Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vamos a la Mini-Feria! Celebrating Independence Day at the Family Support Center

Text by Amy Scheuren
Photos by Marta Escobar

Thursday September 13th featured the 7th Annual Mini-Feria at the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal! It was a marvelous day full of music, dancing, a haunted house, games, and huge amounts of food.

Family Support Center staff, Pop Wuj staff, students, and volunteers, and the participants' mothers all contributed to make it a wonderful day for the children.  Every year the participants' mother prepare "fair food" including elotes locos (crazy corn on the cob).  The children played games, won prizes, and gobbled up the brightly colored cotton candy.

Family Support Center and Pop Wuj staff inaugurate the feria!

Carmencita preparing the prize table

Serving delicious fair food

Let the games begin!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Creating Positive Change

Text and Photos by Mike Salsbury, a recent Pop Wuj Spanish Social Work student

As I wind down my Spanish immersion experience at Pop Wuj, it is time to reflect even more on the eye-opening experiences I have gained and to recognize the many lessons learned on this journey to Guatemala.

There truly is something unique and special about the Pop Wuj school and the purpose of its existence. From hours long discussions with long-time instructors, whose work now ripples across borders and into communities all over the planet, to workers who are former project participants now serving in their own communities with the passion to help others, the lesson is that positive change starts and exists within us all both--as individuals and as contributing members of our communities...It is a powerful energy that thrives in such a place and that evolves from a deep sense of purpose.

I am fortunate that my employer has the vision to recommend participation in such a program. At least half of my clients will be Spanish speaking. In the past few weeks I have started a journey towards gaining improved skills towards speaking Spanish and will leave Pop Wuj with confidence that my experience in Guatemala will enhance my ability to develop a positive therapeutic relationship with those I serve as clinical supervisor of a substance use disorder treatment program.  The quality of the therapeutic relationship is shown to be the most important component of facilitating positive changes in clients as it can enhance motivation and engagement.

This experience was very positive as it allowed me an opportunity to combine my passion for social justice with my past experience as a newspaper photojournalist.

While here I had the opportunity to observe some of the social programs and take a few photographs, some of which are included here.

I’m confident I’ll be back.

View from La Victoria, one of the Nutrition Program communities 

Dr. Herman and a Pop Wuj student weigh a baby in the Nutrition Program

Little ones and family members at a Nutrition Meeting

Dr. Carmen Rosa 

Snack time at the Nutrition Program

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"Buenas Tardes" from the Family Support Center

Text by Amy Scheuren
Photos by Santos Istazuy Perez

For most of our international Pop Wuj students and volunteers, visiting the Family Support Center is one of the memorable experiences in Guatemala. Although every year brings new changes and new participants, the Family Support Center always provides nutritious food, academic support, and a safe place for children to learn, grow, and play. We’d like to share what’s new!

At the end of 2017 we said goodbye to four long-time Family Support Center participants who graduated from both primary school and the project. These students continue to receive scholarships from Pop Wuj, and Family Support Center’s staff and materials are available to support their education as needed.

In 2018 the Family Support Center is serving 30 children—a big jump from 25 the last two years!

In March we were all excited for the buildup to Semana Santa and Easter. The children made bunny masks and enjoyed an Easter egg hunt.  Each year we incorporate aspects of Easter celebrations from Guatemala and other countries around the world into our celebration. Our snack stayed on theme with a hard-boiled egg!

One activity reviewed some of the themes of Easter (clockwise from top left): resurrection, reproduction, happiness, reflection, life, fertility, and spring.
Three bunnies chow down on hard-boiled eggs at the Family Support Center Easter celebration.

With all the children in the masks they decorated, the Family Support Center was full of colorful bunnies.
More bunnies enjoy their eggs. Our snacks are on-theme!
This year we also launched Buenas Tardes activities every afternoon.  During Buenas Tardes, we gather all the children and staff in the yard to greet each other and share news about upcoming activities at the Family Support Center.  We also teach about values using games and dynamic activities.

Buenas Tardes is an opportunity not only to share with each other but also to strengthen language development. Everyone speaks Spanish in the project, but some staff also speak English and/or K'iche', the local indigenous Mayan language. Despite K'iche' being a required class in primary school, usually only older adults in the community speak it in their daily lives. At Buenas Tardes Family Support Ccenter staff introduce new words in English and K'iche' in an easy, fun, and meaningful way.

