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.

-Greg

 

Competing Priorities

 

GregIt seems as Project Somos develops in its depth and width of activities, the quantity of competing priorities intensifies. This is not as easy to sort out as financial capacities or targeted and committed priorities, but has a complexity exponentially complicated by the human factor of families with mothers and children.

On a daily basis, I have to prioritized my activities and some days I feel like an air traffic controller bringing in the airplane/task that has been circling for days/weeks and nearing an empty gas tank. Of course we have predetermined weekly meetings with the therapist, the mothers, my foreman, social worker, and interns, which assists in keeping the train on the tracks. But we also have unscheduled meetings with our lawyer, accountant, family doctor, local mayor, school principal, teachers, our mothers, community leaders and people from far and wide wanting tours.

greg3As well there is flow of phone calls that arrive all the time from all locations. Antolin, our foreman calls me at least 5 times a day and I call him at least twice that many. Alicia and I need to implant earpieces, like the CIA, so we don’t need to constantly be answering each other’s calls. And then there is the messaging back and forth and back again. Emails, well, as you can imagine there are a lot, everyday, all day.

But the cause of all of this flurry of activity and competing priorities is human generated and actually very beautiful. The cause is the mothers and children that reside at Project Somos. We have just received another mother with two children and one on the way. This addition should up all of the activity mentioned above and the families make all the administrative suffering worthwhile and gets me out of bed in the morning ready to face it all.

greg2Although there are moments of overwhelm and feelings like we are not doing it fast enough, good enough or for enough families, there are the sweet moments. The moments of seeing the mothers and children laughing in the security of knowing they are loved, they are safe, they have a bright future. There are moments when I can see the big vision unfolding and realize, everything is as it needs to be for now. For me, this is the priority that wins every time.

-Greg

 

Tika Talks-The Responsibilities of a Dog

 

Tika Talks BannerAccording to child psychologist, Boris Levinson of Yeshiva University, troubled, withdrawn children became more talkative and engaged when he had his therapy dog around with the kids. An interesting study done by psychologist, Sigal Zilch-Mano said that people’s stress levels went down when taking a test with their pets close by. Another study showed that people’s stress hormone, cortisol went down when they were interacting with their dog.

 

You don’t have to read a scientific journal to know this. I for one, could have told you…or you could look at the photos of me with the kids. Yes, the kids spend time with the other dogs too but I have a much better grasp about how all of this works.

A therapists work is never done

A therapist’s work is never done

There are 11 children that live here at Project Somos now. Some of them were afraid of dogs when they arrived but all have learned that we are here to protect and love them. I intuitively know which kids need my attention most and make an effort to quietly sit close to them. I let them pet me, lay on me and scratch my belly. I listen to their problems when they want to talk. And I keep everything to myself. I respect their confidentiality. These are my “clients” or “patients” and I take my job seriously.

Dogs need to listen and pay attention

Dogs need to listen and pay attention

I can see that the other dogs try to emulate my way with the kids but they don’t quite have it mastered. Sparky can get a little hyper and distracted. Bindi is getting pretty good at it but I would never admit that out loud. She is so huge, takes up so much space and gives way too many kisses.

Bindi tries her best

Bindi tries her best

I believe dogs make the best therapists for children. I think most kids would agree with me on this one.

-Tika, Somos Village Dog #1

Sometimes they need my help and support in the preschool

Sometimes they need my help and support in the preschool

p.s. Pick up a copy of “Scientific American Mind” with the picture of the cute black and white border collie on the cover to read more about dogs and our amazing impact on humans. (May/June 2015 issue)

 

Family #4 Arrives!

 

Yesterday was another monumental day at Project Somos.

Yesterday we welcomed our fourth family to the Village!

For the last number of weeks, Lucy (our recently hired local employee) has been out in the “field” meeting with different community leaders and groups. She has been introduced to various women and their children, who are living in extreme poverty. The stories she has shared, have been heartbreaking.

There have been countless incidences of babies conceived from rape, many abusive situations and sad stories of young women becoming widows. For me, it has been a roller coaster of emotions hearing the stories, and then meeting the women.

Greg has written about the situation here-it is not straightforward. We do not have a line up of women ready to come. It is a slow, careful process on all parts. We came close a couple of times and for various reasons, it did not work for different women.

One, in particular, was very sad for me. The 28 year old mama of one, wanted to be here so badly. Her parents joined her on the tour, raved about what they saw and to our faces said they felt it would be a good place for their daughter and grandchild.

A few days later, we got word from Lucy that when she visited the woman, she cried in sadness, sharing that her mother would not allow her to come, that she needed her to do work in the house and for other family members (for little or no money). The father told his daughter that if she left without their permission, she would never be allowed to return to the family. The woman remains in the family home, sad and disempowered.

