Friday, September 5, 2014

Life as a Pop Wuj Intern

Working as the Projects Coordinator intern at Pop Wuj was an incredible experience. I left Xela about three weeks ago and I am now integrating back into my life in the United States. The job that was my day to day responsibility and preoccupation has already become a memory I will never forget.

"Public" transportation in Llanos

When I first arrived at Pop Wuj I was primarily interested in the Safe Stoves Project for its prevention of respiratory illnesses within rural families that used open fires their homes. It was also the project with which I got started with right away by training during my first weekend there. 

As my work on the job progressed I really gained an appreciation for the physical labor and team ethic that goes into stove building. I took the role of leading stove building groups, gaining not only leadership skills but also the ability to adapt quickly to a leadership position in field of work that was unfamiliar to me.

A finished safe stove

Soon after I became involved in the Family Support Center (FSC) as well. Going into it, I did not know what to think of or expect from my work in the FSC. This is not to say I had any doubts about the project itself—it successfully offers academic help and loving support to 41 Guatemalan children. That’s a given. However, I was nervous about working with so many different children of all ages when I had very little background experience working with children. That fear went away as my time in the project quickly turned into some of my favorite memories made while working with Pop Wuj. 

We did everything from painting tables, playing soccer, and constructing puzzles to working on homework and reading books to just goofing around with newspaper hats and paper planes. Upon arriving I immediately felt welcomed by all of them, and upon leaving I received a flooding of hugs, well wishes, and voiced hopes for my future return to the project.

Sharon with some of the Family Support Center participants

Another facet of my job included assisting with the scholarship meetings in towns near Xela. Carmencita, Amy, Chloe, and I spoke with mothers of Pop Wuj scholarship recipients about how their children were doing in school.  Additionally we talked about the very relevant topic: the illegal immigration of Guatemalan children to the United States. In the meetings we gave presentations about the dangers and consequences of making the journey mojado, (illegally) always opening the room up to discussions about the topic: "What do you like about your hometown?" and "Why do people choose to go North?"  We also spoke with the children and youth of the FSC, this time including colored pencils and crayons for the option of drawing their responses. 

These presentations proved to be some of the most challenging work I did as many mothers and kids alike had misconceptions of what the journey was like--some even believing that the border had been opened for free passage. Our work was to discuss the realities of the dangers that children are exposed during the journey and at the destination in hopes of discouraging them from risking their lives in the attempt.

Other projects I helped coordinate and participate in included the Reforestation Project and the Recycling Project, and I occasionally helped out in the Health Projects such as Nutrition. I helped translate some lectures at Pop Wuj and always attended the Thursday night dinner. Though I was sick during my final dinner at Pop Wuj and had no chance to give a speech, I hope it suffices to leave this blog post here as a final appreciation for the great experiences had, memories made, and friendships forged by this opportunity.

Hasta pronto,
Sharon Broadway

Sharon found Pop Wuj via our partnership with Entremundos.  Pop Wuj offers five distinct internships/long-term volunteer options.  Visit Entremundos to learn more and apply.

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