One afternoon the children played a racing game. Each pair had to use communication and teamwork skills to race with the balloon between them—and also had a great time.

Moving a balloon is harder with no hands!
Whatever its teamwork and communication-building merits, balloon racing was also a great time.
Stayed tuned for more updates from the Family Support Center.  If you'd like to support the 30 children who participate in the project, please donate to our US partner, Foundation Todos Juntos, and indicate that you would like your donation to support the Family Support Center.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tom's Visit Part 4 of 4: Education in Guatemala: 'Español con Solidaridad’

Text by Tom Kemple

Tom Kemple is a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia and a long-time friend of Pop Wuj. He and his colleague Sylvia Berryman in Philosophy have been bringing groups of students to study in Guatemala since the summer of 2010—in fact, they had a group at Pop Wuj in June!

In November and December 2016, Tom spent five weeks studying Spanish, building stoves, helping out in the clinic and Nutrition Program, and having fun at the Family Support Center. What follows is the fourth and final installment of his field notes from his trip for his research project on university field schools and study abroad programs, titled “Global Citizenship at Home and Abroad.”  We hope you enjoy Tom's stories and insights as much as we enjoyed having him back at Pop Wuj. 

One Thursday I attended Oscar’s afternoon lecture on ‘Education in Guatemala.’ He arrived at his focus on the poor state of the current school system since its beginnings in the liberal reforms of the 1870s after first laying out the factors blocking its development—cultural (instruction is in Spanish, thereby excluding most of the 79% indigenous-speaking communities); economic (the mostly rural population lives far from schools, so even basic supplies are scarce and most children must work after a few years of schooling); and political (the civil war from 1960 to 1996 left the government oligarchy unwilling to support a system that could spread critical viewpoints and new ideas through literacy and open discussion).

With the rise of ‘coffee capitalism’ in the western part of the country at the end of the 19th century, and under the influence of the United Fruit Company in the first half the 20th, the ‘liberal-fascist' government of Jorge Ubico (1931-1944) passed laws requiring men to work 140 days in the plantations and build roads and trains, often under the threat of public execution (which took place in cemeteries like the one in Xela). The so-called Guatemalan Spring of 1944-1954 not only advanced agricultural reform through the notorious ‘Decreto 900,’ but also developed a strong labour code along with a formal system of urban and rural education. The subsequent counterrevolutionary period of military rulers (1954-1986) that began with the US-orchestrated coup suspended these reforms until the post-conflict period (1996-present), when funding from the UN and World Bank and some government programs increased access to education, especially for girls, who now outnumber boys in continuing on past primary school.

Nevertheless, only about 69% of the population makes it to high school (the inflated official government statistic of 110% includes 13-25 year-olds who episodically study after primary school), and at least 28% of them are functionally illiterate (that is, only competent in certain contexts, such as signing forms or doing basic calculations).

Among the many statistics that Oscar wrote out for us on the white board was that each of the approximately 125 students who receive scholarships through Pop Wuj, from primary to high school to university (and who made so much noise at the annual assembly during my Spanish class!), receive on average 100 quetzales per month for supplies and food, tuition, and other education related expenses (about $13US). Nearly all these funds come from Spanish classes, donations from former students, and other private donors, or in other words, from gringos like me.

Oscar’s remarks about the fundamental and increasing importance of the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program reminded me of my bus ride out of Panajachel to Xela last month, when three energetic boys in their early teens, returning to Sololá after a morning swim in the lake—Manuel, Oscar, and Fausto — sat next to me, firing off a string of questions about life in Canada. I was thrilled with my ability to keep up with their Spanish, and told them how impressed I was that each of them could speak three languages fluently, including Quiché and Kakchikel. One of the first questions Fausto asked me was whether I could arrange a beca (scholarship) for him. After explaining my understanding of 'how these things work', I told him the story of his name—the young student in medieval Germany who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, wealth, and power. He smiled politely at me through his tinted glasses, and repeated his question.

Despite the poor state of the education system here, in some ways Xela does seem to live up to the extravagant dreams of its native son, Manuel Estrada Cabrera, the president from 1898 to 1920. Cabrera is sometimes compared with Castro; is considered by some to be the first of the Latin American dictators; and is often credited with establishing at least the appearance of a country dedicated to education and intellectual life. His ambitions are displayed in the beautiful Greco-Roman architecture of the Teatro Municipal, the Parque Central, and the Templo de Minerva, named in honour the goddess of wisdom: all were under construction by indigenous planners and workers during his presidency or reconstructed after the volcano eruption of 1902 and the earthquake of 1903.

