Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From Kathy as she prepares to depart for San Antonio Palopo

1081 Holmes St.
Duncan, BC. V9L 2C9         

Dear Friends,

Once again the time for my return to Guatemala is approaching. I have purchased my ticket for January 5 to April 4.  This will be my seventh year of this journey with many of you and it is you who have made it possible.  So, let me tell you what is happening!

These days our group here  is busy with  fundraising in anticipation of being able to carry on our programs in San Antonio and Santa Catarina Palopó for another year. These programs are: 
1. Scholarships for students, be it middle school, high school or college; 
2. School supplies for the early grades; 
3. ONIL Stoves that are fuel efficient (70% less wood used), vented (chimneys take the smoke outside) and help prevent eye and lung diseases as well as horrible burns; 
and 4. the Centro Qawinaq (meaning ‘Our People’ in their language of Kaqchiqel), which has been operating for over two years.  

Funding has enabled us to hire a coordinator and an assistant, two young, intelligent and resourceful Maya women from the village.  They are presiding over a pre-school program, an elder women's lunch, a Saturday morning of activities for children aged 9 to 12, a vacation school and several groups of women learning to speak more Spanish, make handicrafts, and use sewing machines. On top of all that, they are supervising the scholarship students who must spend some time helping with activities in the Centre. 

The high school students have just completed a project of compiling a little book filled with their interviews with the women elders, most of whom can not read or write.

In the last two years a dentist has joined our group, wanting to volunteer in that much needed field. He will be coming again in January.

Last winter we were the unbelievably fortunate recipients of a lovely property overlooking Lake Atitlan.  We will be using the little house as part of the Centro Qawinaq for a while and then gradually move in completely.  Meanwhile we need to figure out how to make it somewhat bigger as well as continue to upgrade. The house will be used for the dental program in January. The garden, in the meantime, will be for growing, teaching and learning.  And perhaps they will rent it out for different activities – birthdays, weddings, meetings, to generate a little income.  Those are just some possibilities. In time, we hope to see the community owning and operating it. 

All of this gets funded in two ways:
1. From the weavers in the community, we buy brightly colored scarves and elegant shawls, at fair trade prices.  We sell them here in BC at craft fairs, choir, Fair Trade fairs, private homes, and to anyone in whom we are able to generate an interest! All the proceeds return to the village.
2. From your donations of amounts from $20 to $100s of dollars.  These donations are fully tax receipt-able, and do double duty when given as gifts (in lieu) to friends and family for Christmas, birthdays, and weddings; these donations have amazing lasting value and are very much appreciated by the Maya recipients who participate and work so hard to alleviate grinding poverty.

For those of you in DUNCAN we will have lovely scarves woven by the people of San Antonio for sale at:  the GLENORA FARM CHRISTMAS FAIR on Sunday, December 16th from 11am to 4pm, at 4766 Waters Road, Duncan.

So here I am once more, writing to you in the hope that this Christmas you might choose to bypass commercial presents in favour of Christmas donations in honour of a friend or family member. We have produced a new series of ¡Feliz Navidad! cards that we can send you to pass on to your friends or family, essentially saying that a gift given in their name will help install a clean-burning stove, will send a child to school, or will help support the community centre. There’s also a dental card. If you’d like any of these, just let me know. (To see what they all look like, go to our blog here). 

A heartfelt thanks to all of you for accompanying me on this Guatemalan journey. I hope that together we can keep lending a hand to these hardworking Mayans as they scramble over all the obstacles that face them, and on to a better life.

PS: Income tax receipts will be issued for all donations. To donate online (and also to learn more about the work of ICO in Guatemala) go to Select Guatemala – San Antonio Stoves for Health or San Antonio Education/Community or Atitlán Dental Initiative under ‘Fund/Designation.’ If you prefer to send a cheque, make it out to Innovative Communities Foundation (put where you’d like it to go on the memo line), and send it to me or to Innovative Communities Foundation, PO Box 8300, Victoria, BC V8W 3R9.  Every penny you give goes to the project; we are all volunteers and there are no administrative costs. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

One last "Scarves for Stoves" Sale to go before Christmas!

Don't miss it on Sunday, December 2nd, from 1 to 4 pm. This GUATEMALAN SCARF SALE will be held in a lovely Rockland home, which is also a Shinzanji Temple. It's at 958 Terrace Avenue (off Rockland - see map below). Please park on Terrace and walk up the driveway following the signs. There will also be a small amount of Guatemalan hand crafted jewellery for sale. These pieces are created by the women attending Centro Qawinak in San Antonio Palopo.

