Thursday, May 12, 2016

You Say It's Your Birthday

Text by Elizabeth Barnes and photos by Amalyah Leader
On April 28, the Family Support Center threw the year's first birthday party. For the 10 kids there who are new to the project in 2016, it was their first FSC fiesta de cumpleaños!

A "train" of little ones (not yet in school) arrive in the party room linked together and repeating, "Choo choo!"
Incredibly, though usually one or two kids are absent any given day, we had 104% attendance at the party. (Ximena, who was in the FSC last year, came just for the day because her mother was in the hospital with her new baby sister.)

As our youngest FSC birthday boy, Alex had the honor of going first. Despite Carmen's coaching he barely touches the piñata.
 Interns Adam and Amalyah and several Pop Wuj students joined us. After the little ones finished lightly tapping at their clown piñata, Julia and Lynchy (who have birthdays between January and April) each had a turn. We usually spin each piñata hitter who's old enough once for every year they've been alive. Fourth year medical student Lynchy watched Julia get blindfolded and spun around 23 times and announced that he turned 15 this year.

Even blindfolded, Lynchy makes short work of the little ones' piñata.
The little ones rush in to collect candy and peanuts.
We brought two piñatas—a clown for the little ones and a monkey for the school-age kids. Several of them who are old enough to read cried, "Jorge!" when they saw their piñata. Jorge el Curioso (Curious George) is a popular series at the FSC.
Amy turned 6 this year and told us that she didn't want to use the blindfold. Because she was the youngest of the school-age kids, we foolishly let her at the piñata without it. 
The instant that her bat first smashed into the piñata we knew that we we had made a mistake. Fortunately Jorge survived for the rest of the birthday kids' turns!
The piñata survived enough for Arturo, our oldest and last birthday kid, to have his turn. But we barely managed to keep all the kids alive, as they kept diving to pick up stray candy while someone was still wildly swinging a bat! 
One of our General Projects Coordinator, Amalyah, made vanilla and chocolate cakes and cream cheese frosting from scratch. All the birthday kids gathered around for the birthday song and candles.

Most of these birthday kids know that cake is serious business. Though Amy seems quite alarmed!
We finished our festivities with party favors for everyone and gifts for the birthday kids. (Carmen had to purchase some last-minute candy for Ximena's party favor, but we actually had an extra age-appropriate gift on hand for her. We weren't sure when Andrea's birthday was and so prepared a backup present that came in very handy when Andrea's birthday turned out to be in November and Ximena's in February!)

Zulmy and Amy open their gifts.
Before the party was even over, kids were asking when we'd be having the next one. Not until August! But we've got other great activities to anticipate before then.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Robyn and Amalyah's Exclusive Goodbye Interview

Text by Amalyah Leader and Robyn Nielsen
Left: Amalyah reads with Andrea at the Family Support Center. She designed and led a number of fantastic activities for the kids in Llanos del Pinal. Right: Robyn wields a machete on a stove-building morning. Her background in global health drew her especially to safe stoves and nutri, where she distinguished herself in developing excellent educational materials. 
Amalyah and Robyn finished their three-month internships with Pop Wuj as General Projects Coordinators last Friday. Luckily, before they left, an anonymous Xela journalist got the chance to sit down with the two and ask the pressing questions we've all been dying to ask.

If you were a salad, what type of dressing would you have?
Robyn: An organic, rosemary-infused, 100-year-old Italian balsamic reduction with a hint of lavender honey harvested from free-range bees. Or ranch. 
Amalyah: Avocado, lemon, garlic, olive oil dressing.

What was your favorite project to work on and why? 
R: The safe stove project. From seeing young children in the nutrition program with respiratory problems and standing in smoke-filled kitchens during the interview process, it's obvious how much of a positive impact the project has. Particularly in terms of improving respiratory health among women and children. I enjoyed being a part of the whole process from being trained to build stoves, conducting interviews, hearing the women's stories, material buying day, stove meeting day, the stove benefit dinner, and each time we went out to build. I like working with my hands to create something and enjoy the comradery that building stoves creates. Also, there's pretty views from people's roofs when it's time to install the chimney. 

