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New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump

by Creamos
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump

As schools all over the world struggle with re-entry plans for their students, we're reminded of how much we miss in-person learning with ours. With just over two months left in the Guatemalan school calendar, the government recently mandated remote learning for the rest of the year. For Creamos' teachers, this means a few more months of video calls and tutoring sessions over the phone. While we value these safety measures, we can't wait to be together in the classroom again.

In March, just three months into the inaugural year of our Adult Education Program, we were sadly required to cease in-person class sessions for all 129 of our students due to the onset of COVID-19. But just because we’re stuck inside our homes doesn’t mean we’ve given up on our studies! Our Adult Education team is finding creative solutions to keep our students on track to successfully complete their school year. Each month, our teachers create homework packets for their students, which they (safely) deliver every two weeks. These homework packets are returned to our teachers, who grade them, and call each of their students to discuss their progress. In addition, we've paid for all students to have WiFi on their phones so they’re able to receive weekly pre-recorded video lessons, engage in video tutoring sessions, and send pictures of homework that they’re having a hard time with. Our teachers and students alike have expressed their sadness in not being able to learn from each other in a group setting, but they’re finding ways to stay in touch and maintaining as much normalcy as possible given extensive logistical and technological challenges. 

No matter how accessible we try to make it, studying from home is hard - especially when you have an average household size of 7 people, and you’re responsible for helping your children and siblings complete their homework - not to mention daily cooking, cleaning, and child rearing responsibilities. But our students (like Juana, pictured) continue to demonstrate an eagerness to learn. Since the transition to at-home learning, we’re proud to report that we’ve maintained a 100% student retention rate. 

Our adult education program provides an opportunity for our community that many never thought they’d have - the opportunity to pursue a high school degree. Many are working full or part time, and the vast majority are parents. Our program provides the flexibility and support that this unique population requires. Education is the key to economic success for our participants within our community, whether they’re teen moms graduating from high school, or our eldest participants earning to read and write for the first time. One of our adult learners, Juanita, began working in the garbage dump when she was 9 years old. Now a 27-year-old mother of four, she walked through Creamos’ doors last year seeking emotional support. After learning about all of our program offerings from our Psychologist, she decided to begin studying. In January of 2020, Juana attended her first day of school. She recently told us the following: 

“In Creamos' education program I am really happy. Even through these [COVID] circumstances, I continue to study and receive support from my teacher. It’s my first year studying, and yesterday I got my first report card ever, with an average of 87%. It has been a beautiful experience, my teacher is so caring and thoughtful and so willing to help us learn. I’ve never studied before so there are many things I don't know, but my teacher has helped me feel confident. My son is in the same grade as me, so we do our homework together. I am grateful to the institution of Creamos for this opportunity".

Like Juana, we remain as grateful as ever for the support you've provided in the past, and for your ongoing belief in our mission. Together, we are unlocking opportunities for a committed cohort of adult learners.

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The Sewing Team making masks.
The Sewing Team making masks.

Unpredictable times call for creative solutions, and our Sewing Team has risen to the challenge. Last week, they returned to their workshop (under strict distancing protocols) to begin producing masks, which are being dispersed to their friends, family, and neighbors living in the settlements surrounding the garbage dump. Using their skills to create something useful for their community - something that could even save lives - has renewed their sense of purpose. Social distancing is a privilege that many communities around the world, including ours, cannot afford. But by producing these masks, our Sewing Team is doing what they can to decrease risk and make sure one of our country’s most vulnerable populations isn’t forgotten.

Like many across the globe, our community here in the Guatemala City garbage dump continues to confront major economic obstacles brought on by the virus. Food and water shortages persist, while stay-at-home orders require our participants to spend more time than usual in their often overcrowded homes. And it shows no sense of slowing down, with recent estimates indicating the country won’t reach its peak caseload until early June. 

We're deeply grateful for the ongoing support of our network of Creamos donors, which has allowed us to provide emergency food assistance to our Creamos participants and their families on a biweekly basis since this crisis began. To date, we've hosted 3 food disbursement events during which we've provided all 205 of our families with food vouchers to a local supermarket. These gatherings have the dual value of both allowing us to provide vital relief for our families, and to bring our community together, safely, during such a tumultuous time. Capitalizing on the chance to have all of our participants in one place, these gatherings have doubled as an opportunity to check in with our participants, disseminate vital community updates, and discuss contingency plans for the coming weeks and months.

While much remains uncertain, one constant is the unwavering dedication of Creamos' network of supporters. Thank you to all who have sent us donations and well wishes during these difficult times. We could not accomplish any of this without you. 

From all of us in the Creamos family, we're thinking of you, wishing you and your families well, and looking forward to continuing our work together. 