El Teatro Municipal is a few blocks down from Pop Wuj on 1a Calle in Zona 1. (Photo by Harry Diaz)
In addition to the ‘colegios’ and 'institutos' (private and public high schools) that seem to be everywhere, I can hardly keep track of all the universities I’ve encountered in the past few weeks: San Carlos (the public university from which many other Pop Wuj teachers graduated); Landivar (the private university where my teacher Fredy graduated, and where scholarship student Kevin began classes in January 2017); Panamericana (another private university where a group of communications students recently made a short video about the school); and Friedrich von Hayek (a pre-university college for professional degrees where a friend of Kevin’s recently graduated) amongst others. The latter caught my attention since it’s named after the Nobel Prize winning Austrian economist whose theories of free markets, rational choice, and minimal state intervention are considered the foundations of neoliberalism. Hayek’s ideas have somehow inspired an institution featuring accelerated technical and professional training programs as the key to cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit and intellectual capacities of young people in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. When I sent a link to their website to my friend Nick in the U.K., a sociologist working on the influence of neoliberal ideas on post-war sociology, he remarked: "If there is one thing those kids don’t need it’s a dose of Hayek!” I pointed out that the lack of secure long-term public funding (as we have in Canada) means that the educational system often has to muddle through with a mixture of meager government support, private initiatives, and charity donations (such as the scholarships at Pop Wuj), with varying degrees of success and standards of quality.

Although I’ve known Oscar since first coming here in 2010, and had attended his fascinating talk on immigration and ‘the Latin American dream’ a few weeks ago, it was only toward the end of this remarkably fact-filled and politically charged lecture that I learned that he holds a doctorate. I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was not really listening to an amateur intellectual with a knack for statistics and a passion for undermining the trained ignorance and ingrained prejudices of educated gringos like me. Rather, I was engaging with a well-trained academic colleague with three jobs and an income that’s a tiny fraction of my own. As he spoke, the Pop Wuj motto began to ring through my head, 'Spanish with Solidarity,' and took on a new meaning for me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Pop Wuj Student's Take on Our Beloved Xelaju

Text and photos by Dr. Kyle Biggs
La versión en español está abajo/
Spanish translation follows the English version

Green, red, orange, yellow and blue. These are some of the colors you might marvel at when visiting a market in the Guatemalan highland city known as Xe laju’ Noj in the predominant regional language, Quiché, or more commonly, Xela. Indigenous women in this part of the county can still be seen dressed in traditional wear on any given day. Fabrics of resplendent colors flecked with gold and silver are used to hand-stitch huipiles, dresses, belts and sashes are ascetically enticing and can transport you to a lost world that we can often times only find in books and movies today. Unfortunately, these many colors can also be found on the web page of the US State Department that as of January 10th has issued a travel warning to the beautiful nation of Guatemala. 

Avenida de Adoquín, Xela, Guatemala
Cobblestone Street, Xela, Guatemala
I was stunned when I heard the news, that really at the end of the day was an issue of semantics, in which the highest level of warning a country could achieve (level 5) was wholly eliminated and Guatemala’s level or risk did not actually change (level 3). I had already spent just over 2 weeks in Xela and, providing my own personal endorsement that I consider myself an observant and conscientious traveler, the notion of personal danger had hardly registered. I had however, after a fortnight in the city that lives in the graceful gaze of the volcano Santa Maria, whose smooth, conical edges and gentle, rounded peak belie its difficult ascent (so I’m told), become cognizant of many things. 

Humor del atardecer del volcán de Santa María, Xela, Guatemala
Sunset Mood of Volcano Santa Maria, Xela Guatemala
The city of Xela is one of contrasts and culture; it is considered the ancient seat of Quiché wisdom who inhabited this region for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524. Today it is also the home to some of the most fervent soccer fans in the county who cheer on their beloved Superchivos at the local stadium, Mario Camposeco. This love of sport carries over into daily life as well when people, young and old, brave the early morning chill to sweat out the prior nights transgressions running (and walking) laps at the track of the national sports complex. While the Olympic glory of Guatemala is brief, the region is home to the speed walker Erick Barrondo who took silver in the London game of 2012, the first medal in the country’s history. 

