A Fruitful Beginning

As you may remember from our last newsletter, we were exploring a new program to supply breakfast smoothies for all of our students at Técnico Chixot. Thanks to the attendees of last year’s Rubbish to Runway - Boston event, we were able introduce a beneficial, nutritious trial run this year. We are now three months into implementing the “Licuado Program” and are enjoying great success, largely due to the tremendous effort of our students' parents. 

photo by ron b. wilson, pwb volunteer

photo by ron b. wilson, pwb volunteer

Although many challenges can come with implementing a new program, our community’s response has been awesome. It began with a brainstorming meeting with several of the parents of students last fall. The attendees were enthusiastic and several individuals from the group formed the core of this year’s “Comisión de Licuados.” We now have 12 mothers who not only attend meetings every second Thursday and buy all the supplies, but also show up every single school day at 5:30am, taking turns in pairs, to ensure that 130 smoothies are made correctly and that all hygiene processes are followed. Not only are they donating their time, but after helping us develop a list of supplies needed, these wonder Mamas also gave the program 130 large plastic cups, cutting boards, knives, pitchers, the smoothie barrel, and donated one of the three blenders we’re using! While foreign staff members, Genevieve, Robin and Isaac are still present in most of the committee meetings, the elected President and Vice President of the committee have taken control of scheduling, fruit/veggie purchase and the daily menu.

One of the most fantastic parts about this new program is that the parents are motivated, albeit some with a little push, to come in every morning at 5:30 am to have the licuados prepared by 7:15 am! They work in groups of 3-5 parents to wash, chop, blend and prepare 130 delicious beverages. Although the mothers initially laughed at the idea that fathers would help, it turns out we’ve had several substitute for their wives! When the teachers arrive, the appropriate number of cups are on a tray and ready to carry into the classroom.

Photo by ron b. wilson, pwb Volunteer

Each morning, we try to have three fruits, one leafy green (usually chard or spinach) and a supplement, currently flax seed but soon to be replaced with amaranth from our school gardens. At first we started with no sugar, however there was a lot of backlash from the parents about their children not wanting to drink the smoothie without sugar. This is one of the learning curves that we are trying to work through to get the most health benefit into each 10 oz. cup. We negotiated down (from five POUNDS) to one small jar of sugar and one small bottle of honey each day, for the tub of licuado that serves all 118 students and their teachers.

Photo by ron b. wilson, pwb volunteer

Coming up in the program, we look forward to a nutrition class for all the parents to explain the process and why we have been including certain ingredients to make this the most nutritious breakfast beverage possible. Working to educate and empower the community with this responsibility is crucial to the program’s success. Next year we hope to have the cafeteria up and running so that we can hire a few of the parents to come and make the licuados each morning without placing this burden on all of the parents at the school. As a result, the teachers have reported fewer complaints of stomach pains and slightly better in-class focus, as well as increased trips to the bathroom. We hope to grow and improve this program so that no child in our school will be failing to learn due to hunger!

Building New Relationships

This January and March, we hosted three University service groups here in Comalapa. As happens each year, they came to volunteer with Long Way Home over winter and spring breaks as an alternative to the “normal” activities college students often choose during their school vacations. We were able to accomplish a lot and, as each of these schools were first-timers, we were also able share our project with new audiences.

university of maryland hillel gets down in the cob!

university of san diego hillel rockin'; the glass bottles for computer lab.

university of san diego hillel rockin'; the glass bottles for computer lab.

To kick off the new year, we had a terrific group from University of Maryland - Hillel here for a week. They had an extraordinary time working: creating and applying earthen plasters: prepping and hauling materials for the bathrooms’ E.T. beds; and helping in the students’ Physical Education classes. As with most people coming here for the first time and mixing cob, the scariest part quickly became the most thrilling; playing with cow manure! Stomping on it with your feet, mixing it with your hands, throwing it to each other, and finally tossing on to the wall. The group had fun making up jokes and songs to go along with the “crappy” job of forming the walls of our new Computer Lab building. 

When Cultural Night came around, this group began a new tradition of putting the Peren family, from Feliciano to little Diego, up in a chair while the group circle danced to the marimba band. This group chose to have an extra special excursion to a nearby lake. They stayed at a beautiful eco-lodge near the village of Santiago to end their week with us. We had a lovely Shabbat and, other than a minor shuttle boat mishap, thoroughly enjoyed the activities available in the amazing slice of paradise that is Lago Atitlan.

