Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Time in Xela: Reflections from Johanne

Text and pictures by Johanne Annesdatter Olesen

I am Johanne from Norway and I just came back home from my nine months in Guatemala. I travelled a bit in Central America but I had at least seven months in Xela, working and studying at Pop Wuj.  Here are some of my thoughts about Pop Wuj and all of their projects.

When I first came to Pop Wuj in September, 2014 I started in the Social Work Spanish Program, so I helped Carmencita with the Family Support Center, the beca project (scholarship project) and the nutrition project.  I fell in love with all the kids and everything with the little house in Llano del Pinal. So after a short time I switched to the Regular Spanish Immersion Program so I could use every afternoon visiting the kids, helping out with activities, or planning the next celebration or activity.

Piñata birthday fun at the Family Support Center

During my first 2-3 months I also joined the Safe Stove Project every week.  It made me realize how in need the whole community is and how small things--just one morning for the students--helps so much for a family of 10 people.  I was so happy and so proud after building my first stove.  It was incredible that I made that by myself, with my bare hands (of course with a lot of help from the amazing Carmelina and two other students) but it felt like I could do anything. That I could take on the world.  Some bricks, cement, and clay have never looked so beautiful.

Stage 3 of the Safe Stove building process

That evening it hit me that this is not a new painting or a new couch that the family is going to show to everyone, brag about, and invite friends to come and look at. They are going to feed their family with this stove, try to give them the nutrition they need, try to cover the really basic needs to survive.  With the stove we hope to decrease accidental burns and respiratory problems which can leave children with asthma and lungs like an old person.  This day I really understood how important it is to help, just a little bit, if you can.  And then I decided to stay as long as I could in Xela.

As I mentioned earlier, the Family Support Center really took my breath away and it will always have a special place in my heart.  The love and the happiness and the hugs and laughter that greet you at the Family Support Center is something special.   At the same time they are focused and they do their homework so they can go out and play with the other kids during recess.  If it was raining it was dripping from the roof but the kids just pushed the tables away from the drops and continued working.  It is hard to describe if you haven’t been there and haven’t seen it, but there is such a kindness and warmth in that house that you can’t find anywhere else.

The full group on my last day at the Family Support Center

For a long time the kids had all my attention, but before Christmas I was introduced to a girl named Rosario and things changed.  She has something called brittle bones (huesos de crystal) or extreme osteoporosis.  She can’t move around and she is in her bed 24/7.  I started visiting her once a week. We had a lot of fun, playing games, talking, painting, reading and she always asked me when I was coming the next time.  Towards the end I started seeing her twice a week and we became good friends.  Getting to know Rosario helped me to appreciate what I have and how I should enjoy the things I can do, every day.  Rosario is always happy, she is always smiling, laughing, talking and she is so intelligent.  We played cards and she was way a head of me, making her plan to win, sorting out a strategy, and laughing.  Of course she would win. We are around the same age (19-20 years old), which is obvious quickly after talking to her.  After watching her and seeing her potential, we (Carmencita at Pop Wuj, Amy, and I) organized more formal classes with one of the teachers at Family Support Center so she can continue to learn and develop.

Rosario with her niece and nephew

Rosario playing a memory game
These experiences and getting to know la gente más amable (the kindest people) are the reasons why you should not be surprised if you se me walking around in Xela again very soon.

In the end I really want to thank the woman behind the scenes, Amy.  She has helped me so much with all my questions.  Thank you!  You are a great support and help for young people like me that haven’t travelled so far and for such a long time away from home.  The school needs you.

Pop Wuj is a great place to learn Spanish, and to see and experience thing you couldn’t elsewhere.  They have a great diversity of smart teachers with all kinds of information. History, politics, the situation in Guatemala and the world, economy, the indigenous people, Spanish-- you name it.  They have lectures and they have activities and they have wisdom.  Thank you Xela, thank you Pop Wuj, and see you very soon!

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