Margaret at the VIDEA Fair Trade Fair

View Larger Map

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Different Kind of Christmas Gift

This Christmas you may decide your friends and family already have enough pens, socks and DVDs, and choose instead to send a donation in their name. 

You could help install a fuel-efficient, clean burning stove. This will improve the health of families, reduce deforestation, and help remove 3.4 tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. Or, you could provide a Mayan child with an education, support the programs offered by San Antonio Palopo's community centre, or help the dental program provide education and much needed dental work. 

If you would like to make a donation, and receive some of our cards like these shown here for Christmas gifts, please contact Susan at

Thank you so much for all you help us do for the villagers of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Christmas is Coming - Handwoven Scarves from Guatemala make the perfect gift

Dear Friends,
Once again, we're into that season of gift-buying overload. If you'd like to buy a gift that's beautiful, practical, and different, and at the same time lend a helping hand to a little Guatemalan community, please consider buying one of our scarves. Victoria locations include:

Saturday, Nov 24th - 10 to 4 - VIDEA FAIR TRADE FAIR - FIRST METROPOLITAN CHURCH HALL, 932 Balmoral. (See flyer below.)

Saturday and Sunday, Nov 24th and 25th, 10 TO 4 - CHRISTMAS IN THE MANGER - Saanich fairgrounds, 1528 Stellys X Rd.

Sunday, Dec 2nd, 1 to 4 pm - GORGEOUS GUATEMALAN SCARF SALE - In a lovely Rockland home which is also a Shinzanji Temple - 958 Terrace Ave (off Rockland)
Please park on Terrace and walk up the driveway following the signs.

Also in Courtenay: Fiesta World Trade Bazaar on November 17 and 18 at the Filberg Centre.  This year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Read more about it here and see it on YouTube here.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Christmas is Coming! New scarves from Lake Atitlan are here.

With Christmas less than two months away, you'll be pleased to know that our beautiful scarves will be available for purchase at several Vancouver Island Fairs. The VIDEA Fair Trade Fair will be held on November 24 from 10 till 4 at 932 Balmoral Street. Details on the poster below. Hope to see you there. Sale of these scarves helps put eco-friendly stoves in Mayan villagers homes, and helps educate their children. Your support is appreciated. 

All venues where you will find our scarves are listed below:

Saturday, Nov 24th - 10 to 4 - VIDEA FAIR TRADE FAIR - FIRST METROPOLITAN CHURCH HALL, 932 Balmoral 

Saturday and Sunday, Nov 24th and 25th - 10 TO 4 - CHRISTMAS IN THE MANGER - Saanich fairgrounds, 1528 Stellys X Rd

Sunday, Dec 2nd, 1 to 4 pm - GORGEOUS GUATEMALAN SCARF SALE - In a lovely Rockland home which is also a Shinzanji Temple - 958 Terrace Ave (off Rockland)
Please park on Terrace and walk up the driveway following the signs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Update from Jacqueline

Weaving and sewing to create needed income for women has been a recent focus. This has been great fun; contagious enthusiasm was evident yesterday as over 28 artisans gathered together at our centre for my seminar on weaving coordinates. Being an artist, I presented an animated course on colour combinations and the importance of understanding the principles of design, a knowledge that can indeed make a major difference in the successful marketing of the product. We hope you will enjoy the new scarf designs. We worked together to decide on consistent dimensions, quality, and fair prices. Together we detailed the expenses that would be incurred from start to finish in making a scarf - this received attentive interest. As a result the group has plans to form an association in support of weavers thereby assuring consistent fair pricing for weavers.

Last week in La Cruz we had the grand opening of the new women's center. The enthusiasm was contagious as  mothers and babies enjoyed the lively presentations and began to appreciate the reality of a special gathering place and sanctuary for women. It is quickly becoming the heart of the community and the volunteer directors are busy planning new courses in sewing and cooking. In the small village of Xepec we were recently honoured at a formal gathering ceremony of gratitude for our gift of energy efficient stoves. All of the school children and many parents and elders were present as we sang all twelve verses of the Guatemalan anthem and held hand to heart as the flag was carried. After many speeches, a feast for all was served which included 25 chickens in a delicious traditional stew.

