Hello! My name is Alex Terrill and I have been volunteering at Long Way Home for the past two and a half months.
From day one, it was like a whole new world. I started learning about green building, recycling, the town of Comalapa, and how Long Way Home is making a difference here. My first assignment was to work with Roberto Peren at one of the Earthships that Long Way Home built on the hill above the school. We got to know each other as we organized the trash bottles and mixed the cement we would use for the veranda and rain collection improvements. Roberto is a Comalapan native and an artist like his father. During his off hours, he paints beautiful local masks and rituals in his own unigue style. A knowledgeable man of the area, he would offer history lessons and explanations over apples and chips during our breaks in the shade. My new friend also found a puppy wandering in the street and brought her up to the site as a gift; I call her Pistolera.
My admiration for the local people continually grew as the weeks passed and I saw and learned more of their town. Friendly greetings of “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes” are commonplace as are the little kids practicing their English salutations of repetitive “bye-bye-bye-bye”s that make you smile and keep waving until they are out of sight. The people here also possess a strong work ethic and can be found working in their shops or in the fields seven days a week. They are welcoming with their generosity and I was treated to a delicious birthday celebration lunch with one of the local families shortly after my arrival in Comalapa. When you stop in at the shops or grab a bite to eat in town, conversations will often to turn to praise or thanks to the volunteers and the workers building the “escuela de llantas” (tire school). Unsolicited comments like this really make the volunteers feel welcome and part of something larger in the community.
This August, Long Way Home partnered with the Engineers Without Borders group from the University of Minnesota to bring water from the lower elevation springs to a central collection point in the nearby village of Xiquin-Sanahi. The joint group worked for two weeks straight to finish the project in time. The town turned out to celebrate the success of the project with them once the last day of work was finished. The town now has gravity fed water, meaning they no longer have to walk to the lowest point in town and return with jugs of water for their house. Instead, they can now visit more centralized points, making life much easier for all the households. More than 125 families also have water running to their homes for the very first time!
Construction at the school site is also progressing. Two septic tanks are now finished as is the water collection roof. Every time it rains, we are able to harvest 3,225 gallons per inch that falls! The team has also been working hard to finish the next series of rooms and every week they have visible progress towards the finished product. Materials are being gathered and we hope to start the next building shortly!
With the new life I was building here, and the awesome impact this project is making, I wanted to stay and continue to contribute. Matt Paneitz, the Executive Director, and the rest of the team agreed and I am looking forward to formally joining the team next month! I know that this project is possible because of the generous donations offered by Long Way Home's Global Giving supporters and I wanted to say thank you! Follow us on Facebook to see updates on our progress and how we are moving forward.
It's always a pleasure to prepare a report for our Global Giving supporters. Correctly implemented development work is often slow, allowing time for skills transfer, confidence building, fundraising and the special...challenges that so frequently attend work in under-resourced communities. It can be hard to notice progress and keep energy levels high under these conditions. But with the quarterly deadline to share news with you, our generous friends, comes the opportunity to review, reflect and rejoice in the milestones of the previous three months. As always, we thank you for your part in our success.
Our last update told of our busy spring season. With five university groups in three weeks in March, we were able to make a lot of progress. The final week we hosted Hillel-YAD groups from University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Portland, and University of Oregon - 41 students in total for the week. It was a pleasure to see them working and playing together, their shared value to "heal the world" evident as they became a strong team despite their disparate collegiate affiliations.
In April we were able to catch our breath a bit and finish our giant rainwater cistern. Our Construction Manager calculates that we will be able to fill it six times over during the rainy season, ensuring a potable water supply not just for our students and staff, but also neighboring families who don't currently have a regular source of clean drinking water. We were proud to have it ready by May when Living Waters for the World (LWW) came back for their second annual visit since installing the micro-filtration system that will allow us to be of further service in our community.
Also in May, we received a service group from Florida International University (FIU). They have come each March since 2009 and it's become such a favorite destination that when they weren't able to arrange everything for their Spring Break, they decided to organize a trip after the end of the school year. As usual, they were full of energy and enthusiasm and we surely appreciate them going the extra mile to get down this year.
After hosting FIU and LWW, we welcomed a medical team from the Boston area. Two doctors and six assistants (not counting the eight month old baby that charmed all the students and their parents) provided basic physicals for 89 of our students, identifying issues that needed follow-up and checking vitals to see how our kiddos are doing. Thankfully most of the students were a-ok, other than being pretty hungry and not drinking enough water. We hope to get a breakfast or snack program started soon, and that, along with our abundance of clean water, should ensure our students meet with even greater success.
The other big news of the spring was the awarding of our first 15 scholarships for the Vanessa Morales Scholarship for Girls Education. After the tragic passing of one of our supporters last summer, our board member, Elizabeth Rose, together with Vanessa's twin sister, Yessenia, established this program to provide tuition and other support for our female students. As Yessenia was actually able to come to Guatemala and present the awards, it made the day even more special. She is also hosting a Rubbish to Runway ReFashion show, inspired by attending our similar annual event outside of Boston, in Houston on 12 July if anyone is in the area and wants to attend a fun event in support of Long Way Home and girls education.
All in all, we have not let the rain slow us down. We feel so blessed the momentum for this project has continued to grow and opened up increasing opportunity for us to support the community of San Juan Comalapa. We look forward to watching our students turn into thoughtful, conscientious leaders that will be able to use their ideas to transform Comalapa long after we have moved on to our next project. Thank you for sharing this dream with us!
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!