Con destino a Xelajú! Zunil, Guatemala
Destination Xela!  Zunil, Guatemala
The city of Xela has a vibrant middle class and Sundays are reserved for recreation and respite. Families can be seen spending their leisure time strolling through the historic Central Park, snacking on sweet breads and salted fruit. Total strangers routinely wish one another a pleasant day when they pass in the street or a bon appétit when meal time arrives. While traversing the city’s narrow, cobblestone streets, the gentle beep, beep of car horns can be heard politely warning pedestrians of their approach so they’ll clear a path. This courtesy gives voice to Xela’s many automobiles and adds yet another language to the list of regional tongues spoken in Guatemala’s highlands including Mam, Cakiquel and Quiché. 

Vanji, Kyle, y un Quetzal, San Pedro, Lago de Atitlán
Vanji, Kyle, and a Quetzal, San Pedro, Lake Atitlán
Appreciated in this way, it becomes apparent that the darling city of Xelajú, where the streets are bathed in light of a silver moon (to borrow a line from the city's most popular ballad "Moon of Xelaju") is one with many faces, none of which are characterized by danger or violence. As the saying goes, if you look for trouble, you’re likely to find it. It may very well be that these perils do exist here, in Guatemala City or along the northern border with Mexico for example, but traveling to any city the world over is not without risk, and Guatemala is no exception. I can only speak from my own personal experiences during my time here and overwhelmingly, these have been defined by kindness, respect and gratitude.


Verde, rojo, azul, naranja y amarillo. Éstos son algunos de los colores que se pueden observar en la ciudad altiplano guatemalteca conocida por su nombre K'iche', Xelajú Noj. O más comúnmente, Xela. La mujer indígena de esta región se viste en tela de colores resplandecientes, muchas veces moteada de oro que da a los huipiles, cortes, cintas, fajas y tzutes el carácter de un mundo perdido, solo visitado hoy en día por libros y películas. Desafortunadamente, estos colores también se encuentran en la página de la red del Departamento de Estado de Los Estados Unidos en la cual a partir del 10 de enero declaró una alerta de viaje para el bello país de Guatemala. 

Me sorprendió bastante cuando supe de esta noticia. Que, al fin y al cabo, tiene que ver con la semántica de quitar el nivel de peligro más alto y realmente no cambió el nivel en donde se ubicó Guatemala. Yo llevaba casi dos semanas completas en la ciudad de Xela y hasta entonces, la idea de peligro ni me había cruzado la mente. La ciudad de Xela, la capital de conocimiento K’iche’. La ciudad de Xela hogar del estadio Mario Camposeco donde juega el querido equipo futbolista los Superchivos. La ciudad de Xela, donde gente tras gente se levanta a correr (o caminar) dando vueltas en la pista del Complejo Deportivo cada mañana. Unos obviamente homenajeando al olímpico Erick Barrondo que fue el primer ganador de la medalla de plata en la historia del país. La ciudad de Xela, donde se puede ver a familias completas paseándose en el Parque Central horas después del atardecer. La ciudad de Xela, donde las bocinas de los carros te hablan con un toque de cariño para que te salgas de la calle antes de su llegada. La ciudad de Xela, donde desconocidos te desean buenas tardes al pasarte en la calle o buen provecho a la hora de comer. 

Así que, se puede apreciar que nuestra amada Xelajú, donde las calles están bañadas de luna plateada (prestando una letra del segundo himno nacional: Luna de Xelajú) es una ciudad de muchas fachadas distintas, pero ninguna de ellas se expresa en forma de violencia ni peligro. Sí, tal vez existen lugares en el país, la ciudad de Guatemala o en las tierras fronterizas mexicanas por ejemplo dónde haya violencia. Pero como cualquier nación en el planeta entero, si se busca problemas, los problemas se localizan. Por mi parte, yo solo puedo compartir las experiencias que he tenido y más que nada, han sido experiencias caracterizadas por la amabilidad, el respeto y el agradecimiento.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Tom's Visit Part 3 of 4: Cultural (In)competency

Text by Tom Kemple

Tom Kemple is a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia and a long-time friend of Pop Wuj. With his colleague Sylvia Berryman in Philosophy, he has been bringing groups of students to study in Guatemala since the summer of 2010. In November and December, 2016 he spent five weeks studying Spanish, building stoves, helping out in the clinic and Nutrition Program, and having fun at the Family Support Center. What follows are some of his fieldnotes from his trip for his research project on university fieldschools and study abroad programs, titled “Global Citizenship at Home and Abroad.”  We hope you enjoy Tom's stories and insights as much as we enjoyed having him back at Pop Wuj. 

