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

 

A Week of Volunteering

 

It’s Friday morning and the Saints boys and their teachers are hard at work getting as much done as possible on their last day of work. This evening we will have pizza prepared in our outdoor wood-fired pizza oven, followed by a campfire and a talk about Maya culture.

Re-laying the stones in the Gathering Place.

Re-laying the stones in the Gathering Place.

 

Shovelling and sifting dirt

Shovelling and sifting dirt

We are very grateful for all the work accomplished this week. The team has successfully nearly completed laying the stones in the new improved gathering place (along with our workers) which will be used for tonight’s campfire. Literally, tons of dirt has been shovelled and sifted in preparation of the making of 15,000 adobe blocks (watch out Southridge and Strathcona Tweedsmuir!). Lunches and dinners have been made under the guidance of Nico. Bathrooms and floors have been kept clean in the Community Hall where everyone gathers for meals, card games and discussions. 65 local kids had a very fun and joyful afternoon participating in activities organized and managed by our volunteers yesterday.

The Coffee Shop comes to the finca.

The Coffee Shop comes to the finca.

On Wednesday we had the Tecpán Coffee Shop come to us! Yes-our favourite local barristas brought their expresso machine, lots of good coffee and cheesecake out to the “finca”! Everyone enjoyed this treat after lunch before they headed back to the shovels, etc.

Ellie and the boys playing cards

Ellie and the boys playing cards

Along with our nine Saints boys and three chaperones visiting from St. George’s, we have also had the participation of my 14 year old niece, Ellie Knox. Ellie travelled by herself to Guatemala from Rossland last Saturday. She is here for an extended Spring Break and will be helping along with each of our school groups. A big thanks to Ellie for jumping right in there!

The photos can say so much more than I can. Enjoy!

-Heather Alicia Knox

Executive Director & Co-Founder

Project Somos Guatemala

Playing croquet

Playing croquet

The craft table was a HUGE hit!

The craft table was a HUGE hit!

The kids made felt puppets

The kids made felt puppets

Futbol (soccer) is ALWAYS the biggest hit

Futbol (soccer) is ALWAYS the biggest hit

Futbol!

Futbol!

Slacklining!

Slacklining!

Being pushed on the swing is the BEST!

Being pushed on the swing is the BEST!

Time to say goodbye. But first... a group photo!

Time to say goodbye. But first… a group photo!

 

St George’s: First Work Day

 

Yesterday St Georges arrived, ready to work and serve! So after a delicious lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches, the boys were put to work. One of their projects is removing the stones from the Gathering Place, so we can redo them, this time secured with cement (the wind storms blew away the sand that was originally holding the stones in place)

Working alongside our Guatemalan workers, the Saint boys working hard

Working alongside our Guatemalan workers, the Saint boys

Working hard!

Lots of work

The afternoon was spent organizing the stones into the different sizes, small medium, and large. Quite a task they had!

The stones have been removed!

The stones have been removed!

All the sorting of piles

All sorted!

Some boys did the afternoon programming with the kids, this included drawing, reading, colouring, side-walk chalk, and lots of laughter and fun!

Some of the Saint boys colouring with the kids

Some of the Saint boys colouring with the kids

One of the teachers reading with the kids

One of the teachers reading with the kids

Side-walk chalk!

Side-walk chalk!

The day ended with our presentation of Somos and our history. Here is more information about what we talked about.

Presentation time

Presentation time

 

 

Volunteering 2015

 

Later this morning we will welcome our first 2015 school group of volunteers to Project Somos. St. George’s school from Vancouver will be our first group of students (9 young men). Next week we will welcome Southridge (South Surrey) and then Strathcona Tweedsmuir (Okotoks, AB)

Beds all made and awaiting our volunteers! Everyone will be nice and cozy under these duvets!

Beds all made and awaiting our volunteers! Everyone will be nice and cozy under these duvets!

Last week we spent most of the week preparing for the start of our busy volunteer season. We cleaned and set up the tents, cleared the brush around the tents, prepared beds, did menu planning and shopping, etc.

