Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Celebrating Education at the Scholarship Assembly

Text by Elizabeth Barnes and photos by Lily Bodinson

The Pop Wuj Scholarship Program is our oldest and biggest project. Founders recruited the first scholarship recipients 25 years ago, a few weeks before Pop Wuj Spanish School opened!

But the Scholarship Program also maybe the least visible of our projects, as typically only interns or students in the Social Work Spanish Program volunteer at monthly meetings. Also, investment in education is a longer-term project. We wait longer to see results than in, say, the Safe Stove Project.

Once a year, we dedicate a day to spotlighting the Scholarship Program and celebrating student achievement. In 2016 we invited all 122 students and their families to the school for our Scholarship Assembly on November 30.

We try to accomplish a lot—checking everyone's health, writing letters, recognizing students, taking photos, and gathering updates.

Scholarship students wait in line outside the Pop Wuj Clinic.
First each student checked in at the clinic, where Medical Spanish Program student volunteers did a quick height/weight check. Anyone needing further medical attention also saw a doctor.

Medical Spanish Program students Lauren and Terry take a brief history with a family.
Upstairs, students started at the letter table to write notes to their padrinos y madrinas (sponsors).

Busy with letters!

 When all the students had passed through the clinic, everyone convened for a ceremony.

Roney Alvarado Gamarro, Director of the Medical Program at Pop Wuj, opens the ceremony by welcoming the students and their families. Family Support Center participant Yadira (bottom right) was not the most attentive.
The ceremony celebrated the hard work of all our Scholarship Program students. But we set aside time to recognize those who have now completed primary school (8 students), middle school (9), high school (9), or a post-secondary program (1—Dinora).
Dinora completed her program to be a nurse's assistant this December. We are so proud! You can read more about her accomplishments and Pop Wuj's other post-secondary students (including her brother Gustavo) in the last issue of Solidaridad, the Pop Wuj and Foundation Todos Juntos newsletter.

Ceremony over, we broke out tamales! (None of which lasted long enough to make it into a photo.)

All day the school was bursting at the seams with people. Amid the chaos, our photographer Lily and visiting volunteer Amy Scheuren rounded up students to take photos on the roof. (Amy is a former Pop Wuj Student Coordinator and current president of Foundation Todos Juntos. We were delighted to have her back for a week!)

Everyone who completed primary school! 
Finally, before leaving, at least one representative from each family checked in with Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado to receive the year's last scholarship payment, discuss any problems, and share plans for 2017. Scholarship sponsors will get the latest news in an update from Amy soon.

Even though the Scholarship Assembly arguably makes for the most jam-packed, hectic day of the year, it's also a highlight for staff and volunteers. It's a chance to see all of our awesome students and their families and celebrate victories after their hard work!

Letters done? Yessica and Erick break out Pop Wuj's guitar. Erick graduated from high school this year!
Astrid and her son Emmanuel pose on the roof. His dad, Gustavo, is a university student. (Gustavo is also featured in Solidaridad!) Emmanuel is a Family Support Center participant and will start school in 2017.
¡Felices fiestas a todos! Happy holidays, everyone! Nos vemos en 2017.

Have you checked out the fall / winter issue of Solidaridad, with news from Asociación Pop Wuj and Foundation Todos Juntos? Read it online and subscribe to receive the next edition by email!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Cakes & Races: School Vacation at the FSC (Part III)

Text and birthday photos by Elizabeth Barnes
Olympics photos by Pop Wuj teacher Gerson Yax (unless otherwise noted)

Today we're wrapping up a series of blog posts showing off recent events at Family Support Center. The participants are all on school vacation, and we've celebrated with special activities.

On November 10, we threw 2016's final birthday party!

Family Support Center Director Shaaron Hurtado leads everyone in applause for one of our birthday girls, Jessica. She turned 5 this year. We celebrate groups of birthdays, so this party featured everyone born between September and December.
After completing primary school, students graduate out of the FSC. (They do continue receiving support through Pop Wuj's Scholarship Program, and we invite graduates to join us for certain events like baking pumpkin pie for the Halloween party, the Olympics, and other fun days.)