With these celebrations, the gratitude of all is evident and we feel blessed to be a catalyst in helping to improve the circumstances of those in the impoverished communities we serve.
Reported by Jacqueline Mealing (above)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

February Roundup at Lake Atitlan (Kathy)

Waiting for a new ONIL stove - and perhaps a block house.
Belated greetings.  Time flies!  Needless to say there has not been a dull moment.  First of all, the ever changing Canadian characters: Jacqueline Mealing arrived on the 5th of February and jumped right into the fray helping with the dental team, engaging weavers in making scarves for us, and growing an initiative that includes stoves, in La Cruz, which is a very poor part of San Lucas Toliman (see Jacqueline’s blog below). Then new University graduate Robin Lattimer arrived. She is writing up a report on all our activities here on behalf of ICO. She followed us around for a few days and took lots of notes before continuing her 2-year adventure in Latin America.  

On the 10th, Margaret Gray and Suzanne Hamilton arrived. They are also visiting 2 other ongoing (and separate from San Antonio) ICO scholarship programs in San Pedro and Solola.  In San Antonio they are using their expertise in teaching English as a foreign language to work with some of our high school scholarship students. Best of all, they are here for a month and are involving themselves wherever needed.
Dianne Perry (above), our adventure coordinator, who pitched in and made herself indispensable, left last Sunday after 3 weeks of full-on activity.  The First Aid `course´ for teachers was a hit and the school now has a well stocked First Aid Kit as does the Centro Qawinaq.  Dianne will be especially remembered for the Ancianas´ Beauty Salon. All the wonderful elders who come for lunch and social time on Mondays were offered a shampoo and massage of the scalp.  They jumped at the offer and a great time was had by all. [Below: two of the lucky recipients of Dianne's beauty treatment.]

Maria Consalvo (below), our very entertaining, extremely dedicated, professional dental assistant departed on the 14th after donating 6 weeks of her time and much needed skills to the dental initiative.  She held her own admirably in this sea of aging volunteers!!

Maria and Ursula provide piezo cleaning service, using the Rotary donated Mobile Dental Unit 
Tricia Timmermans just left yesterday, after 6 weeks of being an integral part of the dental team, teaching English twice a week, attending Board meetings (below) and giving invaluable advice on that subject and much more. And John Snively, el dentista, without whom none of that program would have happened, has now retired to his home across the Lake for some well-earned vacation time (see his blog entry below).

In the meantime our local 'staff' has been going full tilt organizing the ONIL stove deliveries in 4 different locations. We've hired Beatriz (below, interviewing a possible stove recipient), a young high school graduate, to head up the project here in San Antonio and she is doing an amazing job of organizing this. The others are old hands at it, thankfully. A couple of weeks ago we went to a village above Santa Catarina where we will place 25 stoves. I love the trips to these places where the population is small, there is much more land and lots of it is fairly flat and the village is more spread out. Each family has room for chickens, pigs and can grow vegetables. However the families are large and poor so this may not last very long as they divide the property up among the children. 

Another amazing thing that is happening for us here is the donation of a lovely piece of property with a small stone and wood house and beautiful garden on it.  It was purchased and built 24 years ago by 3 men from the U.S. who have recently come to realize that their infrequent visits to San Antonio (the last one nearly 10 years ago) don’t justify keeping a house here. Having formed heartfelt connections in the community here they didn’t want to merely sell the property. When they heard about our program the donation process started (with negotiations being handled by Owen, a delightful young nephew of one of the owners) and the house is to be used for our Centro Qawinaq. In order to do this I had to be given power of attorney on behalf of ICO and we are in the process of finalizing this. Owen and I met in the lawyer’s office in Guatemala City on the 29th of February (photo below) and did a preliminary signing. I will have to go back again to sign one more thing but it is basically done. In the meantime the keys have been handed over and we have taken possession. One of the Directiva members, Cristobal, has leapt into action using all his skills to organize the purchase and installation of a pump and water pipes so we can get water from the lake for the garden (a major production), install ‘balcones’ or gates on the doors and windows, pull up the old tile floor and replace it with cement, and treat the wood in the building for bugs that are eating it!  Francisco is talking to the municipality to see about getting hooked up to drinking water, and before that happens we need to clean out the never-used water tank and the taquacin that are living in the structure surrounding the tank.  These are animals that look like a cross between a rat and a possum and make a lot of noise on a corrugated metal roof.

