World Connection Guatemalan Report
What a week! I have been attending meetings, giving workshops and participating with the 2 organizations I am working with, AFOPADI and Proyecto Ija’tz in their planning sessions. On Saturday May 3rd, I gave my first ever workshop in Spanish to a group of women in the Women’s Program, one of three programs under the umbrella of Proyecto Ija’tz. The focus of the program is to give these women a way to increase their family incomes by creating a catering service, and eventually, a restaurant. After much thought and discussion about what they could do as a business, they decided to do something that they know best…prepare food.
There is so much that these women need to learn about starting a business. However, they have already managed to get business by cooking in one or another of the members kitchens and producing the food for clients. They are in the process of building a kitchen on Ija’tz’s land. This undertaking has taken longer than they originally planned or hoped for due to a lack of funds for the construction and equipment.
What becomes quickly apparent when working in these environments is the tremendous need for training in a whole host of areas. The primary one being the need to recognize and value their already existent knowledge gleaned from the school of difficult life experiences. These women, many of them single mothers, have somehow learned to survive in spite of the exceedingly difficult circumstances in which they have had to grow up. Add to that the challenging situations in which they have had to raise their children and somehow they still figure out how to make ends meet. Some of these women do not know how to read or write at all. Spanish is not their native tongue and even the women who have managed to learn the language are challenged in their ability to read and write.
The first workshop was focused on building trust within the group and learning how to recognize the skills that they already have but do not value. The level of trust between people is very limited mainly due to the 36 years of civil war and destruction of the social fabric and sense of community in which their Mayan ancestors were raised. There is a general lack of self confidence and self esteem due to the pervasive and relentless oppression. It was incredible to see how afraid these women were to participate. I had them break up into pairs and interview each other regarding some experience in their lives that gave them more awareness and understanding of their own power and skill. The overwhelming response and experience was a keen and innate sense of survival and somehow making do with nothing. Francisca, one of the participants, lost her mother at the age of nine, lost her father when she was fourteen and somehow managed to raise her younger siblings. She then managed to go back to the school, beginning with the 6th grade at the age of 18. Recently her husband abandoned her with 4 children in her care. Survival skills are strong here!
At the end of the first workshop, the women asked me if I would offer another workshop the following week. I realize that although these women need a lot of training in many areas, the most interesting and pertinent for them would have to do with running a business.
The second workshop was about defining the term business and determining what elements are necessary to run a business. We also focused on the team, what the term team means to each one of them and why it is important in running any kind of business. We came up with a list of tasks, and a list of what was currently lacking within their group. We ended with a plan of action that needs to be taken within the next couple of months. The second group was smaller, but gave everyone a chance to get over their fears of speaking in front of a group. Even the newest member…it was her first time at a meeting and she is one who cannot even write her name…ended up contributing and talking about her experiences of working on a “finca” (farm where the indigenous people work almost on the level as indentured servants or slaves). The women seemed truly motivated. Of course, we will have to wait and see what all transpires as time moves on.
On my last day in San Lucas, I gave a mini intensive workshop to the director and the president of the women’s program regarding strategic planning, and programatic planning for the women’s group. We worked on putting all her tasks and responsibilities in a visual form so that she could really begin to understand what she had been agreeing to do without having a realistic concept of the time and energy that was necessary. There were a lot of problems as a result of her being stretched so thin. It was a first step and it tired her out just looking at the pictorial version of her job. But she agreed, that it is important for her and the absentee director to see the reality of the situation.
Tumiche Health Outpost
The day before leaving Guatemala, I had the chance to meet with a group of midwives and health promoters from Tumiche. This was a meeting to plan for the next steps in the opening of the health outpost that members of the community with the help of World Connection and AFOPADI (Guatemalan partner) are in the process of completing. I got to see it without the roof on (refer to last report), and now have seen it in its final stages. Of course, there is still some work to be done. The windows were being installed while we met with the women health promoters and midwives. And of course, it took longer than expected because the adobe bricks had to be filed away in order to fit the windows. Yes, there were measurements taken, but that doesn’t always mean that they will fit!
A mid-June date was set for the formal inauguration of the outpost, with a couple of planning meetings scheduled prior to the celebration. There is much work to do and lots of training needed. It’s a process, and a very slow one at that. Just after we arrived in the village of Casaca, we found out that a baby that was born healthy just 20 days before had died. The infant was not taken to the clinic even though she had a fever. As nurse Annemie said, we will perhaps find out over time and through numerous stories, what actually happened. It never comes out immediately and it most probably didn’t have to turn out that way. Life and death are so close here. The recent history is horrific and has damaged so much of peoples’ lives and families, sense of community, sense of self, sense of the ability to take charge of one’s life and destiny. However, there is still hope and small changes that appear through it all. It is the impetus that keeps this kind of work ongoing.
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