A new school year in Salacuim is already underway. The program welcomed 3 new 7th grade students as scholarship winners. All of the graduating 6th graders took a test to vie for a coveted junior high scholarship. For many of the students in Salacuim, gaining a scholarship like this is their only chance to continue studying beyond 6th grade.
We've been back from the Peace Corps for more than 8 months now, but we're still trying to help the rural community that we lived in by helping local kids go to school with a basic scholarship. We updated the "Scholarships for Salacuim" website with a bunch of information about the program. The work relies on donations from individuals in the US. Check it out if you want to learn more... lachua.org/scholarships
It's a small world. Right around the time that we came back from the Peace Corps this past April. Kari's brother Mark was turning in his application to join the Peace Corps himself. In November, he received his invitation to join the Peace Corps..........in GUATEMALA! He leaves tomorrow and we're both really excited for him, and slightly jealous of the all the great experiences he's sure to have.
Our time was up in Salacuim, we had to go. You can't really sum up what the experience has meant to you with words, how much it has formed you and helped you grow.
It was hard to leave, sad to say goodbye to friends: the kids that came to be so important to us, the customs. In the last weeks and days I wanted to savor it all, experience all the quirks of village life one last time--stretching out the 5 block walk from the NGO office to our house in to a 2 hour series of random visits instead of the usual 1 hour, joking around with my young buddies who loved to call me mamaá (the q'eqchi' word for old man) and wondering why the same old joke never got old, the afternoon tortrix® and elojito® snack breaks with Kari in the hammocks, the early morning fresh milk deliveries from our friend Hugo Tista on his horse that served as my alarm clock and daily weather report, the visits from Carlos Macz that never seemed to have a purpose, but always seemed to last at least an hour anyway, all of the visits from the group of neighbor girls that especially admired Kari and watching them play Uno or Jenga or draw pictures. Of course sometimes they just liked to stare at us and our strange foreign customs: cooking, washing clothes, reading books. How strange they thought we were:
¿Que es esto? ................A headlamp ¡Que bonita su reloj! ......An $8 Target special ¿Que es esto? ................A garlic press ¡Tienen 3 bombillas! .....The extravagance and excess of our lifestyle
I also wanted to absorb for one last time, all the special daily experiences that life in Guatemala had afforded me. The meals at the local comedor where the Medina's treated us like family and we felt the camaraderie with co-workers from the local NGO. The trips in the "poprocho", the old Toyota that always need a good shove and a slight incline to get started. This was the same vehicle that tossed the driver around like a rag doll on every bump as the seat wasn't attached to the rusted frame. The trips to the river, walks in the jungle, our outdoor jungle shower that was oh-so sweet in the warm evening air, unannounced visits to families where we were always greeted warmly and offered food or drink and made to feel like we were important, celebrations where we were given a big bowl of Caldo de Gallina, the pinnacle of local fine dining. Of course the Caldo was hard for us to choke down, and if I finished mine, Kari would always have seconds to put on my plate when no one was looking: This was all part of the experience!
I'm proud of what we accomplished during our 2 years in Salacuim. During our time there, we motivated and organized a local group to take steps toward development an income generating eco-tour of their community including a boat trip through "el Peyan" canyon, we trained leaders from the local youth group in grant writing and community project planning which cumulated in a project to improve the community library which was planned and executed by the youth group members themselves, we made connections with individuals in the US to make it possible for 19 local students to go to school in 2007 and 14 in 2008 through a scholarship program that will live on past our peace corps tour, we helped to plan future tourism in the Laguna Lachuá National Park (including new interpretive signs, remodeling of the eco-hotel, and the purchase of kayaks that are available for rent), we developed a websitepromoting sustainable tourism in the Laguna Lachuá region, and we work on lots of smaller projects that we hope made some kind of positive impact for the rural indigenous village of Salacuim where we served.
But that list of projects isn't what we did.
