Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Us (pronounced oose) means bueno/good in the local Mayan language, Q'eqchi'.  Past volunteers from Chirrepec have visited and indicated that it is one of the words they have kept in their vocabulary.  Letting out the occasional us to good news will likely remain a part of my vocabulary and will surely result in weird stares at the guy who seems to be making some sort of animal noise.  I am pleased to let out an 'us' that the Hope 4R Youth Project has been completely funded and will commence in mid-January.  Thank you to all the donors!

The Volunteer project you have requested is fully funded. Please consider supporting other projects around the world:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sanimtaka Solar Panel Project

          Forty-two families in the remote indigenous village of Sanimtaka invested 1000q each (about $130) to purchase their own solar panel kit: a solar panel, two lights with extension, and a phone charger.  The remaining funding was provided by USAID as part of the renewable energy initiative.  Each family will now have light at night for the first time in their lives.  Children will be able to complete homework without candles and families will no longer purchase copious amounts of batteries to use in flashlights.  The solar panels were provided by Quetsol, an NGO which specializes in solar panel projects throughout the region.  Check out their work here:http://www.quetsol.com/

Monday, December 5, 2011

I’ll Take the Ricky Martin Special

A younger co-worker and his brother have decided to start their own barbería or barber shop.  In an effort to help support their business and entrepreneurial spirits I made a sign for the new shop they will be constructing in the coming weeks, set to include a cement floor.  As a thankful gesture they offered me a free cut.  The walls are lined with pictures of celebrities; David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, Ricky Martin.  With fifteen weeks remaining in my service I took a leap of faith and asked for the Ricky Martin fo-hawk.  When in my life will I live in a society where fo-hawks are socially acceptable again? (Enter New Jersey joke). Here are a few photos, although blurry, of just another day livin la vida loca.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All Saints Day

Perez Molina Wins Election

Peace Corps of Mind

          I am elated to officially state that the USAID Latrine Project has been completed.  Fourteen families have now been capacitated and have successfully constructed new latrines in an effort to improve community health and water sanitation.   I am now well underway with my upcoming Peace Corps Partnership Project (see below) and will be involved to some capacity with a solar lighting project in a rural community about an hour outside of Coban.  The community, called Sanimtaka, is located in a cloud forest and does not have access to any electricity.   I should have more details about my involvement with the project in the coming weeks after I meet with my Program Director. 
          One roadblock I encountered with a particular family throughout the latrine project was a struggle with fulfilling deadlines and the ability to enact a sense of accountability within each participant.  Having taken over the project from a returned volunteer who left during the two month state of the siege, it was a bit more difficult as I had no previous relationship with the local government or the project recipients.  Nonetheless, we were able to establish ground rules and hold each participating family accountable for their materials and deadlines through the completion of the project. Consequences helped in this specific case.
          Time and time again key words have com e up—accountability, sustainability, investment, consequences.  Being here has shown me firsthand how important these ‘things’ are not only in international development, but within any type of efficient and fluid society.   Whether it be a kindergarten class or the United States government, consequences and accountability are essential.  I recently visited my Aunt Michele and her family in Palm Coast, Florida.  While having an early Thanksgiving dinner she asked me what I missed the most about the states.  I’m not sure if it was being on the verge of a food coma or the few Octoberfest Blue Moons I had drank (highly recommended for all those stateside!), but I was hard pressed to come up with a significant answer at the time.  I mentioned something about a social life and the sarcasm of my friends back home and that was that.
          On my flight back to Guatemala I ran into a fellow volunteer from my training group.  Her Guatemalan boyfriend was picking her up and kindly offered to bring me to my bus station.  After picking up my luggage, I put my passport and the majority of my money into my money belt and headed to his car.  During the ride he mentioned that had been robbed of his Blackberry and some money while she was away.  We talked a bit about how one becomes accustomed to always having your guard up; it becomes second nature.  We equally noted how nice it was to not be concerned about being robbed or hiding our valuables while home.
  I hopped on the 1pm Monja Blanca bus up to Coban, expecting to arrive around 5:30.  Unfortunately, a Dole truck carrying bananas had flipped causing the road to be blocked.  This resulted in a three hour delay of standstill traffic.  It began to get dark, and there I was with my new computer, passport, i-pod, and other valuables on a bus unable to go anywhere.  Primetime vulnerable victims- have I been watching too much Law and Order?  The cherry on the sundae was the lack of cellphone coverage at the particular spot.   Having just returned from being stateside, I was more aware in the moment of not only the vulnerability the situation posed, but the difference between our two worlds. 
            To make the traffic situation worse, rather than wait in the extensive two lane backup on each side, drivers decided to fill all four lines.  All four lanes of a two-lane highway filled with cars in one direction- a truck in the middle- resulting in neither side able to pass once the wreckage was indeed cleared.  This reinforced for me the lack of consequences in Guatemala.  There is little to no chance people will get ticketed for filling lanes meant for the opposite directions- so why not try and cut?  Ultimately, the cars were able to file back into their two appropriate lanes and we began moving again.  The initial lack of patience just extended the delay.  I arrived in Coban around ten pm, concluding a bus trip three times as long as the flight.  Lucky for me, my site-mate was moving the next day and her boyfriend was able to pick me up in their rental truck upon my safe arrival.
     Within my first ten hours back in country I was quickly able to answer my aunt’s question: safety, security, accountability, consequences. Peace of Mind.  In a month where the focus is on being thankful, we tend to focus on thing we can often times take for granted.  Family, friends, health, access to food.  Being away has extended this list for me to include the aforementioned forgotten items as well.  Not wearing a money belt.  Taking transport without the thought of a robbery.  Traveling at night.

