Friday, April 15, 2011

And sometimes Y

A,E,I,O,U & sometimes Y. This is a phrase my weekly English class of middle-aged students and soon to be tour-guides have repeated over and over.  Every word is made up of consonants and vowels; there is at least one vowel in every word.  The Y was initially left out by the students when learning the vowels early on.  Students often want to jump to the finished word or phrase- as we as humans may instinctively want and only analyze the final product, service, ability, or effect.  The Y, or WHY, is something that has become relevant in many projects I am currently undertaking.  The cause is often times the most overlooked and integral aspect that needs to be changed.  Students may be having trouble because they do not understand the opposite adjective-noun placement in the English language, the differing base sounds that form words, or how to make the ‘th’ sound.  Kamille and I have made fools of ourselves sticking our tongues out to teach and stress ‘th’is aspect of pronunciation.  Without analyzing, asking and solving the why, we are merely constructing a palace on unsteady ground.   This basic concept transfers over to a number of areas. 
The dental workshops we have conducted are aimed to educate kids on the importance of mouth hygiene through brushing and flossing both properly and regularly.  In addition to preventing dental caries, dental hygiene – or more simply- healthy teeth are necessary for eating and talking.  On an inevitable superficial scale, appearance affects job opportunity.  Likewise, overall health affects long-term availability to work and productivity while present.  The message can be skewed that toothbrushes are the solution, but this is not the case.  Behavioral change, one of the harder tasks one can face, is where the problem lies.  Lack of access to health-care undoubtedly plays a role in the shockingly high number, an estimated 60% of rural children currently have some sort of tooth decay, but this is not the entire cause of the epidemic.   Excessive snacking on junk-foods, lack of education on nutrition, and soda (”water”) being the regular cheap drink of choice by children are the roots of where the problem lies- the why- and for this reason are the areas we are targeting to create an increased awareness and understanding about.

Empty bottle+ plastic bags+ chip wrappers+ a little effort= ‘eco-brick.’   Gather and create thousands of these +cement + wire +metal slabs for the roof +a lot of hard work + community teamwork and bonding and you have a school.  (Add in NGO support, specialty workers, etc.. you get the drift).  The Chibulbut School is currently collecting plastic waste and forming these ‘eco-bricks’ to be used in the construction of two schools in Lachua, Alta Verapaz, to the north closer to Mexico. The project promotes community leadership, ignites a sense of ownership and mutual identity with the children who aid in constructing it, and uses garbage, in effect cleaning streets along the way – it is an ingenious thing. 
Despite this fact, especially with my school that is collecting the materials for schools being built elsewhere, a disconnect for my students has been the why.  Yes, the filled bottles will create a school.  Yes, the streets where they collected the waste are cleaner in this moment, but it is not merely about filling the bottle.  No, you should not buy more Tortrix chips if you are short on wrappers to complete an eco-brick.  No, plastic bottles should not be a priority to buy in the future because you can construct things out them.  Plastic bags are not biodegradable, light merely breaks them down into smaller and smaller particles that contaminate the water supply and soil.  Likewise, plastic bottles do not decompose for thousands of years.  The goal is to construct a place to learn, while fostering environmental learning in the turn a negative into a positive with hopes of gradual behavioral change and understanding for the next generation.   
Growing up, my mom always played a video entitled “Everybody Poops” for the children she watched in daycare.   I can still recall the chorus line- She is a super-duper-pooper™.  Everyone does indeed poop, but not everyone has a sanitary location to do so.  This past week I met with community leaders I will work alongside to complete the training and construction of 14 latrines, with the same number of rural families.  The two communities, Santa Ine’s Chicar and Caserio el Salmar, will each have seven families participating in the SPA (Small Project Assistance- USAID) funded project.  Having a seat and semi-private place to defecate is certainly an aspect many of these families will thoroughly appreciate. 
Again, there is an extreme underlying why.  In the coming weeks we will be holding workshops with the families explaining the maintenance, upkeep, process, and reasoning behind the importance of sanitary waste management.   Over 15% of early childhood deaths are due to diarrhea, over 2/3 of the time the result of inadequate sanitation.  Chronic diarrhea has also been known to compromise development and growth, leading to increased chance of illness down the road.  Numerous studies have demonstrated a strong association between improved latrines and reductions in diarrheal disease, with the improved latrines yielding results of increased height and weight among children users.  Improved sanitation is a large step towards a healthier and happier community.
Looking at the big picture, or examining the why, is beneficial in almost all problems and situations.  I have recently been contemplating how this cause-effect mindset can be applied to other activities and lessons, including our tourism alliance, customer service practices, and  the planning of a recycled materials playground/trainings at the cooperative school.   I have also been sparked to think in reverse, to the life I left behind.  I am in constant contact with families who have dirt floors and minimal food, but they are undoubtedly happy.  The why.  This introspection is something I hope to apply to my life into the future.  Ultimately, the power to create change is within each individual. As I’ve told many of my students, you do not need one of the common A-E-I-O-U vowel words to do so, but a positive attitude and to T-R-Y, where the sometimes y is applicable.

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