Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Saw the Sign— and it Opened up my Eyes

          As the title track on the first cassette I ever owned in my life, the 1993 Ace of Base smash hit- The Sign- still holds significance in my life, or at least makes an excellent title for this post.  I am sure I could likewise find a way to title future posts with various other tracks from the album-- “All that she Wants (Is Another Baby),” “Happy Nation,” “Living in Danger,” only to name a few obvious examples.  My primary project within my work is that of eco-tourism; I am working alongside a Q’eqchi community in order to improve a tea-tour, offered on both foot and bicycle. 

“A concept that describes a form of development that respects
tradition and culture,protects and preserves the environment, and 
educates and welcomes visitors sustainably over the long term.” 

Although widely misunderstood or unimplemented in most areas of this country about the size of Tennessee, tourism is clearly a virtually untapped financial resource for many of Guatemala’s unique, diverse, naturally beautiful, and culturally rich departments and communities.  Rafting, volcanoes, lakes, waterfalls, rain-forests, Mayan ruins, bird-watching opportunities, and communities containing some of the deepest and hardly altered Mayan lifestyles are widely prevalent.  Despite this fact, there remains a significant need for improvements in customer service, computer literacy and training, language ability, business and accounting practices, promotional materials and resources, presentation, and feedback-…the list goes on.
          Having worked within customer service for a number of years, conducted market analysis and promotional improvement projects in New York, and worked with European tourists the summer before I departed, I felt confident- and still do in a different way- I had the tools to improve this tour and make a positive impact on business level—beyond the cultural interchange, secondary projects, and inevitable spreading of laughter.  Beyond this resume knowledge, one major aspect I overlooked for some time was my ‘outsider’s point of view’.
For example, in a recent meeting with the head directors of the Cooperative there was difficulty among those in attendance to grasp the concept of cultural tourism.  Sure, bird watching, adventure tourism, agro-tourism, Nature views and waterfalls, but why would someone want to see how traditional food is prepared or typical clothing of the Mayan communities?  Would someone actually pay to learn about history, play a marimba, and eat caldo?  Having an outside perspective it is easy to understand the answer to these doubts is yes; the first large group of U.S. tourists we received actually indicated this interest in their feedback.

While in the Estados Unidos  (U.S.) we are constantly surrounded by signage.  Is this the men’s or women’s bathroom? How long is this trail or path? Is there a handicapped child in the area? Where is the next rest-stop off the highway? How far is Jimmy Johns?  What is the speed limit? Simple information displayed to inform, protect, promote, assist, and make things happen around us with some sort of fluidity.  Informing of locations, directions, and information is especially important within tourism.  Those visiting are clients and have no previous knowledge of the destination and its surroundings.  Simple right? 
We as a Cooperative are currently in the process working to get funding for official Cooperative signs on the major roads.  Knowing local resources, NGO’s, governmental organizations, etc. to reach out to and work with is undeniably an important step to becoming professional, efficient, and connected for the future.  Professional external promotion and signage is necessary in moving forward, but my ‘outsider’s view’ noticed a shortage of internal signage  on a very basic level.  Things as simple as locations throughout the tour, bathroom differentiation, office labeling, general information, directions, and distance were not present.  Simple signs can make a world of difference, allowing the client to get to what they need, when they need it.  Using the router, which we were briefly trained to use during our training in February, I have begun a sign project with those on the Co-operative.  Teaching how to draw out, space, carve, and paint signs made out of wood, I hope to teach a skill which will be used well on into the future.  Ironically I am fairly decent at sign-making myself; one of my most significant contributions in promotion has been one I did not even realize I possessed.

-Don Chico and I- One of the hardest workers I have ever met.For the publication release event we also made three signs on the Chicoj Cooperative. 

Although I could tap into studies on color preference based on life experience or age, eye-tracking studies on websites, or size and shape significance, one of the things I overlooked as an outsider was finding the balance in what I know and the functioning culture of where I am assisting.  Luckily this was a simple project and my error was simply in using cursive writing.  I have found that many Guatemalans have had to re-read a few of the signs which were made in cursive, a style of writing not as commonly used.  I am currently reading The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz (Thanks Aunt Maureen) and found this following excerpt relevant to what I am getting at.  The lesson seems to be taking basic instinct, knowledge, and experience and implementing it in a way that intermingles relevantly. 

UNICEF hired an expensive Italian designer to create a poster campaign aimed at convincing women to vaccinate their children…They were perfect, except for the fact that the extremely low literacy rate in Rwanda made it likely that words written even in Kinyarwanda would have little impact.  Much better would have been pictures that told stories…Just seeing this process, though, helped me to think differently about how to design future messages and programs, how to move away from our view on how things should be done and observe how people live and communicate with one another.