Each Thanksgiving all eighteen cousins write down what we are thankful for in my grandmother’s notebook.  This year, not only am I thankful for family, friends, and my health- but for this peace of mind I took for granted back home and this unique opportunity which has allowed me to realize it exists.

My good friend Jessica’s brother also crashed a banana truck a few years back in Central New York.  For this reason- and that I miss her- this post is dedicated to her. 
P.S.  Jess,
I had a dream which included you & me, a morning walk, and turkey bacon last night.  It was lovely. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Peace Corps Partnership Project

          Hope 4R Youth is an effort to educate, inspire, and offer opportunity to the youth of a small indigenous community in the northern highlands of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.  The department of Alta Verapaz has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country, which itself severely lacks health care and  yields the highest malnutrition rate in Latin America.  This often times causes children to feel they have no control, diminishing hope and the ability to dream big.  Hope 4R Youth aims to show the children there are aspects they can control, now.  These begin in areas as basic as their health, wellness, and surrounding environment.  The program will include two weeks of workshops, with a three work construction period during which a recycled playground and completed kitchen stove will be built.
          The first week will focus on a number of environmental issues and activities including the 4R’s (Reducir,Reutilizar, Reciciclar, Recoger), water conservation, tree planting, trash decomposition  and classification, and recycling bin construction.  The interim three weeks will include building a recycled playground, including the use of eco-bricks (bottles stuffed by the children with inorganic waste), and an improved block-stove with ventilation .  The final week will focus on nutrition, the food pyramid, the building of tire gardens, dental health, self-confidence, and exercise.   The community will be contributing $311, accounting for nearly 30% of the total cost.
          The project will officially be completed in a 47 day period; January 9- February 24th.  The three teachers and I are currently in the process of organizing the lesson plans and creating a ‘guide’ which future teachers and other schools can use to conduct similar trainings and projects.  Included in the proposal are the brief lesson plans for the two weeks of training, as well as the playground games we will be constructing.  We are collecting and organizing the plans from a variety of sources, ranging from Peace Corps published workbooks to our own unique ideas.

