Friday, November 23, 2012

Las Olimpiadas!

Yesterday was the Family Support Center Olympics aka Field Day. There was lots of sun, lots of dust and lots of happy energetic kids! Everyone was split into four groups of nine and wore their team color on a sash tied around their heads. Let the competitions begin!

We started off the day with an old classic: Tug of War. Unfortunately, after a couple of rounds our rope had had enough and snapped in the middle! No serious injuries, but we had to end the Tug of War competition before we could declare a winner.

Next we set up a relay using jump ropes. The competing team ran through an obstacle of ropes, having to duck or jump over them depending on their height. The team with the shortest time won. Verdict: Red team!

Each kid brought their own "costal" or big plastic sack to participate in another classic relay: the potato sack hop. Man those kids can hop!

Following the sack race the teams competed in a running relay, balancing a raw egg on a spoon, and last but not least: Water balloon toss! This was definitely the biggest hit. Each team chose two representatives to hold a costal and the rest of the team tossed water balloons into the bags. Whichever team had the most water balloons (fully intact!) at the end, won. They were surprisingly good at this! Water balloons aren't fun unless they break so we had another competition between pairs to see how far they could get while throwing one back and forth--this did the trick: lots of "splats" and wet children!

Everyone received a medal for participating in the 2012 Olympics, and the winning Green team got small plastic trophies. Until next year!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


October 31st is one of the best times to be a kid in the United States. Although Halloween is not traditionally a Guatemalan holiday, it does fall before Dia de los Muertos, or "Day of the Dead." Day of the Dead is a time when families and friends come together to remember loved ones that have passed. It is a celebration, and that is exactly what we had at the Family Support Center! We had a sort of hybrid Halloween-Dia de los Muertos party.

Before the festivities, 8 of the older kids came into the city for a field trip. Together, we baked three pumpkin pies and one large pumpkin bread. It really smelled like autumn in the kitchen! All four cakes turned out perfectly.

We decorated the walls and ceilings of the Family Support Center with paper jack-o-lanterns, bats and spiders. Many of the boys dressed up as Draculas, complete with teeth and dark eyebrows. Evelyn transformed into a pumpkin, Norma and Ilcy into princesses and there was even a headless horseman!

Four pumpkins were carved into jack-o-lanterns and were a big hit with everyone. The bright orange pumpkins that are so common in the states, were a spectacle! At one point we all gathered in the decorated Halloween room, turned off the lights and told spooky ghost stories. After passing around the cake and pie, it was safe to call the party a success!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Aníbal's Story

Anibal, ready for school
One of the children who attends the Family Support Center (formerly la Guardería) is Aníbal. Aníbal, 12 years old, was born with microcephaly and is significantly developmentally delayed. 

He first came to the Family Support Center (FSC) in January 2010.  His mother stated that he did not speak and he appeared very shy and sensitive.   Aníbal had never attended school or other project and on his first day at the FSC, he cried and did not want to be around the other children.  Throughout the year, Anibal attended the FSC daily, playing with toys, putting together wooden puzzles and listening to stories.  Aníbal became more accustomed to being with the children and began to verbalize his thoughts. 

After one year at the Family Support Center, Aníbal had made significant strides both socially and verbally.  The project’s social worker and Aníbal’s mother agreed to enroll him in Escuela Xelaju, a school for children with special needs.  With a scholarship from the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program, Aníbal began school in January 2011.  Foundation Todos Juntos also supports the Pop Wuj Scholarship program which funds 135 partial scholarships for students in primary school, secondary school, and university.  Aníbal’s scholarship covers daily transportation expenses and the $1.50 USD per month school tuition.  

Playing at the Family Support Center
Aníbal is now finishing his second year at Escuela Xelaju and he loves going to school in his uniform and being with other children.  He still attends the Family Support Center in the afternoon.  Aníbal is outgoing and talks to his friends, the employees, and the volunteers at the project.  He loves Curious George books and swinging on the swings on the playground.  Thanks to the generous donors and the projects supported by Foundation Todos Juntos, Aníbal is able to continue making progress both at the Family Support Center and at Escuela Xelaju.  