Owen and Kathy signing the legal papers.
Before we started digging things up the Friday morning, pre-school children came for a visit to inspect the house and then sit on the grass and draw pictures of flowers and trees.  The scene was perfect and they were awfully cute. All the Maya involved with the Centro are thrilled about this gift and eager to help do whatever is needed. It has been very rewarding to work on it together. Francisco commented at a meeting that many times in the past groups have formed to try to do something in San Antonio for the benefit of the village in whatever form BUT they hardly ever get anywhere for lack of funds.
Gate to the property
Outside deck of the casita
The tutoring program seems to be a great success.  Our scholarship students who go to high school in another town are working hard for their transportation money. Each one tutors a small group of students from the primary school, who, according to their teachers, are not doing very well and could use some extra help. Often in the homes there are too many children, or the parents can neither read nor write, so doing homework gets completely neglected and the children suffer in school.  Felipa (below, entertaining the kids in the new centre), our Centro Qawinak coordinator, has met with all the parents to explain the program and they are thrilled. 

It is amazing to be a part of all this thanks to your amazing support.  We are growing a program and hope you will grow with us and know you are a huge part of it and that without you it wouldn’t happen. Thank you and know that you have been blessed many times by those who are benefiting from your generosity.

Kathy Coster, March 3, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Update from Jacqueline

Nutrition Classes in San Antonio Palopo and Santa Caterina Palopo

Marie Cruz Arenales with the women of La Cruz, in their new "digs".
Having completed three weeks here in Guatemala, my enthusiasm for this great work has not dwindled. Our dental clinic concluded last week allowing time for me to concentrate more fully on other projects. Tricia is now with family in Rio Dulce and John is enjoying Tzununa. As an important  followup to the dental work, I enjoyed presenting lively participatory courses in nutrition and dental hygiene to 1000 school children in elementary classes last week. I was delighted when many little ones stopped me on the street to express their enthusiasm of the presentation. To change the health of a community we need, of course, to start with the children. Being an artist, I am drawn to the bright coloured threads of the weavers. Over  fifteen family groups are busily weaving the new scarf designs which you will see in the spring. Nothing draws us closer than creating the colourful patterns together with  passionate zeal. 

Nevertheless, my main focus this year is a new initiative in La Cruz, San Lucas Toliman, a coffee plantation village of 13,000. Probably the poorest village on the lake, these folk are ready to improve their destiny after years of neglect and abuse. The ramshackled wooden  shacks are bulging with very large families and no sanitation. These rented homes serve all year round, but employment on the plantation covers only two months of the year. Last year the women asked to have a centre; this year it is fast becoming a reality. 

I began with the objective of sustainability by igniting the power from within the group. With the generous help of your donations via ICO we have rented a cement block house central to all which will serve the expressed needs of the women. Each family that receives one of the efficient ONIL stoves contributes a moderate amount of quetzales to buy essential furnishings so that they may begin to call it theirs. The new centre is run by ten dedicated women who have already registered as a cooperative. They express their true intentions in these words:

1. The will to live freely day by day.
2. To be a successful  group of women.
3. To create a peaceful sanctuary for all women.
4.  To work together for the betterment of all by providing needed courses.
5. To be a leading example of ecological conservation.
6. To provide a place and equipment for women to sew marketable products.
7. To include women of all ages and status.

This is a profound beginning. I am engaged in helping to organize activities and to suggest  good designs for marketable products, both sewn and painted, plus some essential accounting advice.  We are installing inverted  plastic water bottles in the roof lamina to refract the sunlight. Hopefully this will be a model  that others will follow. We are looking for funding to house the outdoor "biffy" and to buy an industrial machine and overlocker. The finishing always makes the difference.With this strong motivation for success, these women will do well indeed, and will soon be independent of outside assistance. 

I gladly offer all the support required until I return to Canada at the end of March.                                             
Dental Education

 Submitted by Jacqueline Mealing

Monday, February 20, 2012

Well, that's a Wrap!

If you've been following the dental caper, you will know that during most of our clinical days we were operating at less than 100% as we awaited the portable patient chair and overhead light. These both arrived with Jaclyn and that is a story in itself. In both the San Antonio Palopo and Santa Catarina Palopo clinics we used a borrowed "birthing" bed as our patient chair, and the only light we had was the headlamp attached to my loops. One has to learn to be adaptable when working in the field.

