Monday, November 23, 2015

The Last "Happy Birthday" of 2015

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes unless otherwise noted

Thursday, November 12 we celebrated all the October, November, and December birthdays at the Family Support Center with a party!

Our fiesta de cumpleaños kicked off with piñatas. The youngest kid, Ximena, is two years old and was utterly disinterested

Immediately after this photo was taken, Ximena shook her head and handed the bat back to Gustavo.
Maybe next year. (Photo by Shanti Aguilar)

As the next youngest kid at the FSC, Emanuel had the first real go at the piñata.

We brought two piñatas to the FSC — one for los pequeños (the younger kids) and one for los medianos y grandes (the older ones). A piñata can only take so much abuse before it breaks!

Gustavo spins Evelyn ten times because she'll be turning ten in December..
...before letting her loose. No blindfold but no glasses, either!
Candy! After Anibal has broken the first piñata, Gustavo shakes it to get all the candy and peanuts out, and the younger kids scramble to fill their pockets and bags.
The older kids were just as aggressive when their teacher, Santos, broke the second piñata. (Photo by Shanti Aguilar) 
Once the floor had been picked clean of candy, we brought out cake.

I got to bake three cakes—French vanilla, chocolate, and funfetti.
Evelyn was the first of the birthday kids to come to the table for the birthday song.
We sang "Happy Birthday" in English and in Spanish, and all the kids blew out the candles together.

Yadira tucks into her chocolate cake.
Then we handed presents out to the birthday kids. 

Gustavo helps Emanuel, his son, open his birthday present.
Some of the older girls are camera shy! (Photo by Shanti Aguilar)
Finally we distributed bags of party favors to all the kids. Punch balloons were the premium item in the younger kids' bags.

Guayo wasted no time in blowing up his punch balloon.
Everyone ate entirely too much cake and enjoyed themselves immensely. Thanks to the Pop Wuj students who donated candy for the piñatas and who came out to the party with us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Poetry Workshop

Photos and Text by Albizael Del Valle

As part of the Family Support Center vacation program we planned a series of classes emphasizing creative expressions. Poetry was the first artistic form we wanted to pursue. The class began with a conversation about poetry and how it depicts reality in ways that can touch the human soul. 

Students were a bit dazed off in the beginning, the idea of writing poetry for an hour seemed quite boring to them. Fortunately, we were able to pull through the drag with several quick and fun exercises. 

Students were given fun prompts while using a deck of cards to determine how many poetic lines they would write. Some of the first prompts included: "El Camion" (or the bus), "the happiest day of your life was when...", "the most challenging moment in my life" and "how do I feel about myself?" 

Front cover of the practice prompt responses

These smaller prompts got students started as they began to use their imagination, translating their into words. Each prompt was a step closer to the main goal, the final prompt.

The final prompt would also be the final project for the day. This final prompt was to be a letter for their mothers in poetic form. Students were instructed to write one stanza of 8 lines minimum. After writing the poem, students were on a mission to make this letter a beautiful one for their mothers. 

Ingrid helps Brandon decorate

They designed unique letters, some even laminated their poems with plastic paper. The class session had to be extended because students were committed to create an excellent piece of art for their mothers. 

Laminated letters

Some of the students were quite hesitant about poetry lat first but eventually let loose after responding to the first two prompts. The creative spirit was felt throughout the room as all students reached into their imagination for ideas to honor their mothers through this art form. 

The final products were beautiful! The students' faces were shining bright with a sense of accomplishment. 

Students pose with their work

I spoke to some of the students who participated in this activity told me how grateful their mothers were for that gift of love shown through a combination of art forms. 

The project's older groups were also given an opportunity to partake in a poetry workshop. Similarly to the younger crowd, it took a few exercises to warm up their poetic minds. By the end of the workshop they also had beautiful pieces of art as gifts for their mothers.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Family Support Center Olympics 2015

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes

Last Thursday, November 5, we honored a Family Support Center vacation tradition: las Olimpiadas!

Students head through Llanos del Pinal to the playing field we rented for the day. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful all morning.

The kids divided into teams (Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue), captained by General Projects Coordinator Abizael Del Valle and FSC employees. Then everyone climbed into costales for our first event: the sack relay race!