       From January 9th through the 22nd we will be collecting and purchasing the materials for the four week project.  This includes everything from materials for the playground to supplies for the lessons.  The students (75) will bring their money for their dental supplies during the collection period as well.  The Guatemalan school calendar begins in January and runs through October.  This will allow a few weeks for the students to get accustomed to their teachers and being back in school mode before beginning with the project.  The director of the school owns a car, allowing for us to transport the heavier items, i.e. block, wood, cement, fertilizer, directly to the school.
          During the week of the23th through the 27th the Environmental Education Workshop will take place.  Throughout the three interim weeks the stove and recycled playground will be constructed. The tentative schedule for construction is as follows: January 30th-February 3rd- stove, eco-brick recycled bench; February 6th-10th- teeter-totter, swing-set, balance beam; February 13th-17th- tire ladder, tire goal posts, tire worm.  Depending on progress, the older children of the community will be asked to help on the weekends if additional time is necessary.  During the week of February 20th through the 24th the Healthy Choices and Exercise Workshop will take place.  Following the workshops, the teachers will put together a maintenance plan for the new infrastructure.
          The women of the community regularly use the stove at the Chibulbut School.  Whether preparing snacks for the students or cooking with the local women’s group, the respiratory effect of the smoke from the cooking fire is extremely hazardous.  The construction of the ‘improved stove’ with ventilation will significantly reduce this issue, allowing for a virtually smoke-free kitchen.  Likewise, the building of the playground will encourage increased exercise and activity.  Both of these infrastructure improvements will aid the community in meeting a long-term goal of healthier and longer lives for the community members.  This a basic, but integral goal in improving quality of life and the basis for being able to reach other goal or aspirations.
            The prosperity of our future lies directly within our youth; education is the foundation for our youth to prosper.  The students will learn and grow throughout the duration of the workshops and construction.  Participating in activities covering themes ranging from personal hygiene to trash decomposition, the Hope4RYouth program will instill a greater sense of understanding in the youth of Chibulbut enabling them to make better and more educated decisions.  These are decisions which will directly affect their bodies, health, and environment, directly affecting their futures and community as a whole.  Without one’s health and well-being, all other goals are cut short.  Therefore, concentrating on the well-being of the students and their surrounding environment, even on a basic level, will enable the next generation in Chibulbut to hope, dream, and prosper.
Project Link

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Latrine Photo Update

I spent the majority of yesterday mud skiing through the hills of an aldea in Alta Verapaz with this wise man pictured to the left.  My venture even included an accidental slide on my butt down one of the hills.  We were completing the final check-ups for the USAID latrine project.  Despite the fact that a departmental drug siege, the election, and mother nature have all played their part in the delay of the project, it should be completed in the coming weeks.  Gracias a dios.

Okay, Okay.  Half the photos are of the project and the other half adorable children and puppies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on the snow. I am the sunlight that ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn's rain. When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush; Of quiet birds in circled flight, I am the soft star that shines at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die.
 Remembering Babci 1917-2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

#The Quetzal --Tweet Tweet

National Bird
In a recent effort to catch up on technological advancements I have made a Twitter account. I finally understand what the # topics I’ve encountered over the past years time have meant.  Not only can I see what delectable cuisine my friends are eating: so-and-so has checked in at this pad thai or that sushi restaurant, but I can also see updates from celebrities, NGO’s, world news, and even B4thFame,  my best friend Marissa’s upcoming musical on the life of Lady Gaga. Twitter includes a location along with each brief 140 character update.  Ironically, Twitter notes that I am located in Mexico.  This reminded me of many questions I received while recently visiting the Estados Unidos in July.  #How is It up there?, #Where is Guatemala again?, #Does it take a day by plane?
Besides basic location, I knew little about neither Guatemala nor the culture before arriving here in January, 2010. Let’s be honest, the almighty Twitter doesn’t even know where I am on this rainy afternoon.  Although I am always happy to answer questions, these basic inquiries almost make me feel as if I am semi-failing with a central aspect of blogging- educating.  Here’s a brief background for my readers.  Guatemala is a country roughly the size of Kentucky, located directly below Mexico, making it an integral passing point on the narco-trafficking route.  Of the 14 million residents, over 10.5 million live below the poverty line--over 75%.  The most shocking statistic is the rate of malnutrition; Guatemala now ranks third in the world, only behind Afghanistan and Yemen.   In addition to high rates of malnutrition, Guatemala has a deep history of violence, including a 36 year civil war which took the lives of 200,000 individuals and left 40,000 plus individuals missing. 