Troublemakers, L-R Julio, Guayo, Arturo, Anibal

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

El Dia del Niño

Monday, October 1st was Guatemala's celebration of "El dia del Niño," or "Children's Day." It is a day where we celebrate all of the kids and they get to eat lots of sweets, play games and maybe get a present or two. We celebrated the holiday at the Family Support Center on Thursday, so that any of the Pop Wuj students could join if they wanted.

It was a fun filled afternoon! We set up an impromptu movie theater for everyone and had a viewing of one of the greatest kids movies of all time: Toy Story. Everyone was given their own personal bag of freshly made popcorn, or "poporopos." The movie was a complete success, and is just as funny and inspiring in Spanish as it is in English. Chocolate covered frozen bananas were passed around after the movie, and each kid received a beanie baby as a small gift.

It was another cheerful and celebratory atmosphere at the Family Support Center. In the middle of a very rainy week here in Xela, the celebration of El Dia del Niño proved to be the perfect mood lifter.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Independence Day

September 15th is Guatemala’s Independence Day and the whole week leading up to the big day, the streets of Xela are filled with parades, music, food and an overwhelming number of people. One of the main attractions of Xela during this week is the Independence Fair, or “La Feria.” It is just like your average State Fair in the United States, complete with delicious smells wafting from the various stands selling fatty foods, screaming children, and the classic carnival games where you can win overly large stuffed animals.

Because the fair in Xela is such a big event, and because the kids of the Family Support Center (formerly the Guarderia) live so far away, we decided to recreate la Feria in Llanos de Pinal. We spent the week planning and preparing. A scavenger hunt through the city proved fruitful when we discovered a beanbag toss game buried under the odds and ends of a thrift-like tienda. Carmen splurged and bought a mini-foosball table that, although frustrating to put together, was a huge hit. We wanted to make the Feria feel like the real thing so our two Guatemalan secretarial interns crafted some tickets for food and games.

Thursday afternoon the whole Family Support Center staff helped set up la Feria. Balloons, a colorful umbrella displaying cotton candy, bright signs and all of the different game stations transformed the playground into a carnival. Some of the mothers cooked up some delicious treats to add to the festivities.

While we were setting up, the kids were inside learning more about the story behind Guatemala’s Independence from Carmen. The national anthem was played, and the older kids proudly displayed the flag of their country. Finally, the kids were allowed to rush outside to see all the games and treats we had prepared! Carmen led a hilarious game of Bingo, Amy manned a very popular game where each person was given two tennis balls to try and knock down a tower of old milk cartons. Foosball, of course was immediately taken over, and Ashley was bombarded with kids wanting to play coin toss. It was chaos! Screaming, laughing, smiling and joking sums up the atmosphere of the Center’s version of the Fair.

If you played a game you were pretty much guaranteed to win, and winning meant prizes! We had an assortment of yoyos (yoyitos), bouncy balls and candy. The moms even got into the activities and Doña Delfina wowed the crowd after knocking down the tower of milk cartons on her first try.

The fair was a complete success and it was so warming to see everyone getting along and having fun. Any worries or stresses evaporated and it was all fun and games (literally!). Days like these make it obvious why the Family Support Center is such a necessary and effective project. Any time we can find ways to bring a community and families together in a fun and active environment is an accomplishment.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Changes and Expansion!

From July 13, 2012

Next to the Family Support Center we are putting the finishing touches on our new garden. Once a greenhouse, the site was transformed to better accommodate the Family Support Center´s needs.  Jenn, a student enrolled in the Spanish Social Work program, lead renovation efforts which entailed installing raised beds, fertilizing and turning the top soil, planting new seeds and seedlings, and installing a fence. The children of the Family Support Center got in on the fun and were active participants in the transformation. They are enjoying the fruits of their labor by participating in educational lectures/activities on gardening. This week we will commemorate the opening of the garden by installing a sign indicating the name of the garden. The name will be put up to a vote for the children to decide. A new era of healthy yields await the garden!

The rainy season has produced fertile conditions for our Reforestation Project. Together with the families involved in our community development programs, Pop Wuj has shared experiences of planting trees and giving back to the earth. Our most recent work saw 100 trees of different varieties planted in Cantel. In addition, we recently planted trees on the skirt of Volcano Santa Maria with the children of the Family Support Center. On both occasions, the success of the project and the lessons involved in reforestation were of equal value.  In two weeks time, we will return to the sites to check up and to see what progress has been made with our “arbolitos.”

