Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Changes Come to the Scholarship Program

March 2015 marked a change in the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program.  Although we typically have monthly scholarship meetings in various rural communities, we had never tried a group meeting in Xela for the students that do not live in one of our identified communities.

In the past, family members of scholarship students would travel to Xela and meet individually with Carmen at Pop Wuj.  This has become logistically difficult as the Scholarship Program and other projects have grown.  Carmen is often not at Pop Wuj when families arrive because she has work in one of the rural communities.  Often families arrive at 8am and have to wait for hours until Carmen sees all of the families who have come to meet with her.  Encouraging families to call to confirm Carmen's schedule wasn't working and families were sometimes losing an entire day's work plus bus fare only to be told that they would have to come back when Carmen would be there.

Starting this month we are now holding monthly meetings at Pop Wuj for all of the scholarship families that do not live in one of our communities.  We grouped all of these students and their families into the Xela scholarship group.  Now the families of the students from Xela, the Pacific Coast, Momostenango, Cajolá Chiquito, Olintepeque, and non-Family Support Center families from Llanos del Pinal will meet each month as one group.

Carmencita speaks with Scholarship Program families at Pop Wuj

An additional benefit will be that the group meeting format will allow families to become a support and resource for each other.  We used this first meeting to get to know each other as a group.  We discussed the value and strength of being part of a group and that they will be able to achieve more through organization than they could on their own.  As Carmen said, "No one can cook the corn or beans with just one piece of firewood, but with many pieces of firewood we can."

During subsequent monthly meetings we will discuss a variety of topics, allowing the group to reflect and think collectively about the struggles they are confronting and possible solutions.  For example, many families struggle with finding a way to balance the cultural/societal assumption that continued education is not as important as working and contributing to the family economy.  We discussed weekend school options for older students as well as finding a way to manage the household expenses without relying on child labor. 

We look forward to many more monthly meetings with our new "Xela" group!

Friday, March 27, 2015

El Día de la Mujer at the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal

International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th.  Although in many ways it looks a lot like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day in Xela, the history and purpose of International Women's Day is entirely separate and distinct.  There is much more of a human rights and political focus.

To mark the occasion, we held related two International Women's Day activities at the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal.  The first Friday of every month Carmencita and I meet with the mothers of the children and youth who attend the Family Support Center.  The meeting serves as both the project mothers meeting and the Llanos del Pinal scholarship meeting.

Mothers and staff in the monthly meeting

This month we met on Friday March 6th and discussed International Women's Day.  Throughout the previous week, the children and youth prepared posters and answered questions about equality and the reality of women's lives in Guatemala.  We talked about work, different types of violence, and which women (in addition to their mothers) the kids admire.

The children and youth presented their posters during the kids activity on Thursday March 5th and we discussed their answers and ideas both days.

¿En que puede trabajar una mujer?  What types of work do women do?
During the mother's meeting we shared the posters again and told the mothers what we learned from the children and youth.  We even dipped into the very Guatemalan phenomenon of "reinados."  There's a beauty contest and competition to be the queen of anything and everything you can imagine in Guatemala.  In large cities and tiny villages alike.

When asked what types of work women do, the kids immediately said that women work in the home, taking care of their families.  However they also said women are teachers, social workers, doctors, and nurses.  Their understanding of women's work is expanding in part due to the presence of Pop Wuj--where we employ women in all of these positions.

In these activities we see the importance of getting the kids and the mothers talking--and not just about flowers and wishing each other "Happy Women's Day."  We are talking about issues and situations that are often considered "normal" or "typical" in Guatemala.  We want to create a more just and equal society in Guatemala that values women and men and their contributions.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Pop Wuj Safe Stove Project: Interviews and New Group Meeting

Text and photos by Amy Scheuren

The Pop Wuj Safe Stove Project continues year round and we are constantly receiving requests from new families.  We are finishing up the current 7-family group in Llanos del Pinal and are moving on to the preparations for the next group.  In February we visited 10 families in Llanos del Pinal and Xecaracoj (another community in the Valle de Palajunoj) and conducted in-home interviews with the mothers and some fathers. 

A corrugated tin kitchen with gaps at the top to allow some of the smoke to escape

A family's kitchen "before" a Safe Stove.  The walls are new, but are just stacked blocks without cement.

Families in rural areas are cooking over open fires in enclosed spaces, thus breathing in smoke and fine particles.  Respiratory illness, eye problems, and accidental are typical health consequences for women who cook in these conditions and their children.  Just conducting the interviews in their homes is enough to give volunteers headaches for the rest of day.
Another before kitchen with blackened corrugated tin walls

Another before kitchen of corrugated tin

In early March we invited all of the new families to attend the Pop Wuj Safe Stove group meeting in Xela.  As always we explained what exactly Pop Wuj is (and isn't), the health effects of cooking over open fires, the environmental consequences of such inefficient fires, the growing problem of burning plastic/trash, the cultural and historical aspects, and finally the logistics of the project.

