Monday, September 12, 2016

New Villages: Day 2,222

Our waiting list is currently at five.  That's not five families, that's five communities, and there are more who would probably be interested in joining if they were aware we existed...and there are probably more who I would present it to if I knew they existed.  So, while I've been adamant about adding no more than one new community per year, I'm thinking about maybe adding two in 2017.

The main reason why I've been interested in only adding one is quite simple: it takes time and energy to build a relationship with a new community.  Trust is not something easily built in this country.  Their government says they will change things for the poor, but no change ever comes.  Foreigners come and then go back to their country, forgetting all about the people they've met.  So, when I say that I am going to do something, they don't believe me.  It puts an emotional strain on a person as I struggle to learn names and familial connections in an effort to prove to these people that I am who I say I am.  Currently, Educacion con Esperanza serves 11 families with 24 children in school, but because we work for the economy of the entire family, it can be said that we serve 80 people, half of those either in school or pre-school.  But let's stop with those numbers for now because I don't want any of them to become just a number.

However, numbers are the other reason why I've hesitated to add even one more community.  This sort of work takes money, and I haven't started a 501c3 (NGO).  Why?  Well, because I don't know how to.  And I read things online and it says to fill out this form or that form and, quite frankly, it all sounds really difficult to do from here and really time-consuming to do from there.  But I did some number running the other day.  To support the village where I'm working right now, I require $3,000/year.  Yes, that's food, school supplies, and bills for 80 people.  (That's only $250/month.)  Obviously, that can vary based on the enthusiasm of the students for their studies, and the bulk of that is needed in January when the school year starts.  However, after doing that math, I felt a lot better about adding one community this coming year...and then I felt a lot better about adding two communities this coming year.

Do you have $10 you could spare per month?  Do you have 24 friends who could spare $10 per month as well?  You could adopt a community.  You could make life better for about 80 people.  You could send about 24 students to school.  Be on the lookout later this month for an online campaign to raise the money to send a community to school.  Or, if you prefer a paper version, I can get you the address of my sending church and you can mail them a check.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

These are a Few of my Least Favorite Things: Day 2,217

So, I headed out to Solola on Thursday afternoon.  It was to be an overnight trip.  I don't do a lot of those just because I like sleeping in my own bed with as many blankets as I want and the bathroom all to myself.  I also like having a door on my bedroom so teenagers don't accidentally come barging through the curtain to get their own clothing out of the wardrobe while I'm changing, but maybe that's just me.

On Thursday, Manuel and I talked about the meeting the following morning with the mayor.  Manuel had called him on Monday to set it up.  And while I don't prefer mornings as that means we have our normal meeting with the families in the afternoon, I figured that it might be okay just this once as the mayor and I have been trying to get together since February or March; if there was a set meeting with him, I was going to be there.  We also went to get many of the food staples we would be distributing the next day, and his kids helped us divide them up into 2- and 3-pound bags.

So Friday morning arrived.  We ate breakfast and headed out early to make sure we were on time for the mayor.  We got to the municipal building and...the mayor wouldn't be in.  So, between the options of twiddling our thumbs until our meeting with the families at 1 and meeting with the vice mayor, we opted to meet with the vice mayor.  Now, since we're not actually affiliated with the government, the vice mayor really had no reason to know who I was or why I was in his office.  He sure pretended to know why I was there, but some of the things he said made it obvious that he had no clue what I was about.  It was probably the most unproductive meeting I have had in my life...and it's certainly the most unproductive one I've had in recent memory.  (At least Manuel had a chance to share about the project with some community leaders seated behind us in the waiting area; that felt productive.)  If the mayor still wants to meet with me, he's going to have to come to me...or at least to one of our meetings with the families.

After that, Manuel apparently had set up another meeting without telling me anything about it; needless to say, I felt a little awkward.  There is an "obras sociales" office in Solola that he's apparently connected with.  They don't know much of what I do either, but at least they were a little more interested in listening instead of taking over.  They only opened their office in March, but they help the poorest of Solola find the help they need.  I was quite impressed.  They asked if they might use me in case they need to go to the US embassy; I don't know how much help I'd be, but I told them that if I could help, I would.

Then we went over to the bank to withdraw some money out to buy the beans (and to pay Manuel back for some of the stuff we had bought the day before) before heading back to his house to eat lunch.  His wife is a good cook with the ingredients she has.  We had time to put the beans in bags before we ate, and we even got the stuff packed in the back seat of the truck.  That was good as it started pouring while we ate lunch.

Fortunately, Santa (the woman whose house we meet at) has a large enough kitchen building that we all fit inside.  Little Maria Isabel's grades didn't improve, but the teacher got more creative at marking her report card.  Another little boy's grades tanked, and I'm not sure what's going on there; his teacher apparently said that he doesn't understand anything (after two semesters of understanding a lot?).  He could still pass.  We ran out of sugar and soap.  Two families are still in the negative, but one has a child not yet in school (and is guaranteed to get out of the negative next trip) and the other family has a child whose grades weren't out yet and usually earns at least 7 points; so I expect them to be out as well.  I offered to let them buy a few things because I don't want anyone going hungry.  One family turned me down; the other family bought a few pounds of beans.  There's a saying in Guatemala that if more people show up to eat than you had planned on, you just put more water in the beans.  I'm curious how long that family can make those few pounds of beans last.