The addition of the chair and light were a godsend indeed as we were then able to function like a truly complete dental office.  Both ease and efficiency were increased exponentially and exceeded all my expectations.  We would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to both Rotary Clubs of Oak Bay and Nelson, who so generously provided all the essential components.  And to "Aseptico", the company who created the portable dental clinic and who provided ongoing technical support. We spent approximately 3 weeks in each village providing dental services that ranged from cleanings to fillings to extractions, with many of the extractions requiring challenging surgical procedures.  We managed all this without the aid of X-ray, but are hoping to find a way to fundraise to purchase a portable digital X-ray that can be connected to a laptop and provide essential pictures. 

This year we decided to provide all services to children at no fee and to charge adults 10 Quetzales ($1.25) for fillings, with surgeries and cleanings free.  One of the challenges we face is the overwhelming need for our services; hopefully we can attract other dentists to join us in this essential service in years to come. 

The educational component is about to begin as Jaclyn and a local woman, Ursula (who also assisted us), visit the schools with a variety of teaching aids.  

In order to further teach the value of dental health and services we are considering charging a fee of 10 Q next year for all services, including children.  We are convinced that "giving things away" does not lead to "responsibility" which is our ultimate goal. Knowing what I know about the implications of dental health on whole health, I am deeply satisfied with the work we did in these villages, in particular, the surgery rendered to remove chronically infected teeth. We witnessed things that most dentists in Canada never see and while ours was a basic and simple approach, it was most fulfilling and health promoting.

Tricia has been indefatigable in her compilation of treatment data which will provide an valuable historical reference and I am deeply grateful for her organizational skills and attention to detail.  Ursula was invaluable not only as a translator into the local dialect of Kaqchiquel but also for her willingness to step in as a chairside assistant. Jaclyn was our "go to gal" when we needed supplies during our clinical days; and a late addition, Dianne, a nurse from Victoria, provided compassion and help wherever required.  Not enough can be said about the inestimable contribution of Maria, a certified dental assistant from Victoria, without whose direction and expertise none of this could have come together as well as it did.  I am especially grateful to her for making my job so much less stressful. ICO, our parent support organization, has been totally helpful in all regards, including fundraising, and we are all indebted to the many volunteers behind the scenes for making this opportunity available to us.  Mil gracias a todo!

And to you the reader, a special expression of gratitude for your prayers and your financial support so that we can continue to be of "service above self".
Juan Jose

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 5th...From Kathy:

We are now here a whole month and there is never a dull moment. I seem to be in constant communication with Felipa (seen above right with new employee Isabel), our Centre coordinator, as there is a constant need for cash transfers! We discuss everything from food for the ancianas’ lunch to a new sewing machine or a pair of shoes for a scholarship student. We have hired Isabel, who has been volunteering part time for the last few months, as assistant to the coordinator. We interviewed 3 other young women and Isabel was by far the best candidate. She will be working a lot with our pre-school program for 4 & 5 year olds three days a week. It is quite a big leap for many of the poorest children to come from their homes where there is absolutely nothing to prepare them for the world of school.

Now that we have the scholarship students all set up, the school supplies doled out, the assistant hired, and the programs planned, we can actually start implementing the classes. They will start this week. For women there will be the ancianas’ (elderly women) lunch on Mondays, in between high school scholarship students tutoring primary students who need help with specific subjects (probably reading comprehension and maths). The high school students are required to participate in this in exchange for transportation money as they have to take a pick-op or van to school - there is no high school in San Antonio Palopo. Tuesdays there will be more tutoring in the morning, and in the afternoon there will be a group of women coming who want to learn useful conversational Spanish through dramatization, games, and whatever else we can think of!

The rest of the week in the mornings there will be the preschool (or escuelita), and in the afternoons more groups for women. There is one sewing class that includes embroidery and crochet and an introduction to sewing with electric sewing machines - and making little things. Women can make money embroidering their traditional clothing, table cloths, bed spreads, etc. Another afternoon there will be a cooking class combined with the not so hidden agenda of nutrition, health, hygiene, and family planning. (In fact all the classes will include some of this.)

Fridays in February will see a volunteer, Cathy Hargreaves from Nelson, BC, teaching a group of young women to sew sanitary napkins. They are really keen and it would be great to see them turn it into a small business. They are also making cushion covers and aprons.

Saturday mornings will be reserved for activities for about 20 children aged 10 to 13. It will be fun to see what they get up to in the next couple of months!

Meanwhile, rent for the Centre is to be negotiated… we are trying to figure out what is fair. We are making an effort to turn the Board of Directors (seen below meeting with Kathy) into a more active group with more responsibility and involvement.

Dianne Perry (below), a nurse from Victoria, arrived a week ago and has been making the rounds to see how she could help in the Puesto de Salud (health clinic) and the schools; she is teaching First Aid to teachers and grade 6 students.

