Dec 21, 2015

Hands-on Learning

Amaranth and Sixth Grade's Tire Frog
Amaranth and Sixth Grade's Tire Frog

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!

Vol. Coordinator, Robin and Intern, Steph, Gardens
Vol. Coordinator, Robin and Intern, Steph, Gardens
Site of Cafeteria
Site of Cafeteria
Parents at Smoothie (Licuado) Focus Group
Parents at Smoothie (Licuado) Focus Group
2015 Kindergarten and 6th Grade Graduates
2015 Kindergarten and 6th Grade Graduates

Links:

Sep 22, 2015

Receiving Water in New Ways

Part of the Rainwater Harvesting Roof
Part of the Rainwater Harvesting Roof

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.

Pistolera the Pup, with her new Aunt Zelda
Pistolera the Pup, with her new Aunt Zelda
Engineers Without Borders - Twin Cities in Xiquin
Engineers Without Borders - Twin Cities in Xiquin
Alex helping our student, Miguel, with the race!
Alex helping our student, Miguel, with the race!

Links:

Jun 23, 2015

Raindrops Keep Falling but Spirits are High

Medical team in action
Medical team in action

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!

Scholarships awarded
Scholarships awarded
Students from Guate City donate bottles and time
Students from Guate City donate bottles and time
FIU removing formwork from cistern
FIU removing formwork from cistern
Prepping to pour cistern lid
Prepping to pour cistern lid
New buildings - roofs catch rain!
New buildings - roofs catch rain!

Links:

 
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