Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Celebrating Education at the Scholarship Assembly

Text by Elizabeth Barnes and photos by Lily Bodinson

The Pop Wuj Scholarship Program is our oldest and biggest project. Founders recruited the first scholarship recipients 25 years ago, a few weeks before Pop Wuj Spanish School opened!

But the Scholarship Program also maybe the least visible of our projects, as typically only interns or students in the Social Work Spanish Program volunteer at monthly meetings. Also, investment in education is a longer-term project. We wait longer to see results than in, say, the Safe Stove Project.

Once a year, we dedicate a day to spotlighting the Scholarship Program and celebrating student achievement. In 2016 we invited all 122 students and their families to the school for our Scholarship Assembly on November 30.

We try to accomplish a lot—checking everyone's health, writing letters, recognizing students, taking photos, and gathering updates.

Scholarship students wait in line outside the Pop Wuj Clinic.
First each student checked in at the clinic, where Medical Spanish Program student volunteers did a quick height/weight check. Anyone needing further medical attention also saw a doctor.

Medical Spanish Program students Lauren and Terry take a brief history with a family.
Upstairs, students started at the letter table to write notes to their padrinos y madrinas (sponsors).

Busy with letters!

 When all the students had passed through the clinic, everyone convened for a ceremony.

Roney Alvarado Gamarro, Director of the Medical Program at Pop Wuj, opens the ceremony by welcoming the students and their families. Family Support Center participant Yadira (bottom right) was not the most attentive.
The ceremony celebrated the hard work of all our Scholarship Program students. But we set aside time to recognize those who have now completed primary school (8 students), middle school (9), high school (9), or a post-secondary program (1—Dinora).
Dinora completed her program to be a nurse's assistant this December. We are so proud! You can read more about her accomplishments and Pop Wuj's other post-secondary students (including her brother Gustavo) in the last issue of Solidaridad, the Pop Wuj and Foundation Todos Juntos newsletter.

Ceremony over, we broke out tamales! (None of which lasted long enough to make it into a photo.)

All day the school was bursting at the seams with people. Amid the chaos, our photographer Lily and visiting volunteer Amy Scheuren rounded up students to take photos on the roof. (Amy is a former Pop Wuj Student Coordinator and current president of Foundation Todos Juntos. We were delighted to have her back for a week!)

Everyone who completed primary school! 
Finally, before leaving, at least one representative from each family checked in with Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado to receive the year's last scholarship payment, discuss any problems, and share plans for 2017. Scholarship sponsors will get the latest news in an update from Amy soon.

Even though the Scholarship Assembly arguably makes for the most jam-packed, hectic day of the year, it's also a highlight for staff and volunteers. It's a chance to see all of our awesome students and their families and celebrate victories after their hard work!

Letters done? Yessica and Erick break out Pop Wuj's guitar. Erick graduated from high school this year!
Astrid and her son Emmanuel pose on the roof. His dad, Gustavo, is a university student. (Gustavo is also featured in Solidaridad!) Emmanuel is a Family Support Center participant and will start school in 2017.
¡Felices fiestas a todos! Happy holidays, everyone! Nos vemos en 2017.

Have you checked out the fall / winter issue of Solidaridad, with news from Asociación Pop Wuj and Foundation Todos Juntos? Read it online and subscribe to receive the next edition by email!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Cakes & Races: School Vacation at the FSC (Part III)

Text and birthday photos by Elizabeth Barnes
Olympics photos by Pop Wuj teacher Gerson Yax (unless otherwise noted)

Today we're wrapping up a series of blog posts showing off recent events at Family Support Center. The participants are all on school vacation, and we've celebrated with special activities.

On November 10, we threw 2016's final birthday party!

Family Support Center Director Shaaron Hurtado leads everyone in applause for one of our birthday girls, Jessica. She turned 5 this year. We celebrate groups of birthdays, so this party featured everyone born between September and December.
After completing primary school, students graduate out of the FSC. (They do continue receiving support through Pop Wuj's Scholarship Program, and we invite graduates to join us for certain events like baking pumpkin pie for the Halloween party, the Olympics, and other fun days.)

This year we have a sixth grader, Maria, who just turned 15. The Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado decided to honor her and Luisa, another FSC participant and scholarship recipient who turned 15. Quinceñaras (girls who turn 15) traditionally have special celebrations on that birthday to mark their transition into womanhood. (We emphasized that there's no rush to stop being kids!)

Carmen opened with a brief speech of congratulations and invited Doña Delfina, Luisa's grandmother and the FSC cook, to share some advice with Maria and Luisa. Then the girls held a mini dance.

Luisa and Maria have their quinceñara dance. Although our celebration wasn't fancy, we hope that upholding these traditions helped Maria and Lusa know how much they are loved at the project.
The younger children waited patiently for the more "grown-up" portion of the party to wrap up. When Maria and Luisa's dance song ended, it was time for piñatas!

At 3 years old, Andrea was our youngest birthday kid at this party. She couldn't be coaxed into having the first shot at the piñata, but after watching some older peers take their turns she changed her mind and went for it!
Shaaron ties Luisa's bandanna. Older kids hit the piñata with their eyes covered!
Once the ground had been picked clean of every last piece of candy and peanut from our two piñatas, we brought out the cakes.

