Hola, mi nombre es Gabriela Quemé Barneond, tengo 23 años, soy guatemalteca, antropóloga y ahora soy parte de Long Way Home (LWH)!
Hi! My name is Gabriela Quemé Barneond, I’m 23 years old, I’m a Guatemalan, an anthropologist and now I’m part of Long Way Home (LWH)!
I got to know Long Way Home two years ago during a massive construction effort to build Don Romeo a home with our partners at Earthship Biotecture. Romeo is a local Comalapan, now a greenbuilding expert, who currently serves as LWH’s Foreman. For three weeks different Comalapan workers, volunteers from around the world, and one 20-year-old Guatemalan doing sloppy translation for the gringos and the workers (me), were soaked with sweat, shoulder to shoulder, building a sustainable house for Don Romeo and his family. It was a total success! It was an unforgettable experience but I was in for more, I wanted to take this to a new level and in my heart I knew one day I was going to be back.
This year on January 12th I wrote a letter to Genevieve, our Director of Development at LWH. I let her know that I had finally finished the BA in Anthropology at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and that I was ready to begin working with and for the communities of my country. After five years of studying and a lifetime in the capital, Guatemala City, I didn’t know that that letter was about to give a 360 degree spin to my life. This is a fragment of my letter to Genevieve, “…to be honest, I have been looking for several projects I can be part of but almost nothing convinces me. Every job now involves politics, economy, stress, suits, etc. hahaha sounds pretty boring to me and not useful for communities. But when I see Long Way Home I see a completely different proposal! And I see commitment in the crew. This is where I want to be…” After a few conversations back and forth and one visit to the project, today I can say I’m the first Guatemalan national hired as part of the administrative staff of Long Way Home! I started work on the 3rd of March of this year and since then I have had an incredible experience.
I was hired as an anthropologist and researcher to do a baseline study that will allow us to get to know the socio-economic condition of the Comalapan families we work with. The study will identify and measure poverty, education, employment and environmental stewardship indicators through a survey, interviews and focus groups with the individuals and families we serve. It will collect the perceptions of local and foreign actors involved in the project to describe their interaction, negotiations and intercultural cooperation. This study will be the first research platform created for LWH so we are excited to have it as one of our focuses this year! In the long term, the study aims to be a research model that can be replicable in the future to provide comparative data and measure the impact of LWH in the community. As an anthropologist I feel that my job here is valuable for the community and the organization, and both have been so welcoming and warm that it already feels like home! LWH also accepted my proposal to use the baseline survey I’m conducting for my graduate thesis (for a local degree called ‘Licenciatura en Antropología’) so I’m able to accomplish both goals at the same time! Since I got here I am ready to start not a job, not graduate work, but a new and awesome life experience to serve the community and help education, employment and environmental stewardship grow in Comalapa.
I’d like to share an awesome welcoming experience I had in my first days as staff at LWH. I went to the bathroom at the school and a group of first graders approached me. They climbed some tires and started to touch my curly hair. One of them asked, “Why is your hair like this?” The other said, “Is it natural?” (All of them have straight, beautiful hair). So I said, “Yes, it’s natural. I was born this way. My father has curly hair.” They were surprised that I spoke “good Spanish.” One of them said, “Uy! Do you speak Spanish? Aren’t you a gringa?” In that moment so many answers came to my mind but one of the little girls with a big smile answered, “ella es una persona” which means: “she’s a person.” Not a gringa, not a Guatemalan, but a person! That was mind-blowing! And definitely the best answer I could have ever imagined. Those words filled my heart with joy and convinced me even more of the great job we are doing as an organization. Hearing that from a seven year old was amazing! Experiencing tangible results like this is what LWH is really about and it’s exciting to see the future greenbuilders and social entrepeneurs (i.e. the students at our school) starting along this path!
When it comes to the construction, LWH is making great advances. The cistern process is going quickly and efficiently; the floor is already done and now they are forming the inner walls to finish before the start of the rainy season. With this we will be able to collect 50,000 gallons of rainwater to provide potable water at the school and in the surrounding neighborhood. This month we have also already hosted two volunteer groups - one from Noble & Greenough School in Massachusetts and the other from the University of Pennsylvania (our first Ivy League!). They had a great time building on site, playing with the kids, trying new food, practicing their Spanish and getting to know local traditions. They were a great help and hopefully learned a little more about environmental stewardship. The Universities of California – Santa Cruz, Oregon and Portland showed up this weekend. With the 40 volunteers from those three groups, our foreign and domestic staff and our students, our total body count on site during the school day is up to 180!! We are growing, and therefore, providing more opportunities for Comalapans to have meaningful, regular work in their community.
When it comes to the school, Centro Educativo Técnico Chixot, this year we are glad to announce we hired one new teacher for elementary school, nine 7th grade teachers and a secretary. That means we have 90 students, 16 teachers and three administrative personnel in our academic crew! We are also making progress with our sports’ program. We recently hosted our first futsal championship (similar to soccer) between our school and another local school. Kids, teachers and volunteers had a great time playing at Parque Chimiyá against each other. The final event was our female teachers against the other school's teachers. It was a fun game that ended in penalties and, finally, a tie. It was a healthy, joyful and successful activity. At the same time we have a new futsal team at the school and kids are now training for a local championship. The students and teacehrs are committed to finding a balance between school and sports.
In closing, I would say this quote on the wall in my room at LWH’s volunteer house pretty much captures what LWH is about to me: “If you have come here to save me, you can go home now. But if you see my struggle as part of your own survival, then maybe, maybe, we can work together,” Aboriginal woman in Australia.
With much love and enthusiasm, I wrote this report from my solar-powered computer in my new office, or better said, my new home, in San Juan Comalapa.
