Saturday, June 7, 2014

Last Day

I cannot believe that this is our last day in Guatemala! We taught English to the teachers in the schools this morning. We also gave them an English curriculum/lesson plans that they can use to teach their students in the future! That was the project that we have been working on throughout the past couple of weeks. The teachers seemed very excited to have the English lessons to keep as a reference. We are heading to Antigua for the night since we are flying back home in the morning. 

I feel that we have accomplished a great deal in our time here. We have helped teach English in the communities and motivate people to want to continue learning more English. We have also gotten to know many amazing people and have had the great opportunity of seeing many different parts of Guatemala. This is a great country that I would definitely love to visit again! 

- Allie, MPIG Summer Intern

Friday, June 6, 2014

Thoughts on Boris

So far, this week has not been the most thrilling week of our time here -- I think that's pretty safe to say. We have experienced a "tropical depression," also known as Boris. We have been unable to go down to Panajachel because of the very real fear of mudslides and the closing of major streets. We have been unable to teach our dental health classes in Chaquijyá because school has been cancelled due to the weather. For several days, we have stayed indoors because of the excessive raining and flooding outside. I have ventured outside only once, to walk about a mile up to the market for necessary groceries for the house. We've all been a little restless and anxious to go, go, go -- our American paces and attitudes really coming out. However, instead of focusing on our own boredom or restlessness, I think it is really important to consider how something as "normal" as a prolonged rain storm completely turns Guatemalan people's lives upside down.
For illustration, let us consider the farming families of Chaquijyá. The mothers must take their crops (vegetables, fruits, etc) to be sold in the market in Solola. Assuming they are somehow able to travel there (about a 10 minute microbus ride) safely, will they make enough money for the trip and time to be worth it? I'm sure their daily market income is severely lowered because typical customers may not want to venture to the market in the terrible weather. Another obstacle is that their children are unable to attend school because it has been cancelled. So who is home to watch over and feed them if the mothers must go sell crops in the market? Are the fathers able to farm? Because most, if not all, of the farms in Chaquijyá are planted on the side of a mountain, are their lots ruined? Is the constant flow of rain, rushing down the mountain for several days, strong enough to ruin their crops? If so, then what happens? What will they sell tomorrow or the next day? How drastic is the setback for the family? Does the family have any other source of income to rely on during the storm? All of these questions point back to the cycle of poverty that is so familiar to the Maya community here in Guatemala.
It's crazy to think that in just a week, we will all be back home, in our bustling, fast-paced hometowns, where rainstorms are the very least of our worries. Rain may cause my hair to frizz a little and cancel my brother's baseball game, but hey - at least my car gets a free wash. Those may have been my old thoughts about a rain storm, prior to my experience here. However, I hope that when I return home, I continue to have a new, more appreciative perspective on all the little things that make our lives in the US so comfortable and that I never forget how those little things are actually big things to people elsewhere around the world, like the Maya people in Solola, Guatemala.

- Blair, Visage Student

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lasting Impressions

This week I thought I would reflect on my overall time here in Sololá. It’s coming to an end, which is making me think a lot about the past three weeks. One of the things that stuck in my mind is the influence that I’ve left on the community. Yesterday, in our last Tuesday discussion, we not only thought about the impact that we’ve left on the people here, but we also considered the influence that the community and people around have left on us. Which one should be more? Should we be leaving a bigger impression on the community we visit, or should they have a bigger influence on us? After thinking about it a lot, I don’t think there is a correct answer to this.

Ever since we started teaching, and after having only one class a week, I’ve felt like I’m not doing enough. Even though it’s not our fault that classes got cancelled, it still felt like we should be doing more. After talking about it with the group yesterday, I realized that even though we’ve only taught a couple classes, we didn’t solely teach some kids about dental health, how to brush their teeth, and which foods are good and bad. We also provided them with some human interaction; they loved seeing us at recess, asking us questions, and hanging all over us. Although we may not have directly taught them things during recess, we gave them the opportunity to ask us what words mean in English. They may have learned a couple English words, but they also got excited about learning, and the chance to communicate with more people.

The people here have left a lasting impression on me as well. Their friendly attitudes and interesting culture has taught me a lot, and opened me up to a world that I never knew. Although I’ve grown up with waves from the neighbors and friendly smiles from strangers, somehow in the past few weeks I have learned how important this really is (maybe because of my poor Spanish). I’ve also learned to accept that things don’t always go as planned, and it is really important to be patient and willing to go with the flow.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that for this trip, I think the impression I have left and has been left on me is about equal. I can only hope that the kids Becca and I taught will remember (or even be able to) brush their teeth everyday, but I know that the knowledge and skills I have gained from this trip will last a lifetime.