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With the new year comes a new and exciting program for Creamos - Adult Education! This month marks the transition of the Adult Education program from Safe Passage (our sister organization) to Creamos. Far from a pilot program, Adult Education has been implemented by Safe Passage since 2006 and has supported hundreds of adult learners on their paths towards elementary, middle and high school graduation. Through a recent restructuring of organizational priorities, these two organizations made the decision to transfer oversight and implementation of the adult education program due to its strong alignment with the Creamos mission. We’re honored to provide this important program for approximately 60 community members - both women and men - many of whom have been prohibited from pursuing their educational dreams due to the economic pressures of the garbage dump community.

Working closely with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, Creamos’ new education department will teach traditional elementary, middle and high school classes in addition to a variety of independent and culturally relevant courses. These courses, including financial literacy, functional literacy, English, university preparation, computation, and a “Reading to Your Children” program, are intended to complement the traditional subject matter offered through the government-mandated curricula. Further, acknowledging the tumultuous nature of our community and the likelihood that our adult learners may be required to take breaks from their studies on occasion, we’re also excited to provide a tutoring program. This program will provide essential one-on-one support for all participants who request it. Through this multi-layered approach, we’re hopeful our students will be better prepared to achieve lifelong financial, emotional and physical stability for themselves and their families.

While we’re thrilled to be able to provide this vital opportunity for the women enrolled in our programs, we’re excited to expand our reach and invite other community members to further their studies with us. Recently, a group of men in the community have expressed an interest in continuing their studies in order to obtain formal employment. In response, we’ll be restarting an all-male evening class for approximately 15 men eager to continue their studies. In partnership with an external organization, we’ll also offer Gentle Masculinity workshops through which our male students will explore healthy and respectful ways to express themselves. Further, we are looking forward to partnering with another local NGO to recruit teenage moms in the community who’ve been drawn away from their studies due to parental responsibilities. And last but not least, we remain committed to providing educational opportunities for our senior population, most of whom never had the opportunity to study at all. These women, who have been with us since our founding, have demonstrated their commitment to ongoing education and setting an example for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. While they may be too old to work in the formal sector or return to a traditional school setting, these women continue to show up each week with an unwavering dedication to personal growth. By providing a safe space for non-traditional learners, we’re committed to making sure no one in our community is excluded from achieving their dreams. 

Creamos enters this chapter with a refreshing combination of new and veteran team members, all of whom have demonstrated a great amount of enthusiasm for the integration of adult education. As an organization, we enter this year with humility, and an open mind to learn from our participants how to further grow the education program. 

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Solidarity
Solidarity

Living in an area as unstable and tumultuous as the community surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump inevitably leads to loss for our participants. Since Creamos’ founding, we have sadly witnessed not only significant loss and bereavement, but an absence of the physical space and coping resources to support our grieving participants. This year, Creamos’ emotional support team (called Creamos Voces) identified several women in our program who were resorting to unhealthy habits to reduce the pain of loss. After recognizing this need, the organization developed a culturally appropriate, grief support group for those affected. Group participants were carefully selected and prepped for the dynamics and topics that were going to be covered.

The first few sessions of the group were dedicated to identifying and exploring current coping mechanisms that our participants were using. During these sessions, many participants disclosed engaging in unhealthy habits to reduce the pain of their loss, including substance use, and isolation. Many also noted that they carried profound feelings of guilt, while others expressed feeling as though they were “being punished.”

Although the atmosphere within the grief group was markedly morose and somber at the outset, the group produced some of the most beautiful and positive outcomes we’ve ever seen at Creamos throughout their eight week program. For the first time, our participants were able to validate the pain they had felt as a result of the death of a loved one, some of whom had been carrying this pain for more than ten years. With the guidance of our organization’s psychologist, the women learned about the stages of grief, and strategies for communicating their personal needs, anger and sadness in a way that doesn’t hurt others. As the group progressed, we began to see our participants’ pain shift and allow them to become present and compassionate mothers. We also saw them come to support each other without feeling judged in their own process.

One of the most impactful participants in the grief group was a woman who we’ll call “Momma X”. Although Momma X knew it was the right decision to leave her husband for the safety of her children, she always feared that leaving him would lead to his death due to the severity of his substance abuse. A week before the group started, Momma X’s husband died. She arrived to the first day of the grief group convinced that she was responsible for his death, along with other conflicting emotions. However, throughout the program, she found solace and comfort through the support of her peers. Her feelings of guilt began to morph into feelings of acceptance, and she was able to understand that his death was not tied to anything she did or didn’t do. Ultimately, Momma X stated that the group allowed her to move to a new chapter of her life, and made her feel confident that she had the tools to process future loss.

On the last day of the grief group, participants engaged in a group meditation during which they imagined what type of advice would they give to their future selves. The messages were filled with hope, including “You are going to be okay” and “I am loved and that is enough.”

