Guest Blogger-Judy Gale


“Mama!” “Mama!” The twins in turn cry out tearfully, running towards us.

These are adventuresome two-year-olds who roam freely through the Project Somos Village, who will clamber up and down a teeter totter without stopping if you let them, and one of whom would have launched himself off down the mini zipline if he hadn’t been caught. But their mother – the one consistent in their young lives – and I had stepped briefly out of view, and that momentarily panicked the twins.

Once more, I’m reminded of the rightness of Heather and Greg’s determination to keep families together in a country where hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned because their widowed or abandoned mothers, mired in poverty, couldn’t afford to keep them – or worse, have had them removed to orphanages.

Bringing in mothers as well as their children – orphan prevention – is a much more complex enterprise than an orphanage. The mothers carry their own emotional baggage, and histories often involving violence. Most have had no positive parenting models to copy.


Judy greets the new mama and children

While I was at Project Somos, a new mother and her three children arrived. Her palms were painfully cracked; she had been hand-washing laundry in order not to be separated from her children, but it wasn’t enough to pay rent. Natalia is bright and immediately got into the teamwork routine of a Somos home.

She sings and plays with her children. We hope she’ll inspire other mamas to simply have fun with their little ones. I can’t get out of my mind the picture of two other mothers weeping, each relating how – before she came to the Village – she could think of nothing except getting something to eat. Nothing but that.

In this safe and encouraging environment, the mamas start to reveal their potential. Clara is assuming leadership roles and is almost ready to move out with her children, on her own two feet. Quiet Paula declares that she doesn’t want to depend on anyone else again, so she wants to learn to read. She comes beaming from her first lesson with Somos preschool teacher Ali.


Welcome to Project Somos!

When we leave for home, the goodbyes are long. Clara says our coming back again has shown we have confidence in Project Somos and in the mothers. They thank us and all the donors for helping them and the people of their country. Their gratitude is something the mamas express often; it’s hard for them to understand why people so far away should care about them. It’s easy for me to reassure her there are hundreds of us. The hard thing is leaving.

-Judy Gale



Keeping Families Together


We prevent children from becoming orphans by keeping families together.

Two years ago we were building a village for orphans. For six years we had been focused on this vision. We had completed the first two homes. We were ready to hire the foster mothers. We were close to opening our doors.

Prior to this, we had visited many projects in many different places. We felt strongly that we were paying attention to an essential need. Orphans needed homes and we were responding.

family2Suddenly we were approached by local Guatemalan leaders asking us to help families in dire need. We met Luisa. Luisa had six children. Two of her children had been taken from her and put in an orphanage because she didn’t have the resources to care for them.

We offered Luisa the first spot in the Village. She turned us down.

That was our turning point. It suddenly made sense. We saw how bad it could be for women and for their children We studied the statistics. At least 80% of the world’s orphans still have a living parent. Parents in desperate situations often leave their children at orphanages in hopes that they may have a better life. Children are taken from their mothers when the women can’t provide for their children. And then they are called orphans. And they move into orphanages.

I recently discovered the work of JK Rowling in her Foundation called Lumos. This video, so eloquently, says it all.

Children Need Families Not Orphanages

It’s encouraging to see other people getting this too.

The stories and the statistics about children who have grown up in institutions are heartbreaking.

A child does not need an institution, she/he needs a family.

There is a movement to have a world without orphans and we are on board. By focusing on keeping families together we would resolve many other problems.

Children that have grown up in institutions are greatest targets for human trafficking and gangs. Children that don’t have healthy attachment, become society’s most difficult citizens. Mental illness, suicide and prostitution are common.

Our decision to bring in families run by single widowed or abandoned women makes so much sense to us now.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

-Heather Alicia

p.s. The above was extracted from the presentation I gave at our Grand Fiesta on October 29th.


A Trusting Canadian Schooled in a Strange Land


TecpanI was raised in the northern culture of the USA and Canada where I was taught to trust people until they give you reason not to trust them. In my short life, while living in the USA and Canada, this cultural guidance seemed to work fairly well. I have been fooled a few times, but not so many times as to discard the first trust attitude entirely or become cynical.

