Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Hasta Luego," not "Adios"

Text by Emily Rempel and photos as noted

General Projects Coordinator Emily Rempel  finished her 3 months of intensive volunteering at Pop Wuj on May 5.

How does one properly reflect on a life-changing, four-month-long experience in one single blog post? It simply doesn’t seem possible.

I arrived in Xela the evening of Saturday, January 7th and to be honest, I was terrified. The sun had already gone down, my terrible sense of direction was failing me completely, and I had spent the day subsisting on the few remaining power bars that I had in my backpack. Looking back on the “what the heck am I doing here” messages I had sent to my mom (like the proper almost 23-year-old adult I am), I can’t help but laugh and be completely amazed by how much has happened since then and how much I’ve experienced.

During my time at Asociación Pop Wuj I helped build numerous stoves, I interviewed families for our current group of stove recipients, I got to see our “compra” day where we bought and delivered enough materials for some 11 stoves. I listened to Carmelina, our stove boss, explain to every group of volunteers just how big of an impact our safe stove project has on the families of Llanos del Pinal, Xecaracoj, etc. I was welcomed into the homes of so many families.

Carmelina and I on my last day of stove building (Photo by student volunteer)
I also got to participate in all of our medical projects, which is a life experience I never expected to have. I got to help measure and weigh babies in our Nutrition Prgoram and learned all about the different supplements we use to help combat varying degrees of malnutrition. Through my own research for the blog, I also learned way more about the pervasive problem of malnutrition in Guatemala, how it self-perpetuates and is compounded by intersecting social, political and institutional oppressions. I spent a week working in the medical brigade with Pop Wuj and Timmy Global Health and learned the Spanish names of countless medications that I had never even heard of in English. I helped translate during triage in our Pop Wuj cCc, so that our medical volunteers could provide the high level of care that Pop Wuj promises.

A favourite photo from a Nutrition day in La Victoria (Photo by Emily Rempel)
I also spent a lot of time working in our Scholarship Program and Family Support Center, two projects that focus on providing opportunities for education. Meetings in our Scholarship Program always amaze me. First, every participant there (usually mothers of scholarship recipients) greets us and welcomes us to their community. Then, we discuss the progress of our becados (scholarship students), challenges faced in school and at home, so that the educational journey of each of our becados is something shared and supported by the entire group. At my last scholarship meeting, with our group from Chirijquiac, we also discussed human rights: what are our human rights, examples of how human rights are being denied, and the barriers that exist in demanding our rights. The scholarship meetings always remind me that it is the participants in our projects, usually women, who are leading the struggle for human rights. It’s been an honour to work with Pop Wuj in helping to support this struggle.

My last meeting with the scholarship group from Chirijquiac (Photo by Carmen de Alvarado)
By far the most fun part of my internship was my afternoons at the Family Support Center. The kids there are just SO GREAT. Each one is so full of energy, so full of kindness, so full of potential. The FSC is a vital part of the community of Llanos del Pinal. It provides a safe place for these wonderful children to be nurtured, to explore, to grow. Saying goodbye to the kiddoes there was incredibly hard, but I look forward to following their growth through future posts on this blog - like this one!

All smiles with Rosemari and Yadira (Photo by Emily Rempel)

Packed into our casita with the pequeños, Yosvin, Daniel, Emmanuel, Yadira, Andrea, and Daniela (Photo by Ashley Aue)
Yadira and Daniela running circles around me (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)

Pop Wuj is a labour of love. It’s a project of passion. It’s sustained through constant, non-stop work. In a country marked with institutional weakness, pervasive corruption, that continues to be robbed of its resources, that has been, and continues to be, so thoroughly affected by colonialism, it’s grassroots organizations like Pop Wuj that help realize the human rights of the most marginalized Guatemalans. The opportunity to be a part of this human rights work has been, by far, the best thing that I have ever done in my life. I am eternally grateful for my time here and look forward to supporting Pop Wuj from afar, in whatever way I can. A Pop Wuj - gracias y nos vemos otra vez.

Emily's internship at Pop Wuj was the final requirement for her Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights at the University of Winnipeg, and she graduates this semester. ¡Gracias por todo, Emily, y que te vayas bien!

You can read more blog posts written by Emily or spotlighting her by clicking here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

El Día de la Madre 2017

Text and photos by Elizabeth Barnes

May 10 is el Día de la Madre in Guatemala. The annual Día de la Madre celebration at the Family Support Center always requires lots of forethought and preparation.

Director of the Family Support Center Shaaron Hurtado welcomes everyone to the Día de la Madre event. This year seven students from Butler University who will be participating in a Timmy Global Health brigade attended.
This year our FSC staff had to set up the new site for the festivities with the possibility of early rainy season showers. Our chef, Kevin, had to cook a special dinner for more than a dozen extra people. The teachers planned mini competitions for the mothers to be interspersed throughout the Día de la Madre presentations by the kids.

The most challenging competition requires mothers to beat an egg into a foam so thick that it stays in the bowl when you turn it upside down! Doña Silvia (fourth from right) won the competition. She is the afternoon teacher of the youngest kids at the Family Support Center and the mother of Santos, teacher of the middle group of kids (third from right).
Most importantly, the FSC kids had to make gifts for their moms and learn choreography for Mother’s Day performances.

