplies, and feeling wistful about leaving. A parade of parents, kids, and friends have been coming to my door either with needs or to say good-bye and thanks to me and everyone in Canada who has helped the village.

So that is the end of this chapter.  My intention to write in the blog every couple of days still remains unfulfilled – perhaps Jacqueline will do a better job! 

Once again I am so grateful to you all for making the work here possible.  I am constantly telling the people about the wonderful Canadians who are supporting our initiatives here.  And as they would say ‘Que Dios les Bendiga’

Con cariños,