And finally, Tricia Timmermans from Victoria is teaching English in the Centre Monday and Wednesday nights to a keen group of students. During the day, she joins fellow Victorians Dentist John Snively and Dental Assistant Maria Consalvo along with Ursula Cumez Calabay (of Santa Catarina Palopo) in the Lake Atitlan dental project where there are presently treating patients from San Antonio and Santa Catarina. 

Next installment in a few days!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dental Team in Action

Dental Assistant, Maria Consalvo, demonstrates teeth cleaning to young patient while Mom, brother, and Ursula, a volunteer from Santa Catarina Palopo, look on. Dr. Juan is in background attending to the Mobile Dental Unit, which was donated by Rotary.  

Coming to a place like this, the land of the Maya, one must park one's traditional views and expectations at the door or "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Things hardly ever go according to plan and often more time and energy is spent on attempting to be "organized" than on providing the service.  We are quickly learning both patience and tolerance and realizing that appointments for treatment are more loosely regarded as "whenever they can make it!"  Some people show up on the wrong day or several hours late because something more important came up in the meantime.  Back home we also take for granted that the electricity coming out of the plug is generally 110 V but here it can fluctuate anywhere between 80-150 and our sophisticated dental unit moans when the voltage drops significantly.  We are now well recognized within the community, not totally because we are obviously from somewhere else and wearing "scrubs" but more importantly that we are providing a valuable service and those that come to the clinic are indeed grateful.  It is still very heart rending to see children whose permanent teeth must be extracted because they have never been taught the value of teeth nor given any instruction on how to care for them.  While our immediate concerns are focussed on the clinical side we all agree that education is the key to change.

We were fortunate to connect with a native Guatemalan, Monica Diaz, who is a nutritionist in this area; together we are going to collaborate on a teaching method that will bring understanding to the local people about diet, oral hygiene and the impact of dental health on whole health. This will be our greatest gift to give. Without knowledge and understanding there can be no opportunity of choice and hence responsibility. Our role must go beyond being "fixers". 

On a personal note I must express my deep appreciation to both Maria and Tricia who are totally dedicated to the management of all the records, patient comfort and the numerous duties required to keep everything sterile and in order.  Their days begin early and end late with phone calls and paper work.  In addition they should be commended for their tolerance of my brief moments of frustration when things go sideways. We are proving to be a very dedicated and effective team and we appreciate all the support sent our way by you.
Juan Jose

Guatemala's future in the hands of a new government

Check this Guatemala Human Rights Commission blog to get an idea of the direction in which new President Otto Molina Perez is taking the country.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Busy, productive week in San Antonio Palopo

Our Scholarship Students

Filling the bags - scholarship kids help at the Centre
What a productive week. All the scholarship students have met, handed in their school financial requirements, received their school supplies, had their inscription and tuition fees paid for January and have started school. There are 17 of them, 11 in middle school and 6 in high school.  I am trying to learn their names. Once I can see beyond the sameness of the traditional dress of the girls I can identify faces. With the boys there is a sameness of non traditional dress...T-shirt and jeans and that doesn´t make it any easier. About 100 other primary school children each received a bag full of school supplies that they are required to have. We thought we would be receiving 100 filled bags however the supplies came in cartons of paints, crayons, notebooks, pencils etc so we had to organize an assembly line.  A child would go down the line with a bag if it was a boy  or a servietta if it was a girl.  All women and girls carry these squares made of the same material as their huipiles or blouses.  Then they tie them up and carry things on their heads.  Their posture is unbelievable.  I was amazed at how smoothly the whole operation went.... thanks to most of the scholarship students and a few other volunteers who helped us out.

