Catlin Gabel and Oregon Episcopal High School Student Volunteers In Chajul

In March the first cooperative efforts between Catlin Gabel and Oregon Episcopal High School students began.  Thirteen students traveled with our previous group of four adults to Chajul to spend a week collaborating with Mundo Exchange, ACEFOMI and Limitless Horizons.  The students were amazing ambassadors, quickly entering in to numerous projects with local Chajulenses.  Please read on to hear their comments during their week long stay in Chajul.  Thanks to all for making the lives in Chajul a better place – a bit easier to live!  For full pictures of the service experience go to:

Thoughts from the field

Saturday, 03/12/2011

Day 1,

Here we sit, at the Vetz Kaol, in our common space which serves as the dining room.  Your amazing children are to my right playing cards (naipes) alongside 3 young boys belonging to the caretaker, Eduardo, a friend of 5 years.  As would be culturally appropriate, your kids are teaching the Guatemaltecos BS, but of course they are not using the official name of the game and they are playing purely in Spanish.  For a teacher of language it is a joy seeing them interact with the local kids using the language they’ve toiled over for years, simply to communicate, because they want to be understood.  We woke at 7am to the uniquely local crack of rooster crows and dogs who seemed to be just outside our windows.  Four muchachas from Horizontes sin Limites, the model NGO here in Chajul, came to prepare breakfast.  Spanish ensued immediately.  We visited LHI and were greeted by about 25 students, of the 85 total, who are being supported in the equivalent of Middle and High School.  After a tour of the oficina and the first of 3 donation drops, we split into 5 grupitos and tried our soft, sticky, gringo hands at making toritillas in local houses.  Open fires on the dirt floors and walls almost oozing with smoky resin was as opposite a living situation as we can imagine. The generosity we were showed delighted everyone.  Our afternoon took us to the local sports area where we made a huge circle and presented ourselves in Spanish.  Children of all ages and from vastly different cultural and linguistic backgrounds combined immediately around the international motion of playing games, kicking balls and laughing.  I wish you could have been there.  Your kids are brave, proactive and are being so good to each other.  I am proud to call them my students.

Submitted by Spencer White on Sun, 03/13/2011 – 8:17pm

Day 2

Will: Today we traveled to the town of Xix (sheesh) to spend the day with the students and also to learn about the area. We learned our Nahualas which is a Mayan fortune telling type ritual. This was definitely the most interesting aspect of the day because it gave us an insight into the Mayan culture. The people of Xix and Chajul are much more friendly and welcoming than people in America.

Anaka: So far, the highlight of the trip for me has been the connections with people I have witnessed and experienced. Yesterday, we met the sweetest teenagers named Mateo y Margarita. When I complimented Margarita’s “brunca” (hair tie) on our hike the first time we met, she immediately gave it to me without hesitation. My first reaction was guilt because I felt bad she gave it to me, but I then realized that such an act of kindness and generosity was her natural reflex! With interactions such as these, I have been more motivated to push myself to speak Spanish to strangers because they have all been so wonderful!

Alex y Maya: Yesterday we hiked up Cerro San Andres, a local sacred site. Anas, one of the most powerful and well-traveled matriach in the town of chajul, joined us along with Margarita and Mateo. As we were hiking up to the peak up of the mountain we walked with Margarita and Mateo and they told us all about their life in Chajul. Alex was hiking mostly with Margarita and as we were walking up the mountain she grabbed Alex’s hand, a usual custom for girls in Chajul. As Maya and Mateo hiked up the mountain they discussed his asperation to become a laywer. Mateo was extremely interested in English, and contanstly asked Maya how to say things in English like “one thousand” and “we’ve arrived”. As we were hiking through the milpa and up the steep mountain, both Margarita and Mateo were extremely helpful in preventing us from falling on our faces, despite their the fact that Margarita was wearing small, plastic flats. At the top of the mountain, we looked out over the entire town of Chajul and over the valley. After we had hiked back down the mountain Margarita gave both Maya and Alex a bracelet so that we could remember her.