Enough of that heartbreak.

Onto the good news…

On Monday Marta and Antonieta and their seven children moved out of Casa Creo (the blue house they have all been living in together) and into Casa Valentía. It was an exciting day for everyone because they knew what was next…

Yesterday Myra and her two children; Mariana and Daniel arrived. Both children will celebrate their birthdays during their first week here! Mariana will turn five next Wednesday and Daniel will turn two on Sunday! Unlike, Marta’s kids who waited for nearly a year to receive their quilts, these two sweeties will get to choose their quilts right away!

When Myra came for her visit last week, she looked like she had completely lost hope. You could see the trauma in her eyes. She barely smiled. Yesterday, after a few hours, I saw this calm wash over her. I saw her smile and laugh with the other mamas.

Arrival of Family #4

Greg carries the family’s belongings-this is all they had

The children settled in very quickly. They immediately start to play with the other kids, run around and explore. In the afternoon, Mariana could not wait to put on her new pyjamas. When I dropped in for a visit, she ran into my arms and gave me the longest most loving hug ever. I felt her gratitude spilling over and mine matched hers.

Warm greetings from our mamas when Myra arrived

Warm greetings from our mamas when Myra arrived

It has been a long time and lot of work to get us to today. We are still far from reaching our completed vision but it feels like we are well on our way. Two houses with four families feels good. We have space for two more families. Our four mamas and their combined 11 children make this place feel like a true Village.

As always, I feel an incredible amount of gratitude to all of you who have supported and cheered us on. Thank you. Gracias. Matioche.

Please join me in welcoming Myra, Mariana and Daniel to Project Somos, where we hope they will feel welcome, loved and safe.

love,

Heather Alicia

 

 

Hope

 

Where there is no vision, there is no hope.-George Washington Carver 1864-1943, American Scientist

When the candidate families arrived for a first visit at the Somos Village, I reflected on what they might have hoped to find. Our social worker, Lucy, had previously informed them about the structural layout, the programs and some of the Somos principles of empowerment, but after that, what was the mother’s hope for themselves and their children?

I have observed over the past years there is the undeveloped ability in many here to imagine or envision a future. This can be a disability to change one’s negative circumstance of poverty, sickness, or trauma. Can we see our selves as self-sufficient, healthy or free of fear?

When the mothers arrived, I saw the signs of the trauma of poverty, beyond the cultural cordialities. I saw the indicators of poor nutrition in the mother’s and children. Not like they chose to eat a mono diet of corn or even knew it was a factor in the stunting of children’s growth.

Potential families and extended family visiting Project Somos

Potential families and extended family visiting Project Somos

Part of our educational work here is to offer a brighter vision of the future for the mothers and children. Not only to demonstrate a vision for a better living circumstance, but enter into the vision for their positive personal development. To be a parent that is patient and loving with effective tools to raise a healthy child. And children are encouraged to become creative, playful and confident in their learning.

Project Somos offers hope that mothers and their children can rise to become happy, healthy and productive citizens of Guatemala. Hope that they can rise out of poverty and heal the traumas of violence. Hope they can raise children to become intelligent and compassionate adults. Hope that they are worthy of love, affection and respect.

Potential families hear our organic gardening

Potential families learning a bit about our organic gardening

I believe the hope Somos holds for our mothers and children and offers to them is not a gullible optimism, but grounded in a realistic outlook. I have witnessed their personal transformative journey in the past year. Their health, life skills, openness, and self-acceptance have all improved. These steps are the beginning of the realization of their comprehensive hope for a better life for their family.

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. -Madame Marie Curie 1867-1934, Polish-born French Physicist

-Greg Kemp

 

 

The Best Donors in the World

 

We are recently back from our annual Spring trek to Canada. We spent two weeks in Vancouver and a week in Calgary.

Greg and I in Canada

Greg and I in Canada

While there, we had two board meetings, one public presentation, visited and spoke at five schools, had dozens of meetings, ate many amazing meals and drank far too many cups of coffee! Fortunately, we also had time to see family and visit with friends. Our days were long and full.

Here in Guatemala, our days start early and end early. In Canada, we start a little later and go WAY later. Even though we are from Canada and lived there the majority of our lives, it is always such a pleasant surprise to be a part of the long days of sunlight. We are surprised just how energized we feel and how much easier it is to stay up late!

School presentation at St. George's Junior School

School presentation at St. George’s Junior School

For us it is always really affirming to go back to Canada and to connect with our supporters. I have to say, we have the best donors in the world. We had donors host us. Donors held a barbecue in celebration of our successes. We had donors feed us amazing food and give us delicious wine. We had donors host our public event. We had donors remind us that they have our backs and are there for us. What more could we ask for?

