Monday, February 29, 2016

First Week on the Job!

Text and photos by Adam Wohlman

Last Wednesday I was fortunate enough to accompany two language school students, as well as Alberto and Carmelina from Pop Wuj, to Llanos del Pinal for Safe Stove construction.  Pop Wuj has been building ‘Safe Stoves’ in the rural communities surrounding Xela for almost 23 years as both a response to common respiratory illnesses associated with cooking over an open fire in an enclosed space and the inefficiency of such fires and their contribution to deforestation. Furthermore, respiratory illnesses are currently the leading cause of death among children in Guatemala.

This particular stove had been started the previous week, therefore our small group was responsible for the second of three phases of construction. This being my first experience building stoves, it’d be fair to say I was a bit bemused by our initial task, cutting four bricks in half with a machete. But hey, it worked! Biggest takeaway? It's definitely all about the technique (thanks for the pointers, Alberto)! Other tasks included mixing cement, setting bricks, layering cement and clay, and building upwards layer-by-layer of brick. We all got nice and dirty, had a lot of fun, and I certainly learned a ton about the process. 

This week another group will be primed to finish the job and another family will be ready to put their new stove to use! All in a morning’s work!

Spanish language students, Gaétan and Aditi, prepping for the day's work by cutting bricks and mixing cement, alongside Carmelina. 
Carmelina laying down the clay and cement upon which another layer of bricks will be set.
Spanish language student Gaétan removing excess clay and cement from the outer walls of the oven.
Aditi and Gaétan celebrating the completion of a successful day of stove building!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pero No Ganaron la Guerra

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise noted)

The Guatemalan national holiday February 20 honors Tecún Umán, a K'iche' Maya king and warrior who died fighting the Spanish during their invasion of Guatemala in 1524. The battle took place near Xela, and every year we celebrate Tecún Umán at the Family Support Center.

One of many statues commemorating Guatemala's official national hero stands in Rotonda Tecún Umán, a roundabout in zona 7 in Quetzaltenango. Xela tourists might be more familiar with the bar Tecun in Paisaje Enriquez off Parque Central. (Photo by Harry D.)
As she did in 2014, superstar volunteer (and up-and-coming playwright) Dawn wrote a script and designed cardboard costume and prop pieces for the kids to act out the Battle of El Pinal. Actors from Gustavo's class of fifth and sixth graders narrated the drama (with a little help from Amy) and played the central figures in the story.

As Tecún Umán (Julio) looks on, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado (Norma) introduces himself: "¡Me llamo Pedro de Alvarado y yo quiero esta tierra! ¡Declaro que esta tierra pertenece al Reino de España! ¡Ya no es suyo! Majajajajaja!" (The evil laugh was key to Norma's audition for the role.)
Pop Wuj teacher Mynor lights a stick of incense for our story's priest (Guayo). Before the battle, the priest blessed Tecún Umán and helped paint his face black, red, and yellow. (We opted to compromise historical accuracy and keep Tecún's shirt on for this adaptation.)
The battle pits Pedro de Alvarado's Spanish steel against Tecún Umán's macuahuitlTecún Umán falls, and his Maya K'iche' fighters lose this battle against the Spanish.
Tecún Umán's fight to defend his land and people has inspired countless stories and works of art, including the story of the of the origin of the quetzal. Legend says that the bird didn't always have its signature red breast. Only after it swooped down to Tecún Umán at the Battle of El Pinal were its feathers dyed with his blood.

Dawn's special effects (a piece of green construction paper) wrought the same transformation on Tecún Umán's shield.

One of our narrators, Damaris, delivered one of the closing lines of the play: "Los españoles mataron a Tecún Umán pero no ganaron la guerra... Todavía el pueblo Maya K'iche' vive. ¡Somos nosotros!" 

The Spanish killed Tecún Umán, but they didn't win the war. The Maya K'iche' people still live on. They're us!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spread the Love: El Día del Cariño en Llanos del Pinal

Text by Amalyah Leader
Photos by Elizabeth Barnes

On Thursday February 11th, we celebrated Saint Valentines Day at the Family Support Center. The youngest group was given blocks of frozen ice with glitter and hearts frozen inside. Using eye droppers and hot water they slowly melted the ice to save the animals that were trapped within the ice. The kids became fascinated be the melting of the ice and excitedly would cry out when they had rescued an animal.

Alex and Dawn take a nap

Following this activity, the little ones went inside again to get warm and the big ones came out. The older group was given a script and they eagerly chose their parts for the play. We did a quick dress rehearsal together and then gathered all of the kids together outside. The older ones animately presented their skit by telling the story of how Saint Valentine said NO to the emperor's decree that soldiers could not get marrried. They then continued to teach everyone the importance of expressing love and frienship and the many ways you can do that. Whether it is a hug, a kind gesture, or the words I love you, it's important to express how you feel.