The list of volunteer tasks is made and awaits willing hands and hearts. Project Manager, Greg Kemp and our Foreman, Antolin Gonzalez will oversee the work. Our volunteers will work alongside our nine local workers.

Nico's famous homemade granola.

Nico’s famous homemade granola.

When the students arrive this morning, we will take them on a tour of the Village and show them all that has been accomplished since we began here in 2011. They will see the work that was previously done by Saints volunteers in 2012 (the perimeter wall) and 2013 (the playground). They will meet our mamas and kids. After that, they will have a delicious lunch made by Nico Chumil who has been in charge of food and hospitality here since 2011.

The view from here! And the wall made in 2012

The view from here! And the wall made in 2012

After lunch our volunteers will get into their work clothes and get to work! Some will do physical work while some offer programming to our kids.

After taking a hot shower (powered by the sun!) everyone will have dinner and then clean up. We will then have a presentation sharing the history of the Project, the needs here in Guatemala and outline how their week will unfold.

We will show a couple of short online documentaries that have recently been featured in the New York Times and UNICEF. These outline just some of the dire situations children face in Guatemala. They are heartbreaking and eye opening and emphasis the importance of the work we are doing here at Project Somos.

Unicef UK Ambassador Michael Sheen’s Guatemala video diary

Michael Sheen: Guatemala is the ‘worst place to be a child’

New York Times-Too Young to Wed

I hope you will take a few moments to watch theses videos so that you too, can understand the urgency of the situation here and why we are grateful to have the support of each volunteer and every donor that assists Project Somos!

You can follow our volunteers’ progress on Facebook, Instagram (@projectsomos) or Twitter (@projectsomos)

-Heather Alicia Knox

Executive Director & Co-Founder

Project Somos Guatemala

Folding sheets and organizing in preparation.

Folding sheets and organizing in preparation.

Glamping (glamour camping) at Project Somos!

Glamping (glamour camping) at Project Somos

 

Guest Blogger – Genny Tevlin

 

My time at Project Somos is coming to an end, this is my fifth week volunteering here and it has gone by at an alarmingly fast rate. I can’t quite believe that a week from now I will be leaving this place and not seeing these familiar faces everyday. My experience has been an exceptional one, full of fun, learning and lots of laughing. Within these mothers and children I have found great friends withstanding, even, the barriers of my poor Spanish.

Ana and her girls

Ana and her girls

In my last blog post I described the work I have been doing teaching the mothers. Here I will go into a bit of detail of my time with the kids of Somos. A lot of my day is spent with the children. There are nine kids in the Somos home varying from the ages of 2-9. When I’m around I like to try and give the mothers a break by engaging as many kids as possible in activities. Often, when the mothers are busy or in a meeting I will put on  bouncy pop music. The kids immediately become entranced by the shiny pop tunes and we will usually begin a “dance party.” Lately I’ve been playing the new Taylor Swift album, the kids are beginning to learn the words to some of the catchiest lyrics to her hit songs. They give me requests of songs to put on and I take turns holding their hands and jumping around with them. This is an especially effective activity with some of the littlest kiddies who don’t often smile when separated from their mothers.

Dancing with the kids!

Dancing with the kids!

I have also had some time to designate to the older boys, teaching them a bit of English. They are very eager to learn, and when I can keep their attention it is a great learning environment. Although of course being boys of 9 and 7 it is difficult for them to sit still for a period of time. Therefore, I try and keep it light, teaching them English songs such as “the hokey pokey,” and playing bingo with different english categories. When I can tell the boys are getting restless I will suggest we change activities and we will run around for a while playing soccer or frisbee.

Playground fun

Playground fun

Overall my time at Project Somos has been an experience I won’t forget. I have had so much fun getting to know the moms and listening (to what I can understand) of their stories. Moreover, playing with the adorable children and dancing to Taylor Swift has also been a task I have been happy to fulfill. I think that what Greg and Heather are accomplishing is so important, and completely admirable. I hope they continue succeeding in the creation of their vision and that some day I will be able to come back to volunteer again.

