Saray’s first weeks

When I first looked for Nueva Mercedes in Maps I ended up with a big
interrogation sign on my screen. But Nueva Mercedes exists, and it exists since
long. One arrives to the village without rush, slowly but surely, like the
women making corn tortillas. It was like a back through trip, where every mean
of transportation was smaller and slower than the previous one. A plane which
flies at I don’t know how many feet and almost thousand kilometres per hour
brought me to City of Guatemala’s airport, Guate
as the locals call it.

From there, the thunderous engine roar of an old US school bus brought
me to San Julián. After some hours we dropped off and took a smaller bus which
droved us to Telemán through a pretty bad conditions road for which the money
to asphalt never comess. The driver tells us he is from La Tinta, a village
nearby connected with the same road, and that he’s asking for subsidies and
grants for sport equipment for the school, computers and other stuff. He said
he does it for free, because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s for the
community. For a moment I saw my own effort growing smaller, when comparing it
to the willingness of a man who spends the time he is not driving a bus through
dusty roads under a cracking stones sun, helping others. Chatting about this and
that we arrived to Telemán. No more pick-ups on Sunday afternoon, so the last
stretch was finally done on a tuc-tuc, which engine moaned at every slope of
the road to Nueva Mercedes. With my backpack on my shoulders I arrived to the
house feeling like climbing a Maya pyramid, mainly because of the tiredness.
There was Hugo waiting, the one that together with Filipa was going to be my
partner during my stay in Nueva Mercedes.
Through the window of our room the day lean out reddish every sunrise.
Little by little the darkness of the night and its sounds fade and the birds‘
trill welcomes us to a new day. On the way to the school we comment about this
and that; sometimes simply engrossed, silently, each one in our morning
One by one the pupils arrive, clean and tidy with their satchels,
shoulder carried and the impish or shy smiles they bring with them. They put
their head out the door, asking for permission to come in:
–              Good morning miss,
good morning schoolmates!
Miss Marta is tidy, because she likes what she does, one can notice it
in the reflected in her satisfied face when a student answer a question
properly. Miss Marta is the third grade teacher, the grade I support, most of times, in the morning. To teach those kids is sort of an art, maybe not understood by
everyone, but if one gets from a piece of mud something beautiful by patiently
moulding with patient and determination, I can’t imagine a greater contentment.
It is however not an easy task, as the concept of education does not at
all resemble the one we are used to. It’s hot. It’s very hot, and that the
classes begin early in the morning is only partly helpful. It won’t be long
until the sun collapses upon the sheet metal roof and the air becomes thick
as the heat seizes the classrooms. This doesn’t make it any easier for the kids to
keep properly sit and pay attention. Often they stand up, they may be visited
by schoolmates from other grades, or become self-absorbed on their wooden desks
and scream, they scream a lot. Generally kids like to scream and make noise,
all over the world. In Nueva Mercedes they are not different; they are
enthusiastic about sharing their feeling very loudly, whether is joy or sorrow.
So after some days, I got used to hear the quiet voice of Miss Marta sneaking
among the shouts, onomatopoeias and thuds on the tables of the kids. When I
first meet that scenario I thought that chaos was ruling and nothing is
working. But I realised later that it’s not exactly like this. The kids, as any
other worldwide, they have in their inside the blaze of the curiosity, burning
within them much more than any other. So when I stopped and started observing
more thoroughly that apparent chaos, I realised that in between whistles they
all shut up to listen what the teacher brought new today.
No one wants to be left behind; competition is a tenet here. So even the
most unconcerned wants to understand what his or her schoolmate already did.
Because what we understand is best learned and once you start enjoying learning is
almost impossible to stop wanting to learn more. This is at least what
encourages me on my way to school.
The same concept comes to my mind when we go across the gardens,
delivering seeds, listening to Edwin explaining how and how not to plant radish
and at what distance in the earth. Some women get discouraged, as productive
gardens require time and care. But many other don’t; they keep the enthusiasm
despite some failures, and this also can be seen in their faces when we praise
their well done work, they reflect pride and this satisfaction is contagious.
Well, those women welcome the sunrise already working, they take care of the
children, the food, the house and they do tortillas for all the family
surrounded by wood smoke. That’s why when I see a clean garden or when they ask
for more seeds and advices to plant them, when they are not embarrassed to ask
for help, then I think that something it’s going well and it is worth to keep
on fighting for what I believe in. Maybe sometimes I am even too thrilled, but I
confess in my head I imagine huge gardens occupying the surrounding of the
houses, full of vegetables to feed the families… dreaming is for free.
There is much to be done in Nueva Mercedes, and it will still be when I
will leave. But Li Chu’tam will be here to remember…..above all, everything that has
been learned, what they learned and what I will learn, that will also stay.
Because knowledge is nothing but that, a seed, which is almost nothing without
some help, but if someone sows it and take care of it, it will grow and even
put roots down, roots that will remain. We are working on it…