Dawn then lead all the kids in a game that included straws and little hearts. The kids energetically cheered on their team mates as they tried to keep their hearts on the straws. At the end of the day, each student was given a Valentine's Day card and a chocolate. It was a day with lots of fun activites and love was spreading rapidly.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Don't Put All Your Cascarones in One Basket (or in the hands of a six year old)!

Text by Robyn Nielsen, photos by Elizabeth Barnes

On February 9th, Pop Wuj staff, students, and volunteers went out to the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal locked and loaded with some 200+ cascarones (brightly painted confetti-filled egg shells) in celebration of Carnival. After carefully transporting the precious cargo on a fully packed chicken bus as if they were newborns and finishing some homework with the kiddos, the real fun began.

The tradition of cracking cascarones on each others heads did not fall short of expectation. Complete madness and trickery was in full swing shortly after handing out the eggs, with shells, glitter and confetti exploding everywhere. They say Carnival in Guatemala is a celebration mostly for children, but looking around it was hard to differentiate the adults from the little ones. Everyone enjoyed themselves equally. Unfortunately, glitter and confetti don't last forever (except for in my hair and shower drain) and we had to sweep up the beautiful mess before getting ready for snack time. It was great to see such big smiles on everyone's faces and do something a little out of the ordinary. Why can't every day be filled with glitter and confetti?

Super volunteer Dawn lista with all of the cascarones

Chicos in action

Hair Confetti

The calm after the storm

Professional sweepers in action! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to Build a Safe Stove

Text and Photos by Amalyah Leader

This week Robyn and I started our safe stove training. It is a project in which you get your whole body involved, carrying cement blocks, slapping on clay and cement, and placing each brick in its precise spot. I was completely dirty by the end but it was a very rewarding process and I enjoyed getting to know the family, Mynor, our stove engineer, and Robyn while we all worked together. 

Mynor is incredibly knowledgable, with a light humor, and he carefully instructed us on what to do, teaching us the small details and tricks.  One of the daughters of family was also a really great help as we built the stove.


We began by putting down cement blocks, measuring the length and width, being sure that it was exactly how we wanted it.

The next training day we set straight to work, mixing a bin of clay and a bin of cement. We placed the bricks while learning how to set them down so that they were perfectly even.  After putting in the cement and clay into each crack, we cleaned off the bricks so that you could see the beauty of the stove.

It is extremely important that the stove is constructed perfectly so that it functions effectively or else the work will be for nothing. Although I will need a lot more practice I am excited to be a part of this project as the stoves are so important to each family and the community and environmental as a whole. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A New Site for the Family Support Center

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise noted)

On January 22, after weeks of negotiation and meetings with leaders in Llanos del Pinal, Amy and Carmen received keys to Ixcanul Noj: the community center that now houses the Family Support Center. Since then we've been working hard to transform the backyard and two classrooms into a welcoming environment for the FSC kids.

Before: The backyard at Ixcanul was overgrown with weeds and tall grass. We also found some dangerous trash like broken glass and sharp scraps of rusted metal.
After: Last Friday, four students, two long-term volunteers, Amy, and the FSC staff joined forces to fix the yard. Four hours of machete wielding and trash removing later, the space is in much better shape.
The FSC will operate in two classrooms. One of our classrooms will be for the littlest kids, who will stay with their teacher Lidia all day as they're still too young for school. The other classroom will open when the older kids and their teachers, Gustavo and Santos, arrive for lunch. Because Ixcanul doesn't have a good space for cooking or eating, everyone will continue to eat lunch at the former FSC site, a family's home just across the street.

Though one of the classrooms had been painted previously, the paint was in bad shape.
A thorough scrubbing and three coats of primer prepped the room for painting.
The other classroom had never been painted.
A final coat of primer on Friday...
...made a great foundation for these bright colors. (Photo by Ashley Aue)
Thank you to the FSC staff, mothers of FSC kids, and Pop Wuj staff and volunteers who came out to clean, paint, fix up the garden, and begin moving materials across the street!

On Wednesday, long-term volunteer Dawn, FSC teacher Santos, and students Fiona and Annie put up the first coat of primer.
On Thursday, Pop Wuj student Janet joined Gustavo and Santos to put up a second coat in each room.

Friday morning found Social Work Program students Shay (left) and Brendan (right) helping Gustavo (middle) and the other FSC teachers apply a third coat of primer. (I'm sorry that panoramic mode chopped your arm up, Brendan.)
On Friday afternoon Andrew was one of several students who honed their machete skills in the back yard.
And on Monday morning Nick took a break from volunteering in the clinic with the
Medical Spanish Program to paint as well.
We plan to continue working on the FSC all this week and open the project on Monday February 8th.