Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lunes 6 Julio 2009

Lunes 6 Julio 2009

I realize it’s been a ratito since I’ve posted anything (and I also realize I’m inserting Spanish words periodically throughout my blog. This is not because I speak Spanglish here in Barillas or some other language problem of deficiency. I am simply trying to inject a little of my experience into the blog. And I know this is not that effective. Pues…) I think I will begin with my journey with Wily to Nuevo Santiago, a small aldea outside of Barillas. Other news may come in a later blog... (I mentioned aldeas in an earlier blog, they are the small communities that surround the town of Barillas.) I learned from one of the children’s school reports that Nuevo Santiago has 102 “fathers of the family” for lack of a better term. (I also learned there are three ethnic groups in Nuevo Santiago, Q’anjob’al, Chu, and Ladino (I first read this term in Rigoberta Menchu: Ladinos are the people of mixed ancestry-indigenous and Spanish blood.) I was pleasantly surprised to see this in the child’s Nuevo Santiago report (which was quite extensive; with a little about him, a table of contents, an introduction and a conclusion!) The school has one teacher for about 100 children at least. They are split into 6 grades and a preparatory (kindergarten) group and come at two different times of the day. The village is very poor (as you will soon understand) so I thought it was great that they have such a comprehensive approach to their education. I guess when you are a such a small country with 23 colorful and vibrant ethnic groups that are naturally tied into the daily life, awareness is naturally a part of the education as well.

Nuevo Santiago is about 35 kilometers by road and takes two hours. After conversion (I know from my high school cross country days that 5km is 3.1 miles; 35 kilometers= 22 miles) that figures to about 11 miles an hour. The first hour is on a decent dirt road, the best example is a logging road in the Washington Cascade range. Then, for about a 5 kilometer stretch there is a section of paved road where the road would otherwise be impassable when it rains. This is the consistently steepest part of the trip. There are some parts where it is only paved in one lane as the government is actively working on the road, so you hope that no one is coming in the opposite direction. After an hour, we left the highway and turned onto to another dirt road. Now, in order to understand this road picture the worst sections of dirt, logging roads you have ever driven on: the steepest, rockiest, bounciest parts where you feel like you are riding a bull and where water has consistently dug channels across the road and created 6”-12” discrepancies between the normal road height and the channel depth. Picture this horrible stretch of logging road and then think of driving on it without rest for an hour. That is what the road to Nuevo Santiago is like.

My first glimpses of Nuevo Santiago were of recently logged forest and looked nothing like a town of 4 or 5 hundred people. The town is only 3 or 4 years old and the jungle around the area has recently been cleared by the residents to make the land farmable. I don’t know that I would say the land is exactly “farmable” now, but nonetheless the people are farming it. They have planted corn and coffee amongst the stumps, felled trees, and low undergrowth. While the soil is very fertile, it will be a few years before they will have very successful harvests because of all the work it will take to care for these early crops. After I stopped wondering at how much work it must take to clear a jungle and convert it to farmland, I began to notice the homes of the people. While there are over 102 families in Nuevo Santiago, there are less than 70 homes. Often, two families inhabit one home. And many homes consist of four walls made of sticks tied together and covered by black plastic roofing or the grass roofing you see on tropical huts in movies filmed in the Bahamas. But, these homes also have to stand up to the storms, rain showers, thunder and lightning of the rainy season of Guatemala. It does not rain in Central America like it does in Washington. It rains with the strength of Mayan gods.

We then climbed a steep, steep, steep road to the school and were quickly surrounded by many children having their afternoon snack, probably their lunch, of mush (“mosh”) and cookies. This government sponsored meal supplements the diet of corn and beans that these poor families consist on for every meal, day in and day out.

As I got out of the truck, I brought my camera with me and was immediately swarmed by ninos chanting, foto! foto! The kids were so close that I couldn’t take any decent shots, but snapped a few quick ones anyways so I could show them fotos. Every child was mesmerized by the digital photos and they all gathered in close around me, almost knocking me over with the force of their bodies (though no child weighed more than 50 pounds.) They took great pleasure in pointing and laughing at someone who was caught with a silly expression on their face or who acted out for the camera. I got some great shots and hope to be able to send printed pictures back to Guatemala when I get home.

Another that struck me was the malnutrition, and lack of medical care. So many children had brown, stubby teeth, with dark stains of decay from their high sugar content diet based in corn. Also, many kids had open wounds on their hands, feet and faces. I doubt any of them had ever seen a band-aid or Neosporin. And yet, while I could have easily picked up any of these kids (mind you they were only in 2nd grade) they all had smiles on their faces, that is unless they were hiding from me and the camera.

