New LWH Staff this Month: Robin and Gabriela
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!
Our powerhouse staff futsal team.
Wall at LWH Volunteer House
Formwork on the walls of the giant cistern.