Monday, August 1, 2016

Life as a Pop Wuj Intern

Text by Nadia Mondini and Photos and Captions by Elizabeth Barnes

On Friday, July 22, Pop Wuj bid goodbye to interns Chris Conklin and Nadia Mondini. Adaptable, enterprising, and enthusiastic, the two of them have been involved in every single one of Pop Wuj's projects and helped us tremendouslyAs one of her last undertakings, Nadia wrote a reflection on her experience volunteering with us.

When I applied for a position as an Environmental Projects Coordinator at Pop Wuj in January, I had not much of an idea of what to expect. I didn’t know much about Guatemala, about what my everyday routine as an intern would look like, or about the people I was going to work with. Today, on my last day after almost two months at Pop Wuj, I cannot believe how sad it makes me to leave.

My experience at Pop Wuj has been more amazing than what I could have imagined, and I’ll take more wonderful memories with me than I can possibly count.

My Monday mornings, coming in, getting my coffee, chatting a while with students and the just so amazingly cheerful and welcoming teachers, always with a smile and a joke ready for me.

Pop Wuj teacher Mynor Arrivillaga, Nadia (far right) and Pop Wuj students tuck into homemade pie on an afternoon break. 
My Monday meetings with the other interns and social work students, in which Director of the Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado would introduce the projects and tasks for the week. Her tales about Guatemala, culture, history, and her work, fruits of 25 years of experience.

My afternoons out in Llanos del Pinal, building stoves with the students and my fellow interns. The families helping us mixing clay and carrying bricks, sometimes offering us delicious tamales at the end of our work. Our sunset chicken bus rides back to Xela.

Our days planting little trees together with families and children, working all together in the sun and green of Llanos, San Juan, Chirijquiac. Carrying back our empty boxes, happy about our work, joking around.

Nadia and Social Work Spanish student Caroline Palleschi came to Chirijquiac for a long morning of planting trees and distributing scholarships. The biggest challenge was hauling 150 saplings up the mountain  on foot after discovering that our minibus couldn't manage to drive up the narrow trail!
The big stove meeting, in which we received the group of 14 new stove recipients to explain the building process. Día de compra, when we went out together with the recipient families to buy and distribute all the necessary materials, building long human chains to pass on bricks and cement blocks.

My Thursday mornings in the nutrition program, giving short educational speeches after the children had been weighed, measured and checked. Enjoying my banana and my cup of Incaparina together with the mums and kids, before heading back.

My afternoons out at the Centro de Apoyo Familiar, reading books with beautiful Zulmy, crafting Father’s Day cards or running around the courtyard.

Our Thursday dinners at the school, when one of the students would cook for everyone and we would spend a fun and delicious evening all together. “Mojitos para arbolitos” Thursday, on which us interns prepared mojitos to raise money for reforestation.

Nadia rests between planing saplings in the "very healthy forest" in San Juan where we planted in early July. Having written her undergraduate thesis on reforestation , Nadia was eager not only to use her own knowledge to benefit Pop Wuj's Reforestation Program but also to listen to and learn from the experiences of local community members.
All of our awesome weekend trips, visiting coffee farms, hot springs and natural volcano saunas, ziplining, climbing volcanos. Our night hike up stunning Tajumulco, the highest volcano in Central America, and watching the sunrise from the top, tired and freezing, but happy.

Eight weeks with my absolutely gorgeous Guatemalan host family, the insanely delicious “comida típica” (tradicional food), all of their tales about Guatemala, all of our laughs, all of our game nights.
Just simply every single stroll around beautiful Xela, which in only two months has become a home away from home.

In just two months, I learned more than I can say. I gained an insight into the absolutely stunning and fascinating country that Guatemala is, and realized that despite all the problems and issues it is facing, it is home to the doubtlessly most amazing, cheerful, and genuinely friendly people I have ever met. I made so many friends and so many experiences, and I am incredibly thankful for having been able to become a part of the big great awesome amazing Pop Wuj family.

I leave Xela as a happy, sad intern, knowing I will miss everything and everyone here, and hoping I will be able to come back one day.

Chris and Nadia spent their last morning at Pop Wuj saying goodbye to teachers, students, and staff and basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.
We miss Chris and Nadia already! Chris has returned to the U.S. to pursue his master's in global affairs at Yale University, and after a few more weeks of travel, Nadia will go home to Switzerland to pursue HER master's in Comparative and International Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. We wish our brilliant interns all the best and remind them that they will always be welcome at Pop Wuj.

To learn more about Pop Wuj's long-term volunteering program, check out EntreMundos, the local nonprofit that facilitates our internships.

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