The following articleperfectly encapsulates the on-going issues here in Guatemala.

Lack of family planning is a major issue contributing to the high rates of malnutrition, especially within the indigenous population.  A friend of mine, an ex-volunteer who now runs medical missions throughout the country, recently informed me that Alta Verapaz, the region where I am currently serving, has the highest average child-per-mother rate in the country- 11.  It is common these families are supported on a dollar or two per day.  Disturbingly, if you ask women in rural areas how many children they hope to have they are often confused.  How many? A typical response may be ‘As many as my husband wants to have.’  Although many answers lie in family planning and increased nutrition education, citizens are currently looking ahead to the presidential election for hope.  In a country where no party has had consecutive representatives win, the controversial election which will take place on September 11 holds heavy weight with the people.

Peace Corps recently released the following message concerning the election and the rainy season:

“Heavy rains affecting Guatemala have damaged the road infrastructure, causing several sections of main roads to collapse and/or wash off.  Historic rain fall data has shown that expected September’s rains will certainly cause more damage to the collapsing road system, increasing the risks travelers/visitors often face.  Another important event occurring in September is the Presidential, Congress and Local Authorities General Elections; which will be held in every town in Guatemala on Sunday September 11th.  Due to these threats to PCVs Safety, Peace Corps Guatemala has temporarily prohibited PCV’s from other countries from traveling to or through Guatemala.  This prohibition starts August 29th, 2011 and is expected to be lifted on October 3rd, 2011.  Approaching October, Peace Corps Guatemala will notify a change or continuum in its status”.

The upcoming elections, in conjunction with a generalized passive nature and miscommunication, have affected the final construction of the latrines.  ‘No’ or ‘I don’t know’ aren’t common phrases you’ll encounter in Guatemala.  If you ask someone on the street where an office is you are more likely to receive a generalized ‘In that direction…’ than an ‘I’m not sure.’   All of the local materials for the latrine project have been collected; sand, cement, toilet bowls.  Workshops have been completed.   Rather than providing me with an explanation of the current road block in the project, I received a simple affirmation that all of the materials are ready and construction would be completed throughout July.  In fact, each family’s material contribution has been collected and is ready, but not all of the materials needed.
The only materials lacking are the actual latrine frames, which are being shipped from Guatemala City.  Due to the local alcalde (governor) being the transportation method, the election has halted this last piece which is needed in order to quickly complete the project from being delivered.  Nevertheless, the final structure is now being shipped and I will spend the week of September 5-9th finishing the project in the two rural communities--pending on the fact that we are not ordered to stay in our homes throughout the election week.  Although the project has now been extended, I am glad I will directly be involved in the construction with the participating families and not miss this last leg of the process, as I thought I had while stateside. 
 I am currently planning a five week environmental and health based workshop entitled Hope 4R Youth aimed to be given in January and February at the local school.  A recycled playground and stove with proper ventilation are also included in the project.  Details to come!  Prior to the election I am also scheduled to participate in a seminar on climate change and natural disaster emergency planning.  A member of my work community named Hugo will be accompanying me.  Hugo, 21 years-young, has never left the department of Alta Verapaz.  I am excited he is getting the opportunity to see his country and learn.

 Evando113- Evan James-
 Miss you all  #Only217DaysLeft
                                                                           Chiapas, Mexico

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Estados Unidos

             I have now been back in Guatemala for four days.  Despite the return of minor stomach issues (soft ice-cream poop consistency), things are off to a positive start.  Funding for new promotional materials has been granted and will soon be printed, the latrine project materials are all collected  and it now only lacks construction and paperwork (although, a ton), I have cleaned and de-roached my house, and the rainy season has been tranquil thus far-- knock on wood.  My trip stateside was simply perfect and provided the reboot I needed to complete the last third of my service.  Here are some photos from my trip.  I undoubtedly have a wonderful family and awesome friends. #winning

Visiting with my Babci (Grandma)

24th Cumpleaños in NYC

Garett's (mi hermanito) grad party

Oneida Lake- Central NY
Overwhelmed in Wegmans