Meanwhile, the sun shines, the wind blows and it is incredibly beautiful here. Momentarily the pressure is off but it is only momentary! Next comes planning the Centro Qawinaq activities - all within a budget of course.  It is quite easy to get carried away as there are so many possibilities. We are looking at wages..... have to hire one or two part time people, painting the walls, buying a couple more sewing machines and a pila - a sink like fixture where dishes can be washed.  As well as a rent increase. The price of electricity in Guatemala (privatized) is always going up and our use of the Centre increases. Felipa, our coordinator, is anxious to get things going again after the holidays and the beginning of school. We are planning a meeting of the board of directors.  We will be looking for new members as some have moved on to other things. It is a bit tricky for us who don´t know much about the relationships in this tightly knit, interrelated village! But we will be meeting and planning a visit with the new mayor who evidently is educated and may be the first literate one!It  may help if they know about the Centro Qawinaq and about InnovativeCommunities.Org.
I have begun talking with CONALFA, the government literacy organization which gives classes to adults who haven´t managed to get their primary school education.   We have supported them in some way for the last 4 years.  They have been using the Centre for holding at least one class that meets twice a week for 3 hours.  There is a new coordinator and she would like to continue to be able to use the space.  So we will be factoring that into our schedule of activities too.  
And on it goes... . I keep seeing people who want to talk to me about getting some kind of assistance. Some of it is really basic, like food, clothes; others want to go on to school, or need money  to buy something, or a loan. The price of onions is down, no one is making money weaving.  There are very few tourists.  

All for now!

Two happy kids gratefully holding their new school supplies

Saturday, January 14, 2012

School supplies, scholarships, and cooking pots

From Kathy:
Day 7 or 8 in San Antonio Palopó and time flies.  With some urgency we are getting the scholarship students sorted out, trying to keep within our budget.  Felipa was up rather late last night figuring out school fees and school supplies.  This year we will include transportation costs for the students going to high school. In exchange, they will help  some younger children who are not doing well in school.  This will be a great savings for the families.  One young fellow is taking an exam to take a course in automotive mechanics.  Aside from nursing and teaching that is the most sensible plan I have heard!

At noon today I went to visit a family that we have been giving support to so that the older daughter could go to school rather than to work.  The Mum is a widow of 4 years now and we thought this would help her get back on her feet.  It is not happening quite as we had hoped and the daughter who is 15 and would only be going into grade 5 doesn´t want to go back to school.  Who can blame her -- she´s just plain too big!  I hope we can find some other options for her but she seems to want to go to Guatemala City and work as an ´ama de casa´, looking after children, cleaning, etc.  She and her 4 younger siblings live with their mother in a very tiny concrete block house.  I think the house is just getting too small.

While having lunch back at the hotel, a former scholarship student came to say she is not returning to school as she did not pass her year..... one failing mark and she has to do the whole year over again.  This gal is having difficulties at home with her parents she tells me, and she seems quite depressed.  There is a psychiatrist who comes once a month so I will try to get her an appointment.

After this I went to the Centro where 50 women who received stoves in December  were waiting to receive their pots and pans and have a little fiesta.  It was great, they thanked us and the donors profusely for providing stoves and pots.  We had cake and juice, handed out pots, gave speeches and then turned on the music only no one would dance except for one woman who got up to dance with me!  The rest laughed a lot.  One woman gave me a ´cinta´ which is a long hand woven colourful´thing´ most use to put up their beautiful long black tresses -- then she did my skimpy grey hair with it.  They laughed at that too!

As soon as the fiesta was finished we cleared the floor and chairs for the smaller group of scholarship students and their mothers (as it turned out, no fathers).  Some we helped last year but there are quite a few new ones and they are going in all different directions for school.  Felipa read  them  the ´rules´and they all signed papers saying they will comply!!  I took pictures of each one and then we  gave school supplies to those who are in the equivalent of middle school.  The others will get theirs on Sunday.  I get rather emotional when I see how much it means to them to have this (your) help.

Tomorrow I and the dental team will continue working but Saturday we will all have a day off, hire a van and go to Iximché, about 2 hours (and only 45 K) away.  Iximché is a Mayan Archaeological site, not very developed but quite a beautiful location and the last place to be built before the Spanish came.  I am going to check it out with the idea of taking a bus load of children from here one day.  Many haven´t been very far out of the village and being able to learn about a bit of their own history seemed like a good (and fun) idea.  Also it is a lot of wide open space, if I recall correctly, and I thought we could take soccer balls and the kids could run wild -- not much room to do that in this vertical village where there is no grass.

All for now!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dentistry at San Antonio Palopo

Today we had an early start to try to get through the list we had planned after screenings on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mobile Dental Unit (seen in action in the Puesto de Salud at right) that Rotary so generously provided worked exceedingly well. We had a few start-up glitches, but overall the day went fairly smoothly. In the afternoon we had three no-shows in a row - not such an unusual occurrence - so we filled the spots with some walk-ins. Many people are keen to have the work done, but then get cold feet, or forget, or simply, for whatever reason, don't show up. Ursula (left in photo at right) from Santa Catarina was a great help all day long. I found standing all day on a concrete floor had its challenges. The room we are working in is extremely crowded, but you get what you get and make do.