Thank you, gracias, matyox chi awe!
As we approach 2015, Long Way Home welcomes its 11th year in San Juan Comalapa along with its first class of middle school students! After a wonderful graduation ceremony with our Kindergarten and 6th Grade students, the Técnico Chixot Education Center is ready to expand! We recently hired nine new local teachers for the incoming seventh graders, as well as opened up two buildings on campus for more classroom space. Long Way Home is elated to further employment opportunities in the community while also increasing our educational offerings. Together, we are helping this community to build a brighter future!
Although it is vacation time for students, the learning does not stop. During the week of November 3rd, we had the pleasure of hosting our first summer camp! Organized by a local US Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), Christina Monterroza, around 30 students participated in art projects, discussions about health and building self-esteem, dance lessons, and numerous outdoor activities. These included crafting piggy-banks with plastic bottles, making paper with wild flowers, and playing a big game of capture the flag! Thanks to the help of other USPCVs, our teaching staff, and a few LWH staff and volunteers, the kids had a fantastic week of games and learning.
Construction is closer to being finished as we have the final four classrooms now standing! These are walled with earth-rammed tires like the original vocational workshops. Two of the four have nearly finished roofs, decorated as usual with colorful glass bottle bricks. The students and teachers are sure to enjoy beautifully lit classrooms! We are also making good progress on the new water cistern, ready to be cemented after the first of the year. Once completed, we will be able to collect over 100,000 gallons of rainwater per year! We can provide clean water to the school as well as several hundred of its neighbors. In a country where contaminated water is a severe life-threatening issue, Long Way Home is creating necessary impact on the health of the community.
A special shout out to the success of this year’s Rubbish to Runway ReFashion Show! On Saturday, October 25th, our incredible Board Member, Ms. Elizabeth Rose, hosted our largest annual fundraising event at Nicholson Hall in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This year, the fourth effort, raised a grand total of $8,225.73! A big thank you to the designers, models, volunteers, sponsors, donors, attendees, and all else who gave time, money and sweat to make another successful evening.
As we move forward in construction, Long Way Home is also taking advantage of opportunities abroad. We currently have three of our Guatemalan greenbuilders - Romeo, Juan, and Axel - and three North American staff members collaborating on a project in Bloemfontein, South Africa! Los Técnicos, Long Way Home’s partner construction company, has joined with the South African nonprofits, Start Living Green and Natural Building Collective, to build an Arts & Culture Center using tires and glass bottle bricks for a local orphanage in Lebone Village. This collaboration gives our construction team the opportunity to share their knowledge and skill in green building with a community on the other side of the world. And what an experience! The majority of people in Comalapa have never traveled past the region of Chimaltenango, so imagine the excitement of 19-year-old Axel crossing an ocean!
We are grateful for your continued support and hope that our progress makes you as proud and excited as it does us! Happy Holidays from Guatemala and South Africa. Blessings to you and yours.
On Saturday the 13th of September, Long Way Home officially passed a huge milestone...our tenth anniversary! While we look forward to sharing a full retrospective after this fiscal year, we did want to take a moment to thank all of you who have helped us to reach this point. As we look back on the previous ten years, we bear witness to some amazing highs and lows. Starting with a few thousand dollars from the raffle of a car, we have grown in size, capacity for impact, and scope of our mission. From the promise to help develop five acres into a community park, we have taken on the responsibility for a 17-building, K-12 vocational school campus that will train local youth in green building techniques. This transformation has happened gradually and organically as the Long Way Home team has become integrated into the community of San Juan Comalapa, earning a place in the 2009 census as one of four "families" that have moved here from outside the Department of Chimaltenango.
In addition to the close relationships we've developed with our employess, vendors, and neighbors, how else do we measure our success?
In our third year hosting students but our first since being offcially recognized as Técnico Chixot by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, we have expanded to 64 students and added the sixth grade. We have recently received permission to begin providing middle school and look forward to welcoming seventh graders in the 2015 academic year. We have completed construction of ten of the planned buildings and recently received a matching grant to construct the remaing four elemntary school classrooms. Construction on these began this summer and should be completed by the end of our dry season.
It is LWH's model to engage the local residents in our green construction techniques so that when we turn to a new project, this community will have the training to continue improving their own local infrastructure and providing affordable stoves, latrines, retaining walls and rainwater harvesting systems. According to a survey of local businesses conducted by a LWH intern and a US Peace Corps volunteer, we are the sixth largest employer of local residents in Comalapa. In a town where only 14% reported formal and permanent employment in the 2009 census, this matters. In the last decade, LWH has paid over US $162,000 in local salaries.
On May 23, 2014, Long Way Home staff, volunteers and students gathered to participate in the pounding of our 10,000th tired re-used in construction. Since then we have continued our upper retaining wall and begun three more classrooms, all built using car and truck tires. As of June 31st this year, we had used 313 tons of garbage in this school project alone. The number gets closer to 400 tons when you add in the tire homes and retaining walls we've built, both locally in this municipality and as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, and Bogota, Colombia. The future self-sufficiency of this school, the model we hope to replicate, requires that we prime the market for the products our students and the tangential construction company, Los Técnicos, have to offer.
As the rainy season goes out with a roar, we continue to push toward our mutual goal of providing an environmentally friendly alternative to the degrading cycle of poverty. Thank you for sharing this vision with us and for providing funds for us to invest in this muddy, hillside Mayan town. The project here lays the groundwork for similar rural education projects in other areas of the world with limited traditional resources. Together, we can be the change.
And speaking of transformation, if you are in the Boston area on October 25th please consider attending our annual Rubbish to Runway ReFashion show! Now in its fourth year, this event features a food, fun and high trashion. Use the link below to learn more and reserve your seats.