Carmencita, introducing Pop Wuj to the group

Doña Sonia, who helped organize the new Safe Stove group,
introduces herself and the women from her community in Xecaracoj.

Staci and Kevin, two Pop Wuj Medical Spanish students (and medical residents!),
explain the health problems often caused by breathing smoke and fine particles

Play time for the little ones
All of the families signed the agreement at the end of the meeting and agreed to participate in the material buying and delivery day after Semana Santa in April.  We need to finish building the last few stoves in the current group before we can start building in the new group.  Pop Wuj Spanish students continue to provide the labor for the project as part of their Pop Wuj experience.  A construir!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Scholarship Students, Nutrition, and Health

Text by Amy Scheuren
Photos by Jeff Leventhal, except as noted

"The reality is that certain foods have been imposed on the country, while foods produced and nurtured by people according to their cultures and to their real needs are becoming more and more scarce."*

Last November Pop Wuj hosted our annual scholarship assembly for all of our scholarship students and their families.  Seventy-nine of the over 130 scholarship students attended the assembly and also had a well check-up at the Pop Wuj Clinic.  We checked height and weight, provided vitamins and anti-parasitic treatment, a dental treatment, and full medical consults for any students who were sick.

We used the Body Mass Index, a measure for indicating nutritional status, to determine whether the children and youth were in the healthy range in terms of height and weight.

Registering with Isabel

Ingrid gets weighed
Emma, the former General Projects Coordinator, measures Ilcy
Fifty-two of the attendees were girls or young women while 27 were boys or young men.  Of the 52 girls and young women, two were considered obese, 14 overweight, 30 normal, two mildly thin, three moderately thin, and one severely thin.

Dr. Barbara in a consult with Norma, 11 years old

Of the 27 boys and young men, none were obese, two are overweight, 24 were normal, and 1 was severely thin. 

Due to easy access to cheap, packaged, processed, junk food, some Guatemalans are overweight yet malnourished, just like in developed countries like the U.S.

Oscar waits to be measured
In addition to the yearly health check up for all of the scholarship students, Pop Wuj also offers a quarterly "control médico" (well check up) for the Family Support Center participants.  These children and youth are almost all scholarship students as well.  The Pop Wuj Clinic staff and volunteers conducted the first 2015 control médico in February.

Dr. Barbara examines one of our youngest participants
Photo by Amy Scheuren
Nearly all of the forty children and youth were present for the well check up.  We found that 24 of the participants fell into the normal range for height and weight.  Six children are considered overweight for their height, two are considered moderately thin, two are mildly malnourished, and two have moderately retarded growth.

Photo by Amy Scheuren

To learn more about the nutritional issues facing many of the families we work with and how recent political and economic history has greatly affected their situation, read Free Trade and Mexico's Junk Food Epidemic.

Mexico and Guatemala share some similarities and the trade and investment policies of the last 20 years that have shaped Mexico's current food and health crisis are now also bleeding into Guatemala.  The numbers will vary, but the health effects are and will likely be very, very similar over time.

*Free Trade and Mexico's Junk Food Epidemic, http://lab.org.uk/free-trade-and-mexicos-junk-food-epidemic.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2013 Foundation Todos Juntos Annual Report

Some  of the 2013 high school graduates

Foundation Todos Juntos, a small US non-profit organization founded by former Pop Wuj students, has published its 2013 Annual Report on its website.  Check it out along with other publications, including the 2012 Annual Report, previous newsletters, and brochures for the projects. 

Foundation Todos Juntos supports various health, educational, social, and environmental projects in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, including many of Pop Wuj's projects.

Visit the Foundation Todos Juntos website to support the projects today!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Safe Stoves with Dave and Kathy!

Photos by Laura Berger

Pop Wuj was happy to once again receive long-time volunteers and friends Dave and Kathy in January.  They started with the Safe Stove Project when we were still building in Pacaxoj, Momostenango and have built stoves in numerous rural communities over a period of several years.

This January they joined us as we began building the stoves in our current group in Llanos del Pinal.  They led groups of Pop Wuj students and worked on six stages during their stay.  That is the equivalent of three complete stoves!  They helped us increase our capacity and some Wednesdays we had three groups building in three different homes!

Two stove building groups outside the home of Doña Surama Noemi in Llanos del Pinal

Basic tools for stove building

Mynor, finishing off Stage 1 (the base)

Doña Vicente and her daughter with the base of their new stove

Laura, a Pop Wuj student, and Marilu and Zulma, Pop Wuj teachers, using clay during Stage 2

Dave, mixing cement

Mynor working on a Stage 2

Thanks Dave and Kathy for your continued support. We loved having you in town again--come back soon!