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.http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/health/110714/ghi-targets-chronic-malnutrition-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