Friday, April 29, 2016

Vamos Adelante! Our Safe Stoves Benefit Dinner

Text by Adam Wohlman

On Thursday, April 21 Pop Wuj hosted a benefit dinner to raise money for the Safe Stoves Project, currently operating in the communities of Llanos del Pinal and Xecaracoj, which was attended by nearly 65 people! If you’re unfamiliar with the project, Pop Wuj has been building safe stoves in the rural communities surrounding Xela for almost 24 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. Having recently completed community interviews with potential participants, selected our newest group of beneficiaries, and purchased construction materials, our goal for the evening was to raise additional funds in order to send out stove building teams a bit more frequently. We want to build 50 stoves in 2016!

The night was planned and executed by our team of interns, including Robyn, Chris, Amalyah, and myself, along with the support and guidance of the extraordinary Carmelina. As our guests arrived, they were greeted by an array of lively Latin beats (I saw plenty of dancing) and our experienced bartender, Robyn, who served up fresh, made-to-order mojitos all night long, which were a huge hit. Just before dinner there was a short screening of this brief documentary (check it out!!) to further familiarize our guests with the project, and then everyone hit the burrito bar. Carmencita, Director of Social Projects, and Mynor, chief stove engineer, shared their 20+ years of experience and insights working in the project, from its initial development, support, and evolution to today, and the night concluded with an hour of live music performed by several current students from the Pop Wuj language school.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that we raised more than Q1,700 quetzales and will now be able to double the number of construction groups that we send out to build stoves every week! This means that we will be able to complete all necessary construction among the current group of beneficiaries twice as fast as we anticipated and begin identifying the next group of participants much sooner than expected, ultimately serving more people in need. You won't want to miss our next fundraiser!

Robyn was once in a 'bubble letter' club #skillz
The spread! (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
Pop Wuj Safe Stoves Project documentary screening. (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
Bartender extraordinaire Robyn held down the mojito bar all night. (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
Interested in joining our students in supporting the Safe Stove Project? You can donate online through Foundation Todos Juntos and read lots more on blog posts tagged "safe stoves."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dust, Sweat, and Truck Rides: Stove Material Buying Day!

Text and photos by Robyn Nielsen except as noted

Stove material buying day started off early Wednesday morning. All of our new stove families, students, staff, and interns met at Pop Wuj before marching off to Democracia Market, where a large industrial truck was waiting to take us to buy the supplies for 12 new safe stoves.

Meeting the truck at the Demo

After purchasing the chimneys, stove stops, and doors for the stoves the next stop was the brick yard. 

Shoveling sand and loading bricks
1,320 bricks were bought and loaded into the truck by students, interns and a few nice employees of the brick yard while the stove families were busy shoveling sand into costales. 

With the wind in our hair from standing in the back of the truck, we made two more stops for cement and heavy cement blocks then we were off to Llanos del Pinal for delivery. 

View from inside the truck (photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
First delivery stop
There was a definite sense of community as we formed assembly lines, passing bricks and blocks from the truck to the homes. 

Creating an assembly line
Everybody worked together until each family had all the supplies for a new safe stove. 

Carmencita saying thank you to all of the workers after our last delivery
The work was hard, there was a significant amount of dust and dirt in the air and on us, but the comradery, laughs and working for a good cause made it worth it. Not to mention the new views of Xela we got from standing on top of a thousand bricks in a tall truck. 
Tired and dusty workers relaxing on the ride home to Xela
It was the fastest we have ever finished a stove material buying day — HUGE thank you to everybody who came out to help! Next step: our stove fundraiser dinner! Read about it on the blog next week.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jóvenes Juntos: Baking, Games, and "Creative Writing"

Text and photos by Amy Scheuren except as noted

On Tuesday of Semana Santa (Holy Week) we invited all of the older Family Support Center (FSC) participants as well as former FSC teenagers to Pop Wuj for a morning full of activities.  Because of program changes at the Family Support Center this year, the teenagers who are in basico and diversificado (middle and high school) no longer attend the center.

