As you probably have heard, Guatemala has just experienced two natural disasters within four days. The explosion at Volcano Pacaya and Hurricane Agatha have left an estimated 153 individuals dead within this country alone. The 30 story deep sinkhole in the capital city is truly terrifying and mind –boggling. Check out these links:
Failing to follow the demands of Barbara Streisand, hurricane Agatha literally rained on my parade (tour, same thing). Despite a Peace Corps authorized stand fast while I was on the Cooperative, a few short mile walk from my home, a group of 24 tourists came to take the Tea Tour in the midst of the torrential downpour. With the help of Luis Pena Jr., I translated and revamped the tour document into English the night before, thinking it would be useful to learn the information and have it for future tours. More than likely no one would show up in a hurricane, or so I thought. The majority of the tourists in the past have taken the tour in Spanish, whether that be school students, semi-fluent visitors or Guatemalans.
Needless to say, the Cooperative was full of gringos and the tour went on. As a missionary group taking their first trip with a group of college students, it was funny to hear sarcasm from the States again. Agatha kindly offered a rain strong and prominent enough to make using a paper script as an aid nothing less than comical. Luvia, one of our tour guides, a monk from their group who speaks Spanish and I went through the tour, blindly presenting the material with every squish of a step. The tour brought in over 700q (about 87 U.S. dollars). This may not seem substantial, but to put this into perspective each worker on the Co-op makes 30q per day. This one tour brought in an individual’s monthly salary.
Although the shotgun approach is what we as volunteers look to implement throughout our service; that approach being taking on a number of projects- not going all-in if you will, the tour is my primary project. Despite this fact, within my first two months the motivation factor for investment of time and funds into the tour has been inconsistent. It seemed that this past tour, bringing in a significant chunk of income, may have been the tipping point for increased interest down the line throughout my service. This same group who took the tour ironically ran into my friend and fellow volunteer Brent out in the campo earlier in the week. Even more ironically, Brent had mentioned the religious group earlier on to me, which brought up the topic of hand-outs / religious preaching motivation in development work.
As volunteers looking to accomplish sustainable-- infrastructure, projects, knowledge, products/services, healthy practices, etc, hand-outs can be frustrating to our methods and goals. You need motivation through self-investment and knowledge in order to have lasting results. Although some help is generally better than nothing, it can negatively impact the mind-set as a country—the ‘things will just be given to us/done for us’ mentality--.
One of the trainers stated during training “Say there is a problem with individuals falling into a river/ drowning, a missionary/hand-out group may go to the point down river where these people are helplessly being carried away and give a net/ pull them out of the water, often times placing religious literature in hand thereafter. With hopes of completing sustainable work and that of the Peace Corps, we go up the stream to where the people are falling into the river and help fix the cause of the problem/ work together for long-term avoidance of the issue.’ I found this analogy interesting. I don’t mean to personally offend those who may be involved in religious groups and realize hand-out work isn’t always religiously connected. I am simply stating my viewpoint from my experience. Sticking with the theme of religion and water, an allusion to baptism, my neighbor Mary Jr. is pregnant! She is due this fall and has asked me to be the godfather. This is exciting news and being torn between moving onto the Co-op or staying in my neighboring village, this definitely makes me want to stay close to the family I have become so close with.
I have already been in country for nearly five months, two in my site. Although certain days drag on, overall time is moving rapidly... that is life. Beyond language study…. I currently have a meeting lined up with an NGO to build a bottle-school on the Co-op ( using an ‘eco’ brick of plastic bottles packed full with plastic wrappers) following student collections, am working with another NGO to set up a sustainable book program in which the students invest a few dollars—which in turn is invested into the following years books, am teaching English with a number of students who did not pass in my town (and planning classes with those I work with), and have promoted the tour throughout local facilities in the nearby city.
Additional work ideas in progress include: an increase in Q’eqchi history within the tour ( a typical home, comedor/food option, etc. with a future increase in foreigner tourists). Holding ‘an outsiders view,’ it is easy to see how interesting the culture truly is, something overlooked by someone living within it on a daily basis. Other events for this month include establishing a guide feedback system, getting involved in family planning work through a PC program, trail maintenance and planting 100 trees with the local school and my site mate. These future ideas and completed work are currently flowing in my head because my Project Director is visiting my site this Friday and I just put together a presentation to use during it, highlighting a handful of these topics.
I hope to take part in a dental hygiene day within the local schools this July, with activities, information, etc. and an award of diplomas and toothbrushes following completion . Although I have only received packages from my mom, Luis and Meg T.(in no way demeaning you three!), if you want to help out feel free to send toothbrushes or toothpaste down this way! I mean, if you want to throw in a magazine or something I won’t complain. Until next time-- Ivan
5 years ago