Since my arrival in Guatemala, almost five years ago, I have come to question the cross cultural application of trusting first until given reason not to. I was given some cultural advice by an American businessman who has lived in Guatemala for almost 40 years. He counselled that extending unconditional trust first in Guatemala would not bring a good result. Initially, I intellectually understood this principle, but hadn’t had any gut wrenching experiences to change my attitude – yet.

Over the course of the years here, I have observed that embedded in the culture here, is an ease and liberal use of lying. Although I admit this may be a cultural generalization and perhaps is isolated to our geographical area. Unfortunately, after asking more than a few Guatemalans about this disturbing cultural phenomenon, they confirmed my observation. It can be a tool in many people’s back pocket, ready to use if necessary.

After a few minor incidents of catching people in “white lies”, we had some major “events” of serious behaviours being denied despite being cornered with convincing evidence to the contrary. These serious breaches of trust were not by strangers, but by people who had received our trust over years. Subsequently, upon these revelations of the breach of trust it was discovered that this had happened before and had not been detected. Ouch.

Not to take such a betrayal of trust personally is difficult. It was very disturbing to see an investment of personal confidence and trust discarded by covert reckless behaviours. Even more disturbing was to see the denial of those disturbing behaviours by escalating lies. I must add, in the end each person in each separate “event” did come clean.

Upon reflection of the various “events” over the past years, I have come to see my part in it. “Expectation is a painful death” said Rumi, and how true that is. To expect someone to always be truthful in a culture that sees lying a survival tool, is naïve and a setup for that painful disappointment. To decondition myself from trusting until given a reason not to was not easy and it is still in process. I realized how deeply my trusting conditioning is and I realized how equally deep the conditioning in this culture is as well. I cannot change this culture, so I must change myself and my expectations.

He that deceives me once; shame fall him; if he deceives me twice, shame fall me. -James Kelly, Scottish Proverbs (1720).



Grand Fiesta – October 29, 2015


SOMOS_DayOfTheDead_Poster_4SOMOS_DayOfTheDead_Poster_4 w border

Join us for Project Somos’ Grand Fiesta on October 29, 2015 at The Imperial!

Early Bird (’til Oct 9th): $65

Regular Price: $75

At the Door: $85

VIP (includes exclusive cocktail party at 6:30pm, live entertainment, reserved front row seating, VIP draw and mini meal): $100

Our LIVE AUCTION items are up!  Check them out!

And back by popular demand, here is a list of our Fund-A-Need for this year.

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Check out the Sponsorship Package here!

Grand Fiesta at the Imperial Theatre

Not for Everyone…


Greg has written about it before. There are women that accept our invitation to come to Project Somos and there are others who don’t. It is impossible for us to truly understand how their decision is made. We never evangelize or push. The women always have an opportunity to talk in private with the women already living here. They can ask as many questions as they like.



Two weeks ago we welcomed two more families to Project Somos. The families brought us to capacity. For the time being. Remember-we still have five more homes to build, and will then have more spaces to fill with time.

Camila and Fernanda arrived just before lunch. They were accompanied by Lucy. Lucy is the wife of the mayor of Santa Cruz de Balanya. Lucy has been working with us and identifying families living in dire situations. Our four mamas and children warmly greeted the families when they arrived.

The mamas had already made lunch; organic black beans grown right here on the finca. It’s always good to start with something familiar as there is nothing more likely to turn the families off than an extreme change to their usual food.

These two mamas had already been on a tour of the Project just a few weeks earlier. During that time we confirmed they were eligible and we gathered financial support from two “teams” of sponsoring groups. [MANY thanks to those who have stepped up to help support our families!]

A full playground

A full playground

After lunch the children played in the playground. We gathered under our new shade structure on the edge of the playground. We all visited and got to know each other. It was a sweet and beautiful afternoon.

