Guest Blogger-Ken Spencer Internet for Project Somos


We city folks do email or Google something without a second thought.  But imagine trying to run a charity like Project Somos – off in the Guatemalan countryside – without a reliable connection to the Internet. Raising money internationally requires blogging, keeping a Facebook page up to date, connecting with prospective donors – and you have to keep in frequent touch with staff, accountants and Board members in another country. It really hit me when we were on the site last year that Greg and Heather had to have a good Internet connection. Taking half an hour to download an email wasn’t working for them. So I took on the task of getting them a reliable, medium-speed Internet connection.

There were three options. Greg investigated the first: upgrading the cell service to provide decent speeds. (I told him he had to become best friends with a VP of the cell company.) Alex Corbett, who works at Rogers in Vancouver, helped us figure out where the bottleneck was and which questions Greg should ask.  We learned that reception at Somos was OK, but there was a problem with the back haul, the connection between the local cell tower back to a major town where high speed Internet is available. The back haul is shared by everybody, so when school is out the speed slows almost to a stop. Greg endured many phone calls and meetings, and eventually concluded that improving Somos’ cell service would cost $20,000. Not really an option.

The second option, installing a satellite link, was rejected early: all I could find was service at $400 per month.  Not really an option.  The Hughes website said a cheaper service was coming to the US, so I tried to find out if the footprint would cover Guatemala, but even a big company like Hughes didn’t answer multiple emails from me.

So that left us with the third choice, installing a microwave link to a town within line of sight.  Patzun, 5 Km away, was definitely visible from Project Somos.  But where in Patzun could we could get DSL and put up an antenna with line of sight to Project Somos? Back to Greg. After a few false starts and much frustration, he got permission to put an antenna on the Patzun fire hall and install a router in their office. In return, we would give them free Internet.  An affordable option.

Meanwhile, I was studying the design of a microwave system that would get the Internet to the staff house, the Community Hall and a future administration building.

Having taken a course in microwave systems design 47 years ago, I thought no problem, I’ll take a stab at it. So with the help of some material I found on the Internet, I designed a system using routers, amplifiers, radios, converters, thick heavy cables, etc. I wanted to have somebody check it, so I sent it to Alex. He politely replied that what I had designed would work, but I should look at some of the new technology, and gave me a link to an antenna that had everything built in. Just plug your LAN cable into the antenna and it was ready to plug into your computer, all for $69.

Then Jordon Randall, IT Manager at Science World, helped me design the network. We wanted it reliable, so no rebooting would have to be done, and secure, so visitors couldn’t hack into staff computers. So I ordered all commercial grade equipment and Jordon set it up. Commercial grade routers and switches allow you so many options that it takes a long time to learn what all the settings should be, but Jordon did it.

I wanted the whole system thoroughly tested before I went to Guatemala, as there was no way to get extra bits and pieces once I was there. So initially I set up two antennas in my office and got everything working. Then I tested it across our and the neighbors’ front lawns.  Finally, we set the link up from our Vancouver house across the bay to a friend’s house in West Vancouver and tested it over a month in all kinds of weather. It worked perfectly.

During this process, I realized that the Patzun main antenna could also be seen from the local community school in Chivarabal, so I asked Greg and Heather if we should put in an antenna and switch at the school and buy them a computer. They agreed, so I bought the switch, antenna and a ChromeBased computer that has little local storage, does email, documents and browsing, all over the Internet.

This afterthought had benefits we never thought of when we decided to do it. To quote Greg: “This will be a legacy that will benefit many students here and eventually the whole community of Chivarabal. It has put Project Somos in a very good light in the general community and particularly with the school, mayor and village council. This is huge, as we are always aware we have to keep current in our assistance of the local community.”

unknown-2Last steps. Judy and I went to Project Somos, and Greg and I spend six days installing the system. I won’t go through all the trials and tribulations of doing something for the first time. The photos show the 28-foot antenna at the staff house. It was set in concrete – so when we had a problem, scaffolding had to be built to get at it. We cut the pole down to 15 feet, where it worked just as well. At the fire hall, the antenna had to be fastened to an existing pole. The firefighters felt the pole wasn’t strong enough to take much weight, so intrepid Greg climbed a 19-foot ladder that was held up by four firefighters with ropes and not leaning against anything! The third photo shows me attaching connectors to Tough Cable, a cable that can withstand any weather condition. It should be called Impossible Cable, as it took about half an hour to attach each connector and many times I had to cut it off and start over again when a wire didn’t connect properly.unknown-1

The last day was hectic. We lost connection, and had to go back to Patzun – 45 minutes on a pothole-infested road – and make a change to the router. We were still not getting reliable speeds at the Staff House which was when we discovered that even the sturdy staff house antenna moved enough in the wind to degrade the signal, and will have to have guy wires attached. Heads in Vancouver and Guatemala puzzled quite a while over that.  At the end, though, it looks like we met our goal of establishing medium-speed Internet at Project Somos and the school – an international team effort.

