Greetings and well wishes from San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala. My name is Taylor Bardecki and I am currently an intern at Long Way Home (LWH). I arrived in Guatemala at the beginning of May, and only have three weeks left until my time is up. I am a student at Florida State University, and was lucky enough to be accepted into an international program that assists students in finding internships across the world, which is how I found myself at Long Way Home. I really wanted to gain an understanding of how non-profits work and affect their community, and throughout my time here I definitely have.
As an intern I have the opportunity to see multiple facets of the organization. I work both outside with the local employees doing construction work and inside with the staff members working on development work. In the beginning of my internship we had to tackle the instillation of a new leach field. The leach field is an alternative waste disposal method that is being used instead of a compost disposal. The field will help the bathrooms on the upper level of the school filter out waste and provide nutrients to the land. It took a lot of digging, patience, and hard work but now the bathrooms are fully functional.
The construction team has been working on other parts of the project that include a new entry way to the school that will be wheel-chair accessible, new onsite volunteer housing, and a computer lab and library. The work site is constantly bustling with activity as the construction tasks are completed and students are running around all morning. With all the work being completed, Long Way Home has used over 400 tons of trash that would of been polluting the local environment and infrastructure. Everyone has been extremely welcoming to the new interns and volunteers and are always happy to help us out with any difficulties or problems that we might have.
Additionally, I have been working closely with the Director of Development, Genevieve, on jump-starting our summer campaign, preparing grant applications, and organizing the smoothie (licuado, in Spanish) program. Our summer campaign celebrates how far we have come as an organization and how close we are to finishing the project here in Comalapa. If we meet our goal, Long Way Home will be able to have all of our critical campus buildings completed by the upcoming school year. The goal for this campaign is 25,000 USD, and already one month into our campaign we are 40% to our goal! What is really exciting is once we reach our goal, every dollar will be matched by a generous donor! We invite all of those from Global Giving to take part with us on this journey and help us cross the finish line. Please include the word "HomeStretch" in your comment box as you make a donation and we can get your generous gift MATCHED.
To help us with the campaign, Genevieve and I have been working to complete grants to give us that extra little boost. We look forward to seeing the results of these grants and the success that they will bring.
Lastly, the licuados or smoothie program has been going well since its inception, though as time has passed we have come up with different ways to make it more efficient. The licuado committee has been crucial in making the program function. The committee (comprised of our students' mothers) have recently decided to downsize the workforce and now two members a week prepare all 130 smoothies each day. They are now running the program with very little support from the foreign staff and it's wonderful to watch them take the lead and ensure success!
All in all, with more rains and winds, the bustling town of Comalapa has never looked any greener. With the help of the workers and staff of Long Way Home, the town is looking clean and fresh. Just in time for the town's feria next week!
As I continue to work and learn with Long Way Home, I have come to have a greater understanding of how necessary support is to have this project continue and flourish. Thank you, for with all your help the organization is able to use self sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient schools that promote education, employment, and environmental stewardship. If you have any questions feel free to ask! If you wish to keep up with our projects, feel free to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!
Guatemala has two seasons: wet and dry. Semana Santa (Holy Week) begins early this year and, as a result, falls within mes loco (crazy month) - that "month" in February and March where the weather is wicked. Wild winds, scorching mornings followed by menacing gray afternoons, Volcan de Fuego shooting off regular greetings, chipi-chipis (spitting rain) offering another grasp at life for plants who have barely made it this far through the dry months, all contribute to a strange energy comes around this time each year. Here at our hillside school outside of San Juan Comalapa, we at Long Way Home are harnessing this force for good...with your help! We hope that you enjoy reading about our last quarter and the strides we've made thanks to our Global Giving supporters and our network around the world.
Early January marked the beginning of the Técnico Chixot Education Center's third "official" school year and included a couple of exciting firsts. With the addition of Segundo Basico (Eighth Grade) we brought our enrollment from 90 to 118, a 31% increase! To accommodate the new students, we also opened up the elementary school classrooms for the first time. Aula three, the third earthbag dome, is now home to Sixth Grade and two of the tire classrooms funded by One Day's Wages (ODW) house Seventh and Eighth Grades. Having the older students on the same level of the property as the ongoing construction presented a few challenges in the beginning, but everything is flowing smoothly now that the first term is behind us.
In February, we kicked off our breakfast smoothie program. As was mentioned in previous Global Giving updates, we learned that many of our students were coming to school hungry, affecting their own ability to learn and concentrate, as well as that of their classmates. After talking to several parents, most of whom now form our "Licuado (Smoothie) Committee," last fall, we determined to try out a nutritious fruit and veggie beverage each morning. Since February 22nd, five mamas (and sometimes a papa!) have shown up to school at 5:30 each morning to prepare about 130 drinks. Despite the fact that the hour is early and the roads are still dark, they have been tremendous in their efforts on behalf of the students. Other than the occasional suggestion that we're not adding enough sugar or honey, reviews seem positive from almost everyone. A few students don't want to consume theirs, and of course we don't force them, so our construction crew is always hovering near classrooms in the AM to see if they can help uninterested students with their breakfast bevie!
