Friday, July 26, 2013

Reforestation in Pueblo Nuevo

On Thursday morning, Carmen, Amy, the General Projects Coordinator, and Pop Wuj students arrived early at the school at 7:30am to load 75 trees onto the microbus and head off to the surrounding town of Pueblo Nuevo (New Town), outside of San Juan Ostuncalco.  We arrived in a rural area after about 45 minutes and walked another 10 minutes to an uphill area where some trees were already growing.  It was incredibly peaceful there, as the sun flooded the surrounding fields of corn and found gaps in the tree tops to shine down on the Earth floor.

We were greeted by a woman who lived nearby, Doña Regina, who spoke for several minutes about the importance of giving back to the Earth by re-planting trees that we depend on for our own lives.  She expressed a great deal of gratitude and appreciation to the students who had accompanied us on our trip, reminding us how important it is to complement class-room study with ventures into the natural world.

We added 50 trees to this area, some digging and others planting the trees, and because we had so many people we were done in about 15 minutes.  Afterwards, we remained there among the trees on the sloping land for several minutes, chatting and enjoying the beauty that surrounded us.  

Twenty-five trees were meant to go to another area to be planted, but because the area was a long distance from where we were, we opted to leave them with Doña Regina.  The students all agreed that it was a very pleasant experience, as we have all grown used to living in the hustle and bustle that is Xela.  

In contrast to the quick pace of the city, it is undeniably important for us to take time to appreciate the beauty that Guatemala’s rural highlands have to offer.  As the saplings we planted grow, so too must we, and experiences such as these in the natural world are an important component to our own growth. 

Friday, July 19, 2013


The last week of June was vacation week, thanks to el Díadel Maestro. That meant 39 free and unoccupied niños. But thankfullywe managed to fill (in fact overfill) the week and the bored minds of the kids.

Monday: We spend the day making pulceras (bracelets) out of wool. The tricky designs and craft-work were quickly conquered by the kids and by the end of the day all had arms full with bracelets. The activity was so popular it continued into most of Tuesday and some even spent the next week turning up with new ones they had made at home.

Tuesday: We had our periodic medical control out at the family support centre. With a brigade of doctors and med students here at the school we headed out to do our health check ups. Height, weights and general checkups were all taken. And apart from the odd cold all came through with flying colors.

Wednesday: After a couple of weeks of detailed planing and writing and with the great help of a couple social work students, we presented workshops (talleres) on healthy relationship and sexuality, drugs and alcohol, and education. We broke the kids into 3 groups, the young kids together (minus the pulgitas) and separated the older boys and girls. The sexuality taller focused, firstly on respect for yourselves and the importance of respect, friendship, and support for your partner. We also touched on the delicate subject of sex and contraception with the older ones. Drugs and alcohol spoke of the reality of why people drink and even like to drink, but that it also has grave consequences. It finished up with alternative solutions to dealing with problem drinking. Finally we wrapped up the morning with the importance of education in all forms, not just in school. They all went down much better than expected, although it just about exhausted the concentration of the smaller conejos (8-10 years).

Thursday: Reforestation, with the help of the last group of families that had received stoves and 15 Pop Wuj students. We all ventured up into the surrounding hills of Llanos del Pinal and some even half way up Volcan Santa Maria. We successfully planted over 400 arbolitos. A great time was had by all, especially by the families that generously donated their precious land for the project.

Friday: After a very busy week it was time to recover, so making dream-catchers was just the perfect way to recuperate, and recover all thatspent energy of the week past.

Garden and Recycling Projects

Tuesday was dedicated to a couple of the environmental projects, as our General Projects Coordinator spent the entire morning in Llanos de Pinal leading a group of students in weeding and planting new radish seeds.  It was a hot day, and the work was difficult, but after three plus hours, it was good to see the huge difference it made in the garden.  In addition to the radishes, which we planted in two beds and around the sides of the garden, onions, cabbage, and red beets make up the remainder of the vegetables.  These vegetables will be used by the Family Support Center to help off-set the cost of the food budget, one of the higher expenses in all of Pop Wuj’s projects. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the General Projects Coordinator spent about an hour with two students sorting Pop Wuj’s recyclables, which is now required by the recycling center to which we take our plastic. Apparently, they will no longer pay the normal price for all plastic #1-7, but rather will pay the normal price for #1-5 and less (30 centavos per pound) for #6-7. 

We also walked a few blocks to the nearby recycling center, Don Tito, where we take our aluminum, glass, and tin.  Aluminum is quite valuable here, which is excellent for us, as our Thursday fundraiser for the school’s projects is predicated on drink sales.  As a result, the 8 pounds of aluminum we gave equated to 24 of the total 28 Quetzales (roughly $4 U.S.) we received for the recyclables.  We don’t recycle for the money, but it certainly doesn’t hurt when we come out ahead to help offset some of the costs associated with the environmental projects.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Nutrition Program Expansion

Nutrition education by Pop Wuj students. 
Among the many programs that Pop Wuj administers, the Nutrition Program is the fastest growing, and now serves approximately 75 children in Llanos de Pinal, La Victoria, and Buena Vista.  

Thursday, July 11 was an expansion day for the Nutrition Program.  The principle aspects of the program are education and the provision of nutrient-rich Nutributter.  Monthly meetings include education and the distribution of vitamins, Nutributter, Incaparina.  The program is funded in large part by our partner, Timmy Global Health.

