Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Best Things About Guatemala…

Here is our list of the best things about Guatemala.
By Joelle Tomlinson and Heather Farragher

15. Teresa (Open Windows - Project host)
14. Getting high fives from kids
13. Being disconnected from the technology that fills our life at home – constant text messages and blackberries
12. Being free from the distractions of home
11. Getting to play soccer anytime and anywhere with tons of kids
10. Living between two active volcanoes
9. Guatemalan people being so friendly that you absolutely cannot walk past someone without them saying
“Buenos dias!”
8. Guatemalan breakfast - eggs with tomato sauce, quesadillas and black beans
7. Learning Spanish
6. Seeing how happy children are to have the simplest things
5. Hot weather and plenty of sunshine
4. The juiciest fruit you can ever eat
3. Salsa dancing
2. Cold cervezas after a long hard day of work
1. Meeting new people

The few challenges we’ve dealt with in Guatemala…

1. Not being able to speak Spanish
2. Cultural differences
3. Sticking out like a sore thumb in a crowd
4. Brutal cell phone reception so you can never call home
5. Handwashing your clothes (takes forever)
6. Dealing with drastic and constant changes in the weather
7. Killing huge bugs in your bedroom before you go to sleep
8. Team members dealing with that special kind of travel sickness
9. Getting bus drivers to let us off at the right stop
10. Sunburns

May 17: Teaching English, playing Soccer: these activites are beneficial too!

When we arrived here Teresa had originally wanted us to focus on fixing up the centre or teaching English. The first part has been no problem and we are actually running out of paint before they can get it to us. The second part you would think would also be no problem. But, when the kids know nothing but the numbers 1-10 and their colours, and we are all deers caught in headlights, mumbling phrases that we learned in class… lets just say it doesn’t work. So, we’ve all come up with a different plan and today finally put it into full swing. We are such a diverse team with different areas of expertise and interest, so we decided to just roll with it and see what activities we could pull off with the kids.

I worked with three of the girls on the team to come up with some plans for soccer practices and a schedule for the local kids to play organized games. If you know me, that shouldn’t be at all surprising! Last week we played two pick up games of soccer and they ran the pants off us, but we held our own. We decided it needed to be more organized though because we only had one girl out to play and we clearly want more! I brought old jerseys and balls that my team at home donated to the cause and it was great to see the kids enjoy more resources like this.

Dave taught some of the kids how to play the guitar and some caught on so fast it was great. One even managed to learn enough to teach me a few things, although he was better than me. And, the rest of the team worked on arts and crafts with the kids and taught them how to knit wash cloths. Although these activities may not seem as important as building houses, libraries or wells, it was amazing for the kids. I came home with a huge smile on my face because of it all. I think my team is slowly starting to understand that all the activities, conversations and teaching opportunities that they are creating and leading are so beneficial to these kids and this small community too. It’s easy for us to take for granted the years of our childhood when we were able to go to soccer practices or after school piano lessons. There are no girl guides or boy scouts here, and from conversations with Teresa about the way people spend time here, it seems that many kids don’t have the same opportunities for interaction. Sure, a lot of the boys play soccer, but they don’t have their parents on the sidelines cheering. So, tomorrow we are going to be their fans and I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Hasta luego!

May 17: Learning Spanish

One week down – four to go!

I had my first “Spanish” conversation today! It may not seem like a huge deal, especially considering the fact that it was with a 9 year old boy, but for me it was a breakthrough. It was as basic as basic gets, but it was something and it made both of us smile. It even ended with a high five! Good sign right?

After a week of being here, I can say that language is the biggest challenge that I’m dealing with. Very few people I meet speak English here, and I’m definitely not fluent in Spanish. My team really isn’t any better either actually. Out of the nine of us, one speaks Spanish fluently and I think we are overwhelming her already by asking how to say things and asking her what words mean every five seconds. That being said, it hasn’t been impossible though. Actually, I couldn’t be more impressed and proud of my team so far. I knew that I was taking on a huge challenge by leading a development project here while I don’t speak Spanish, but everyday I’m more and more confident that we will find a way and that we will all pick up the basics by the end.

I knew from the first day of work that my team was hard working. I’m sure you would agree if you saw us sitting at the dinner table every night plowing through our meal, with dirt smeared on our faces and paint all over our clothes, just absolutely exhausted. Today I realized though that they are even more courageous and amazing for coming to do work here knowing that they would deal with a language barrier. It’s been hard, but they have already put themselves out there and are figuring out how to communicate. A few of them also had their own breakthroughs in our morning Spanish class. Some don’t know that I heard or saw, but I caught them stumbling through conversations and actually successfully getting their point across to the kids one way or another. Somehow you aren’t as intimidated to try to talk to a nine year old and make mistakes in every sentence, or to make ridiculous gestures and try to speak with half words and half charades. Maybe by the end of week two I’ll even manage to speak to an adult in full sentences!

Hasta luego!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arrival in Guatemala: The wonder of it all.

Buenos Dias!

Finally! After months of preparation and anticipation we have arrived in Guatemala. The beauty of the country and the people left me speechless when we first arrived two days ago, so I am only getting to my first entry now. Now that I sit down and try to find the right words, I realize that it is much more difficult than I had anticipated to blog. How do I put into words what I feel, what I see and speak of my team so that you, wherever you are, can get a true taste of Guatemala? I hope that the pictures speak for themselves in many cases and that I can bring Guatemala alive in your imagination.

I suppose the best way to explain the past 48 hours is to say that I can’t close my eyes. I’m on sensory overload. I am constantly watching, listening, feeling, smelling and tasting new things. I love it. There is nothing that I would rather be doing right now. There is nothing like the feelings you experience when you are travelling. I’m especially thrilled to be here as I just graduated from Ryerson University and to be having a “grad trip” like this. In fact, I can’t imagine being in Toronto right now and working a “regular” job. I feel like this trip found me at the perfect time, that I found the best team, an amazing host (Open Windows Foundation) and the most gorgeous country.

First of all, I should tell you why we are here. My team is here to work with Open Windows Foundation, to experience and live life in a different culture, and begin to learn Spanish. Open Windows Foundation started out as the only library in San Miguel Duenas and has now grown to be a library, school, computer lab and community centre all in one. As illiteracy is such a large problem in Guatemala, it is clear that OW is absolutely essential to improving the well being of the children and families in the community. The opportunities that OW offers are priceless.

We have been so excited and inspired by the work that OW does, that we also haven’t wasted any time in getting to work. As you can see in the pictures, we’ve started painting the second floor of OW, which is the new edition that the previous Developing World Connections team built in November. Already we can see the difference that a bright yellow can of paint can do for the atmosphere and how excited the kids get when they see that their “biblioteca” is improving. We’ve also helped to plan and prepare for the Mother’s Day celebration that OW is hosting this week for all of the local mothers. In addition to improving OW physically, it has been amazing to be connected to and welcomed by the community already. We have a busy schedule lined up that includes playing soccer with the local kids, taking Spanish lessons, plastering and repairing the walls at OW, painting and teaching English. In addition to our “team” activities, members of my group have also decided to take on individual projects and initiatives. For example, two of my team members who are studying Journalism and Radio and Television Arts are making a documentary and a team member who studies nursing has been presented with the opportunity to shadow a local nurse. I’m sure that they will give me tons of exciting and interesting things to write about next time and maybe even post some entries themselves.

Hasta Luego!