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!

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