Hugo’s first weeks in NM

These are our volunteer Hugo first impressions after two weeks around, they’re written in the first person. Due to technical problems a part of the text came highlighted in white, but we didn’t want to keep you waiting, so here we go :)

Getting from Spain to New Mercedes took me 2
days. I spent the first one in a plane, so you can imagine how boring it was. However, I spent the second one travelling Guatemala by bus, so it was a
really fun experience. Going from Guatemala City to Nueva Mercedes in one day was
a stunning shock. I changed the noise of cars by the sound of the multitude of
animals that you can find around here.
It was night at the time I arrived, so after
talking with Filipa and taste the delicious dinner she had prepared for me, I
went to sleep thinking about all the things I would be able to live in the
following weeks. The next day was Wednesday, and that means it’s the day to do
all purchases in the market of Telemán. It was full of colors, smells and
tastes. Before going there I had a first contact with the children and teachers
at school, and they welcomed me with open arms. In the afternoon, we had an
activity with children, and afterwards I visited with Filipa and Edwin the
orchards that are within our program. So, aside from getting a lot of
information on it, I could walk around throughout New Mercedes, a really pretty
village, and meet its people.

It was a very intense and exhausting first day
for me. In addition, all was accentuated with the weather: very hot and humid,
so I was sweated all day. I had to take a shower three times that day!
During the following days I got to know the
functioning of various primary grades and kept doing afternoon activities. It
is my first time as a volunteer, the first time I have to deal with children
and the first time I’m in Latin America. Therefore, the beginnings were not
easy for me, but with the support of everyone here in Nueva Mercedes I was able
to adapt quickly. I think every time I’m knowing more about every children and
I hope that, in the future, I will become one more for them.
Mainly, I help in the teacher Rony classes in
second grade. They are improving their reading and mathematics skills. I feel
very comfortable with them and I feel I’m helping. We are also trying to start
tutoring Básico and Diversificado students. Of course, afternoon activities and
kitchen gardens program also interest me very much.
 I think the next few weeks will pass very fast,
and at the end of all I hope I have contributed in everything I can. I will
have many memories and I also want to know, at least, some Q’eqchi! Till now it
was sunny almost every day, but we are about to begin the rainy season, and I am
sure that with it many more adventures and experiences will come.

Winds of change

This week we welcomed Hugo to the team and in a couple
of weeks there will be a third member with us, our projects gain a new rhythm
and the kids learn so much through their questions to the newly arrived!
Welcome Hugo!
On the other hand, we started our info sessions cycle,
which did not go exactly as expected…in spite of info dissemination trough,
several community meetings and spaces the truth is that the attendance was much
lower than expected. On the bright side, the attendants shared many of their
stories and we were surprised to notice that some women in the community are
aware that girls have the same rights to study as boys, that studying is
fundamental to have better opportunities and improve life standards and
quality. We are negotiating with the speaker the possibility of a second info
session where we would make sure, through our scholarship projects, that at
least those parents would attend, this would amount to 22 parents (youngsters
invited too).
What about reptiles?
The kitchen gardens projects suffered a bit of a low
moment: there was a problem with the community’s water source and part of the
structures had to be cleaned, so for several days they had no water for
themselves, excused to say that to water their kitchen garden neither. This
causes frustration and the draught killed some plants. 
Instructions to prepare organic insecticide
Preparing organic insecticide
Now water is back and
motivation too, last Friday we had a meeting were women learned how to do
organic insecticide and to discuss the future of the project. To be sustainable
the only key part missing is the seed bought. We have been doing it until now
and though from the second round of planting the families give a small
contribution (responsibility and engagement levels as well as ownership are
strengthen trough that contribution – but could they find a way to do it by
themselves? The reactions were mixed, but most were afraid of that opportunity
for independence. As this is brainstorming on the future we calm them down as
all we want is to hear from them and, together, find the best solution. After
all, sustainable development requires the projects to be as self-sufficient as
possible, empowering the people as the agents of change in their own lives.
Our partnerships are moving forward and stronger and
we will welcome a new member to the team in some weeks. Keep checking our blog
and facebook out for the latest!
 Best from Mercedes