Anna: First off, HI MOM AND DAD! I hope you are partying like no tomorrow in my absence. But continuing on the part about being in Guatemal: the food. One of the reasons I travel abroad is because of the food. Every country has their own signature dish established in that country and what they are famous for. On the plane ride over I tried thinking of what Guatemala is known for in food, and the only thing I came up with is tortillas. But that is not the only thing that is going on in this beautiful country, BEANS. We have beans with every single meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first morning here I was hesitant to try beans with breakfast but looking around I realized that there was tortillas and beans with fruit. That was it. But I tried it and and loved the combination. Ultimately beans and some type of starch is good but the tortillas they have here are handmade and delicious. On to drinks: Soda is different, even if it has the same name, it still is different somehow. Coffee in Guatemala is not the same as it is in the United States: They add sugar, I don’t mean like a little teaspoon of sugar, I mean at least a 1/4 cup of sugar for a pot of instant coffee. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it is gross, it is just a difference that I’m not used to yet. But rest assured other parents, We are healthy and we are happy, as there is a XXL bag of m&ms sitting next to me getting devoured. 😉 AB


Submitted by Spencer White on Wed, 03/16/2011 – 8:03pm

Day 5

Spencer: Limitless Horizons has supported the opening of Chajul’s first library, a space no bigger than a classroom, stocked with a wild array of antiquated books in Spanish, Ixil and a few in English.  In its 2 years of existence, it has enrolled a few more than 300 official card-holders, the youngest member at a tender 4 years old.  LHI rented the Salón Municipal today, a gym-like structure covered in the finest dust central America can offer up.  Your amazing children spent 4 days working in grupitos to organize art, singing, book-mark, hopscotch and book-reading actividades for children holding library cards (carnets).  They are Ixil speakers, learning Spanish, so each word of Buenas Noches Luna was translated by Edilma, Chajul’s first female University student, a living example of Chajul’s 0.007% who have access to higher education.  Her demeanor is teacher-like, commanding an attention that feels inspiringly out of place in a town struggling from poverty and gender equality.  Lunch was Boxbol in families, the culinary pride of Ixil culture, a torpedo of corn dough wrapped in Huisquil leaf and boiled for an hour.  A peanut-like sauce made from the seeds of ayote and some chile enhance the taste of this wet dish, but that didn’t stop some of us from augmenting with some PB and J back at the NGO office.  Marcelino, the area’s only agronomist will take us down to Viz’chu tomorrow to plant broccoli, lettuce, carrots, radishes and beets in the area’s first-ever school garden.  Guatemala ranks 3rd in the world for malnutrition.  “Stunting,” the phenomena of children not growing and developing correctly due to lack of nutrition manifests in very visible and disheartening ways.  Growing more nutritious food is paramount.  Tomorrow afternoon, Andy Zechnich, our beloved medical professional and resident expert on community health, will lead us to the Chajul clinic to hear from the doctors and nurses about the challenges and recent advancements over the last months.

Jenna:  Lately, we have been spending a lot of time with the children of Chajul. Tuesday we went to the school, CEMIK, and did an art project with the kids there. We embroidered hoops to hang along the walls, and the kids were amazing at sewing. Even the boys did a great job with their hoops— though it is nothing compared the the beautiful weavings that the women make. Today (Wednesday) we helped in the fiesta for the public library, singing, face painting, and playing “simón dice” (simon says) and hopskotch. The kids are incredible, and we all had so much fun working with them. Everyone’s Spanish is getting great! To the point where we are starting to struggle with English sometimes. And though it is raining now, the weather has ben fantastic for the most part. We have 2 more days in Chajul, and are very sad to leave, but ready for an awesome time during these 2 days.