Nevertheless, in dealing with tourists, both foreign and Guatemalan, there is a unique challenge of finding a balance in how things are communicated, presented, and targeted.  Our Viviente Verapaz team, representing the alliance of eleven tourism sites , recently put together a promotional item fitting within that universal communication middle ground- print material.  After months of meetings and preparations we recently held the Viviente Verapaz guidebook release feria at the Chicoj Coffee Cooperative, in which we hosted and fed over one-hundred attendees.  The 23 page book, a review of the sites in Alta and Baja Verapaz region, is aimed to be distributed to tourism agencies, restaurants, hostels, and other places visitors frequent throughout the country.  
Preparing tea for the lunch
Kamille and the Chicoj tour guides
Throughout the process we stressed counterpart participation in fulfilling all steps regarding the publication and event.  A major goal is for each Cooperative president or tourist site director to begin meeting regularly, eventually taking on this alliance as their own. Host-country national membership would allow for legalization as a certified organization, opening up doors to increased funding down the road.  The immense opportunity the alliance holds is claro como agua- clear as water.  This event and publication have opened up my eyes so to speak, but I am the one who saw the sign.  I am hopeful we will see the sign and potential during my service and for years to come.

Until next time—The Ace of Base,


Chirrepec tour-guides talking with media
Cover of the alliance guide-book

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Go to the people:
live with them, learn from them
love them
start with what they know
build with what they have.

But of the best leaders,
when the job is done,
the task accomplished,
the people will say:
"We have done it ourselves."
-Lao Tzu

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oxib, Tres, Three

Brushing Contract

Thanks to the collection of toothbrushes and toothpaste by my Liverpool Worldwise School Match Program class we were successfully able to put on the first of three workshop sessions at the second school on the Co-operative. Bantiox!  Although there is a hold-up with one of the two packages down in the capital, we utilized the limited number of toothpastes we had by pairing siblings together.  Not only did we end with one extra toothpaste, but we will now be starting a third workshop with a neighboring community using the materials from the awaited package. 

The magic number seems to be three.  The children are reminded to brush a minimum of three times daily, making sure to brush all three key areas; upper-level teeth(both left and right quadrants), bottom-level teeth, tongue.  It is now 'summer vacation' for the students until January, the month that will mark the beginning of a new year, the introduction of floss to the first school, plaque check-ups for the second, and my one-year mark in Guatemala.  Again students sing happy birthday, mouths full of tooth-paste foam and some even blood, to dental hygiene and healthy smiles-  a song likewise holding significance to Peace Corps in January as well, marking the 50 year anniversary as an organization.    

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rich in Vitamin A,K,E,B6, and C-arrot

As promised I have a follow up on the baking activity put on with some of the students from the Chibulbut School.  A few girls grew and harvested one row of the garden, which included carrots.    Kamille decided to make carrot cakes with the students; she then went on to make them with the women of the Cooperative.  It was a unique way to incorporate healthy vegetables into a yummy snack; the cakes were extra healthy made of mostly carrots with a sprinkle of sugar- yet undeniably delicious.  It is widely unknown, but Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in all of Latin America, even higher than Haiti (the region’s poorest country), and ranks sixth in the entire world for chronic malnutrition.  Over 1 million children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, of which nearly 70% are indigenous.  Diets consisting of little more than tortillas can cause permanent damage on development and growth.  Likewise, the recession has caused a significant decrease in the money being sent back from the U.S. to support families, as nearly 15% of Guatemala’s GDP comes from remittances.  As I have witnessed firsthand, many of the crops families do grow are believed to have better value as market-sale income than as nutritious supplements for family benefit. 

After a morning of rival soccer outings between Co-op schools, the girls who tended to the carrot row gathered to make baked carrot goods with the richest vegetable source of the pro-vitamin A carotenes, antioxidant compounds protecting against cardiovascular disease and cancer, and vision promoting nutrients—I mean, delicious CAKE.  I have attached the recipe in the local Mayan dialect, Q’eqchi.  Buen provecho.
1              sek’  harin                                                    2            lekleb  Royal
½             lekleb  atz’am                                               1               lekleb canel
2/3         sek’  aceite                                                    1               sek’ azucr
2              b’ukuk li mol                                                2               zanahor k’ajinbil

1.   1.    Junaji li harin,  li Royal, li canel, ut li atz’am
2.   2.  Junaji li aceite, li azucr, ut eb li mol b’ukbil, ut k’e rikin li harin.
3.   3.   Kut  li zanahor sal i junaji, ut k’e sa jun molde engrasado.
4.   4  K’e sa li xam 1 ½ honal.
 Info Source: UNICEF

Thursday, October 7, 2010

They’ll call me freedom, Just like a Wavin’ Flag

September 15th was the celebration of Guatemala's Independence Day. 189 years ago, in 1821, Guatemala became independent after nearly 327 years under Spanish rule.  Common events throughout the week included parades, pageants, setting off bombas, torch-runs, and an abundance of waving light-blue Guatemalan flags.  I was able to participate in a number of events with the two local schools on the Co-op and even acted as one of the four judges at the Chibulbut community SeƱorita de Independencia four-hour long pageant.  Pageant questions were answered in both Spanish and Q’eqchi, the local Mayan dialect.  Although Guatemala is a country brimming with corruption, various lacks of freedom, and a violent history, it was refreshing to see such pride and excitement for this independence.  Despite this fact, a co-worker stated; “If we hadn’t gained independence we would be World Cup Champions.”  Primero dios—first god, and then futbol.

Girls from Chibulbut School
Running the 6 kilometers from Coban Park to Chibulbut

Miss Independence Day Pageant