 

One of the things I love about our supporters is how many of them have come here to Project Somos to see the work being done on the ground. And they don’t just stop there. They pick up hammers, wire houses, sweep till their hands blister, they sand, varnish and paint, they love and play with our kids, they share with and teach our mamas, they cook pancake breakfasts, they bake cookies, they plant gardens, they install internet and they extend loving support to Greg and I. And when they are gone, our kids and mamas continue to talk about them. They look at photos and remember everyone’s name.

 

Public presentation at Ethical Bean

Public presentation at Ethical Bean

When Martyn Joseph was here, Marta (one of our mamas) said to him “I don’t understand why everyone comes here, there really is nothing to admire here.” (which inspired a song which will soon be recorded) Marta is still baffled by the unending love and the attention of all of our supporters. She doesn’t “get” it. Maybe when she does, our work will be done. Maybe when she truly understands that she is someone of value, someone worthy of our love and that of our supporters, we will have succeeded. I truly hope that one day she will get it.

 

Day-long strategic planning board meeting

Day-long strategic planning board meeting

Stay tuned for that day!

 

love

Heather Alicia

 

Tika Talks-Saying Goodbye to Gizmo

 

Tika Talks BannerGizmo has come and gone. I let him live with us for ten months. He showed up on the “finca” skinny, covered in mats and with broken twine tied around his neck and front paw, last June. We took him in and took care of him. He became part of our pack.

Our pack is a pack of gals but we all still loved the boy. He was a little goofy and a lot of fun. Like most male dogs, he raised his leg to pee. This did not impress my people when he peed on flower pots or toys.

He was a bit of an instigator with the other dogs. He’d get them all going and they’d charge kids or guests. This didn’t go over so well with my people. Or me. I like my people and I love our kids. We, as dogs are here to protect the kids not scare ‘em! I made the tough decision. He needed to find a more suitable home.

With the help of our friend Terri in Canada, Gizmo found new people of his own. My people tricked him into thinking the big crate with the comfy foamy was his new special ”fort”. He thought this was the best. Then they took him to Guatemala City. He had to sleep in his fort in the back of the pick-up truck in the hotel parking lot. At one in the morning my people got up and took him for a run in the parking lot. He was as happy as could be. And then they took him for a car ride to the airport. At 3am they told him to go into his fort. They closed the door and sent him on his way. On an airplane!

Gizmo when he first showed up on the finca

Gizmo when he first showed up on the finca

Gizmo arrived at YVR in Vancouver on April 23rd. He was greeted at the airport by his new people; Bridget and Paul. They took him home to his new brother Kofi. Gizmo is super happy there. He and Kofi go for walks on the beach, in Lynn Valley and at all the local dog parks. Weirdly, he is living the life I used to have before I moved here to become the Somos Village Dog. I bet he hangs out at coffee shops on Main Street too!

We miss the boy. Especially Sparky. They were best buds. Some decisions are hard to make but somebody has to make them. As Dog #1 much of the responsibility falls on my shoulders.

Gizmo and I. Right after he had all his matted hair shaved off. What a goof!

Gizmo and I. Right after he had all his matted hair shaved off. What a goof!

We will always hold a special spot in our hearts for “Mr. Wiggle Butt”, aka Gizmo.

-Tika

Gizmo with his new peeps at Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver

Gizmo with his new peeps at Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver

Gizmo with the rest of my pack

Gizmo with the rest of my pack

 

Becoming a Preschool Evangelist

 

Flexibility is key with this vision of ours. Growing organically is a guiding principle.

Those "littles" -always busy, busy!

Those “littles” -always busy, busy!

When our first three families arrived with seven children under six (and with four of them in diapers), it quickly became clear that the majority of the mamas’ days were spent preparing food, cleaning clothes, comforting a crying child or children, changing and washing diapers.

Our vision for capacity building, vocational training, handicraft work, village involvement (planting, weeding, etc.) suddenly had major limitations because there was so little time available to the mamas.

I could see that the children suffered because of their mama’s busyness. They weren’t being played with, conversation was limited and reading aloud didn’t exist. Life is full and can get in the way of many things one aspires to do. I began to invite groups of 2 or 3 children up to our home to play and read with them as often as I could. That, of course, came with limitations as well. I had an NGO to run and as much as I love being with kids, my time is also very limited.

It was really clear to me that what we needed was a preschool. I put it forward at our board meetings. And we discussed it. A preschool was not in the immediate plans. I am sure many on-the-ground NGO leaders have encountered this. I felt strongly that this was a strong case for flexibility and that the urgency of the situation had bumped it up the list of priorities. I became a preschool evangelist.

