Bicycle powered coffee depulping machine
Woman selling home made lotionsI thought I would just give a brief description of several of the experiences I have had while here, in order to give people an idea of the huge variety of learning opportunities available on the trip. I will headline them, so you can skim through and read the parts that interest you.
Reconstructing homes after tropical storm Agatha; starting home enterprises
While in Antigua early on, we hooked up with Franklin from As Green As It Gets in a small village a few miles out of the city. We were able to visit people in their homes who have received help from that organization, seeing the cement block construction of one family's home, the small home businesses several young people were getting started (hand creams and lotions made from shade tree products from the coffee fields, totes made out of burlap coffee bags, apprenticing to learn construction work, handmade aprons and herbal teas in paper boxes, and lip balm). It was really heartwarming to hear the young people present their products to us and see how empowered they seemed to feel. We asked lots of questions, and bought some of their products before we left. Being able to talk a little with their families and get an up-close look at their homes and lifestyle was really special.
Making tortillas with Rosa
Here in Santiago we visited Rosa and Francisco's home and 'tienda', with their son and son-in-law's mechanic shop next door. Up on the third floor/rooftop, Rosa was making tortillas. She explained the ingredients and process to us, told us about the ways she sells and uses them each day, and let us all give it a try (and a taste). The smokey stove was an issue for our eyes and lungs, even with all the fresh air around up there, so you can imagine what a problem it must be within smaller, more enclosed rooms. Later we all crammed into one of the pick-ups that serve as cheap taxis, along with what already looked like quite a lot of people to us. As Rosa said when she saw our surprise at riding for that long so squeezed together, "Haci la vida aqui"--this is life here). We rode out to a piece of land Farmer to Farmer purchased for the cooperative. We hiked quite a way up through other people's coffee farms, until we came to an extremely rocky slope with what was left of the corn stalks already harvested. There is still part of that land unplanted, because it takes so much time and labor to clear the rocks, and they have to pay members of the cooperative to do that strenuous work, labor which also keeps them away from their usual daily work. The acre or two of land is typical of what's available, and yet quite expensive. This year the crop was mostly ruined by extremely heavy rains. (Lake Atitlan is between two and three meters above normal, and you can see the mudslide areas in stripes down the mountainsides.) At the meeting during which we gave out scholarships the day before, they showed us the two bags of rather poor ears of corn they will share--the total harvest from that piece of land this year. Brenda (speaking in Spanish) and Paul did a nice job of presenting the scholarships at that meeting, with clerical help from Hannah! Matt and Zach have been excellent translators/interpretors, so both parties are able to catch a lot more of the subtle details of the conversations. The fondness these people have for Jody specifically, and for Farmer to Farmer in general, was obvious. Students who were able to be there ranged from a 5 yr. old little boy to a young woman in law school. They all seemed really pleased to receive the scholarship envelopes. After the meeting we went to the weavers workshop and store, and bought some of their work. Some of you reading this, may be the beneficiaries of these shopping sprees! (note to friends and family of Amy: she gets the prize! Amy finds something wonderful to buy everywhere we go, sometimes feels bad about trying to get a lower price, and is really happy to spend her money helping these people make a living.)
Learning about other projects
One day while here in Santiago, we went to ADISA, a workshop for physically and mentally disabled people. It is run by an association of parents and friends of people with disabilities. We were all impressed with what they were doing with such limited resources. The director of the program showed us around and we saw how each person was completing a step in making the products they sell. We were glad to purchase the bowls and other things they make from recycled newspapers. Amy asked the client who took us into their showroom, if any of the pieces available for sale were made by him. He replied, "we all make them all--everyone has a part to do." Hayley was especially interested, as she also works with disabled people--she returned the next day to get more!
Down the road from our Pasada is a children's library, and (started just this week!) a preschool for local children, started and overseen by Amanda Flayer, with Mayan women employed as the head librarian, traveling librarian to area schools, and teacher. Amanda and I (Margee) are planning to meet, in hopes that I can offer some tips and share ideas from my many years of preschool and child care work. She is really trying to 'do preschool' in a creative, less structured way than what people here would more typically think of as schooling. Since preschool is not very common anyway, it is all a new idea to parents, but Amanda says they seem to be reacting positively. The library is important as a support to the education of the Mayan children, since they do not have books at home or opportunities to read outsideof school. There are resources for 'investigation' (research), as well as the school text books available for the kids. Another set of shelves has story books, concept books, and children's literature. They have 'baby and mom' activity times scheduled weekly, and the space is available for community use too. Donations of Spanish books and books with both Spanish and English would be really useful to them, as would any arts and crafts materials. I'm thinking it might be a great opportunity for individual school classes, child care centers, or local libraries to take on as a service learning project!
We briefly visited the hospital here, and received an email update from their volunteer fundraiser, letting us know how much they still need additional help. For example, they have 40 cleft palate reconstruction surgeries scheduled for May, and need to get the in-patient area, where those surguries will occur, completed by then. To find out more, their website is http://www.hospitalitoatitlan.org/. Several people we talked with shared their excitement over the opening of the Hospitalito at the end of November. Farmer to Farmer has been donating to them in the past, but currently does not have the capacity to continue that support. Please consider donating individually with a note specifying that cause, if you are intersted.
We may still fit in a visit to an elder care program. It's a day program where elders can come during the day to receive a good meal, some company, and a little extra care. Many older people without families live alone, and others must be left alone, while their families are off working--a problem we have in the United States as well, of course, but the living circumstances are more severe for these people.
San Lucas Toliman
Paul already told you about the tour of the various projects at San Lucas. I was especially impressed with the way the man in charge of the reforestation project spoke. He was a natural poet--his deep love for his work and for the earth just poured from his entire being! Casey was at San Lucas as a volunteer for a few months a couple of years ago, and it was nice to get more detailed explanations from him as we toured. Father Greg has been there for over 40 years, and his efforts have clearly had quite an impact. He saved many lives during the 'time of terror', and somehow survived that period himself! He is very intent on making sure all of these projects are led by Mayans and that the mission serves the people through Mayan decisions. Only three 'gringos' were currently on staff, although groups come to visit and learn regularly. One thing Paul did not mention in his earlier blog, is that young adolescents, who otherwise are on the street trying to get money anyway they can, have been allowed to come work at the mission to help feed their families. Using hand tools, they learn some basic skills, and often keep coming for years and years. The building that stores the coffee there, was actually built by this group of youths, and had already been expanded from the time Casey was there (sometimes working alongside them). San Lucas also has beehives and produces honey, but that building was already closed for the day by the time we got there.
Thank you, Jody!
Just want to say that it is really generous of Jody to give so much time and energy to these trips. We have experiences one would not get as a simple tourist, and she works really hard to help individuals see the things that interest them. She has more energy than I do, that's for sure! The ongoing relationships that she maintains with such sincere joy and compassion probably do as much good as our Farmer to Farmer funds from afar. She is a great ambassador for us!