One of my aims in returning to Pop Wuj has been to learn more about the school’s largest and most complex program — Medical Spanish combined with the Clinic downstairs. So I’ve started attending the ‘Competencia Cultural’ lectures given by Roney Alvarado, one of the founders of the school in 1992 and a professor of Anthropology at nearby San Carlos University.

Many of the students who have come here with me in the past remember Roney as the brilliant ‘organic intellectual’ who challenged us through three long sweaty sessions to ask a simple question: "Why am I here?” As students often say in pre-program interviews, they’re here for the courses and the credit, with some adventure and new experiences thrown in as an added bonus. Like the three medical students sitting with me the other day, my passage here has mostly been paid out of someone else’s pocket – my university’s Arts Research Abroad fund or a Research Stipend. For Roney, the question “why am I here?” cannot be reduced to the commercial service provided by the school, and so he invites us to think about the meaning and value of volunteer work. As he explained in our first session, the Pop Wuj philosophy turns the practice of other language schools on its head: rather than take a percentage of tuition fees and invest them into development projects undertaken by other organizations, Pop Wuj coordinates its own social and medical projects by offering services for fees (Spanish classes) that finance those projects. For that reason, it’s often impossible to fix an exact monetary relationship between tuition paid and projects delivered, as one would in a financial report.

The money we pay for classes and the muscle we put into volunteering are not simply economic resources but also ethical expressions of our social solidarity with the people and projects that are the heart and soul of this organization.

Although this is my fourth time attending Roney's lectures, he always seems to find new ways of connecting my personal experiences with larger questions about capitalism and colonialism. Listening to him shatters my assumptions about the place of intellectuals in the world, and undermines many of the liberal-philanthropic impulses that I bring with me here.

Roney Alvarado discusses the Safe Stove and Reforestation projects with families from Llanos del Pinal
After Tuesday's cultural competency session, he came by to chat and noticed the book I was reading. The book was by Irma Alicia Valáquez Nimatuj, an indigenous woman who grew up who grew up in a middle class family in Xela, and has the daunting title La Pequeña Burguesía Indïgena Commercial de Guatemala: Desigualdades de Clasa, Raza y Genero (The Indigenous and Commercial Petit Bourgeoisie of Guatemala: Inequalities of Class, Race and Gender). He told me he appreciated the rich descriptions of everyday life in Velásquez’s study, but thought she sometimes used rigid racial categories without reflecting critically on them. In particular, he argued, the social meanings of ‘Mestizo, Criollo, Ladino, and Indigenous’ change in various contexts, each taking on distinctive significance according to the historical and cultural complexities of Guatemala.

When I asked him to say a bit more, he elaborated on the meaning of ‘Ladino,’ the racial group that he himself identifies with and that is often the target of stereotypes. Roney pointed out that the term in colonial times referred to baptized or Hispaniciazed Indians, although later came to have class connotations that included poor non-indigenous peasants and urban workers. As I’ve been reading in other books, Ladino in Guatemala is different from what in Mexico or Nicaragua is referred to as Mestizo, which is understood more as a self-consciously ‘mixed’ (European and indigenous) identity. As Roney stressed, the process of so-called ‘ladinoized’ identity-formation cuts in many directions, and cannot refer only to the ‘Europeanization’ of rising economic classes or political elites, since it is also evident in many other alliances of solidarity between social groups, and in movements toward ‘indigenization’ as well.

I have noted some of these cross-currents here at the school, beginning with its Mayan name, and in the commitment of both ‘Ladino’ and self-identified ‘indigenous’ teachers to work with poor indigenous communities. I also found Roney’s remarks helpful in understanding the coffee finca near Reu which our group has visited on previous trips, where the poverty so evident among Ladino peasants is in many ways similar to the conditions of indigenous communities such as Llano del Pinal.

