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.
Long Way Home is pleased to announce that we have been granted permission to open a new school by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education! After several months of hard work to get the appropriate stamps from the health center, the Department of the Environment and other official seals of approval, we submitted a 400+ page application and, as of this week, Centro Educativo Técnico Chixot is official! Lars Battle, LWH Community Development Liaison, led the charge and performed the majority of the work to make this possible. We'd also like to extend our gratitude to our neighbor Feliciano Peren, our local education authority Edgar Simon Icú and our regional education authority Rómulo Xicay Ajuchan for their guidance and hard work during this process. We will retain all of our local teachers in the 2014 academic year and hope to add at least one more local teacher, hire a new local director and add the sixth grade. We are thrilled to have achieved this milestone and are now one step closer to having a self-sufficient school in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala!
The 2013 school year ended this month and boy, did our students go out with a bang! October 1st was Children's Day in Guatemala. Our students celebrated by participating in a trash art competition. Students from all grade levels crafted boats, picture frames, aluminum cars and other awesome objects from "waste" materials they found in their homes. The winner, 5th grader Yovani, made a chair out of 75 plastic bottles. Although a bit small, it can hold an adult's weight and is super durable. On the last day of school, the 4th and 5th graders hosted an exhibition of all the things they'd made from trash in their art class. Toothbrush holders, chip bag wallets and egg baskets were just some of the awesome crafts the kiddos displayed.
In construction news, we are spending the next few months putting the finishing touches on our three earthbag primary school classrooms. As the rainy season winds down, earthen finish work speeds up. Our finishes are drying more swiftly and we don't have to spend nearly so much time tarping the buildings to protect them from late afternoon deluges. As usual, we are crafting earthen art to adorn the walls of the classrooms. For our first dome, we are featuring forest animals and vegetations. So far we have a jaguar, a deer, a family of owls and several trees. We are thinking of doing an ocean theme for the second dome. As our finishing materials can be easily molded into most any form, we love to take advantage of the opportunity to add art where ever we can.
We sincerely appreciate your continued support of our school project. Without generous donations of time and money, we would not be celebrating the end of a successful second school year and the beginning of a whole new school experience for the youth in our rural, indigenous town. A million times thank you!