Monday, May 19, 2014

Back to Chaq: Programs thus far and personal reflections

After a month’s hiatus, MPI-Guatemala is back in action in Chaquijyá. For the first summer session, we have the good fortune to be hosting four interns, who will resume the site’s Healthy Living program, as well as English classes for teachers and primary school students in the community’s Cooperativa and Central neighborhoods. The interns arrived last Saturday on Guatemala’s national Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day). After a long, traffic-jam-filled journey to Sololá, the girls all settled in and have already made significant progress in lesson planning and enacting community projects. For example, this past week, the interns and I spent two days painting the whole playground at the Central primary school with the help of several local parents. I believe we are all still rocking paint on our clothes and bodies (for which we were told to just "bañarse" in paint thinner), but hey, its great to have a daily recuerdo of the groups’ collaboration and hard work.

The finished jungle gym!
This summer, Manna also has the unique opportunity to partner with Vanderbilt University’s Visage program. Through this program, undergraduate students pursue a semester-long class on issues related to health and development in Guatemala, which then culminates in a month of fieldwork and research in country. Having enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Vanderbilt, Manna is pumped to host four Visage students for the remainder of the first summer session. In addition to planning and leading our Healthy Living programs, each student will conduct mentored research in Chaquijyá on various health topics such as oral health, geriatric health, physical exercise, and social marketing on nutritional supplements. Both students and interns will live in the MPIG house, and participate in weekly discussions, errands, cooking, and field trips to partner organizations.

A public health student myself, I am stoked to work with these girls, and witness the results of their research. My name is Ginny Savage, and I am so lucky to be working as the Summer Intern Supervisor for the next month with Alli Eis. I first came to know Manna while working as a PD with the Guatemala site in 2010-2011, and I have to say, it is very surreal to be back in Sololá. On the one hand, many things remain exactly as I remember: the “twins” Maria Luisa buses still run to Pana frequently, Byron still instructs PE classes with clipboard and matching tracksuit at the ready, and Christian (aka “Lester”) is still the volunteer favorite. However, on the other hand, many things have changed throughout the past three years: Yessica is in second grade, Central has its own Básico, and the Sololá market is now located at the top of a impressively steep hill.

New Friends!
 I guess it is always a bit disconcerting to return to a foreign country where you have previously lived. When we live and travel abroad, we tend to form somewhat fixed impressions, mental snapshots of our host communities. Consequently, when we return to the communities, we often observe individual, geographic, and social changes that challenge these fixed images. However, though initially unsettling, it is important to realize that change is good. By definition, “community development” initiatives seek to foster growth: to enable communities to improve residents’ quality of life through desired, appropriate and feasible changes.

 In the past three years, Chaqijyá has certainly grown. Thanks to the joint efforts of community leaders, Manna volunteers, and other partner organizations, the Central neighborhood now has its own middle school, built from soda bottles and trash nonetheless. The aldea still operates a trash collection system, Cooperativa has a community garden, and teachers report more children actively speak English and practice healthy living. Such growth and development are the very reasons for why Manna operates in Chaquijyá. They are the factors that motivate 8 interns to dedicate their summer teaching English and health, and I hope that our efforts throughout the upcoming weeks will continue to bolster this growth. Regular English and Health programs will commence this Wednesday, and both interns and Visage students will post daily updates concerning the classes’ progress, field trips, Guatemala living, etc.

- Ginny

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