Ken Spencerunknown

Wireless PTmP without IPsunknown


Our Growing Community


On September 29th, we welcomed our third mama and her two children to the Village.

When Antolin and Nico came to us mid-September sharing the story of Antonieta and her two children, we reminded them that our intention is to serve widowed and abandoned women with a minimum of three children. Our hope is that we can reach as many children as  possible. Our two family homes have four bedrooms each and have the space for two families.

The appalling "facilities" which Antonieta and family used

The appalling “facilities” which Antonieta and family used

With complete determination, Antolin and Nico persevered, telling us just how dire Antonieta’s situation was. She was living in a broken down shack with no running water or electricity. She and her two children (5 and 14 months) were sleeping on the ground during the rainy season and using the most appalling “facility” for their “bathroom”.

They reminded us that Ana, Marta and their seven children were only using three of the four bedrooms in the house. They suggested that we talk to Ana and Marta and see how they felt about the idea of bringing a third family into their home.

We have weekly meetings where we discuss how the week went, what’s coming up, share parenting challenges, etc. Each week both Marta and Ana start by sharing their gratitude to Project Somos for the safe, warm house, the healthy food, assistance with parenting, learning new skills, etc. They regularly ask how they will ever repay us.

With this in mind, we met with Ana and Marta and shared the story of Antonieta. Without hesitation, they said they really wanted to reach out to Antonieta. They both stated how well they know and understand Antonieta’s situation and how, just a short time ago, it was them living in dire situations.

We met with the Board of Directors, started sharing the urgency of Antonieta’s situation and everyone stepped it up. Within a week, we had a group willing to sponsor Antonieta and family on a monthly basis. I put out a plea on Facebook and within two hours had $800 to cover the initial expenses that we would need to cover. Antonieta and her children had the clothes on their backs and only one change. We hit the “Mega Paca” (big second hand clothing store) and bought clothing for everyone.

Nico and Antolin arrive with Antonieta and kids

Nico and Antolin arrive with Antonieta and kids

Marta and Ana prepared the fourth bedroom over the weekend and on Monday morning Nico and Antolin went and picked Antonieta up. They arrived at the “finca”, Antolin carrying all their belongings in his one hand.  Antonieta had come for a tour of the Project the week before so she knew where she was coming. Ana and Marta’s children took Antonieta’s hands as she arrived. The mamas embraced her and warmly welcomed them into their home.

It has now been two months and although it isn’t always rosy in the house, the three mamas and their combined nine children are doing well. Everyone is getting healthier and learning lots. Antonieta, an orphan at nine, spent much of her childhood as a slave living at an aunt’s home. She never learned to read or write. She is very excited to now be learning how to read, to write, to weave, to cook, to needle-felt, etc. The other day she wept sharing her gratitude to be learning so much. belongings

Warmly welcomed by the other children

Warmly welcomed by the other children


Ana warmly welcomes Antonieta.

Ana warmly welcomes Antonieta.


Tears of gratitude

Tears of gratitude

Heather Alicia

p.s. Project Somos has the space to welcome two more families as soon as possible. We have someone who has stepped up, saying she will recruit a group to “adopt” our fourth family. Would you consider doing the same to help us welcome a fifth family in need? If so, please drop us a line.



Healing Through Play


playIt may seem a little frivolous to focus on play when prior to coming here, the main focus of our mamas and their kids, had been on survival. Play seems a bit indulgent and quite unnecessary when you don’t have enough food to eat or proper shelter.

Poverty takes it toll on people. Children and women are vulnerable and can suffer great trauma when their day to day survival is at stake. Poverty is not an isolated problem. It often comes hand in hand with illness, violence, trauma and fear. The day to day uncertainty does not allow a mama to be fully present with her children. She may set high expectations on them to help care for younger siblings, earn money or to stay at home alone in charge of the family home or shelter.

As our nine residents get more and more comfortable here at Project Somos the stories unfold. When children are in a safe environment, they may begin to act out and some of past difficulties can present themselves through behaviours and fears. We have witnessed this with the children. And we are being proactive.