The increase of students has brought more life, festivities, and most of all, recyclables, to the school. To adjust, Pop Wuj has increased the number of visits to the recycling centers to one time per month, and maybe we have hosted an extra party or two. During our next visit, we will invite students to tag along and tour the centers that we visit to gain a better understanding of the recycling system in Guatemala.

In the upcoming weeks, we will continue to do what we do best: build stoves, garden, plant trees, and recycle, but that’s not all we have in store.  We have plans to decorate the inside of Pop Wuj with herbs, plants, and an array of flowers that are indigenous to Guatemala.

Stay green!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Team Effort to Fight Infant Mortality in Guatemala

The Pop Wuj Medical Program recently hosted/facilitated three midwife trainings in and around Xela.  With the support of Timmy Global Health, we trained approximately 80 local midwives on newborn resuscitation techniques.  For more information, please see Dr. Lucinda Grande's blog post:

Friday, July 13, 2012

La hora de la hora

“La hora de la hora” has arrived at Pop Wuj. The school is running near full capacity with incoming students on summer vacation. This week alone there have been five new arrivals.  The teachers have their hands full with eager learners, while the community development programs have a plethora of enthusiastic volunteers. To say the least, it’s busy! So busy, I haven’t had time to post a proper blog update!!

We recently said bye to our good friends from Timmy Global Health (Timmy).  In addition to their regular medical trips, Timmy also sends a group of high school students (aka Timmy Chiquito) to build stoves with Pop Wuj. This year they helped us complete 10 stoves in Llanos de Pinal. During the course of four days, we ran four separate construction sites in the mornings and afternoons. Don’t worry, in between shifts we rested for lunch at the Family Support Center (formerly La Guardería). The hard workers from Timmy put smiles on the face of many stove recipients. Both parties were pleased to have shared a collective experience, in building stoves and in learning another´s culture. Now that the Timmy volunteers have returned to the U.S. , Pop Wuj will finish up its work in Llanos de Pinal and begin a new group of stove recipients in Xepache. See you next year Timmy Chiquito!  For more information about Timmy Global Health, please visit

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Timmy Brigade

            Two weeks ago the Timmy Global Health brigade came to the school to do a solid 3 days worth of stove building.  We were able to work on 12 different stoves, some of which were complete and others that will be completed in the coming weeks. Before their arrival we went around to the houses of prospective stove recipients to interview the families to collect socio-economic information.  We are continuing to work in Llanos del Pinal but next in line are 9 families from Xepache – a community not too far from Llanos.  With so many students at the school right now we’re able to have three groups go out to do stoves each week so it won’t be too long before we’re back out interviewing again! 

Painting, Garden, Reforestation

            The most recent work at the guadería has been reviving the outdoor area: repainting the jungle gym and play area, turning the broken down greenhouse into a productive garden, and planting trees in different areas of Llanos.  During the kid’s week-long break they were able to help out and be a part of the project – including climbing up part of the volcano Santa María to plant trees.  
            We continue to provide special help to the kids who are repeating a grade, so that when they move on they can continue receiving a scholarship.  This involves the work of Ashley, the academic support teacher, and social work students from the school.   In the next couple weeks we look forward to watching the garden produce vegetables and are looking to set up a compost system.

Becados with Malnutrition

          In the past several weeks we’ve continued meeting with scholarship recipients from Llanos del Pinal, San Juan, Chirijkiak, and Xeabaj to continue giving presentations on malnutrition.  We discussed the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients and how the typical rural Guatemalan diet is relatively full of macronutrients (maybe too much of some) while lacking in micronutrients.  At each of the communities except Xeabaj we put our words into action by making a salad of fruits, greens, cheese, and nuts.
            This past week we had all the scholarship recipients with malnutrition meet in the clinic at the school to give a health talk.  Carmen, Rony, Anna (the coordinator of health projects), and Luby (the nurse at the clinic) each spoke about a different health topic ranging from health during pregnancy to nutrition.  Though the meeting was long and full of presenting, it was a rare opportunity to provide information to the group all at once. Our next large meeting like this will be in six months, and until then we will continue meeting with communities and give presentations on bullying.