What we’ve learned through facilitating the pilot grief group is that our women are more resilient than we had ever imagined. Despite the loss that our participants experience, they continue to do the work to make themselves better. They continue to study, to work in jobs that challenge them, and to be the best mothers they can be for their children.

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Child Caregivers at work
Child Caregivers at work

Leslie was doing 100 squats like the rest of the exercise class, but she was more tired than most. Throughout the whole class, Leslie was carrying some extra weight - literally. She was exercising while carrying her baby. When Creamos’ exercise program started, women often could not attend class, or had to periodically stop to check on their children in a carriage. As Creamos grew, it became evident that the lack of childcare options for women in our target community was inhibiting women from participating in daily activities and securing employment. Creamos believes that no woman should be discriminated against, or excluded from any area of our programming, for having a child to care for. 

Soon after this realization, Creamos acted swiftly and appointed one of the program participants as Creamos’ first Child Caregiver. The program started with a few toys, a small playpen and three children. Four years later, Creamos’ Child Caregiving Program has contracted three babysitters and serves approximately 40 children a month. Our caregivers vary in experience and skill set, but they have all created their own interpretation of their role to highlight their individual strengths. The Creamos Caregiving team is a group of women who do not get their products highlighted, nor do they get to interact with visitors who sing their praises. However, they are the team who make it possible for so many women to participate in the range of programs and services Creamos has to offer. 

We’d like to take the time to feature and honor this dream team.

Meet Seño Kathi

Kathi has been involved with Creamos indirectly for the past ten years. Her mother Jeannette, was one of the first participants of the organization. From the age of two, Kathi has been attending Safe Passage, and in 2016, Kathi graduated from high school. Upon graduation, Kathi was preparing to attend university, and was looking for a job. She was encouraged to apply for the Child Caregiver position and was contracted immediately after her interview. Kathi is reserved, while having a calming and endearing presence. From the first day Kathi was hired, she has never been late nor missed a day, and is a mature and responsible communicator. There have been certain circumstances in which Kathi has had to come in last minute or perform a task outsider her job description. Kathi always goes above and beyond to be as helpful as she can. Since 2018, Kathi has taken English classes offered in the community. In the beginning of this year, Kathi took it upon herself to start an English club with the older group of children within Creamos’ babysitting program. This initiative embodies what makes Kathi so special. She is humble, never seeks praise, and will always take action when she deems it is for the benefit of those around her. In July 2019, Kathi began attending an intensive 6-month English Course provided by Guatemala’s municipality. She currently works in the morning, and attends class at night. Kathi aspires to use her English to help others in her community and work in a call center. 

Meet Seño Heidy

Heidy’s story is one of irony.  In 2018, Heidy was having behavioral issues in school. Her family was concerned, as she was at risk of getting kicked out of school for her conduct and poor grades. During her summer vacation, Heidy’s mother, Mirna, who is a founding member of Creamos, asked if as a punishment, Heidy could volunteer in our child caregiver program. Heidy was interviewed, and Creamos decided to grant her a trial period for a month. After the first week, Heidy’s whole demeanor had changed. She came into work with a huge smile, was friendly with everyone, punctual and slowly brought toys from home for the children. When she would arrive, children would run across the building into her arms screaming “Seño Heidy!!!” Mothers in the community began to hear about Heidy’s way with children, and hired Heidy to babysit for them on the weekends. After a month, Heidy approached her mother and stated that she finally knew her career path; she would like to be a Kindergarten teacher.  After her summer vacation, Creamos hired Heidy to work as a part time child caregiver under the condition that she continue to study. Presently, Heidy is now paying for her own schooling, and her grades are in the 80th and 90th percentile.  What began as a punishment has now become a career path for Heidy. She works under the guidance of Seño Vivi and promises to evolve  into an innovative and passionate educator.

Meet Seño Vivi

Creamos met Seño Vivi through one of our community partners. She is our most seasoned and experienced child caregiver who has worked at larger educational institutions in our community such as Safe Passage and Planting Seeds International. Vivi grew up a few blocks from the Creamos office, and expresses a deep desire to give back to her community.  Although Vivi’s time with Creamos has been brief, she has already enhanced the overall structure of the program. She creates weekly age-appropriate lesson plans for children of all academic levels. She has implemented movie and discussion days, and incorporates an educational component in all activities. Vivi provides supervision for Seño Heidy. Vivi’s experience and her kind manner allows mothers to feel fully confident that they are leaving their children in a safe and productive environment.

These are the three women whose work enables 48 women to participate in Creamos’ income-generating and emotional support activities. Thank you Child Caregiving Squad! 

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Organization Information

Creamos

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala - Guatemala
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Twitter: @creamosmujeres
Project Leader:
Hannah Sklar
Guatemala City, Guatemala
$105,878 raised of $150,000 goal
 
760 donations
$44,122 to go
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