Julianne: Today we helped LHI (Limitless Horizons International, the nonprofit we’re working with in Chajul) throw a party for the kids in Chajul who were members of the local library (run by LHI). Jenna, Tara, and I were teaching kids different songs in spanish – la pequeñita araña (the itsy bitsy spider); cabeza, hombros, rodillas, pies (head, shoulders, knees and toes); los pollitos, and one about the days of the week. It’s interesting to see kids of all ages – from three and four years old to fourteen, really stay engaged in the songs and other activities we’ve been doing. I think it reflects how much all the children here in Chajul and in the surrounding aldeas are genuinely concerned with and watch out for each other. To me, this sensibility appears to be unique to this society – everyone here is so friendly and caring. Here in Chajul, when walking around downtown, it’s completely normal to greet every person you see on the street, and you get funny looks if you don’t say something. Can you imagine doing that anywhere else on your travels? I’ve loved every minute here in Chajul, and I can’t wait to keep working with kids at LHI and CEMIK and waking up to the smell of cooking fires.

Friday Day 7– Final Thoughts before our Leave taking from Chajul back to the international world of Antigua

From Joan Williams: To an awesome group of adventurers who wear their hearts on their sleeves and are always willing to go the extra mile to help another out.  The Catlin-OES group were amazing ambassadors to a community that is often affected by the ignorance and greed of the outside world.  To offer so openly and continuously such love and respect and to show such a willingness to embrace a new culture and work endless hours to make life a bit easier and more beautiful for the kids of Chajul was amazing to watch and participate in.  In a world where media shows continuous signs of the worst of human kind, seeing this group of wonderful young people at work was very heartwarming.  For those of you involved in educating these youth, you are doing an amazing job!  Thanks for taking the risk of sending them in to a new world where their many talents could be witnessed!

Spencer: In the weeks preceding this trip, I worried about two things not coming true: Our students not getting the chance to use their language sufficiently and not getting enough time working alongside their Chajulense peers.  I hope the photos are speaking as loudly as the reality that both of these doubts have been shattered.

Yoseph: I’d say the best memory for me on this trip would be when I played basketball with this group of kids. We played an indoor full court game and all the while there was a soccer game taking place at the same time on the same court. So not only am I weaving between little kids hoping that my big body doesn’t run one of them over, but I’m also trying to get out of all the running soccer players. It was complete chaos, but it was still really fun. It took street ball to a whole new level. Then after a while our game died down and there was this group of girls playing on the outdoor court. Bridgette, one of the LHI workers, told me that I should teach them how to shoot with the correct form. At first I was pretty hesistant because their form sucked and so did my Spanish. But, I got up and walked over to the girls. It was really difficult and awkward at first because they were shy and just couldn’t get the form down. But, after some time and a lot of patience, they finally started to get the hang of it. It was really nice to see them all clap and laugh once they started making their shots. This is one of my best memories on this trip because other than all the equipment and supplies, this was the one thing I could give that was unique to me. Then there’s also me getting electricuted in the shower by the water heater. That’ll always stick with me too.

Rebecca:  On Wednesday, our group collaborated with the library and LHI in Chajul to put on a fiesta for all the kids with carnets (library cards).  We split our group into four smaller groups and were in charge of putting on different activities that smaller groups of kids rotated through.  There was an hora de cuentas (story time), simón dice (simon says), arte, and hopscotch.  I was a part of the arte group, specifcally, face painting.  The activity was extremely popular and a lot of fun, but I never want to draw a mariposa (butterfly) or a mariquita (ladybug) ever again.  Combining both the afternoon and morning sessions of the party, our group probably painted over 80 faces!  Normally, any kid of event like this would be fun with kids, but during a lull in the caosis,  I was talking with the Cristina, one of the LHI workers when the magnitude of the event really sunk in.  Back in the states, these kind of library events and fun times for kids happen ALL THE TIME.  But here in Chajul, this was the first time anything like this had ever happened.  Kids in Chajul don’t spend much time just “playing.”  Face painting, while fun, is extremely impractical, but pretty fun… Anyway, I’m just glad that I got to be a part of such an event, and I hope that because of the success of this first fiesta, there will be more in the future.

Mundo looks forward to the next joint venture!  Thanks to all!