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.


Magic Comes in Many Forms


In March when our families first arrived, students from York House were here on site volunteering. The students stepped it up and worked really hard with us to get things ready for the mamas and kids.

For the next few days, the “Yorkie” young women helped with everything that needed to be done to ease the transition for the families. When the time came for our volunteers to say goodbye, our mamas were heartbroken. The new friends that had so warmly welcomed them were suddenly saying goodbye just as they had started to get to know them.

Mamas and kids talking to York House students

Mamas and kids talking to York House students

What the mamas and kids didn’t know about was something that you and I now take for granted. Years ago we used to pay through the nose to stay connected to friends and family living far away. Calls were few and far between and were saved for special occasions. Phone calls were bittersweet as we heard the crackled voices of those we love.

Just weeks after their return to Canada, the York girls called the families on Skype. This was our mamas and kids first ever Skype call and it was HUGE for them. There were tons of laughs, lots of questions, some dancing and even a few tears. The mamas were absolutely blown away with this opportunity to talk to these precious young women who had been their welcoming party when they arrived.

Such joy on their first ever Skype call!

Such joy on their first ever Skype call!

With all the advances in the world, I would have to say that internet video calls are a invaluable gift to so many of us. It allows us to stay connected to those we love and to maintain relationships from a far. And now, I treasure it more than ever as I watch our families develop and nurture new friendships from afar. These are people who have endured much indifference in their lives and this love and friendship is key to their healing and their empowerment.

And from Vancouver the York House students talking to the mamas and kids!

And from Vancouver the York House students talking to the mamas and kids!

York Skype 2 York Skype 3

-Heather Alicia



DO THE MATH – Part 2


“You say you want a revolution? We all want to save the world.” – so said the Beatles.  I have a suspicion that with all the information and communication technology in billions of people’s hands today, we are more aware of our global predicament than at any other time in history.  Hard to hide from what’s happening on the other side of the planet and there are many very concerned and caring people.

In the Part 1 of this dialogue, I concluded that if the population not living in poverty adopted their global neighbours living in poverty, the problem could be solved, or at least diminished greatly.  This may be too simplistic not recognizing the first step that would be needed to precipitate a real and lasting change to eliminate extreme poverty in this adoption proposal.

“Yesterday I was so clever, I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself”.  

Jalaluddin Rumi

An individual inner shift is important in order to nurture the compassion to motivate action to be able to resolve our global challenges.  What do we feel when we read or even see the reports of the numerous catastrophes in the world?  The wisdom Rumi speaks about is about diminishing one’s self oriented ego in deference to one’s heart’s orientation of unconditional and indiscriminate love of the many. Perhaps this seems a tough road to follow?

Do I have enough resources, knowledge or ability on my own to change this ailing world? No. If I can accept my individual impotence and the necessity on the interdependence on others, then I can actually do something significant. I am a great promoter of synergy and the power of a like-minded group with a vision. In this context, anything is possible and impotence is left in the dust.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. 

-Margaret Mead

So, in conclusion, I suggest that we harness our passion and use it for the betterment of the planet.  Join with others of like mind and passion to reach out to those that need your skills, knowledge, and resources.  Just in Canada and the USA, there are more that 1.1 million charities that are serving the social needs governments do not address.  If you cannot find an organization that fits you, start your own, this is how Project Somos began. Be bold, be creative, and you will find out,  “you are the leader you are looking for.”

Best to all,