Taking advantage of the weeklong school vacation, 15 participants filled the Pop Wuj kitchen and TV room for one last activity before I return to the U.S.  I have been the Pop Wuj Coordinator for over four years and prior to that a volunteer coordinator at the Family Support Center.  During the last 10 years I have also organized Jóvenes Juntos activities for the older kids at the Family Support Center.  This older group of participants hold a special place for me and I wanted to offer one more activity just for them without the younger Family Support Center participants.

Everyone arrived promptly at 9 a.m. (or earlier!), full of energy for the activities.  We divided the group into two; half stayed with me in the kitchen while the other half went to the TV room with Ashley, another long-time volunteer and former Timmy Global Health employee.

In the kitchen we read through the recipe and quickly divided the tasks in the kitchen.  We were preparing apple crisp so some teenagers started peeling and cutting apples while others prepared the dry ingredients.  We made short work of the preparation and then washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen so that the second group would be able to get straight to work when it was their turn.

Preparing ingredients
Mixing sugar, butter, oats, flour, and spices
The apples were placed in a baking dish and covered with the other ingredients.
Meanwhile in the TV room at Pop Wuj Ashley was leading a creative writing activity with the other half. The teenagers wrote about Semana Santa and other topics before diving into various board games that required problem solving, strategizing, and math skills. [Editor's Note: Ashley pretended she couldn't remember details of the kids' "creative writing" activity because they weren't writing about Semana Santa—they were writing notes for a goodbye scrapbook for Amy! Kudos to Ashley and all the kids for keeping the secret, going so far as to print fake creative writing exercises and hide the notes every time Amy came into the room. Amy received the scrapbook on her last day in Xela and loves it. - Elizabeth Barnes]

Photo by Ashley Aue

Intense Uno games.  Photo by Ashley Aue
A real mastermind!  Photo by Ashley Aue
After about an hour, we enjoyed the morning snack and switched groups.  Both groups had the opportunity to bake as well as write and play games.

Waiting for the apple crisp to bake!
To finish off the morning we purchased ice cream and everyone enjoyed warm apple crisp with melting ice cream.  Afterward the participants stayed around a little while, chatting and joking with us.  This is truly a wonderful group of teenagers that I will miss so much!  I can't wait to see where they go and what they do in the future!

The future of Llanos del Pinal!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Choosing a New Future

Text by Amalyah Leader
Pictures by Robyn Neilsen

500 years ago, the Spanish invaded Central America. Coming down from Mexico, they entered Guatemala looking for gold and rich resources. Their aim was to make it to a city called Xelaju (now Quetzaltenango), but they had heard that on the very same side of the volcano there was an area in which there was a bountiful forest and rich water resources. This community was what we now call Llanos del Pinal, due to the abundance of Pinabet trees. It was in this community that the Spanish first invaded, massacring with fire arms, riding on horses with a sense of conquest. The Spanish stripped the land and families of their belongings, resources, and knowledge. It was at this moment that dependence was invented by the Spanish and poverty ensued. From this moment came malnutrition, lack of education, and halt in the development that was going on in the Mayan society. It was in this community that the Spanish realized the trauma of colonization in Guatemala.

Carmen welcomes our new group of stove families.
One of the youngest beneficiaries in the group enjoys lunch.

On Friday, a group of women from Llanos del Pinal that now make up our new stove group came to Pop Wuj and sat together in a circle. Along with the participation of my fellow interns, Carmencita, Roney, Mynor, and Carmelina, we initiated a meeting that lasted all morning. Together we talked about the health problems that can be caused from smoke over open fires, the importance of organizing themselves, the importance of recycling, and our love for atol!
Women in Guatemala are the foundation of the family and become the strength that holds it together. These mothers, sisters, daughters from Llanos del Pinal came with their courage and compassion to make a better life for their families and communities. As one of the women generously shared with the group, she wants a stove for her children so that they don’t have to live with the terrible health problems that affect especially the women and children in the household when cooking over an open fire. She wants for her children to have more opportunities. Cooking over an open fire has serious health effects. Children have a higher probability of malnutrition, terrible burns especially for children can happen accidentally and lead to other more chronic health problems. Without a healthy body a child can fall behind in school and have much more difficulty studying. Without an education, one remains in ignorance and communities remain dependent and easily manipulated. The cycle of poverty continues.

