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.
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.