This year we have a sixth grader, Maria, who just turned 15. The Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado decided to honor her and Luisa, another FSC participant and scholarship recipient who turned 15. Quinceñaras (girls who turn 15) traditionally have special celebrations on that birthday to mark their transition into womanhood. (We emphasized that there's no rush to stop being kids!)

Carmen opened with a brief speech of congratulations and invited Doña Delfina, Luisa's grandmother and the FSC cook, to share some advice with Maria and Luisa. Then the girls held a mini dance.

Luisa and Maria have their quinceñara dance. Although our celebration wasn't fancy, we hope that upholding these traditions helped Maria and Lusa know how much they are loved at the project.
The younger children waited patiently for the more "grown-up" portion of the party to wrap up. When Maria and Luisa's dance song ended, it was time for piñatas!

At 3 years old, Andrea was our youngest birthday kid at this party. She couldn't be coaxed into having the first shot at the piñata, but after watching some older peers take their turns she changed her mind and went for it!
Shaaron ties Luisa's bandanna. Older kids hit the piñata with their eyes covered!
Once the ground had been picked clean of every last piece of candy and peanut from our two piñatas, we brought out the cakes.

Carmen and Shaaron light the candles.
Returning Pop Wuj student Alison generously baked those two cakes from scratch, frosted and decorated them, and had them completely ready to go by Thursday morning. She not only saved us time spent baking them or money spent buying them, but also produced the year's most delicious birthday cakes!

Angel and Samuel dig into their cake.
Brenda, Ilcy, and Norma enjoy the party! 
We're proud of all the Family Support Center participants and how they've grown this year.

Next up: On November 17, we held the Olympics! We rent a hotel's well-tended, enclosed soccer field in Llanos del Pinal for our games. First, in two groups, the participants presented their gimnasio (synchronized fitness dance routines).
Ilcy and Norma can't stop grinning at each other. Because they are in sixth grade, sisters Maria and Norma were leaders of the two gimnasio teams.
Gimnasio triumphantly executed, we divided everyone into four teams—yellow, blue, green, and red. 

I can say with absolutely no bias that Equipo Rojo was the best.
Our first Olympic event was a sack race!

Samuel tears toward the finish line. The sack race was a relay, so on his return Damaris took off in her sack.
Next we lined up with jump ropes for an over/under, jumping/rolling relay race.

Julio vaults over Daniela's jump rope as Equipo Azul looks on.
Jessica runs back to the starting line to tag the next member of her team.
We took a water, oranges, and tamales break (mostly so that participating adults could catch their breath) and started blowing up balloons for the next event. The object of this game is to pop everyone else's balloon without having the balloon around your own ankle popped.

Lesly charges forth! She graduated out of the project last year but came back to represent Team Blue.
You can't catch Evelyn!
After that—guerra de globos! Balloon war!

Photographer Gerson couldn't get too close to the carnage for his own safety/dryness.
Once everyone was wet—¡fútbol!

Long-time friend of Pop Wuj Tom and Family Support Center graduate Angélica sportingly play for Equipo Verde.
Afterward, sweaty and breathless, everyone reconvened in the shade to hear the winners announced. Team captains went up to have their points tallied. Equipo Azul took first place!

Pop Wuj student Will and his teammates put on their medals.
Equipo Amarillo came in second place!

Team captain Maria calls her players forward to be honored as FSC teacher Lidia untangles medals.
Equipos Verde and Rojo got stickers that said, "You're Dynamite!" which are better than some silly medal anyway. I'ts not like Equipo Rojo even wanted to win. (As a certain Student Coordinator privately sulked, Shaaron spoke with the kids about the importance of good sportsmanship.)

Along with the FSC participants, Pop Wuj staff and volunteers have had so much fun at all these activities. We have the Christmas party next week before the project closes for 2016, and we plan to make the most of that time!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bites & Frights: School Vacation at the FSC (Part II)

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise noted)

Last week we started a blog series on the activities we've held in the last month or so at the Family Support Center. Today is the last regular day of the project for 2016. As the kids are enjoying a water balloon fight and afternoon movie in Llanos del Pinal, we're looking back on one of the funnest days of school vacation: Halloween!

Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado invited some helpers to Pop Wuj on the morning of October 28 to prepare pumpkin pie for the Halloween party. Older students who aged out of the Family Support Center came from Llanos del Pinal (no easy feat given that unexpectedly, no buses were running that day!), and long-time Pop Wuj volunteer Ashley Aue brought participants from her  new project, Pathways, serving adults with developmental disabilities in Xela.

We used every part of the pumpkin—the seeds for roasting, the insides for pie, and the shells for jack o'lanterns! (Photo by Marie Barranco, Pop Wuj Social Work Spanish student)
Carmen and our bakers roll out dough for pie crust! The pies turned out absolutely delicious, but they didn't last long enough to be properly documented by our photographers. (Photo by Marie Barranco)
That afternoon, with dozens of pies of all sizes baked, we packed up in a hastily rented minibus to head out to the FSC Halloween party.

First we helped everyone get into their costumes. We had a huge jumble of witches, pirates, zombies, princesses, Spider-Men, vampires, a Little Red Riding Hood, and a butterfly. (Participating adults were a bat, a pirate, and a soccer witch in a jersey and spooky shawl.)

Trying to get everyone to keep their costume on, hold still, not show off their karate kicks, look at the camera, and smile at the same time proved to be the scariest part of Halloween.
Costumes on, we gathered in the party room to tell scary stories.

The room was lit only by jack o'lanterns.
Spooky jack o'lantern light completes Ilcy's witch look.
The kids and Carmen took turns telling scary stories. In Carmen's tale, dogs howled as the dead walked past. She asked the kids over and over, "What did the dogs do?" and over and over, they howled.

Stories told, we turned the lights back on, had pumpkin pie, and set up trick-or-treating. Kids approached Pop Wuj students in pairs to say either "Trick or Treat!" or "¡Dulce o Truco!"

Wilson and Manuel choose from mini Halloween notebooks offered by Pop Wuj Medical Spanish student Katrina. Another student, Will, handed out candy at the next trick-or-treating station.
Halloween is always a blast. After our party on Friday the 28th, the FSC had a few days of vacation for the children to celebrate Día de los Muertos (or Día de Todos los Santos) with their families. Check out our next blog post to see what they've been up to since then!

"Can you smile, Andrea?"

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hikes & Kites: School Vacation at the FSC (Part I)

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise noted)

If you were to visit the Family Support Center on a typical weekday morning between February and October, you'd find only the children too young to attend school (ages 2 to a just-turned-5). Schools in Guatemala usually run January to October, and most offer classes in the morning. Our school-age participants join us around 1 p.m. for lunch and stay the rest of the day.

Since mid-October, when the older participants started their long vacations, the FSC has been busy with everyone all day long. We take advantage of the extra time with all the kids to host a ton of special activities—academic support, outdoor excursions, crafts projects, sports, and more. Our new director Shaaron Hurtado has implemented some new ideas, but we've also observed all our annual traditions.

This post and two follow-ups will highlight vacation activities which Pop Wuj Spanish School students (and the Student Coordinator!) have joined in the last five weeks.

First up: hiking!

Katrina plays customer at an imaginary restaurant run by Emmanuel, Ximena, Yadira, and Daniel. She and fellow Pop Wuj Medical Spanish Program student Lucy joined the FSC crew on October 20 for one of two hikes. The older FSC participants were all off playing soccer and too blurry to photograph! 
The FSC teachers took the kids on a second hike on the morning November 3. One advantage of the Llanos del Pinal location is being surrounded by breathtaking mountains! (Photo by Shaaron Hurtado)
The group heads back from the October 20 hike. Despite having the shortest legs, the little ones never seem to complain about being tired like the older ones do!
Next up: kites! You see them all over Guatemala around Day of the Dead on November 1. We held our flying day on October 27 after a week of kite construction at the FSC.

