Thursday, February 21, 2013

Xeabaj II Scholarships 2013

North to Alaska!  Last week Carmen and the project coordinator traveled alongside the medical team, to the highland pueblo of Xeabaj II, quite a distance off the Inter-Americana highway, for the first of three annual scholarship meetings. The residents of this windy, cool, slightly barren village (hence the name Alaska) are refugees of Hurricane Stan in 2005 which made their town uninhabitable. Since their relocation they have resumed their lives in this new home, which is not much like their original location lower in the valley.

This pueblo is home to about 40 beca (scholarship) recipients, also known as becados. Unlike many of the Pop Wuj becados which have individual sponsors, the community's 40 becas are funded by the Brown family. Additionally Xeabaj II is unique in that rather than give a $13/month scholarship to a lesser number of recipients, they have opted to spread the money a bit thinner and support more students. Sharing the proceeds of the sponsorship seems to create a sense of community while assuring that more children will continue their education, creating hope for a brighter future.

This morning the medical team used one classroom for health assessments of  community members while Carmen used another to address parents about the importance of school for the youngsters. Carmen's session was followed by the perfunctory paperwork and distribution of the trimester funds.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

La Asamblea de Becados, December 12, 2012

Every December Pop Wuj hosts a year-end event for all scholarship recipients and their families.   In December 2012, the Annual Scholarship Assembly (La Asamblea de Becados) started with a health check-up for all scholarship students, followed by several speakers, and acknowledgement of the students who graduated from 6th grade and 9th grade (the end of básico).  The day included a typical Guatemalan meal and a "paca" to generate income to help cover the expenses of the day.  All students left with a bag of new school supplies to be used in the 2013 school year.

In addition to Carmen and Rony, several students also spoke about their education and future opportunities, thanking those who have supported and encouraged them along the way.  Jose, a former Family Support Center participant and current scholarship program participant, spoke about his plans to continue his studies at Tecnológico Don Bosco in Xela in 2013. 

Gladis, a former scholarship program participant, also spoke to the students and families.  She just graduated from university with a law degree and cited both her family's support and the Pop Wuj project as key factors in achieving her goal.  Gladis emphasized that all of the students in the program are capable of achieving their goals, but they must study and not marry as teenagers.   

Pop Wuj provides partial scholarships for over 130 students, from kindergarten to university.  In 2012, Pop Wuj's project supported 66 primary students and 72 secondary students.  Seven students completed 6th grade and nine students completed básico (the equilvalent of 9th grade).  

We're looking forward to another great year of educational support in 2013!

Becados from Chirijkiak

Becados from Tierra Colorada and Xecaracoj

Becados from Llanos del Pinal

Becados from San Juan Ostuncalco

Some of the becados from Xeabaj II

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catching Up with the Family Support Center

It's been a while since our last post about the Family Support Center (formerly La Guardería). November and December are vacation months for students in Guatemala, and, despite a budget crunch, we offered some special activities for the children and youth at the end of last year.  In additional to the Olympics and a fun art activity, we also organized a few special days with the children and youth.

Art Activity:  Special Christmas Party Invitations for the Families

Self-Care Activity
The children and youth participated in a self-care activity in November.  All of the participants were instructed to arrive at the Center, on time, ready to greet the day.  We encouraged them to bath in the morning and wear clean clothes.  We divided into four groups and prepared a delicious breakfast, including cereal, fruit, scrambled eggs, and smoothies.  Each group was responsible for part of the breakfast activity, including decorating and setting the tables.  The idea behind this activity was to show the children and youth that they have enough time in the morning to get ready for school and prepare and eat a healthy breakfast.
Washing the Oranges
Soaking the Strawberries

Scrambling the Eggs

Enjoying Cake and Secrets
Birthday Party
Also in November we celebrated the birthdays of all of the children and youth who have birthdays August-December.  We enjoyed two piñatas, several cakes, gifts for the birthday boys and girls, and goodie bags for all children.  Pop Wuj students made delicious homemade cakes, decorated with Hershey's Kisses and giantblack berries.  Que rico!
Fancy Cakes!

Gifts for 35 kiddos and teenagers
Scholarship Assembly and Christmas Party

The second week of December was a busy week at Pop Wuj.  We had the annual scholarship assembly and the Family Support Center Christmas Party.  Most of the children who attend the Family Support Center also receive scholarships.  All of the scholarship recipients and their families are invited to Pop Wuj for a day-long event including health checkups, special guest speakers, and a hot lunch.  All scholarship program participants leave with a bag of school supplies for the next school year, beginning in January.