Attachment Play by Aletha J. Solter, PHD

Attachment Play by Aletha J. Solter, PHD

I just finished reading the book “Attachment Play” by Aletha J. Solter, PHD. The book shows how you can use play to solve behavioural problems, past traumas and fears with play, laughter and connection. It delves into the different types of play that parents can draw on to engage with their children. There are nine forms of attachment play that Solter describes in her book; non-directive child-centred play, symbolic play, contingency play, nonsense play, separation games, power-reversal games, regression games, activities with body contact and cooperative games and activities.

She draws on much research for attachment play and shares many examples she has used or those that her clients have used. We encourage the mamas to spend time playing with their children every single day. They have shared how it is making a difference in their parenting.

Yesterday I was invited by one of the kids to join in their game of the equivalent of our “kick the can”. The mamas have been playing this with the kids in the playground before dinner a number of evenings and it is such a joy to witness. I was honoured to be asked to join in and had a blast running, hiding and laughing along with the two mamas and all the kids!

-Heather Alicia


Guest Blogger-Emily Evans

Emily at Project Somos

Emily at Project Somos

It has been nearly 4 month since my trip to Guatemala, and I haven’t forgotten a moment of it. It’s truly remarkable what Founders, Greg Kemp and Heather Knox have done, what they have accomplished, and their vision has motivated me to become more in-touch with the importance of grassroots organizations such as Project Somos.

I spent only 10 days in Guatemala with my school group, and only 6 of those days at the Village itself, but I have no doubt that it is the most important and inspiring trip I have ever taken. Seeing the poverty that many families have to live in, and the amazing work that the Project is doing for those families, really solidified what I want to do with my future career and demonstrated the difference that a glimour of hope can have to families (especially children) with nowhere else to turn.

I owe so much of my experience to the children, watching them become confident and comfortable in their new home. Alberto’s story particularly took a toll on me personally, as we played on children’s day, I saw the silly child-like grin on his face, and found it hard to believe that only a few weeks ago he had been working in the fields instead of swinging, slaving in a thread factory instead of playing soccer – it broke my heart that he is not the only one.

ImageNot only did I feel like I became part of the community, but working on building the library (using earthbag construction) with my schoolmates created bonds that cannot be put into words. Together we created (or at least helped create) something useful, something that will be adored by children throughout the Village and beyond, and there is no greater feeling than that.

Check out this video I put together about our time in Guatemala.

-          Emily Evans, Strathcona Tweedsmuir School, on the project April 2014


Migration for a Better Life



There is a crisis in the Americas.  It is publicized in the media, but looks different from our viewpoint in Guatemala than it does north of the Mexican border. There is an exodus of people from Central America to the United States and it is increasing.  I am not a social scientist, nor an expert in international development, but I have some thoughts I would like to share.

As quoted in a recent article in the Washington Post:

“Since October, 52,000 unaccompanied minors and 39,000 adults with children have been apprehended along the Mexican border — a much higher proportion than normal.”

Washington Post article

Although the crime rate has dropped here, there are still 15 murders a day, mainly in Guatemala City.  Familial violence is common and the poverty rate is 50% of the population and there is no improvement in sight.  The education system has been all but abandoned by the government and the population knows corruption is rampant. With all this facing the young people of this small nation, wouldn’t you flee such a harsh and hopeless landscape despite the dangerous passage?

The key to stopping the hemorrhage of immigrants to the United States is to assist Central America rise out of the past decades of the devastating war and ongoing corruption.  Begin at the top to stop the systemic corruption and also initiate grass roots programs to improve education and employment opportunities.  Guatemala does not need military aid it needs a functional school system to offer opportunities to its youth.

Guatemala’s social, economic and cultural development was interrupted in 1954 by disastrous political interference and now there needs to be some social and economic intervention to repair the damage caused 60 years ago. No cement wall on a border will cure what ails the immigration crisis in the US.  It will take intelligent diplomacy that is motivated by humanitarianism, not greed or protectionism. It would be much more cost effective to help Guatemala than apprehending and processing all the illegals (367,000 in 2013) that have to be deported from the US every year.



Everyday we see the real life consequences of failed policies in a population of millions struggling just to survive.  Uneducated and underemployed, they are still resilient, looking for a better life for their families.  Ready to learn, adapt and move forward, they will do what is necessary to find that better life.  If not given a humanitarian hand up by their government and the international community, they will continue to migrate north in hope, and perhaps in delusion, to make a better life for their families.


PS – for an insight into the incredibly dangerous journey of migrants to the US, watch the excellent documentary, Which Way Home.



Grand Fiesta – October 16, 2014



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Grand Fiesta at the Imperial Theatre

Grand Fiesta 2013 at the Imperial Theatre

Sweetest Moment of the Day


It seems most afternoons between 4pm-5pm there is a meltdown around here. Those with young kids are, I am sure, very familiar with this end-of-the-day falling apart period of time. Kids are tired, hungry and are done with sharing, cooperating and getting along!

