Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adios from Jacqueline - until January 2012

As I leave Guatemala after three months I am thankful for all that has happened and the positive impact of our three new projects. The greatest joy was to watch the children in their non-stop play and laughter enjoying the newly installed playground equipment.

This project, sponsored by ICO and funded by Rotary Nelson, services close to 1,000 children and is in full use by the schools for gym classes and recess. It was very special to cut the ribbons at the opening ceremony on a day of great fiesta and sing together the national anthem with heart felt emotion. 

Our initiative for the elders that we are fondly calling our ancianos, has met a real need in San Antonio Palopo. The group consists of fifteen tiny women in their 70s and 80s that look forward immensely to the hotmeal provided on Fridays and an activity that follows. As we listen to their stories, often through tears, we begin to realize that this demographic group suffers deeply. The new generation of young families live in crowded spaces with many children and mounting expenses with no space or money left for the elders. In earlier years they would be part of the household. Yesterday I attended a first birthday celebration for the child of a single Mum, and later in the day the traditional wake around the coffin of Nicolasia, our anciana who sucumbed quickly to pnemonia. Such is the ebb and flow of life. Our excursion around the lake to San Lucas Toliman was a huge success and enjoyed by all the elders. 

Another first this year has been the dental clinic. I have a number of speaking engagements lined up to procure funding for the mobile unit which we realize is essential to aid these communities. The dental work linked with dental education will continue to make a big difference in the general health of those who cannot afford the service and are unaware of the importance of oral hygiene. It was a learning experiece to work with Dr. Juan Jose (John Snively) as I held the patients and he pulled the teeth under some very primitive conditions. We were able to present dental hygiene classes in all the classrooms in town and to many women's groups. This is the way to improve the dental health of the communities in the future.

In all these projects we are honoured to have young Mayan leaders doing an excellent job.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Freddy - Linda's experience in San Antonio Palopo.

Hola everyone,  I am home now from my trip to Guatemala and want to share some of my experiences while they are fresh. 
San Antonio Palapo is such a different world. The village is built on a steep slope, rising up from the lakeshore. A narrow road brings you to the centre of town, near the small white Church, and the Mercado. The rest of the "streets" are steep paths and steps between the jumble of adobe and cement block buildings which seems to defy any building codes or town planning.  The air feels thin up at 5000 feet, as you hike up and down the paths, visiting families. The poverty is shocking- in your face - overwhelming. Many homes have dirt floors, no bathrooms, no furniture, and open hearth fires which blacken the walls and the lungs of those cooking over the thick smoke.   Yet every house seems to have a million dollar view of the shimmering lake with three volcanoes standing guard.  I love watching these mountains form little cloud sombreros, as the heat rises in the morning light. 
The Social Centre is a hub of activity in the village with programs for all ages.  I played games with the kids; laughed and ate hot soup with a group of tiny elderly women; watched a group of brave women learning to read and write for the first time.  We started this centre a year ago and over 200 participants are attending programs. There is so much potential here to make a positive impact on this community, which faces multiple challenges with so few resources.   
There are some families that I have come to know over the past 3 years and I enjoy visiting with them.  I am humbled by their endurance and by their grace.  They continue to be very poor. But their warmth and friendliness is so genuine.   When I arrive, someone always brings a plastic stool for me to sit on, while everyone else sits on the dirt floor or stands.   Now, it is time to say goodbye. As I walk away, Freddy calls  "Buen viaje" . I turn and see this young boy looking at me wistfully, with the seat of his jeans hanging together by a thread.  "Gracias Freddy, Adios".                  
Linda Woodward Stanton

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mari Cruz has a dream ...

Mari Cruz was inspired when she visited the Social Centre in San Antonio Palopo last year, and had the idea to bring the same model to her community. Here is her story:
Hello, my name is Mari Cruz Arenales, an indigenous woman; I like to help the women in my small town, La Cruz San Lucas Toliman. For the last two years I have been a volunteer leader teaching health and social awareness classes to mothers. I present educational talks to the women in my sector of the town. They are very poor and live in small shacks in the coffee plantation. I help to measure and weigh the children and examine their nutritional health. All my work is volunteer. On Sunday in the Central Market I sell small items in order to obtain sufficient money to support my young daughter.

When Jacqueline came two years ago, she brought new life and hope for me, and my life has changed. Her group is very special and has helped for the last two years in projects with energy efficient stoves and work that benefits my community. The classes in health and nutrition and the smoke-free stoves have prevented respiratory illnesses and eye infections and brought better health. I am very comfortable to be able to help her, my leader, and to change the lives of the poor of my neighbourhood.

Also I have a grand dream ... I would like to start a centre of social work for the women here as their leader. I would like all of the women of the world to be able to live with gratitude. I thank Jacqueline for helping me to realize my dream for now and the future. I want to give friendship and many thanks to the group for the donations of 20 stoves this year and 20 stoves in 2010.

I am 30 years old with one child. I am Mari Cruz Arenales.

Jacqueline translated Mari Cruz's story.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kids, Dirt and Enthusiasm - a Photo Essay by Linda

The kids taking part in the Saturday morning program in the Social centre want to grow gardens. However land is at a premium in this densely populated village where the tiny casas are stacked almost on top of one another, up the mountain slope.
So Margaret and I and Felipa from the Social Centre went with 25 kids to collect some clean dirt. First, the kids all went home to collect plastic bags, sacks or buckets and then we headed out of the village on a dirt road which skirts along the lake.

Behind the ceramic workshop, up a steep path, was a pile of soil where everyone enthusiastically filled their containers and scrambled and slid down the hill to the road and back to the village.

Once back at the centre, we gave each child a small plastic bag, the kind used by nurseries to grow seedlings. They collected small stones to provide drainage in the bottom of the bags, and loved getting muddy while stirring water into the dirt until it was nice and moist.
Everyone took great care to transplant their seedlings of beans and cucumbers and took them home to look after them until the garden space is readied at the school.  It was such a fun time, full of enthusiasm and hope.
Linda Woodward Stanton