The very next day, we held the Christmas Party for the children and youth of the Family Support Center.  We invited their families, Pop Wuj Students, and the famous Yajahira, the project's former teacher. Everyone had a blast playing 'Pin the Nose on Frosty,' singing Christmas carols in Spanish and English, and receiving gifts.  Each child received a new pair of school shoes and a new sweatshirt.

Thanks to a last-minute donation we were also able to purchase small toys/gifts for each child.

A New Car! (shouted like on The Price is Right)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Season has started!

Doña Rosa and Anssel photo by Juan Burlew
Choosing the right place photo by Juan Burlew
 On Wednesday February 6th, we started a new season of safe stove building.  In our "meeting" post, we mention an elderly woman, "Dona Rosa" who was desperately in need of her new stove.  We prioritized her need and started our new cycle at her home.   Doña Rosa's face lit up when we came to her house. Students and teachers worked side to side to start this new safe stove.  A group of 6 people showed up at her home willing to get their hands dirty, to move heavy cinder blocks, prepare concrete, and make sure that the base of this stove was level and perfect to continue with the second stage. 

The same day we started a second stove with another group of teachers and volunteers of our Spanish immersion program.  Doña Josefina, was also selected to be one of the first to start the building of her stove. This group of teachers and students, as with the other group, worked as hard and meticulously  as possible to create a wonderful base that is a very important piece for the second stage to be perfect. 
Jen and Perry photo by Juan Burlew
The first layer photo by Juan Burlew
Leveling By Juan Burlew
We have to thank all the teachers and volunteers for their dedication and enthusiasm.  I witnessed how Pop Wuj unifies a community.  I saw students roll up their sleeves and work alongside community members to haul materials, wet blocks and mix cement. In addition to these dedicated volunteers we want to thank you, our readers, for your past, present and future support of  such a noble cause!  Stage two coming soon!
Final touches photo by Juan Burlew

Final product being supervised! photo by Juan Burlew

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Materials Buying Day

Wednesday January 30th our new stove cycle got off to a grand start. With the help of Pop Wuj Spanish language school volunteers, Pop Wuj staff and family members of the stove group, we delivered all the materials for new “estufas” to the Llanos del Pinal community. The day started early with volunteers arriving at 7:30 and family members catching early buses for the Xela rendezvous.  At the end of the day we had delivered 270 blocks, 990 bricks, 9 bags of cement, 18 sacks of clay, 9 planchas (metal tops) and 9 chimneys to the project sites.

     Nine families were chosen in the Llanos community to receive stoves during this construction cycle. One additional stove was constructed at a home in Xela and served as the training project for the two new project coordinators.  Stoves will be built in four stages using volunteers, staff and family members. Participants are chosen based on need and the community where they reside. Often these women are cooking over an open flame which contributes to health problems for themselves, as well as other family members.
 In  addition to the health benefits, these more efficient, well-ventilated stoves burn less fuel and minimize  deforestation.

Photos by Juan Burlew
At the end of the day, with soiled clothes and sore muscles, we fondly bid farewell to the community members with a promise to return and begin the initial building phase of the project. Happy for the opportunity to contribute to such a worthwhile project, we piled in the back of the truck for the trek back to Xela and much needed showers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Safe Stoves Meeting Kicks Off a New Stove Cycle!


What a great day we had on Wednesday, January 23th! Nine new participant families of the Safe Stove Project came to the Pop Wuj Spanish School and were greeted by Carmen, Roney and all the coordinators and facilitators.  We had a short talk about maintenance and care of their new stoves as well as a presentation by two students about the health and environmental risks of open fires.

Christina, a medical student and volunteer at Pop Wuj’s clinic, discussed the main diseases caused by the smoke of an open fire, like lung cancer, other respiratory illnesses, cataracts, etc.  Genny, a fuel engineer and an immersion student at Pop Wuj, spoke about the efficiency of the stoves with a focus on the environmental problems caused by the open fires. 

Some of the women who are participating in the Safe Stove Project talked about their own experiences with open fires and the immediate effects, like coughing and breathing problems, as well as the other more long-term effects that they have experienced.  A safe stove is needed in all of the families’ cases, however there was a particular case that struck us the most.  An elderly woman, already suffering from years of exposure to smoke, has developed cataracts in her left eye.  As sad as it is, we are glad to know that we will be there with her, building a stove, so that soon she will be cooking in a smoke-free kitchen.