Dianita Garcia is a Quiche speaking Mayan, her Aunt Rosa recently hooked up to the internet.
Dianita Garcia is a Quiche speaking Mayan, her Aunt Rosa recently hooked up to the internet.
One quiet Sunday morning, Mayan Families mounted a photo exhibit — on a street corner. Large format black and white portraits of indigenous women were precisely pasted over a sun dappled wall, on a busy corner in Panajachel. Besides being beautiful, the block long installation covered splotches of random graffiti with elegance. And, the public space was made so attractive by the stately portraits that passers-by (even children) stopped to admire the work and watch as the sign pasting progressed. Elizabeth Hagee of Mayan Families explained that this was a six weeks long collaboration between Mayan Families and Anna Miller of Las Fotos Proyect Ms. Miller conducted a series of photo workshops for several women and this place would be the show’s official “opening.” The instructor carefully rolled wheat paste on to the wall and told her students to line up with the taut vertical string stretched between two tacks. As the students set about covering some of the most offensive marks on the wall, Ms. Miller told us that plotter paper was much cheaper than white paint.
The whole group would end up elbow deep in the glue but the wall would look very neat; pages of blank paper were placed between the images as spacers.
The project is as beautiful as it is integrative. The San Jorge photographers were invited to pose some of the local senior citizens that Mayan Families serves in their community. As a result, the subjects were honored and the photography class was rewarded with these epic exposures.
Even Mayor Ramiro Pérez and his wife, Saida, came out to help bundle thousands of pairs of donated shoes. They wedged themselves in between the high stacks of cartons to execute TOMS’ detailed instructions for the give-away. Every pair has to be sorted – just so – into bags by grade and packaged by school. Making a massive coordinated delivery operation like this run smoothly requires strong partnerships like the one that Altagracia Hernandez, Country Coordinator of Feed the Children, has built between her Oklahoma based NGO and the village of Palencia. She was happily surprised when the town officially volunteered to donate a warehouse large enough to store the entire container’s worth of goods but was most grateful to have delivery assured when the Muni recruited enough willing hands to support all phases of the TOMS’ effort.
Feed The Children had been cycling through their three distant communities measuring children’s feet for months – getting ready – by TOMS’ book. All shoes had to be estimated at a size larger to accommodate the expected lags between shipment and receipt. And, in order to meet TOMS’ data collection requirements, FTC presented trainings to Board of Education staff in their territories.
The Palencia volunteers have been most generous. A score of strong men appeared, seemingly at a moment’s notice, to unload the container when it was finally released from the port. And, on packing day, the storage area was full of neighbors carefully fulfilling the printed “orders.” These kind people stood at work tables set up in the dusty warehouse most of the day, checking off each name on the list and sorting out the mountains of shoes — pair by pair.
What is most remarkable is that these volunteers are supporting not just their own schools but all the districts that TOMS serves through Feed the Children – Guatemala. These volunteers are preforming the most slow-going work: repacking and doing it with alacrity and even a sense of urgency because the warehouse needs to be ready to handle FTC’s next in-coming shipment of donations including, medicines, books and a long ton of Food4Life Rice.
Poot Chi Kah. A local Guatemalan exclamation that means “Really?” or “Yah don’t say.”
Our favorite phone slinging Mayan, Rosa Garcia, has just been gifted with a Netbook and is preparing herself to tweet meaningfully. This upgrade was a long time coming and it is the first part of an Amalgamated Eleemosynary technology grant to her Escuela d’los Globos (one of Rosa’s imminently tweet-able enterprises.) The grant includes an experimental “museum box.” This is a prototype being developed for Feed The Children. The goal is to mainstream children, who would not otherwise have access to the web, into the on line conversation. The gift includes an indestructible camera – that looks like it was made for moto-cross – a lot of memory sticks, two batteries and a 500GB hard drive plus a stipend for internet. Even the little ones can take a turn.