Pop Wuj Medical Spanish Program participants Lauren Cantwell and Angel Chu speak to the group about the health risks associated with open cookfires and the benefits of safe stoves. Bringing health education to projects other than the clinic and nutrition program adds a new dimension to medical volunteering. 
The women listen to the health presentation.
But these women have said no to this system of power. They have decided to fight for the future of their children, for themselves, and for their community and it is an honor to be working along with them. It is in this meeting that one can see all of Pop Wuj’s projects working together in unison. How the recycling project affects the stove project, the stove project affects the medical project, the medical project the scholarship project, and the scholarship project the Family Support Center. Pop Wuj’s resources gives these women the opportunity to realize their fight.

Roney discusses deforestation and the environment.
During Ronny’s brief cultural competency to the stove group, he talked about deforestation and the lack of water that Llanos now deals with: “We have forgotten what our Abuelitos have taught us. People wonder, with all the projects of reforestation that are now in Guatemala, why we still have so much deforestation. But what we have forgotten, is that a tree signifies life.  Our Abuelitos taught us that when we enter the forest to cut down a tree or to plant a tree we first must ask the earth for permission. To cut down one tree we must plant 10 trees. We must never forget what our Abuelitos taught us because it is in these stories that we have many lessons left to learn."
Each stove recipient receives a photo of herself in her "before" kitchen to kick off the process.
Tomorrow all the families and interns will meet again at Pop Wuj for a long morning of buying, loading, and delivering stove materials, and on Friday we'll start building!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An Intern's Perspective on Timmy Brigades

Text and photos by Adam Wohlman

Three weeks ago we welcomed a group of students, doctors, pharmacists, and support staff from the Indiana University chapter of Timmy Global Health, who all displayed great energy and enthusiasm from start to finish as they treated several hundred patients throughout the communities of Llanos del Pinal, Xeabaj, Pujujil, Buena Vista, and Xela. Ultimately my first Timmy brigade was an energy intensive, but very enjoyable, week. 

Any initial doubts (about how the mobile clinics would be organized, how many people would show up, or the quality of services provided) were firmly extinguished our first morning on March 14 in Llanos del Pinal, where I was struck by the organization, efficiency, and professionalism of the Timmy group. Despite numerous, and often changing, logistical and environmental challenges, it’d be hard to imagine an operation of this scale running much smoother.  

Throughout the course of the week I had the opportunity to perform several different functions: I worked as an interpreter for Dr. Deb (translating English to Spanish and vice-versa) while she provided medical consultations/exams, I dispensed prescription medications and their corresponding instructions to patients, I provided public health education to patients awaiting their prescriptions, and I accompanied a small group which administered an antiparasitic medication to more than 150 children at a school in Pujujil.

Despite all the talk of  ‘Timmy Weeks’ being especially hectic here at Pop Wuj, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learned a lot (especially medical vocab), met some wonderful people, and will be more than ready when the next group arrives in May!

Students in Pujujil obviously loving the taste of the anti-parasitic meds
Drs. Herman and Mirza hard at work in Pujujil
The Timmy pharmacy team end the week strong in the Pop Wuj clinic

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Safe Stove Project Comes Full Circle

Text and photos by Robyn Nielsen

A little boy posing next to the familys current stove
Tuesday morning the team headed out to Llanos del Pinal to conduct interviews with families interested in joining the Safe Stove Project.

We were welcomed into people's homes and sat down with the women to find out more about their living situations, why they wanted a safe stove, and explained more about the stove building process.

Carmencita explaining the interview process to the first family we visited
I could only stand in the first open-fire kitchen for less than a minute before the smoke began to irritate my eyes, proving I wouldn't last a day doing what an average Guatemala woman does. But nobody should have to live with spending hours in a smoke confined space, although that's the reality for so many women and children here in Guatemala and around the world. This is why I believe the Safe Stove Project is so important and one of my favorite projects to work on.

A pregnant mother and her child by their stove
I have been building stoves for a couple months now, completed a few stoves and met numerous families. The interview process made things come full circle and I'm excited to see the next stage of supply buying with the new stove families and continue to build safer cooking spaces.