Weeping for joy at the Grand Fiesta

Weeping for joy at the Grand Fiesta

Long story, short. I applied for a couple of grants and crossed my fingers. At our annual Grand Fiesta, we asked for support. The response was overwhelming! I sat on the sidelines weeping for joy. Weeping because so many, truly got the importance of education for children. Weeping because I knew how much our mamas and children would love this type of programming.

Two grants for the preschool were approved; one from HSABC (Health Sciences Association of BC) and one from the Brown Family Private Foundation. I was over the moon!

Our wonderful preschool teacher, Ali

Our wonderful preschool teacher, Ali

In January, with the help of our incredible, therapist, Marelyne, we interviewed potential candidates. To both of us, it was a slam-dunk decision. Maria Alicia Choc was perfect for the position. A young Kaqchikel teacher with a smile that lights a room, “Ali” has a number years experience working as a preschool teacher for another International NGO and a local government program in her community. She is mama, to one son.

Inside our recently completed Learning Centre

Inside our recently completed Learning Centre

 

Waldorf-inspired decor and toys

Waldorf-inspired decor and toys

 

This place is like a magnet to our kids! They can't stay away.

This place is like a magnet to our kids! They can’t stay away.

For the first seven weeks, we ran the preschool program out of our beautiful community hall. With the quickly approaching spring break and volunteer program, we knew we had to be out of there as soon as possible.

Thanks to the generous support of SpencerCreo Foundation, we had received the funding to complete the Learning Centre which we had started with the school groups in Spring 2014. This beautiful building will be the first in a cluster of structures which will have facilities for learning and creativity. On March 9th, we had a little inauguration and the preschool/library opened its doors to the families at Project Somos and the neighbouring community of Chivarabal. (we hold weekly playground or library time for the local children). I will write more about this building in a separate blog.

Story time

Story time

Every morning from 8am-noon, the doors to the little pink building open and the children come running from their home, through the playground. Two of our workers’ children arrive from their homes within Chivarabal. On the weekends, our “littles” have been known to cry when they find out it isn’t a school day. On the days when our “big boys” (ages 7 and 9) don’t have school, they want to attend the preschool! I would say that, without a doubt, this small project, within our big Project, is an overwhelming success. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen!

With a heart full of gratitude,

Heather Alicia

building1

Our beautiful pink Learning Centre

building2

 

Southridge Volunteers

 

A heartfelt thank you to Southridge for a great week of volunteering! This was Southridge’s third time volunteering in Guatemala at Project Somos and once again, the school sent a great team of very hard working volunteers.

The garden team!

The garden team!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While here, the team of twenty students and three teachers did many different things;

  • hauled dirt
  • made hundreds of adobe blocks
  • assisted in the preschool in the mornings
  • offered programming for the kids in the afternoon
  • sorted and labelled our growing collections of children’s books
  • organized a very fun Kids’ Afternoon for the local children
  • peeled, chopped and cleaned in the kitchen
  • painted the Learning Centre
  • re-laid and grouted the stones in the Gathering Place
  • planted a flower garden in front of the Learning Centre
Hair styling

Hair styling

At Project Somos, we employ a team of local men throughout the year. When volunteers arrive it is a lot of fun for them. The work site becomes more lively and everyone works side by side. It’s the a time of year our workers look forward to. They love the extra hands and energy of the Canadian volunteers and they make some great memories during their visits.

On the last evening with the volunteers we had our traditional pizza buffet in our wood-fired brick oven. Following that, the students cuddled with our kids while Antolin hosted a campfire and gave a short talk on the Mayan tradition.

Many of the students held back their tears as they said good-bye to our kids. I reminded them that they are always welcome to return the next time Southridge is here, come on their own or come with their parents and siblings for a family trip. Our kids would also really appreciate if volunteers can stay in contact by writing letters or by calling via Skype.

Adobe block making!

Adobe block making!

Once, again, a big THANK YOU to all the Southridge volunteers who journeyed here to Project Somos to help us. We really appreciate your support!

And thank you so much for the team that made the lovely quilt and the book which tells the story of the quilt-making. This will be added to our quilt collection and one day soon, a child will choose this as his/her forever quilt.

-Heather Alicia Knox

Co-Founder and Executive Director

Project Somos Guatemala

Southridge gifts Project Somos with a stunning new quilt for our "Quilts for Kids" program. THANK YOU

Southridge gifts Project Somos with a stunning new quilt for our “Quilts for Kids” program. THANK YOU

Pizza Time

Pizza Time

Azwa is the first returning student we have had and we were THRILLED to see him again! And someone become quite smitten with him!

Azwa is the first returning student we have had and we were THRILLED to see him again! And someone become quite smitten with him!

Relaxation time between work

Relaxation time between work

Preschool time with a lovely gift made by the Spanish class at Southridge

Preschool time with a lovely gift made by the Spanish class at Southridge

Their departure from Project Somos

Their departure from Project Somos