Although it sounds like a cliché, what was so much more important than the projects we worked on were the less tangible things...
We took walks over the dark muddy paths to visit families in the evening. We spent Christmas eating more than the recommended number of tamales with some of our favorite families. We spend several early mornings sitting 30 people deep in the 4:00 AM van built for 15 people to make a trip to Cobán trying to sleep despite the blaring ranchera hits such as "el chofer" or "tin marin" or "te vas arrepentir" over the bumps, mud, and flat tires. We sat and visited with families and friends in their humble homes and felt a part of something, a community.
It's a tradition in Salacuim to spend Easter Sunday at the river. We went with one of our favorite families in town, the Prados, and spent the day swimming, eating and socializing with the entire community. It was a cultural event and something different than we had experienced in our time here.
Last week we had a chance to spend time with the volunteers that will be coming to replace us in our respective programs. We spent about 4 days with my replacement Andy, the new environmental education volunteer, in Salacuim and we had a chance to meet Ted, Corby's replacement in Ecotourism. There will be many changes coming up with the new cycle of volunteers. After realizing some of the challenges we dealt with while working in our programs, we recommended some changes to be made for the new generation. They will no longer be partnered with our NGO counterpart and rather Andy will work directly with the 4 schools in Salacuim teaching environmental education and training the teachers how to implement the curriculum into their classrooms. Ted will be living in a new Peace Corps site, Santa Lucia, which is near the entrance to the National Park Laguna Lachuá. He will be better situated to work with the park from that location as well as all the budding tourism sites in that area.
Welcoming Andy to Salacuim
It was nice to meet the people that will be taking over and continuing on with some of our work and starting new projects of their own. I really think that Andy will be a great addition to the list of Salacuim volunteers and the kids and schools are already so excited to have him start. In terms of passing the torch, I don't think we could have asked for a better person to receive it. He's also talking about starting a blog so we can stay caught up on the happenings around town. We'll post that info as soon as we find out for those of you that have become attached to Salacuim as well.
We just took what may be our last trip around Guatemala a couple weeks ago. We were lucky enough to have Corby's brother, Jeremy visit us for 3 weeks. He just returned from a year long tour in Afghanistan and made time to come see us, which was great.
We spent some time traveling to new parts of Guatemala that we had not seen before, including Huehuetenango and Xela and up to Mexico for a couple days. We also managed to climb the 3rd highest volcano in Guatemala, Santa Maria.
Things are quickly coming to a close here and the time seems to be slipping away. We've finally made our trip plans home and after a small trip to Mexico City, we will be returning to Minneapolis on April 7th. Everything has slowly been falling into place and the most exciting news from last week was my acceptance to graduate school at the U of M. Starting in the fall, I will be working on my masters in social work. I'm really looking forward to a new challenge and it'll be great to get home.
The mix of emotions has already begun to set in about leaving Guatemala and we're looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks with our Salacuim family.
Last week we attended our close of service conference in Antigua. Although we have more than a month left until we pack up and leave Guatemala, it was a chance for the original group of volunteers we started with more than two years ago to get together and reflect.
Ecotourism and Environmental Education Volunteers 06-08
Of the 25 volunteers that swore in April 2006, not one of us has terminated our service early. I remember during training, we were told that more than 1/3 of us would be gone before our 2 years of service was up. Last week, our training director told us that he could not remember one group to leave with all of its members in the more than 33 groups he has supervised. After hearing that, we all felt pretty proud of what we had accomplished.
Healthy School Volunteers 06-08
It was really interesting to hear about all the projects, frustrations, accomplishments and people impacted by our group of volunteers over 2 years. There were many anxieties expressed in returning to the states along with much excitement. Some of the things that people were looking most forward to were carpet, couches and hot water. Above all, I think we will miss all the amazing people we have met along the way and look back fondly on all the experiences we have had together and apart.
Volunteers at the Close of Service Conference 2008