Students at Central dental health classes

-Lucy, Visage Student 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reflections on Vulnerability

As this trip is coming to a close, I can’t help but think about the challenges that have been faced, and the impact of our time here. A major thing that I have learned during this experience is the value of vulnerability. Although I have travelled quite a bit, I have never been on a service trip before, which has been a totally different experience for me. From the moment I have gotten here, I have felt vulnerable but in different ways. It isn’t the kind of vulnerability you feel when you’re a tourist in a new place, figuring out the ways of transportation and pushing yourself to speak the language, but rather the feeling you get when you’re standing in front of a huge audience waiting to give a speech. Here I feel vulnerable when I try to speak Spanish because I’m afraid I won’t seem to know what I’m talking about. I feel vulnerable that I can’t know exactly what the community is thinking about me. I feel vulnerable because I hate any kind of public speaking and teaching classes gives me a little anxiety. I feel vulnerable because I can’t relate to their culture, and have no idea how my presence will affect a community. Finally, I feel vulnerable because I don’t have all of the answers. When we leave here there is no telling what will happen to Chaquijyá, how it will develop and what its people will become. We leave here not really knowing if we did harm or good, and there’s really nothing that we can do about that. We can look back, like we did today, and come up with ways to create more sustainable and effective (successful) programs, but right now we are living in the present. What good can we do if we are just leaving like the rest of them?

 I think we challenged the people of Chaquijyá to be vulnerable too, which I hope was a good thing. When we came here they went out on a limb to introduce us to their communities, their schools, and their children. I might have felt vulnerable walking into a community that was foreign to me, but how vulnerable did they feel when they tried to communicate with me and let me teach their classes? They didn’t have to welcome us, but they did. We took a chance to come here and they to a chance to welcome us into their lives. Had the vulnerability not been reciprocated, Manna would have never been able to accomplish what it has in Chaquijyá. Being vulnerable and proceeding anyway is what makes service and development work and I’m glad to have pushed myself out of that comfort zone.

- Nicole, Visage student 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dental Health in Chaquijyá

I am in the middle of my third week at the Manna site in Sololá. I have spent the past week and a half serving in Chaquijyá, a 30-minute trip from Sololá in the microbus. Lucy and I have been teaching lessons on oral health to the students of Central, one of the two primary schools in Chaquijyá. My Spanish abilities are limited to say the least, and I have no previous experience in teaching, so it is safe to say my experiences thus far have pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. I am so appreciative of the sweet schoolchildren and teachers that accept my broken sentences and are so receptive to our lessons.

My research project focuses on the current state of dental hygiene among schoolchildren in Chaquijyá, so I was very excited about the opportunity to teach classes on a related topic. During my brief time here it has become evident that the currently poor state of oral health is a health concern on many people’s minds. When Ginny Savage, one of the supervisors at the Manna site, asked the directors of the Chaquijyá schools what services they would like to see Manna provide, one director requested the distribution of toothbrushes to all of the schoolchildren. Upon interacting with the schoolchildren, I immediately noticed the poor condition of their teeth– beyond the significant discoloration of their teeth, many children have numerous teeth that exhibit visible decay.

To my surprise, the children of the classes we have taught already know a significant amount about proper dental hygiene practices – most are familiar with the generally accepted practice of brushing teeth twice a day (morning and night) with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Given more time, it would be interesting to investigate why, if not due to a lack of knowledge, poor oral health is the norm among children in the Chaquiya community. Is it primarily due to a lack of resources (toothbrushes, toothpaste, access to dental care), excessive sugar consumption, or some combination of the two?

I truly hope that, even though our time here is very short, the classes we teach will make a positive and lasting impact on the dental hygiene practices of some of the students and the teachers.

Dental Health Class with the 2nd graders

- Becca, Visage Student

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Nearing the End

            It’s hard to believe our final week in Guatemala is about to begin. Time has truly flown these past three weeks. Although this last week was plagued by the traveling stomach bug throughout the house, everyone has been keeping up good spirits and making the most of our dwindling days here. I absolutely love teaching los parvulos and will miss their crazy energy and giving caballo rides during recess. Ever since I pulled out my hand sanitizer one day, they have now asked me for some every time I’m there, which is actually improving their hygiene since they don’t have soap to wash their hands with after using the bathroom. I’m excited for our final few lessons this week along with completing our English guide for the teachers.
            Today we returned from Santa Cruz, which was a fun and relaxing oasis that was much needed as well as being a beautiful place to spend our final weekend together. We celebrated Allie’s 19th birthday, and my dream of learning how to Salsa dance finally came true! I’m definitely going to miss it here and will treasure my experiences for the rest of my life.

- Adria, MPIG Summer Intern