I don't often let families go into negative points, but I do if I feel that spending the points which put them in the negative is more important than not spending those points.  I also have a limit of sorts.  It's a rough calculation based on how many points the family normally earns coupled with any guaranteed point earners (kids under school age, special needs kids).

Chickens (good for both eggs and meat) and fruit trees (avocado, plum, apple, and limon) are in the plans to add to the point catalog for next year, at least in the Solola area, but that's a potential update for sometime later this month.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Language Thoughts: Day 2,216

So, I realized that I haven't posted a normal update here in a while.  I kind of let my "Mission Moments" cover the bulk of what is going on with the project and little updates over on the Facebook page have helped some of you stay up to date as well.  (If you are on Facebook and haven't "liked" our page, I invite you to do so!  I'll try to do better about keeping the blog up to date, but the Facebook page is just so handy for quick little updates.)  I did take a trip out to Solola last week, but I'll write about that in another post.

This post is about language.  I sometimes feel like there are four languages going on around me.  First, obviously, Spanish.  Second, English.  The third and fourth are two similar situations: words that were English and are used in Spanish with little to no change and words that were English and are used in Spanish with Spanish pronunciation.

Let's start with the first of those two: words that were in English and are used in Spanish with little to no change.
Examples: e-mail, internet, chat. (Are you sensing a theme?)  Many of these words are based on technology, and rather than inventing a new word for them--okay, sure "correo electronico," but I don't know anyone who uses that; although they might say "correo" since the postal system here is basically non-existent--they simply adopt the word already in popular usage which happens to be in English.  You also see this somewhat in verbs such as textear, but since Spanish verbs have to follow a certain pattern in order to be conjugated (that thing we do in English when it's "I run" but "he runs"), they can't keep there exact English appearance.

With the second, I can only think of one good example right now, but I know I've heard others.  That's chance.  Now, remember, these words are English words but they have been taken to fit Spanish pronunciation.  That word right there in italics is a two-syllable word: Chan-say.  I have no clue how or why this happens.

Now, in the multi-lingual community, there's something called "code switching."  This refers to switching of languages during a conversation.  The rules about it are interesting with plenty of theories by linguists who study this stuff.  (I suggest the Wikipedia article for a thorough overview.)  I don't claim to be a studied linguist, but I have noticed a few things.  Words which retain their same pronunciation can be code switched.  Words which change their pronunciation don't really work with code switching.  I'm not positive why that is, but I have some theories.  First, it could be because any true bilingual knows that "chance" (since it's the only example I can recall right now) is an English word and should therefore be pronounced as such.  Second, it could be because, in Spanish, "chance" doesn't usually use its article ("un," masculine).  In English, I would say "Give me a chance!" but Spanish would simply be "Deme chance!" not "Deme un chance!"

Just some language ramblings.  Hope you are all doing well.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mission Moment: August

Around December 2014, I went to visit the families in their homes.  This is something I do every November/December for families in the program.  I see their homes, their living conditions, weigh each child and get updated shoe and clothing sizes; I’ve also started taking height measurements.  I remember one visit fairly clearly.  It was the family of one of the widows in our program.  They knew we were coming, but when we got there, only the two school-aged children were there.  Manuel--my community contact and translator--and I chatted with them for a while.  When it was obvious their mother wasn’t going to show up, we gave them their Christmas gifts--cookies and a Bible--and prepared to leave.  For some reason we asked the boy if he could read, and he said no.  I double checked my records; the boy had just finished second grade and couldn’t read the words “Santa Biblia” (“Holy Bible”).  We thought it strange and mentally put some blame on the mother for not being involved in her children’s studies.  To be fair, the kids would skip out on their way to school and spend the day playing; so we felt blaming her was justified.

Fast-forward to June 2016, and we’re looking at the report card of a first-grader in that same village.
MITJ grades unit 2.jpg

During 4 marking periods, students have to have an average of 60 point in each of their classes.  (If they have below 60 in up to 2 classes, they can take a make-up exam covering material from the entire year; if they have less than 60 in three or more classes, they automatically fail the year.)  So, you can see from the picture why we were concerned about Maria Isabel’s grades.  We asked her mother why she got a 46 in every single class this marking period, and she said that she had asked about that.  We were instantly happy that this mother had at least been proactive about her daughter’s education.  She said that the teacher had “gifted” her daughter these grades because the teacher says that Maria Isabel cannot read or write.  First of all, did you all catch where I said this girl was in first grade?  Isn’t it part of the teacher’s job to teach these kids to read and write?  Maybe it’s slightly different in the US where there’s a higher level of literacy, but since most of the mothers and a few of the fathers in the program are illiterate--and they tend to be a good representation of their communities--it stands to reason that that responsibility would fall 100% on the shoulders of the teacher.  Second of all, did you see that last class?  It’s Physical Education.  Since when does reading and writing have anything to do with how well you can run around cones forward and backward?  How can we set these kids up for success when their own teachers aren’t doing their jobs?  How do I convince a sixth grader (and his or her parents) to continue studying when the educational system has completely failed them?