Last Thursday, we had the good fortune of having several of the Pop Wuj medical students put together a presentation on child nutrition, particularly focusing on what to feed children between 0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 1-2 years of age.  Importantly, the presentation also sought to remind parents that Nutributter is meant as a supplement, not as an entire diet by itself, no matter how old the child is.
Pop Wuj students explain appropriate food options for children over 1 year of age.
Following the presentation, the children were assessed for malnutrition, virtually ubiquitous in rural Guatemala, by taking measures including their weight, height, and head circumference.  These data points are recorded for future reference and graphed over time to help evaluate the effectiveness of the program.  

Families meet individually with the Pop Wuj doctors.
The mothers of the children are also interviewed to assess risk factors for child malnutrition related to poverty, including the number of people living in the home, living conditions, and the amount of money the family earns.  

While the group is rather large in Llanos de Pinal, with over 50 children enrolled, the groups in Buena Vista and La Victoria are considerably smaller.  The Buena Vista includes 15 children and La Victoria just four children.

Coupled with the Scholarship Program, Pop Wuj is doing truly amazing things to help give under-privileged Guatemalan children a legitimate chance at a healthy, impactful life.  For the mothers of these children who never had such opportunities, many of them growing up during Guatemala’s civil war, it is plain to see their gratitude as they sometimes have difficulty even placing a sufficient amount of food on the table for themselves and their children.  I believe I speak for all visitors of Pop Wuj when I say that it is truly a rewarding experience to have an opportunity to give our time and energy to such an incredibly worthy cause.

Carmen explains details of the Nutrition Program in Buena Vista.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Scholarship Distribution in Chirijkiak, San Juan Ostuncalco, and Llanos del Pinal

San Juan Ostuncalco
Last week was a busy week for the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program, as meetings were held and scholarships were distributed in three communities: Chirijkiak on Wednesday, San Juan Ostuncalco on Thursday, and Llanos del Pinal on Friday. 

San Juan Ostuncalco

The idea of the Scholarship Program or the “becas” is to supplement a family’s income to pay for school-related needs such as books, writing utensils, and school uniforms, and/or to make up for the income forgone by having children attend school rather than work.  The total cost of providing a scholarship is 100 Quetzales (about $13) per month, or 1,200 Quetzales (about $160) per year for each child.  This seems like such a small amount of money for what is gained: access to, and motivation for, achieving an education. 

Llanos del Pinal
Each meeting began with a presentation by Teri, a Pop Wuj social work student, who spoke about the importance of healthy relationships, family planning, and birth control methods.  The talk included dispelling common rumors about contraceptio, such as the myth that a contraceptive injection can cause an abortion if received while already pregnant.

Llanos del Pinal

Birth control is a contentious issue in Guatemala, as most of the country is very religious--mostly Catholic or evangelical Christian, but Pop Wuj is committed to making accurate and useful information available to our scholarship recipients and their families as a means of empowering women to make their own decisions regarding their health and their bodies. 

Llanos del Pinal
After the talk, the scholarships were distributed to the families, 100 Quetzales per recipient for this month.  The Scholarship Program funds the education of over 130 students from kindergarten to university level. Fifty percent of the scholarship project budget comes from the profits of the Pop Wuj Spanish Language School.  The remaining 50% is funded by individual donors who sponsor individual students.  Most of these donations come through the Foundation Todos Juntos, a U.S. 501(c)3 nonprofit.  Many former students and their friends and families are currently supporting the education of our scholarship recipients.

Llanos del Pinal
If you are considering a donation to the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program, rest assured that these scholarships are among the most noble causes to which one can give; providing an education for one of our children is not expensive, and the rewards of doing so are priceless. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Reforestation: June 27 2013

Last Thursday (June 27), Pop Wuj undertook our largest reforestation effort of the year, planting nearly 400 trees (180 Oak, 180 Pino Blanco, 11 Pinabete) near the base of one of multiple mountains near the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal.  After convening at the Family Support Center to split into four groups and discuss the importance of giving thanks to the land by replanting trees, we ventured to private farmland in need of top-soil saving trees to plant the “arbolitos.” 
In the group with which I traveled, led by our fearless Director Carmen, the 3-5-year-old “pulgas” (or fleas, as they are affectionately called), ran ahead with smiles, laughter, and happy chatter as we carried nearly 100 arbolitos up the base of a mountain.  The walk was incredible despite the hefty weight of the trees, most carried in two canvas bags slung over the shoulders of myself and one of our social work students, Charlotte.  It was easy to appreciate the beauty of Guatemala’s rural highlands as the sky was clear and the sun was shining.

It was apparent immediately upon arrival to the farm why the trees were needed, as most trees had been cleared from a large plot of land sloping steeply downhill with corn planted everywhere.  We planted our trees intermittently across the plot of land, the hope being that they would provide stability during periods of high rain where there is risk of the top soil washing away.  

It was good to know that these trees would serve a necessary purpose for both the farmer and for the land itself- I believe the children felt a similar sense of accomplishment.  As they grow it will be good for them to return to the land where they planted these saplings, which will grow to protect the land that provides us with so much.  To show appreciation for the land, for Mother Earth, is a sacred Mayan tradition, and to keep alive this spirit of reciprocity among the young Guatemalans of the Family Support Center is to keep alive the very spirit of the indigenous culture.