The girls of the oldest class kicked off the dances with marimba music they'd chosen themselves.
Later they'd return to the stage for a Top 40 hit: "Despacito."
The boys of the oldest class incorporated some classic 90s boy band moves into their routine.
Some dancers in the youngest group favored a more improvisational style.
Santos's class of the youngest school-age kids started with a cowboy-themed number.
After a costume change, they reappeared for their own dance to typical Guatemalan marimba music.
The last pair of dancers, Jonathan and Zulmy, exit the stage. In the tradition of proud moms with cameras everywhere, Zulmy's mom Doña Sofia was up front to capture the moment!
Pop Wuj collaborates with dozens of mothers who continually advocate for the health, education, and wellbeing of their families. We couldn’t work with the children at the Family Support Center without their parents’ active participation, and we’re proud to count many women in Llanos del Pinal among our partners. ¡Feliz día de la madre!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

¡Nos vemos, Pop Wuj!

Text by Mary Gramiak and photos as noted

Environmental Projects Coordinator Mary Gramiak finished her 3 months of intensive volunteering at Pop Wuj on April 7.

 General Projects Coordinator Emily Rempel and Mary celebrate a successful day of stove construction! You can read more about their experience flying solo here. (Photo by Señor Sales, Safe Stove Project participant)
Three months of laughs later, and the time has come for me to say goodbye to Pop Wuj. 

Interning as Environmental Projects Coordinator with Pop Wuj has been such a wild ride. From stove construction to translating in the clinics, from scholarship meetings to Timmy brigades, these three months offered an opportunity to test skills I didn’t even know I had.

Mary carefully negotiates moving one of the Family Support Center's cabinets alongside Pop Wuj students and Director of the Medical Program Roney Alvarado. You can read more about moving the FSC here. (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
Mary helps sort recycyling to be weighed at the private recycling center outside Salcajá in March. You can read a little more about recent recycling work here. (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
While I focused on safe stoves, something which was awesome about Pop Wuj was the diversity of projects I was able to lend a hand in. Working with the clinics was a personal favorite. Whether it was translating consults, helping out in pharmacy, or weighing babies with Dr. Herman, there was always something new to be done.

Mary helps sort recycyling to be weighed at the private recycling center outside Salcajá in March. You can read a little more about recent recycling work here. (Photo by Elizabeth Barnes)
Above all, working in the communities around Xela was the most rewarding part of the internship. While three months isn’t an exceptionally long time, it was long enough to get to know some of the women, children, and families, who participate in the programs. After a couple weeks, faces in Xecaracoj and Llanos del Pinal started to look a lot more familiar, and we were regularly greeted with kisses on the cheek.

Mary leads a Nutrition Program presentation about indoor air pollution in Llanos del Pinal in January a couple weeks after starting her internship. You can read more about Mary's experience with this presentation here. (Photo by Elise Lynch)
What really struck me was how easy I settled in at Pop Wuj and in Xela. Even the chicken bus felt totally normal after a couple of rides, and I had to remind myself when we had volunteers that this was a totally new experience for them. That feeling of comfort and normality, even in an environment which is so different than what I was accustomed to, is completely attributable to the community which Pop Wuj has built, and I will miss it very much. 

So thank you Pop Wuj and thank you Xela! You will always have a very special place in my heart and I am so grateful for the time we were able to spend together.

Mary hefts a bag of clay into a Safe Stove Project paricipant's home. You can read about our Safe Stove Project "compra," or materials shopping and delivery day, here. (Photo by Emily Rempel)
Mary has returned to Canada to complete her Bachelor of Arts Honours in Global Politics at Carleton University. ¡Te deseamos todo lo mejor, Mary! Que te vayas bien.

You can read more blog posts written by Mary or spotlighting her by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fiesta at the FSC

Text and photos by Emily Rempel

On Thursday, April 27 we threw a birthday party for all of the Family Support Center participants who had birthdays between January and April of this year. We had 7 birthday kids for this party: Arturo (13), Jonathan (8), Ingrid (10), Zulmy (8), Moises (7), Brandon (7), and Miguel Angel (11). To celebrate, we brought two piñatas (one for the bigger kids and one for the littler kids), party favours, presents for the birthday kids, and two cakes. The party started off with the piñata for our youngest group of kids!

Yadira and Daniela giving Mario a farewell hug before the piñata fun begins! 
Luis takes a hard swing ... 
...and breaks the stick!
The pequeños scrambling to collect their candy
Rosemeri shows off her loot!
Brandon and Carlos scored big!
Once the candy from the first piñata had all been scooped up by the kids, we strung up the second piñata for our older kids!

Birthday girl Ingrid takes her turn
It's a swing and a miss for Arturo!
Damaris getting ready to take her first swing 
Evelyn shows Mario some muscle!
Sisters Damaris and Zulmy pack up their candy  
After the excitement of the piñatas, we all went inside for presents and cake. First we handed out the party favours; each kid got a little backpack with a couple of treats, a sticker set, and a fun eraser.

Handing out the party favours
Then it was time for cake! Carmen led us all in a round of "Happy Birthday" before the birthday kids blew out their candles and everyone dug into their pieces of cake.

Carmen leads the group in singing "Happy Birthday"

Daniel is too busy enjoying his cake to care about the icing all over his chin!

Yadira follows Daniel's example and doesn't worry about the icing on her eyebrow
Daniel's smile says it all - the party was a sugar-filled blast! Our Family Support Center kids are truly the most wonderful young people. It's so special and so important to celebrate each and every one of them by marking their birthdays with a fiesta. We can't wait until next time, when we celebrate the May to August birthdays!

Daniel's all smiles