Carmen and Shaaron light the candles.
Returning Pop Wuj student Alison generously baked those two cakes from scratch, frosted and decorated them, and had them completely ready to go by Thursday morning. She not only saved us time spent baking them or money spent buying them, but also produced the year's most delicious birthday cakes!

Angel and Samuel dig into their cake.
Brenda, Ilcy, and Norma enjoy the party! 
We're proud of all the Family Support Center participants and how they've grown this year.

Next up: On November 17, we held the Olympics! We rent a hotel's well-tended, enclosed soccer field in Llanos del Pinal for our games. First, in two groups, the participants presented their gimnasio (synchronized fitness dance routines).
Ilcy and Norma can't stop grinning at each other. Because they are in sixth grade, sisters Maria and Norma were leaders of the two gimnasio teams.
Gimnasio triumphantly executed, we divided everyone into four teams—yellow, blue, green, and red. 

I can say with absolutely no bias that Equipo Rojo was the best.
Our first Olympic event was a sack race!

Samuel tears toward the finish line. The sack race was a relay, so on his return Damaris took off in her sack.
Next we lined up with jump ropes for an over/under, jumping/rolling relay race.

Julio vaults over Daniela's jump rope as Equipo Azul looks on.
Jessica runs back to the starting line to tag the next member of her team.
We took a water, oranges, and tamales break (mostly so that participating adults could catch their breath) and started blowing up balloons for the next event. The object of this game is to pop everyone else's balloon without having the balloon around your own ankle popped.

Lesly charges forth! She graduated out of the project last year but came back to represent Team Blue.
You can't catch Evelyn!
After that—guerra de globos! Balloon war!

Photographer Gerson couldn't get too close to the carnage for his own safety/dryness.
Once everyone was wet—¡fútbol!

Long-time friend of Pop Wuj Tom and Family Support Center graduate Angélica sportingly play for Equipo Verde.
Afterward, sweaty and breathless, everyone reconvened in the shade to hear the winners announced. Team captains went up to have their points tallied. Equipo Azul took first place!

Pop Wuj student Will and his teammates put on their medals.
Equipo Amarillo came in second place!

Team captain Maria calls her players forward to be honored as FSC teacher Lidia untangles medals.
Equipos Verde and Rojo got stickers that said, "You're Dynamite!" which are better than some silly medal anyway. I'ts not like Equipo Rojo even wanted to win. (As a certain Student Coordinator privately sulked, Shaaron spoke with the kids about the importance of good sportsmanship.)

Along with the FSC participants, Pop Wuj staff and volunteers have had so much fun at all these activities. We have the Christmas party next week before the project closes for 2016, and we plan to make the most of that time!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bites & Frights: School Vacation at the FSC (Part II)

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes (unless otherwise noted)

Last week we started a blog series on the activities we've held in the last month or so at the Family Support Center. Today is the last regular day of the project for 2016. As the kids are enjoying a water balloon fight and afternoon movie in Llanos del Pinal, we're looking back on one of the funnest days of school vacation: Halloween!

Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado invited some helpers to Pop Wuj on the morning of October 28 to prepare pumpkin pie for the Halloween party. Older students who aged out of the Family Support Center came from Llanos del Pinal (no easy feat given that unexpectedly, no buses were running that day!), and long-time Pop Wuj volunteer Ashley Aue brought participants from her  new project, Pathways, serving adults with developmental disabilities in Xela.

We used every part of the pumpkin—the seeds for roasting, the insides for pie, and the shells for jack o'lanterns! (Photo by Marie Barranco, Pop Wuj Social Work Spanish student)
Carmen and our bakers roll out dough for pie crust! The pies turned out absolutely delicious, but they didn't last long enough to be properly documented by our photographers. (Photo by Marie Barranco)
That afternoon, with dozens of pies of all sizes baked, we packed up in a hastily rented minibus to head out to the FSC Halloween party.

First we helped everyone get into their costumes. We had a huge jumble of witches, pirates, zombies, princesses, Spider-Men, vampires, a Little Red Riding Hood, and a butterfly. (Participating adults were a bat, a pirate, and a soccer witch in a jersey and spooky shawl.)

Trying to get everyone to keep their costume on, hold still, not show off their karate kicks, look at the camera, and smile at the same time proved to be the scariest part of Halloween.
Costumes on, we gathered in the party room to tell scary stories.

The room was lit only by jack o'lanterns.
Spooky jack o'lantern light completes Ilcy's witch look.
The kids and Carmen took turns telling scary stories. In Carmen's tale, dogs howled as the dead walked past. She asked the kids over and over, "What did the dogs do?" and over and over, they howled.

Stories told, we turned the lights back on, had pumpkin pie, and set up trick-or-treating. Kids approached Pop Wuj students in pairs to say either "Trick or Treat!" or "¡Dulce o Truco!"

Wilson and Manuel choose from mini Halloween notebooks offered by Pop Wuj Medical Spanish student Katrina. Another student, Will, handed out candy at the next trick-or-treating station.
Halloween is always a blast. After our party on Friday the 28th, the FSC had a few days of vacation for the children to celebrate Día de los Muertos (or Día de Todos los Santos) with their families. Check out our next blog post to see what they've been up to since then!

"Can you smile, Andrea?"