Rosa came down to my studio last week with her husband, Marco, to take a surfing lessons. In presto tempo, she “got” what to do – she started “friending” her (myriad) cousins while Marco stewed quietly at my Thinkpad. He was fussing for a long while when at last, began by sending sweet notes to “Mi Vida” from his newly minted gmail account.
The Ruins Project finally got wheels with this. Before we took off for Utatlan, Rosa had assigned each of the twenty kids a number so they could share the new camera as well as the loaner video camera, Ipod, smartphone and the Lumix zoom. They galloped all over everything with their cameras swinging perilously.
I had hoped they would focus on the restored ball court and begin to discourse on the marvels of the Late Post Classical Period. But, no. They liked going in the cave because they heard they could travel all the way to Mexico in the dank tunnels. And, they were much more enchanted with a random snake than with the residue of the Quiche Capital. The good news is that they did recognize the statue of Tecun Uman as their “great-great-great-great Grandpa.” It’s a start.
Just after her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary, Luisa (Rosa’s niece) was diagnosed with a form of Down syndrome. Days after that, Mayan Family’s Dr. Luis de Pena recommended physical therapy for the two year old. On our way to Fundabiem for her fifth weekly session Maria told me that her daughter seems to enjoy the training. But, the little one seemed barely able to endure five minutes of having her gnarly feet and legs massaged. She grew furious, tried wriggling away; started shrieking in frustration. Tears really rolled when she was set – belly down -over a large bolster. In fact, the poor kid had been howling purple for fifteen minutes when the therapist at last took a small towel and wiped sweat from her tiny face. Luisa had raged on majestically until the session’s end and when her workout was over she took the breast and nuzzled her head deep into her blanket.
Before we left, the therapist told Maria that that Luisa needs an appointment to have orthopedic shoes made. Otherwise the child’s feet will curl like ferns. This means Maria will need to travel two hours up to Xela for the fitting. The receptionist, then, reminded Maria that next Friday Luisa will see the neurologist in Solola for her first assessment.
In a country that has laws about treatment for the handicapped but scarce resources to fund its own programs these NGO’s are providing brilliant service. Children like Luisa often live their whole lives as shut-ins. But, Luisa is fortunate to have a large supportive family to keep her stimulated and well cared for. This is exceptionally good because it is beginning to look like Luisa will continue to require medical services and care. Feed the Children is on the ground in Patanatic helping Luisa with protein suppliments and expenses.
Feed The Children’s – Guatemala headquarters are marked by a modest plaque set to the right of an ironclad gate. The forbidding eight foot walls are crowned with a concertina wire slinky. Bits of razors dart ominously through the Bougainvillea. This is in Zone 5 – an increasingly dicey area of the capital.
Altagracia Hernandez, the Country Coordinator, says that the seven person crew has to move – not just for safety but to accommodate their expansion into new territories. But, there is no time for that in the First Quarter. Only the accountant stays behind at the Office – everyone else is out giving away hundreds of backpacks; enrolling new communities and preparing school principals and teachers to distribute their share of the 40,000 pairs of TOMS shoes. And, after that there is the Rice give away and this means the posse will be taking some serious “Road Trips.”
It is impossible to get the” friction of distance” built into Guatemala’s ruthless topology from a map. and, distance is quite deceptive when the highway is nasty. For example, the threeFTC centers in Palencia are in the District of Guatemala City and they appear to be closest but they they are really a few hours away. Heading North; towards Solola and Quiche points also takes about three to four hours but you are gliding along the Pan American Highway. The most distant area, Chujul, is practically to the Mexican boarder, in the Ixil Triangle. It is so many hours of driving that it requires an overnight stay.
Absolutely, the roads after Palencia are the worst — the pavement degrades continuously about an hour out of the Office. Even in dry season, it took us forever to get to the nearest destination. The “good news” is that it is still dusty and the crew can hump donations in via SUVs and rented trucks. But, soon enough, it will get muddy and navigating the extreme inclines in all territories will require much more efficient vehicles.
Meanwhile, back at the office, there is no time to consider which zone might require less vigilance until the shoes are landed, warehoused, inventoried, packed and delivered. Did I mention the Rice just pulled into port yesterday???