Here's a close-up of the mobile dental unit. We keep the sterilizer in the room across the hallway, as there simply isn't room in the procedure room. The Puesto de Salud staff have accommodated us as best they can, given the very poor circumstances in San Antonio Palopo. We have seen some incredibly healthy sets of teeth, but many of the kids, who seem to enjoy a diet of coca cola and sweets, have horrendous teeth requiring several extractions. Maria's experience as a Dental Assistant has been invaluable to the team.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

School's In - Almost! Planning is Underway in San Antonio Palopo

From Kathy in San Antonio Palopo:
Once again I find myself in this amazing village, working with delightful Mayans.  My experience is mostly with  women because we have hired women to work with women and children in the Centro Qawinaq.  However there are some great men too.  One, Rodolfo, who organizes our stove deliveries in Santa Catarina, his helper Martin; Francisco who is the President of the board of directors for the Centro in San Antonio; the directors of the schools, and lots more.
But back to the women.  With Felipa our Centro coordinator, I have just spent the better part of 3 days organizing scholarship students, new ones and on-going.  Everything from deciding on new candidates,  finding out how much their costs will be this year,  to pricing and ordering school supplies -- keeping all within the budget.  We are fine-tuning the process too.  The students are required to help out in the Centro during the year. And this year our coordinator will be able to keep a much closer eye on their participation and their school marks; school fees will be paid monthly instead of annually as before.  My biggest challenge is having to say `no ´ to the queries.  Amazing what they can´t do for want of under $200 (for a year in middle school).
This year we are going to shop locally for school supplies.  The `librería´ here in San Antonio is being extremely helpful.  And their prices seem comparable with the bigger store we usually go to in Panajachel where they are so busy this week that they spread right out on the street in front of them.  We will not only be buying supplies for our 15 scholarship students, we will also bag up enough for about 100 primary students and give them to families with limited resources.

School starts Monday for most students so this will presumably be finished then.
Then we move on to planning programs for 2012 in the Centro, hiring a new assistant or perhaps 2 part timers, preparing the budget,  and when that is all done it will be time to start finding more families that need stoves.  I will be ready for a vacation after that!   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Screening Day 1 - Centro Qawinak

After the announcements were made over the Municipality loudspeaker to advise that a dental clinic would be held, we were unsure how many of the people of San Antonio Palopo would make their way to the Centro Qawinak to have their teeth checked today. We needn't have worried that the word hadn't been broadcast - at the end of the day we had screened 43 adults and children, most of whom will require treatment - extractions, fillings, cleaning and scaling, root extractions, etc.  We (Dr. John, Maria and Tricia) were going full throttle all day from eight in the morning, when we had to lug an examination bed from the Health Clinic to the Centre, till after five in the evening. We were assisted ably with translation (from Spanish to Kaqchikel) by Brenda from San Antonio Palopo and Izabel from Santa Catarina Palopo. Tomorrow we repeat the screening process and on Thursday we will start treatment and surgery at the Health Clinic. Here are a few photos from today's work at Centro Qawinak:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Introductions ... and cooking pot distribution

At the Qawinak Centre

This morning, Kathy, Maria and Tricia attended the Qawinak Centre to be introduced to the youngsters who take part in the Saturday program run by Felipa, an assistant and a volunteer. The kids took turns introducing themselves and telling us what they liked to do most at the Centre. Many of the thirty or so boys and girls were very shy, so  Felipa encouraged them to speak with confidence, which was usually accompanied by loads of giggling.  When we finished the children carried on playing card games, doing jigsaw puzzles and reading books until it was time to leave.
In the afternoon, we travelled via "pick-op" from San Antonio Palopo to Santa Catarina Palopo to distribute cooking pots  (a big one and a small one) to the women who had just received stoves.  Rodolfo, and Ursula of Santa Catarina and Brenda of San Antonio, organized the distribution at Rodolfo's home. The women patiently sat on the floor until everyone had arrived; some were feeding babies, some were holding small children; all were dressed in the beautiful colours traditionally worn by the women of Santa Catarina. The huipiles (blouses) they wear are made of an exquisite deep-blue intricate weave and usually the turban-like headwear is made of a deep burgundy velvet fabric. Before the distribution, a small candle-lighting ceremony was held and speeches were made. The women's deep-felt appreciation was palpable, and there was much hugging and kissing before they left to try out their new pots on their ONIL stoves.