This afternoon’s meltdown was a result of Gabriela (4 years) “borrowing” and wearing Juanita’s shoes (Juanita is on the edge of turning 6). I didn’t witness it, but I believe Gabriela got whacked as a result of her thievery. She came into the house weeping. Juanita remained outside wailing.

I happened to be in the house when all this unfolded. The mamas were un-phased by the drama and continued with their felting that we had been working on. I decided to take this conflict on.

One of the biggest challenges our mamas are having right now is parenting. Overwhelmed, outnumbered and with very few parenting skills, they are really struggling. We are working closely with them to help them develop new tools as loving and firm parents (with absolutely no hitting). Modelling parenting skills seems to be one of the methods that really assists them.

So… I modelled a playful and firm way of dealing with Gabriela. I brought her on to my lap and removed the shoes. I gave them to Juanita who immediately stopped crying when she had her shoes back on her feet. Gabriela continued to cry and I suggested that I help her find her shoes. More tears and no understandable replies.

The peace-building two year old!

The peace-building two year old!

Meanwhile, Alejandra (2) toddled out of the house. A moment later she was back with Gabriela’s shoes! With the sweetest look on her face, she handed the shoes to Gabriela! And I was ready with camera to catch, for me, was the sweetest moment of my day!

What was the sweetest moment of your day today?

-Heather Alicia


The Beauty Within


Somos volcanoesGuatemala is a country and culture of contrasts.  A topography that is stunningly beautiful and a malnutrition rate that is staggeringly horrifying. An ancient Mayan culture that has a wise and kind simplicity and a modern political culture that is complex and cruel.  And finally, children that show the light of creativity, promise and hope, and adults that often reflect the scars from the trauma of abuse, poverty and discrimination.

Awe-inspiring and heartbreaking; hopeful and depressing; moments of great appreciation and others of deep indignation. How can there be such dramatic and evident contrasts within a small country?  It stretches the mind and heart to the breaking point in their effort to reconcile the apparent paradoxes. It has been, and will continue to be, one of the great human challenges on this planet – the ability to reconcile paradoxes.  Ping-ponging from the light to the dark is fatiguing and not healthy.

Project Somos children at playI can tell you that my source of strength while on the road to reconciliation, is to take deep comfort from the inner Beauty that burns brightly within the Mayan people of the Central Highlands.  I am sure you can see it in the photos that are posted.  These are not isolated photos that capture a split second, this presence of Beauty within, is a constant and inherent in the children that inhabit the villages of these enchantingly beautiful mountains.

It is almost impossible for me to accept the harsh negatives of this country.  It is very hard to accept the cruelty of how often people here treat each other with a systemic indifference and coldness.  I am awakened to this reality when I leave Project Somos and travel to the Capital or go to another large town and see the reality of the street in action.  When I return to the finca from such sobering outings I am always, yes always struck with the Beauty of the people and this place and I am very grateful to call Project Somos home.



This Afternoon on the Finca

Project Somos playground time bindi

Bindi posing with the kids!

Project Somos playground time bindi1

One of Bindi’s loyal fans

Project Somos playground time colleenana

Colleen and Ana getting wild on the futbol field!

Project Somos playground timeProject Somos playground time futbol injury

A minor futbol injury… nothing a little ice can’t fix!

Project Somos playground time futbolboys

Westley getting right in there with the local boys!

 Project Somos playground time futbolmamas

Heather and Ana join in the fun!

Project Somos playground time gang

Our awesome volunteers and the kids!

Project Somos playground time Heather and child

One my sweeties

Project Somos playground time seesawbalance

Balancing act! Much harder than it looks!

Project Somos playground time

Swing fun!

This afternoon we had 31 children from the local community of Chivarabal come for our weekly program. Today? Playground time!!! Although we are in the middle of the rainy season, right now we are experiencing a canicula (a dry spell in the middle of the rains). Until the rain starts again, we will take advantage of the beautiful weather to be outside!

We have an awesome family volunteering with us right now; Colleen, Rob and their son Westley. A good time was had by one and all!

And I even got right in there to play futbol!

-Heather Alicia


Double Your Dollar in July


Fundrazr campaign

We have a donor who has generously pledged to match all donations to Project Somos up to $10,000! When you donate, every dollar will be matched up until July 31, 2014! We need YOUR help to reach this goal. The kids and mamas need YOUR support. And as always, we are grateful for every dollar you donate. It all makes a difference!

Donate to the campaign here.