Greetings from the Western Highlands of Guatemala!
Despite an early start to the wet season, it's been a very busy few months here at Técnico Chixot Education Center. Our students have turned the classrooms into colorful learning environments. Our third graders planted cala lilies and other beautiful greens in tires to make the outside spaces inviting too. Two of our students, second grader, Wesley, and sixth grader, Ingrid, represented our school in the municipal "We Read Together" event. In addition to our seven local teaching staff, we have recently been joined by a local teaching student who is fulfilling her practicum hours with our preschool class.
On Friday, May 23rd, Long Way Home (LWH) pounded it's 10,000th tire here at the school site! It was wonderful to have everyone, even the students and teachers (in traditional clothing), take a turn with the sledgehammer. Enjoy the video of the triumphant occasion using the link below.
In March, thanks to the generosity of alumni volunteer, Alex Sinclair, and his alma mater, Westfield State University, LWH was able to implement a modest micro-lending program. This new fund makes small, low-interest loans available to LWH's local Guatemalan staff. In this first process, we were able to award three loans and are pleased to report that one of the recipients has already almost paid the revolving fund back in full. To read more about this new effort, visit our blog, linked below.
We are also happy to share that we have nearly reached our goal for a matching grant offered through One Day's Wages. Cascadia Montessori deserves the lion's share of the credit, surpassing their original target and raising over $8,600 of the money we needed to raise. These funds will allow us to build three of the next primary school classrooms. We are returning to using rammed earth tires after completing the three primary school classrooms made from earthbags. A huge thank you to everyone who participated in the ODW campaign, including the hosts and attendees of our Global Garage Sale on May 10th.
Also in May, we were pleased to host Teach-A-Man-To-Fish, a UK-based NGO that supports self-sufficient schools worldwide. Their yearly "School Enterprise Challenge" encourages schools to submit proposals for student-initiated businesses that can provide learning opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. Their workshop allowed us to show off our campus to several other educational institutions here in Guatemala.
As we move into the rainy season, work continues with little interruption. Interior finish work will occupy much of our time over the next months as we prepare for more grades and more students in the 2015 academic year. We are grateful for your continued support and invite you to like us on Facebook to keep up with all of our progress.
The following is a postcard from Lydia Sorensen, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in Guatemala, about her recent visit to Long Way Home.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, “[n]owhere in Guatemala is there a system for the final disposal of solid waste. In the urban areas it is estimated that 47 % of the population has the benefit of solid waste collection. The rest of the people burn, bury, or toss out their trash. In rural areas only 4% of the population has the benefit of trash collection services. The waste that is collected, in both urban and rural areas, is deposited in dumps with no further treatment.” (http://www.paho.org/english/sha/prflgut.htm) The statistics may be from 2001, but any visitor to Guatemala will tell you not much has changed since then. Trash lies strewn along side every road, stacked in every valley, thrown in every gutter.
Long Way Home is working to not only use some of what has been thrown away, but to change the way that Guatemalans think about waste, pollution, and conservation. They run a fully-accredited primary school in their green school (which is still under constructions and will someday also house a vocational school teaching teenagers sustainable construction) and supplement the national curriculum with lessons on recycling and composting. The lucky first through sixth graders who currently attend the school not only get a great education, they also get it in an amazing place.
The Tecnico Chixot Education Center sits on grassy hill overlooking the city of San Juan Comalapa. The colorful reliefs on the outside walls show Mayan scenes, flowers, and natural designs. Inside the classrooms (whose walls are constructed from tires) natural light shines through the glass bottles embedded in the ceilings, and a water filtration system provides clean drinking water. A retaining wall built using tires (so many were required that Long Way Home not only collected all the trash tires in the town but they actually repelled down into the dump to get more) holds up the school and supports the new construction. It’s a school that any student, and any community, would be proud to call their own.
Thursday, the 16th of January 2014, school began for 65 Comalapan children in Guatemala. An unusually cold morning gave way to direct sunlight on the patio of the Técnico Chixot Education Center, in which grades K-6 are now officially being hosted in the tire workshops that will eventually serve the vocational students. The kids sat in desks outside in the sunlight as the teachers, parents and Long Way Home staff members convened and began the introductory process. A giving of thanks by a teacher led into the Guatemalan national anthem (which was composed by a Comalapa native, Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, in 1896), and with heads bowed, the anthem was sung by parents, teachers and students alike. Polite rumbles and plumes of smoke by the not-so-distant Volcano Fuego heralded the start of the school year. My name is Jesse Eells-Adams and I have only been living and working with Long Way Home for a week and a half. My contribution to the opening of the K-6 school is small in proportion to the men and women who have been living and aiding Long Way Home since its inception in 2004. This is a process of visionary people collaborating with equally talented locals committed to a brighter future in their hometown. A belief shared by the members of Long Way Home is that development is had by hard work at a grassroots level. The resources invested in this single location to provide education to a handful of locals indicates the magnitude of help required to realize the system needed to change current education and waste management systems. Daunting as it is to create access to natural rights and resources in impoverished nations such as Guatemala, every little victory breeds more hope. It is admittedly easy to become cynical about a country that is endlessly imperiled with organized crime and corruption. However, one of the most striking realizations I’ve had since my stay in rural Guatemala is how beautiful and friendly these locals are, the direct descendants from the ancient Mayan civilization, who still practice Mayan traditions and speak Spanish as a second language after their native Kaqchikel.It is the contrast of what you read and hear versus what you experience when you work next to one of the Guatemalan staff, or help deliver drinking water to the local Mayan shop owner in a vase meant to be balanced on your head, that made the inaugural school day today so impactful for me. Seeing the kids ready to learn, playful, easily distracted and just being absolutely normal and good made every single cold bucket bath and antibiotic pill pay off tenfold.