For two weeks in March, we had the pleasure of hosting a professional volunteer from Photographers Without Borders (PWB). Ron B. Wilson, whose background is both weddings and photojournalism, came to us from the Miami area and the result was stunning! Although he was careful to gets shots of everything we have going on at the school, his especial focus was on capturing the People of Long Way Home, including "family groups" that are involved through different aspects of our work. For example, Raul, one of our albañiles (masons) has a cousin who is also on the construction staff, as well as two children and a niece and a nephew in our primary school. Ron's already shared a few photos with us (two shown here) and we are waiting with baited breath to see them all. Thank you, Ron and PWB, for helping us to show off our project "through a new lens"!!
Our Seventh Graders have recently begun exchanging letters with a class in Colorado taught by a former Peace Corps Volunteer. The students in the US will write our students in Spanish and our students will respond in English. Gilma, our English teacher, and Isaac, our new Director of School Relations, led them through their first Skype meeting with their new penpals. The students from both countries had a lot of questions for each other and it will be fun to watch their friendships blossom.
On the construction side of things, work is proceeding very swiftly. Thanks to another generous grant from the Easterday Family Foundation, we have been able to maintain a sizeable construction team; we're up to 28 full-time crew members. Because the whether has been (mostly) decent and supplies readily available, we've come a long way on our computer lab/library and our new tire retaining walls. On the west side of the property, we have re-routed the school entrance to make it handicap accessible, requiring 590 car tires of reinforcement along that edge of the land. We have also used 750 car tires to construct a retaining wall behind the vocational school workshops. These, together with the 225 car and truck tires added to the upper (north) retaining wall we have created a safe platform for our next big building: the cafeteria and science/home econmics classroom. The tires used in these three walls represent an additional 32 tons of garbage that is no longer in the local waste stream, being burned or tossed in the nearest ravine!
With this momentum, we should have all campus-critical buildings done in 2016 and be ready to throw a grand opening party for the 2017 school year. As our middle school teachers are working over-time on our new curriculum and finishing the application for high school status, we hope to also welcome our first high school students in the coming year.
None of this would be possible without your continued belief in our mission to use sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient schools that promote education, employment and environmental stewardship. Together we are empowering communities to break the cycle of poverty through innovative solutions to local challenges. We are always available to answer any questions you have about our project, operations and services through the contact form on our website, or by responding to this update. We also encourage you to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for more regular updates.
~Genevieve and the Long Way Home Team
Happy Winter Solstice! I’m Stephanie Sims, a current intern at Long Way Home (LWH). I arrived in Guatemala in October, and have just three weeks left until heading back home to begin my Master's in Sustainability. I chose to volunteer with LWH because I wanted to get a hands-on taste of development work before I became immersed in the theory side of things. And, wow, have I - so many things have happened these past few months!
I’ve been working a lot on the fundraising side of things with Genevieve, our Director of Development. We recently rolled out our Winter "Just $21" Campaign and participated in our very first #GivingTuesday; we raised over $2,000 in just one day! Another first was the addition of a Booster piece to the campaign, allowing folks to order a tee shirt as well as donate. Success with that platform has encouraged us to consider a tee shirt design competition for the next campaign - we invite all of our GlobalGiving supporters to keep their eyes peeled for the announcement and participate.
Aside from working with Genevieve to expand our social media presence (check out our new LinkedIn profile), I’ve done my fair share of construction work. I’ve helped create plaster out of “cob,” which is an organic mixture of sand, dirt, hay, and cow manure that fortifies our walls, benches, and other areas throughout the campus. It’s amazing how such natural materials can be combined to create lasting classrooms and administration buildings for years to come.
I have also been helping out another intern, Shannon, with prepping our garden terraces at the school and in Parque Chimiyá. Based on the research done by Gabriela (see our March 2015 Global Giving report) and our medical team, Long Way Home plans on rolling out a breakfast smoothie program for the students at Técnico Chixot in the upcoming school year. Not only did the doctors report a high percentage of stomach pains stemming from hunger, but Gaby found that 32% of children are coming to school without breakfast, and that many who do eat in the morning receive only a piece of sweet bread and a cup of sugary coffee. We are currently exploring a partnership with local fruit exporters and our gardens will provide veggies like chard, carrots and spinach, as well as natural supplements like amaranth, to create a delicious and healthy morning meal for all students. A focus group with 14 parents, conducted by Gaby, generated both enthusiasm and commitment from our students' families; parents from every grade will be responsible for one month of preparing the drinks each morning (Kindergarten has January, First Grade has February, and so forth).
In terms of construction progress, we are working on final finishes for our seven primary school classrooms, constructing the walls of our library/computer lab, and beginning excavation on our cafeteria, where the smoothies will be made. Once construction is completed on our upper-level classrooms, we will have space to begin offering high school classes. All of these efforts will ensure a sustainable community in Comalapa for years to come. Teaching students how to care for their environment, as well as ensuring they get the best education possible, will only improve the local economy and allow for advanced opportunities for all Técnico Chixot graduates. Our technical school courses will prepare our students for entrepreneurial and environmentally friendly careers in business, artisan products, and construction.
As this year comes to a close, I want to thank all of you amazing donors for your help in making 2015 such a success. If it wasn’t for you, we would not be the organization we are today. We will be running our winter campaign through the end of the year, so please consider giving "Just $21" to support Education, Employment and Environmental Stewardship this season - every dollar goes a looooong way here :)
I want to wish all of you a very happy holiday season, and a healthy New Year!