These are the questions I’m struggling with right now.  We told the mother to take the report card (or copy of it, rather) and talk to the principal, the advisory board, her community leaders, whoever would listen.  If they won’t listen to her (and her husband), then Manuel and I might take it up with the mayor.  We never inquired about these weird grades with Luis (the second-grader) because we assumed it was related to him not going to school half the time, but now I feel like we should have.

In other news, Manuel and I are looking into other possibilities for purchasing food supplies out in the Solola area. I’m also planning on spending about a week and a half with a family out in Solola to study Kaqchikel and coming home for four days and repeating that process until I learn the language.  It may deviate a little from that plan when it is put into implementation, but for now that’s what we’re planning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mission Moment: May

A couple weeks ago, Handsome had some time to accompany me to Solola.  I had been waiting for this because I wanted to take shoes out, and that’s a little difficult on the bus.  So, one morning we loaded two large, plastic totes full of shoes as well as three medium-sized duffel bags into his car and headed out.  I had planned this trip for February, but with our cat getting sick and eventually dying, we were busy with her.  With March ending, I really wanted to do what I said I would do back in February.

The families were happy to see us.  Most of the grades hadn’t come out yet; so many of them had fewer points to spend.  However, I know what the shoes mean to a lot of these kids; as one of the mothers told me the first year, “My son realized that he could earn things with good grades when I brought home the shoes.”  As a result, I allowed some of the families to go into “debt” with their points.  I’m hoping it turns out to be an investment that results in better grades.

In mid-April, I’m hosting a retreat in my house for missionary women who live in this area.  At time time that I’m writing this, it hasn’t happened yet; so I can’t tell you about how it went.  However, it’s put on by a website called Velvet Ashes, a site which ministers to women serving overseas.  This is the first time I’ve participated (and only the second time they’ve offered it online), but I decided to jump in with both feet and host a group.  I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the other missionary women in this area and learn about the work they’ve been called to do.

Language Learning

Your word in Kaqchikel for this month is “xajab” (sha-HAB).  (I don’t think I’ve given you that one before.)  It means “shoe” in English.  In Spanish, it’s “zapato.”  When I ask the kids (or their parents) what size shoe they wear, I say, “Ach kin numer xajab?” (Besides the last word, that’s all phonetically for those of you who are trying to learn Kaqchikel or for those of you who read the newsletter to someone else.)

I have one delightful woman in the program who only speaks to me in Kaqchikel.  Sure, she doesn’t know much Spanish, but she won’t even say “hello” (“hola”) or “goodbye” (“adios”) to me in Spanish.  I find it funny because this woman who has never even gone to school is utilizing one of the best ways to teach a language with me.  If all the rest of my parents would follow suit, I’d probably be fluent in Kaqchikel in no time.

Some of the mothers looking for the perfect pair

Friday, April 1, 2016

Shoe Crazy: Day 2,089

Yesterday, Handsome and I went out to meet the families.  Most of them don't yet have their first-semester grades--they'll probably come out next week--but it's been about 2 months since I was out there.  I had planned to go in February, but one of our cats became ill--we think it was a spinal tumor--and was eventually put down.  So, Handsome's days off became "deal with cat" days instead of "drive shoes to Solola" days.

Anyway, the families were happy to see me and happy to see the shoes.  There is a rule of "one pair of shoes per person in the family," but I just kept recalling the story of the boy who realized that hard work does have rewards, and I didn't deny them a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of dress shoes.  I took my entire shoe stock out to Solola, and Handsome figures we brought back only 25% of it.  The rule mostly exists so that families don't just buy a lot of shoes and then go and sell them elsewhere for actual money.  Additionally, it takes a long time (and a fair amount of money) to get that many shoes bought and down to Guatemala, and my mother (predominantly) spends a LOT of time trying to get the sizes and styles which are most needed.

Some of the women look through the last remaining shoes in the box

Their purchases will be noted in Annalisa's binder

The crates were donated by one of our good friends at COTA and are very helpful for storing project materials.  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Kiss: Day 2,023

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of yesterday was as the families were leaving.  One of the new boys in the program took my hand and kissed the back of it.  This is a sign of deep respect reserved for the elders of the community.  In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anyone under the age of 65 be the recipient.  I must admit that I typically foster affection with my families which, while not contrary to respect in any way, typically fosters hugs, not hand kissing.  I was very touched that the child thought to do that and quite surprised!  (I'm only 30!)