Robert Dubois and I visited GVI as part of our GlobalGiving staff listening tour in Guatemala. This is what we saw and heard:
- Fruit for School Lunches -
Alton picked us up and drove us to a hidden village in the hills surrounding Lake Atitlan. On the way, we stopped off in the market at Solola to collect fruit that GVI provides school children as part of project 2466, “Energy Efficient Cooking Stoves in Lake Atitlán,” and 2467, “School Meals at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.” Opposite the market, several hundred indigenous people congregated in front of their community hall. It was some sort of demonstration, one of many we saw on our week-long listening tour. The people here are restless and want more from their government.
The school was full of happy kids. Alton introduced us. He knew the names of almost all of them, which tells you he is very involved with ensuring the project delivers. Alton has worked in this region for years with GVI. Alton said, “I joined as a volunteer. We only had one project set up at that time. I am a teacher from New York. As I was leaving, Dom (the regional director) asked me, ‘what do you think about setting up a project in Ecuador?’ Well I couldn’t pass that up!” And so he has continued to work throughout Central and South America ever since. GVI has 10 projects on GlobalGiving.
These kids are all indigenous, and Alton says that GVI works to help the community in a variety of ways, although we only had time to visit one school and see the school-lunch and the stove-building programs. The new kitchen is now less smoky and more fuel-efficient than the old one, thanks for support from GlobalGiving donors.
- Global Vision International’s Approach -
Alton explained GVI’s approach. “We believe in reciprocity. We don’t want to give out stuff. That’s not how we work. We work in conjunction with the community. For example, with the firewood, we don’t provide the wood. The kids provide the wood. We give ‘em fruit. Lunch as well. But they bring their own tortillas, forks, and plates.”
“The history of the indigenous here is full of repression, discrimination, and indifference. The first language here is Katchikal. [These kids don’t speak Spanish when they start school here.] The trust of the community is our main goal. Dom and I have been up here speaking with community leaders, mothers, and teachers for over two years. Our projects are long term, a 25 year plan.”
- How do we preserve local culture? -
Alton also wanted us to know that GVI was sensitive about the relationship between outsiders and indigenous communities. They think placing volunteers in villages is counter productive because the foreigners bring new ideas that disrupt the community. They need more food, cleaner houses, and a lot of emotional support.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I found these ideas worthy of a longer discussion. I personally think that some volunteers can do meaningful work in the right settings, and that indigenous culture is changing too rapidly to preserve already. During our classroom visit to the 2nd grade, I held up a cell phone and asked, “Have you ever used one of these?”
About a third of the students in the 2nd grade raised a hand.
“What did you do with it?”
“I talked with my mother,” one girl said.
“Yes, my grandmother called me,” another said.
We live in a rapidly shrinking society. Our aim at GlobalGiving is to ensure that more people benefit from the technology that is causing this world to shrink.