The next morning I went down to the Village to introduce the mamas and kids to our preschool teacher, Ali. The kids nervously entered the preschool to attend their first day of “school”. I took some time to talk to both mamas. Fernanda said she hadn’t adapted and wanted to leave. I listened and talked to her. And then Ali did. We both explained that to adapt, it usually takes more than one night. Marelyne (our therapist) arrived a couple of hours later and met with Fernanda right away. A short time later I received a call saying that Fernanda definitely wanted to leave.

She was gone by lunch time. She didn’t even say a word to the other mamas, who were left feeling a little perplexed.

Camila has now been here for nearly two weeks. She’s still finding her way. Her little family is used to living on their own. It’s much busier and louder here. Her daughter is not settling in quickly and Camila is worried. We have explained that this is normal and that we’ve already witnessed it with the other children. At this point, I am not sure she will stay but our hope is that she will. She is our eldest mama (42) and has a peaceful maturity to her that we think will be a great asset to the other mamas.

I can tell you something I do know…there is rarely a dull moment around here!

Stay tuned as things unfold…

-Heather Alicia


The Value of Opportunity


Have you ever reflected on an opportunity that you passed by or didn’t value? When opportunity knocks, how is it that we don’t move heaven and earth to open that door? How do we evaluate the value of an opportunity at any given moment in time? And why is it that sometimes we only can realize the value of said opportunity when looking back. 20/20 in hind sight only?

I live in Guatemala, the land of few/scarce opportunities. Open doors to a better future are rare for the average/non-connected folks. Opportunity for a higher education, better nutrition/health, a living wage, a safe neighbourhood, or a domestic violence-free relationship are hopes yet to be discovered. They are an unknown land that the poor have only heard stories of.

opportunityIf someone offered an education to the children of a farmer in the highlands of Guatemala, this opportunity could be passed up, because the value of education has not been experienced and acknowledged – it is heresay. If someone offered a pickup truck to the same farmer, it probably would be valued more than the education because he can see the immediate benefits and culturally it is a sign of “getting ahead”.

What I value, like access to information, the privilege of travel, a meaningful vocation, a wonderful, loving relationship and a healthy diet are not high on the list of folks in the Village of Chivarabal. What is valued is survival, getting by and perhaps the hope of a better house.

We have had more than a few mothers with children, living in extreme poverty, pass on the opportunity to come and live at Project Somos. It was hard to get my head around it, but then it dawned on me. The value of the opportunity is not immediately visible, it has some tangibles, but also some sacrifices. What I consider a valuable opportunity for someone else is not necessary valuable for them in the context of who they are and where they live.

We continue to maintain the door of opportunity open at Project Somos for those mothers with children who see it as valuable. But I can say it is very difficult to see families not seize a chance at Somos and return to their extreme situations, where there are very few opportunities to improve the basic needs of life.





Finding Fifty-Guest Blogger Michele Gole


For several months leading up to my 50th birthday, I adamantly declared that I would NOT have a party. I guess I was hoping that my fifth decade on the planet would just quietly and unobtrusively sneak in with minimal fanfare. Turning 50 did not seem like a reason to celebrate. Then I was introduced to Project Somos and all that changed.

For years I had been searching for the “right” charitable organization to work with in order to satisfy my need to volunteer and to serve others. My daughter, Alexandra, who had attended a presentation at Capilano University given by Heather and Greg, suggested that I look into Project Somos. A few days later, I called the number on the website and connected with Greg, one of the co-founders of the organization. On the day that I called they had just arrived in Calgary, where I reside, for their annual trip to Calgary. I met them for coffee and immediately knew that this was the right connection for me. I was so excited that I could barely figure out where to start.

All of a sudden, turning 50 seemed like a great way to celebrate and raise much needed funds for an organization that resonated with me in every way. The planning started and the invitations were sent out. I imagined a night filled with family and friends and was immediately grateful for the diversity of the communities that I have built, with my family and because of my family, over the years.

IMG_4456The day of the party began with my dear friend, Colleen, and her two daughters, Briana and Sarah, surprising me from Vancouver to attend the party. It was a remarkable testament to our friendship since they had to fly back to Vancouver the following morning to catch an 11 am flight to Paris!