From the school, we (we being: Wily, the schoolteacher, Velasquez-the “president” of Nuevo Santiago, myself and a pack of children) went to one of HFPF’s latest projects, a pighouse for the four pigs that Nuevo Santiago currently has (three females, including one who is pregnant, and a barron). HFPF’s work in Nuevo Santiago emphasizes educating the children. So, down at the pighouse Wily explained how it is important to clean out the pig’s quarters, give them clean water and food, and take care of them. Then, Wily and Zelasquez gave the pigs injections of antibiotics and vitamins. Wily explained why it is important give the pigs shots (similar to the shots they need for their own health) to help them grow big and strong and healthy. I was very impressed by this philosophy. This project to help the village not only provides a varied contribution to their diet and a means of financially supporting the village but is also an important form of basic education for the kids, lessons of responsibility, health, and sanitation. It made me think of how my Dad would help us kids raise pigs, goats, cows, chickens and turkeys. Often, it was him doing the raising and us watching and learning. But, these basic lessons in animal care and outside chores around the “family farm” were so important for me to learn a sense of responsibility, basic lessons in health and nutrition, and to value hard work. I am so grateful to my parents for raising me so well and realize how much a childhood of hands on experiences contributed to who I am today. Needless to say, HFPF’s project made an impression on me and I am so hopeful for this small village.

This feeling only grew as we all got in the truck (imagine 25 kids piled in the back of a pick-up truck. They were having a great time! Can you remember your first horse ride, your first bike, your first time at the carnival that only comes once a year? I imagine it was all of these things to this group of very poor children) and drove down to the other part of HFPF’s recent project: a small seed nursery and a LARGE swath of newly planted seeds-radish, cabbage, corn, and carrots. This community garden will help to diversify the diet of the villagers who up til now have only planted corn, coffee and beans, and is also so important in education-both for the kids and the adults. Down at the garden Wily explained to the kids how they needed to water the plants, spray fertilizer and weed the plants. He also talked about how the kids needed to protect themselves from the odor of the fertilizer when they sprayed it. (At first I thought it was insecticide, and I was worried because after it was sprayed the kids proceeded to work in the garden, weeding and moving dirt to support the seedlings. Later, after talking with Wily I learned that they will spray insecticide, but that they have a buffer period of two weeks for the insecticide to wash off before harvesting) And to the adults, he described the importance of caring for the plants like caring for any other animal, or like their children. That those seeds which weren’t planted deep enough and sprouted very quickly and spindly needed a little extra soil around their base for support to continue to grow strong. (This is such a strong metaphor for the how to care for young, misguided children) The hope is that other farmers will start to plant their own small gardens. And indeed, one man who lives right next to the community garden has already cleared ground, built raised beds, and planted his own new vegetables-just from watching the HFPF group work on the community garden. Wily came to check on his garden, gave him some extra advice on how to take care of the vegetables as well as how to grow healthier crops of beans and corn by rotating crops, and how important it is to select seeds from the healthiest plants and best looking fruit to plant for the next crop. When we returned to the school, there were a few other farmers there who had started their garden but wanted to know if it was good enough or ready to plant. Wily gave them advice too, as well as some starter seeds. Those seeds, while so small, are more valuable than gold to these farmers. They can’t grow food with gold or feed their families (while they could buy food with it), but they can plant seeds and harvest the sustenance which will take care of their families.

The last part of HFPF’s work has been installing water filters in the village homes. Every family has a filter system, which consists of two mounted five gallon buckets, (the top one has a filter and the bottom bucket holds the clean, filtered water). Wily went around to a few homes, asking if the family had cleaned the filter. A few families had, but all of the filters were still coated in a layer of dirt and grime like I have seen on our hot tub filter at home (what a juxtaposition, a hot tub filter and a basic water filter that provides the clean drinking water these families need to clean their water of dirt and bacteria). Velasquez told the story of one man who found the taste of the clean water to be so good that he was drinking so much more water it made his stomach hurt. Whereas before he only drank when he was hot and thirsty from working in the fields, hist stomach wasn’t used to holding so much water at one time-from drinking from pleasure. What a great blessing for him and was a great thing for his health to be hydrated sufficiently. Wily explained to me that HFPF is so proud of their work and their philosophy of checking back in with families after they have completed projects. This is what makes their work so effective, they follow up with families to make sure filters are clean and working properly and making sure that plants are growing healthily and that the kids and adults are learning how to take care of these investments in their future.

Earlier today, I “calificado”-ed (that’s how it translates, I know it’s a weird verb I think they made up…) or judged drawings from a few of the village’s children. After the completion of all the group projects (about 10 groups from January through June), Wily and Marco visit all the projects again. Pete Kinch, executive director of HFPF and former mayor of Everett is coming on Saturday to see the results of all the group projects this year. On Monday we will go to one village to have a big fiesta for the inauguration of their new water tinacas (LARGE plastic tanks for holding rain water). Along with piñatas, food, and special presentations by the children, the boy and girl winner of the drawing contest will each win a prize (and all the children will win a prize for participating.) And there will be a contest for the best decorated tinaca, judged by Pete, Marco, Wily and I. We will go visit every house (over 80!) to see which is most beautifully decorated by the family. This visit will also check the installation and function of each tinaca and shows that HFPF truly cares about each individual family. It will be an opportunity for questions from the family and for reinforcement of advice from Wily and Marco Tulio. This is HFPF’s philosophy; to ingrain a sense of pride in these families, to educate them how to better care for their pigs, their plants, their tinacas, water filters, and their children.

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