What is your fondest memory of being at Pop Wuj?
A: The process of meeting all of the women in the current stove group to building stoves with them. From interviewing them to finishing their stove, I got to listen to many women share stories of incredible strength and courage. There is always an immense amount of laughter and good humor building stoves with Carmelina and the families. And two of our interns officially got married in Llanos! (Congrats Adam and Chris!!) These will always be happy memories to remember. 

When you're not at Pop Wuj working, what are you most likely doing?
A: Sleeping, eating, or climbing volcanos. 
R: Eating chicharrones and standing in the cheese section of Paiz. Simultaneously. 

Favorite hideaway places in Xela?
A: Baul!! It’s so hard to find a place to be in nature alone, but I love climbing up in the early mornings. 
R: I have a secret balcony. 

Favorite Thursday night dinner?
R: Mojitos. And burritos. 
A: Gotta agree, those mojitos were pretty good.

Is there life after Pop Wuj?
R: Pop Wuj is life.

So what’s next?
R: First I’m traveling around Guatemala with my mother, and then I’m going to hang out in Belize and then I will be visiting Cuba. Then I will return home to Seattle for a job with a travel company.
A: I’m going to stick around Xela, you’ll probably see me around. I’m going to teach some English and might teach flamenco. And I’m going to study Spanish again! And hype myself up for going back to college this fall.

Editor's Note: Even though they can be ridiculous, we're grateful to Robyn and Amalyah for their three months of hard work in the projects and wish them all the best. We'll miss you!

Know someone who might be interested in committing three months to support Pop Wuj's social, educational, environmental, and health projects? Check out EntreMundos, which facilitates our internship program.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

#MarchaPorElAgua: Celebrating Earth Day

Text and photos by Amalyah Leader except as noted

Sitting around the table with the littlest group at the Family Support Center, I asked everyone to close their eyes and smell inside the bag. They each leaned over to smell the various fresh herbs, spices, leaves, flowers, seeds, and branches. One by one they took in the rich abundance of our earth.

Amalyah explaining the activity for the little ones. 
 Our wonderful student volunteers from Pop Wuj helped as the little ones discovered in the bag different materials to paste onto their paper to form a collage.

Aidan, a student in the Pop Wuj Medical Spanish Program, helps Daniela with her collage. 
Emanuel shows his avocado seed on his nose!
Meanwhile, in the other room, the older students had just entered into a mock "community meeting" to learn and enter into a conversation about water and the environment that communities around Guatemala are currently defending. Sitting attentively, they listened as I described their mock community that parallels real communities affected by mines and big single-crop farms.

I told them that they lived in a pueblo with a large river running through it. Many of them were fishermen and many others had farms that cultivated bananas and other products. But this big company came in without their permission and began chopping down trees in the forests so they could use the land for farming. What's more, they used up all the water from the river to cultivate palm oil and contaminated the water and earth through their production. This culminated in an environmental and health crisis.

After sharing a video about the effects of Palma Africana on communities in Guatemala, we had a short discussion on how this would now greatly affect their lives. They then all split into groups and worked together to illustrate the negative effects that this company is having on the earth and the people in their community. Many of them drew mountains that were yellow signifying the lack of trees; green, contaminated water; hilltops filled with trash, and fish dying.

Amalyah explains the water situation to the older kids.
While Amalyah describes the community, Maria helps to hold up the poster. 
Students working together to illustrate the environmental situation. 
One of the drawings, featuring chemical waste dumped into rivers and trucks full of trash. 
I organized this project at the Family Support Center specifically in support for "La Marcha Por el Agua" that coincided with Earth Day, when thousands of people marched to defend water access, especially in rural Guatemalan communities populated by campesinos and indigenous people. To learn more about the march, you can check out NISGUA's coverage here.