Gustavo, a teacher at the FSC and captain of Team Blue, helps Eric Eduardo into a costal.

Each competitor had to carry a baton (water bottle) out to their team's turning point (backpack), go around it, and hop back to tag the next person.

Evelyn rounds Team Green's backpack.
Team Green won the sack race! Next event: another relay, a variation on pantano that required each competitor to duck and jump alternatively under and over a line of ropes, run behind the rope holders back to their team, and tag the next runner.

Carmelina does Team Green proud!

Once again, by a narrow margin, Team Green took the gold!

Next event: soccer! Last year the kids had a tournament leading up to a final game at las Olimpiadas. This year we had 5-minute matches followed by penalty kicks to break any ties. 

Teams Blue and Red face off for Round 1.
After 5 minutes without scoring, the game went into a tense series of penalty kicks!

Teams Red and Green won the first rounds and went to the championship game...

...and Team Red broke Green's streak by taking the victory!

Our final event was balloon stomping. Not all competitors were interested...

...but those who were had a blast.

After lots of running, popping, and shrieking, the competition came down to Carmencita and Roxana—and Roxana snagged the victory for Team Yellow when Carmencita's balloon came off her ankle.

Thanks to their victories in the costal race and pantano, Team Green took first place this year! Felicidades a todos. If you'd like to see more photos of the Olympics (featuring some impressive air time during pantano jumps), check out our Facebook photo album.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Halloween in Llanos

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes 

Last weekend was a festive one in Quetzaltenango. Sunday, November 1 was Día de los Muertos — many Xela families visited the cemetery to pay respects to loved ones who have passed away. On Saturday, October 31, throngs of people filled Parque Central to admire the alfombras (carpets) lining the streets and watch the image of la Virgen del Rosario parade around the park and back into the church.

It was also Halloween, of course. While Halloween is a much bigger deal in the United States, Xela had its share of decorations and costumes, and Pop Wuj celebrated at the Family Support Center. Every year we have a party with decorations, treats, costumes, and scary stories.

The day before our party, General Projects Coordinator Albizael Del Valle repairs an orange shirt worn by one of our pumpkins. All of the more elaborate costumes were made ahead of time by Pop Wuj staff and volunteers.
On Friday morning, los grandes (the older kids) bused down to Pop Wuj to make decorations for the party that afternoon.

The most popular choices were pumpkins, bats, and ghosts.

After making dozens of paper decorations for the walls of the Family Support Center, the kids tackled the pumpkins to bake pies and carve jack o' lanterns.

Our carvers begin by scooping out the insides of each pumpkin.
Some of the pumpkins had thin, brittle shells that had to be cut with care.
Carmen, our Director of Social Projects, led the kids through the laborious process of making pie dough, rolling it out, and transforming gooey piles of pumpkin into a delicious filling.

The kids take turns kneading two batches of dough.
After cooking the pie filling on the stove, students moved it to the blender and added spices.
Carmen shows the kids how to smooth the dough. 
The pie turned out absolutely delectable, and somebody couldn't resist breaking into it early!
At lunchtime, the kids headed back to Llanos del Pinal to eat fiambre, the traditional dish for the Day of the Dead, and put up their decorations. Pop Wuj staff, volunteers, and students followed with all the costumes, and the party started with everyone getting into character!

"Dr. Shanti" poses with Princess Amy. Shanti is a Medical Programs Coordinator for Timmy Global Health.
General Projects Coordinator Albizael Del Valle cowers in fear around four terrifying zombies and a ferocious lion.
Mid-photoshoot, Princess Amy charges in to adjust Oscar the Robot's cardboard head.
Ilcy, one of our witches, shows off her costume.
Once everybody's costumes and face paint were ready, we killed the lights and lit the jack o' lanterns carved earlier that morning. It was time for scary stories!

Albizael and Gustavo, a teacher at the Family Support Center, spooked us all with their stories.
Allegations that Albizael's jump scare made me yelp in fear are entirely unfounded.

Stories done, we brought the lights back up to feast on pumpkin pie. Ashley, a longtime volunteer and Medical Programs Coordinator for Timmy, taught the kids how to say "Trick or Treat" in exchange for a piece of candy.

Full of pie and sweets, the kids sadly had to take off their costumes and pack 'em up for next year. We hope your Halloween was just as fun!