Hillel of San Diego came through with two different university groups, back to back, in March. University of California - San Diego was the first and came over Semana Santa, Easter week. This presented many unique opportunities that other groups have not experienced. With a shorter work week, they still accomplished making over 400 glass bottle bricks to be put in the ceiling of the new Computer Lab. Additionally, they made progress pounding tires on the retaining walls along the road and above where our newest buildings will be built. They also had more time to explore the town of Comalapa and its culture, going shopping, hiking up to the ridge above the village of Cojol Juyu, and viewing Easter processions that happened throughout the week. Wednesday night we celebrated a combined Purim and Cultural Night. Since it was virtually impossible to stay in Antigua during the week of Semana Santa, we drove down for the day on Thursday. Everyone explored the city taking special note of all the alfombras, which are gorgeous carpets created from flowers, pine needles, colored sands and other elements. Saturday we hiked the Pacaya Volcano and then journeyed back to Comalapa to enjoy a last evening of good conversation and story-telling.

san diego state university hillel glam shot.

san diego state university hillel glam shot.

On Sunday, we said goodbye to one Southern California group and welcomed in the next: another Hillel group, this time from San Diego State University. They continued the work from the week before, getting us even closer to the 2,000 glass bottle bricks needed for the roof of the Computer Lab, and pounding tires on the retaining wall of the new entrance. Both of these groups generously donated handkerchiefs for our students to help with the extremely dusty conditions that we have had this dry season. San Diego State had the pleasure of going into each of the classrooms and helping the kiddos decorate all of the handkerchiefs. Then they enjoyed exploring Antigua and Pacaya and finished up with a relaxing Shabbat morning playing in Parque Chimiyá.

We look forward to welcoming these groups back in 2017 and continuing to build relationships with our new partners!!

LWH Through a New Lens

Ron B. Wilson, PWB Volunteer, grabbing shots of the 7th graders skyping

Ron B. Wilson, PWB Volunteer, grabbing shots of the 7th graders skyping

In February we were delighted to have Ron B. Wilson, a volunteer from Photographers Without Borders (PWB), here for two weeks. In light of PWB’s mission to help NGOs see their projects, “through a new lens,” Ron spent his time capturing photos from every angle of Long Way Home - construction, teachers, students, Comalapa, and, as an interesting twist, the several family groups that we have connected here in our community. Many families have multiple members involved with the project, either through staff positions and/or having students that attend our school. Ron was a tremendous asset to our project and we will be sharing his photos with you throughout the summer. To begin, we’d like to show you a few incredible shots of our extended LWH family.

The Family of Romeo Apen Chirix

Romeo Apen is our construction foreman, and has been with Long Way Home since 2008. He has been a critical part of the team and to the work, from construction projects at Parque Chimiyá and Tecnico Chixot, all the way to our skills transfer project in South Africa in 2014. He lives with his mother, his wife and his 5-year-old son, Bryan, who has just started preschool with us! 

Romeo has other connections to our project. His brother, a famous painter here in Comalapa, has two children who are also green builders here. His son, Julio, has been with Long Way Home since March of 2013 and his cheerful demeanor and strong work ethic have really been an asset to the squad. Roselia, Julio’s sister, just started to work with us a few months ago and is our third local, female builder! Together with Marta and Adelina, she is challenging assumptions about gender in a machismo culture. Romeo’s sister is the mother of Giovanny, who has also been a LWH green builder since 2013. Giovanny was married earlier this year and Ron, who is a wedding photographer when he’s not helping out nonprofits with small marketing budgets, was thrilled to take photos of he and Elsa that they will treasure for years to come. We are grateful for Romeo’s leadership and for all the talent he’s brought to the work site and now, the classroom!

The Family of Juan Raul Morales Sotz

Raul Morales, has been a dedicated green builder since 2012. He is a radiant energy around the construction site, especially with the volunteers. Raul lives just up the road with his wife and five kids, next door to his wife’s sister and her children. Raul has two of his children attending our school this year, Cindy, in 3rd grade, and Raulito, in preschool. His niece, Cecibel, is also in the 3rd grade here, and his nephew Gerber, attends preschool with his cousin. Raul says that he appreciates his job here because it teaches care for the environment and reduces contamination in the rivers and roads.

Early last year, Raul also brought on his cousin, Edwin, to become a green builder. Edwin has been an asset to both Técnico Chixot and Los Técnicos builds, and has technical design training. He is assisting another worker, Cristian, to draw up Adam’s building sketches into official schematic plans.

The Family of Maria Candelaria Gabriel Otzin

Maria’s family has been closely tied to Long Way Home since we assisted Earthship Biotecture with building their house in 2011. She is a single mother of four and works as a weaver. Her daughter, Josseline, in 8th grade, and youngest son David, in 2nd grade, have attended school here since 2012 and 2013 respectively. Her oldest son, the aforementioned Cristian, has worked as a green builder off and on for the last five years and recently began full-time, after competing his high school degree in technical drawing. We love having all of them as a part of our Técnico Chixot Family!