The party was all that I had imagined and so much more. Everyone wanted to help and the most poignant contribution was made so carefully and deliberately, with so much love – my mom baked two beautiful cakes for me to share with my family and friends. My dad came for the week before the party and helped in the many ways that he is so capable of – building, cleaning, chopping, etc.! Without hesitation, my husband and children all rose to the occasion and helped in any and every way that they could.


Finding Fifty

My usual worry of how many would come was replaced by thoughts of how much of a difference could we make? In the end, I needn’t have worried about anything – we raised over $4,000, 104 adults and children came, the weather cooperated and much fun was had by all. Hands down, I had the most fun of everyone and found out that turning 50 was incredible. It felt more like “finding” 50 and it seemed as though I had been looking for a long time.

Now that the party is over, all I can think about is what can I do next to help support the Mamas and their children at Project Somos??

We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. ~Mother Teresa

-Michele Gole, Calgary



Social Justice/Social Outrage

Protests in Guatemala City-photo credit-David Mercer

Protests in Guatemala City-photo credit-David Mercer

Living and working in Guatemala is always a learning experience. The political and social fabric is a colourful and somewhat chaotic weave of traditional values and a push towards “modernization”.

Today the political arena is imploding with numerous scandals of serious corruption by the highest administrative officials, including the VP, who recently resigned in disgrace.

The general population of Guatemala is righteous indignant by health ministers taking brides for health contracts from incompetent companies that resulted in 5 deaths. Customs officials lowered duty on incoming containers for multimillion dollar bribes. Police officials diverted money for repair of patrol cars and police stations. Three quarters of congressional security guard’s salaries were diverted to a private company owned by the head of Congress,who is now under arrest. And the list continues.

Some recent news:

All these revelations of corruption have the president in a corner with 50,000 demonstrators demanding his resignation, every Saturday in the capital. In a country with 50% of children suffering malnutrition, a pathetic public education system and a crippled health care system, the population is aware that every dollar counts. Those that are stealing the money are not poor, in fact they are the financial elite. Many have been arrested, but few will ever see jail time because of prevailing impunity of the very weak justice system.

Protests in Guatemala City-photo credit-David Mercer

Protests in Guatemala City-photo credit-David Mercer

Just to be clear, I am not making a political statement. I want the readers and supporters of Project Somos to know the landscape in which we live and work. At the base of working to assist widowed and abandoned mothers with children is a deep conviction that poverty and the many social and political ills are not economically based but are a social justice issue. Some in “high”society have the inherited belief that some segments of society are not deserving of a safe home, a healthy family or a bright future. It seems in their view, not all are created equal.

The holders of this cold and flawed philosophy certainly believe they, their family and friends are entitled to all the benefits that society can offer, but outside of that circle, they are indifferent. If you think this position is extreme or erroneous, just ask the former Guatemalan vice president or the dozens of incarcerated government ministerial bureaucrats – their circle of concern for the welfare of others extended only as far as their self-serving egos. Will the social outrage of the population make a lasting impact to the currency impunity and corruption? Only time will reveal the resolution.



Somos Mamas (We are Mamas) Felting

Our weekly felting meeting with tea and a view!

Our weekly felting meeting with tea and a view!

Every Thursday our little group gathers to visit, drink tea and review the work from the past week and to look ahead at the next week. Our mamas have been producing needle-felted products since last May. For Ana and Tita, that is 14 months. For Antonieta, it has been nine months. And for Myra, it has been a week.

Marta having a good laugh at her sheep!

Tita (Marta) having a good laugh at her sheep!

As of a month ago, Tita took the leadership role on the felting. Ana is now in charge of anything food related. Antonieta is our head honcho in charge of overseeing the cleaning. The mamas, nervous at first at the extra responsibility, are rising to the challenge of leading a “department” and in my opinion, are doing great. And now they know what it feels like to work at being a good and kind boss. Because they get a taste of what it feels like to be “bossed” by the other mamas, they think carefully on how best to lead.