FSC teacher Santos launches a kite. Yosvin, Samuel, and Moisés figure out their own.
Arturo proved to be one of the FSC's most skilled kite flyers.
Andrea (who recently turned 3) had very little luck with getting her kite off the ground, but not for lack of support from Katrina! They both had fun anyway.
Another one of our older boys, Manuel, is also an adept kite flyer.
He kept his kite aloft despite cows, trees, and a host of other obstacles!
Most children at the FSC have attended the project for years, which means we get to watch them grow up. Annual events like kite flying highlight those changes.

Here's Evelyn (age 6) with her kite in 2012....
Evelyn (age 9) with her kite in 2015....
and Evelyn (age 10) with her kite in 2016! 
Better said that these activities highlight how kids stay exactly the same! Evelyn still loves kites.

Keep an eye out next week for Foundation Todos Juntos newsletter and another post on Halloween. To our U.S. readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! At Pop Wuj we are grateful for everyone involved in our projects, from participating families to the students, volunteers, and donors who make our work possible.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Take Me to the Feria

Text by Elizabeth Barnes and photos by Lily Bodinson

Xela is covered in blue and white flags, streamers, and balloons this week for Día de Independencia on September 15. Parque Central is already hung with huge banners, stages are going up all over the city for concerts, and the streets will fill with parades and parties.

At Pop Wuj we're planning to explore Xela's annual feria as a group of students, teachers, and staff this evening. But the real party happened last week at our mini feria at the Family Support Center.

As always we started with a short civic ceremony. It is a historic holiday! The kids had prepared decorations for the stage featuring Guatemala's national flower (la monja blanca, or white nun), tree (the ceiba), and bird (the quetzal, of course!) as well as its flag and coat of arms. Our best performing students had the honor of carrying the flags of Guatemala and Xela to the front, which they executed with much gravitas to the traditional march "La Granadera."

Sixth grader Maria had the highest average at the FSC. We are so proud of her and of all our hard-working students! 
We followed with the national anthem and "Luna de Xelajú." (Carmen commented before the ceremony that a singer lamenting the beautiful woman who abandoned him is not the most appropriate subject, but hey, it's better than "That spells Dallas, where every home's a palace.")

The Guatemalan himno (national anthem) has a lot of words. We were impressed by the elite singers who knew all of them!
Carmen Rosa followed with a presentation about the significance of Independence Day in Llanos del Pinal, which the Spanish attacked en route to Xela in 1524, and we played a recording of a lovely poem about Santa Maria by a local writer.

Though well behaved, the kids had a hard time concentrating knowing that games awaited them outside.

Former Pop Wuj student Jeremy managed to pull himself up the backyard wall to hang our payaso (clown)...and then climbed up again to take the clown down when we realized it was going to rain! What a good sport.
At long last, Carmen unleashed the kids on the games. They tore out of the room so fast that they beat all the volunteers to their stations!

Wilson throws a beanbag through the clown's mouth as his peers queue behind him. Each game winner received a ticket that they could reimburse for a premio (prize) -- you could spot winners because they were sprinting back to the prize table inside!
Moms were welcome to play too! Surama owned bowling even with a baby on her back. Should've won double tickets.
Pop Wuj volunteers ran a beanbag toss through the clown face, a coin flipping game, foosball, bottle knockdown, and bowling, while Carmen presided over lotería (similar to bingo). In addition to games and prizes, we enjoyed traditional feria snacks and drinks prepared by FSC moms.

FSC moms gather around the food table to begin uncovering and distributing everything. We love getting to see FSC family members outside monthly FSC/scholarship meetings!
2-year-old Andrea had a blast at her first feria.
The last of us straggled out of the FSC at 7 p.m. after hours of festivities. Everyone had a blast, played dozens of games, won a ton of prizes, got messy, and wore ourselves out. Good thing we had the weekend to recover before Xela's official feria opened!

Ilcy is the most photogenic person ever to be born. Also, Lily is an unbelievable photographer.
 Many thanks to the Pop Wuj volunteers who staffed our games and to the moms who provided our wonderful food. ¡Feliz Día de Independencia a todos!

Did you know that Pop Wuj now has an Instragram, run by the same talented photographer who took the pictures for this post? Check us out @popwuj!