In that morning’s lecture Roney placed a lot of emphasis on commonplace stereotypes of the culturally incompetent ‘do-gooding gringo,’ often with a touch of anger and cynicism, but always with good humour and penetrating insight. He pointed out that the families who come to the clinic or who benefit from the social projects often hold many of these same stereotypes, as do some of the Guatemalan doctors, and for that reason he holds cultural competency discussions with them as well (see the photo above of the Safe Stove group meeting).  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tom's Visit, Part 2 of 4: Classrooms Off Campus

Text by Tom Kemple

Tom Kemple is a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia and a long-term friend of Pop Wuj. With his colleague Sylvia Berryman in Philosophy, he has been bringing groups of students to study in Guatemala since the summer of 2010. In November and December of 2017 he spent five weeks studying Spanish, building stoves, helping out in the Pop Wuj Clinic and Nutrition Program, and having fun at the Family Support Center. What follows are some writings from his trip created in the course of his research project on university fieldschools and study abroad programs, titled “Global Citizenship at Home and Abroad.” We hope you enjoy Tom's stories and insights as much as we enjoyed having him back at Pop Wuj.

My daily rhythms give me a certain confidence and security in being here: Isabel and the Mayan Cosmovision symbol behind her greet me as I enter the school; I immerse myself in Spanish classes every day; watch a film in the evening (“Men With Guns” and “Ixcanul: The Volcano” are well worth it); attend Luis’s roundtable on justice for indigenous people; help out in buying and delivering materials for safe stoves; attend a birthday party at the Family Support Center; help make a fruit salad for our weekly Thursday dinner; or go on a long weekend hike to Lake Chicabal with Alberto and some other students. 

Pop Wuj Entryway

I am slowly getting used to the confusions and irritating inconveniences at my homestay as well: the door to the bedroom only closes after a struggle; the electric heating unit in the shower seems permanently set to tepid, and always hits me in the head; and my housemate and I were locked out of the bathroom for several days when I closed the door behind me. The two-block walk to and from school is an obstacle course of broken sidewalks, dog doo, and unpredictable traffic, which is especially hazardous in the dark.

As I learn to modify my ordinary assumptions and everyday habits, I also come to understand something about myself as a citizen of a supposedly more developed and civilized world. Everyday I have to unlearn things that had always seemed normal and natural to me, and I retrain myself to see my habits and assumptions as products of a long history that I otherwise take for granted.

As many of the students we’ve brought here have said over the years, Pop Wuj’s Safe Stove Project in the poor indigenous village of Llano del Pinal just outside of town is among the most challenging and moving experiences one can have in a lifetime. I spent last Tuesday (election day in the U.S.) helping Carmelina, Benedicto, and another student, Alison, to sift, measure, and mix sand, cement and water for the last of the three stages involved in building a ‘safe stove’ (estufa segura).

A Completed Safe Stove

Doña Maria, the old woman in the blue blouse in the photo, is almost blind from cooking over an open fire over a lifetime in this tiny shack, which I could hardly bear being in for more than 10 minutes at a time (and I live with a chain smoker!). As my Spanish teacher Gerson pointed out to me, the main incentive for people like Doña Maria in having a stove built is the economic saving rather than the health or environmental benefits: 5-6 bags of firewood per month at 30 Quetzales each (about $4US) can be reduced to 3-4 bags with the new stove.

These savings seem to be offset by the large concrete house which is also being built on the plot, presumably from remittances in US dollars sent by relatives working in the States. Despite these improvements, Doña Maria tells us she plans to continue cooking in the shack and living in the wood and straw hut located just behind it.

The afternoon unfolded without a hitch, with our leader Carmelina, who lives in this community (and who took the photo of us), giving us very clear instructions, all the while chatting in K'iché and Spanish with Doña Maria and some neighbors who stopped by.

The next day Carmelina led me, Mynor, Elizabeth, and Carmen, along with 14 members from the families who would be receiving stoves in the coming months, to buy and distribute the stove materials. This time things did not come off so smoothly: the hardware store opened late; we had a hard time organizing a human chain to get 800 bricks loaded onto our truck at the factory; the store that supplied the cement was no longer there; the people delivering the blocks seemed to be lost for the first couple hours; and the caravan of trucks could only barely maneuver in and out of the narrow dirt roads of the village.

Each of these expenditures of muscle and money made me think about the meaning and value we might take from coordinating our efforts for a task that each of us benefits from differently. Or as the sociologist in me would put it, the day reminded me how the material division of labour is infused with a moral spirit of solidarity that each of us experiences in our own way.