The mamas work where they want to work. Here they are carding the wool outside their home.

The mamas work where they want to work. Here they are carding the wool outside their home.

Since we started producing needle-felted figures and ornaments, their work has really evolved. All initial work was very simple and very child-like. And now? We are getting more and more sophisticated. We still play around, trying out different ideas and then deciding if they will work in the “market place”. Everyone has their own favourite figures/pieces to make. Antonieta likes making the birds and her birds have really “grown up” since she first started. Tita loves making the little dolls atop baubles and Ana enjoys making the snowman faces. Myra has caught on really quickly and seems happy to be engaged and working. We can never underestimate the healing that happens when people create and make art.

A couple of the mamas' bears. Now being spotted and photographed all over the world!

A couple of the mamas’ bears. Now being spotted and photographed all over the world!

Thanks to our Social Enterprise Committee back in Vancouver, we are exploring different markets where we can distribute our products. Last October during our annual Grand Fiesta, we successfully sold over 200 pieces! When we were back in April all of the mamas’ bears sold out and many birds and earrings were sold.

A couple of our birds with "tipico" fabric for their wings.

A couple of our birds with “tipico” fabric for their wings.

Every week the mamas have a list of work they are required to complete. They take their work seriously and fit it in throughout their day between cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and caring for children. One of the nice things about the felting is that it is easy to put down and pick up throughout the day. Each month the mamas get paid for their work. A portion is for their monthly personal expenses, the other portion goes into a savings account which they will have access to upon their departure. For all, it is the first bank account and savings they have ever had in their life.

A special set of dryer balls with images of mamas and their kids.

A special set of dryer balls with images of mamas and their kids.

As of last week, we have started this year’s Christmas collection. Back by popular demand, there will be snowmen, bears and baubles. We have some other

A personalized label is included with each feltie purchase.

A personalized label is included with each feltie purchase.

new and exciting designs we are currently working on. Keep an eye on online to get a peek in the coming weeks!

If you’d like to help us sell “Somos Mamas Felting” products, please let us know and we can hook you up!

On behalf of our mamas, thanks for buying our “felties”. You are helping each of these mamas build a brighter future for their families. Your purchase is very empowering and exciting for each of our mamas. And a special thanks to Carla in Edmonton for all her wooly support! xo

-Heather Alicia

Want to see how the mamas take the dirty raw wool and turn it into something beautiful? Check out this short video about the whole process!



Let Them Eat Tortillas


Yesterday morning we had a visit by a young mother with three young children under eight. They came with her sister and knocked on our gate to inquire if she could find a home for this abandoned sister and her children. She was married for eight years and her husband abandoned her 4 years ago. Her sister, with whom she is currently living, has four children of her own and can only manage to support her own family.

Unfortunately this is a story we have heard too many times. These children are eating only tortillas and salt with coffee every day. The coffee suppresses their hunger. This is a common practice with those who have no means to buy or grow food. The developmental damage this does to a child is devastating for a lifetime. I am simultaneously saddened and angered.

povertyMy sadness comes from the persisting question of how this has persisted in this country and the world for so many decades-centuries. Why have the poor been left to languish in a vacuum while in reality there has always been enough food, shelter and decent employment to go around?

My anger comes from the knowledge that there has been a system in place for decades–centuries that enables such poverty to persist. To say it feeds off of the poor may be extreme, but they are the recipients of the negative side of that system which allows some to soar and some to plummet.

It is heartbreaking to sit face to face with the beating hearts and bright eyes of those who are in the grips of extreme poverty to have a conversation about the extreme struggle of their life. It is infuriating to know that there are those who are indifferent to the dark plight of their countrymen and women and disconnect themselves from millions of undernourished mothers and children, living in this small country.

It is not a lack of information that keeps the elite from reaching out to assist.It is a decision and it is justified by a soul-killing attitude of indifference. These kind-hearted people did not chose to be born poor, do not deserve to suffer the severe lack of basic necessities of life and would tirelessly work to change their situation.

The entitled attitude of “let them eat tortillas” must end.