~ Genny

 

Five to Three… Really?

 

Before coming to live in Guatemala almost four years ago, I had travelled to various countries like India, Peru, Mexico and Bolivia.  I felt I had a strong sense of what poverty looked like, sounded like and smelled like.  I didn’t consider myself naïve to the true despair of the abyss of extreme poverty. I thought I saw it close up and personal.  Well, I can tell you, I was naïve and I am being schooled about the reality of poverty.

shackPoverty is an insidious legacy that sucks the very life out of innocent human beings from generation to generation.  It is almost impossible to climb out of extreme poverty and if we have any notion that people chose this road or have much opportunity to escape its reach once in its grip, we are uninformed or deluding ourselves.  I had also thought every mother wants a better, healthier life, more stable life and an education for her children.  Well, I was wrong again.

Consider centuries of oppression with a slave-like existence, without education, (meaning some training in critical and creative thinking), without good nutrition, and living a life under extreme life and death type stress. This seems to have impaired the ability to chose a better road for oneself and one’s children even if you are on the edge of a life-consuming abyss.

Project Somos currently has three mothers with nine children living on the property. Antolin and Nico screen potential family candidates to come and participate in what is being offered here – a safe place to live, nutritious food, capacity building for the mother, education for the children, and vocational training so that the mothers can support their families when they leave Somos.  Sounds ideal and you would think there would be a waiting list to live here? Wrong again.

We receive referrals from community leaders and neighbours of mothers and children who are in extreme need and would benefit from what Somos offers.  Antolin and Nico go to where they are living, which is usually a shack with no electricity, no plumbing, with a dirt floor. One of the mothers was living with her four children in an animal pen.  The severity of their situations is more than sobering.

shack 2I will not go into the details of each case, but I will tell you, we have offered 8 abandoned or widowed mothers with children an opportunity to come under the roof of Somos and five rejected the offer and only three have accepted.  How is this possible?  It is shocking for us –mothers with five or more kids choosing to stay in extreme poverty.  I can only offer my perspective, as I am not a trained sociologist or psychologist.

As we know, in our somewhat comfortable lives, fear of change is not uncommon, and so it seems this driving emotional state is not isolated by social or economic position.  What we have no experience with or cannot imagine, often makes us fearful and not want to take any risk.  But wouldn’t the well-being of your children overcome this fear?  Apparently not.  In some of the cases, the children said they didn’t want to come to Somos and the mothers followed their children’s lead.  Bewildering.

This five to three situation has left us shaking our heads, realizing how much we don’t understand about the harsh conditioning of extreme poverty.  We continue to look for widowed and abandoned mothers with children who are willing to take the risk of jumping into the unknown for the benefit of their kids.  We are not discouraged, but sobered and trust the right families will find their way to Somos.

Greg

 

Guest Blogger – Gabi Dubland

 

I have now been at Project Somos for 3 weeks. This trip marks my third visit to Guatemala. The first visit for Christmas with my family in 2011. My second in 2013 for 4 months. Now for three months.

With my family Christmas 2011, building the Gathering Place

With my family Christmas 2011, building the Gathering Place

Every trip has been completely different. But I think I can safely say, that this is my favourite thus far. In two short years, so much has changed. The biggest change… there are FAMILIES! And children!! So cool to see this vision and dream coming true!!

One of my favourite things so far has been bringing a ‘slackline’ from Canada to teach the kids. And mamas too! A slackline is like a tightrope, but thicker and slack. Back home in Vernon I will often go out with friends to the beach (in the summer) and slackline for an afternoon. It is a joy to bring this to the kids and teach them what fun it is! And they sure love and enjoy it! The mamas too!

Showing them how it is done!

Showing them how it is done!

Lending a helping hand across the slackline

Lending a helping hand across the slackline

Another exciting thing is my parents, Rod & Heidi (Heather Alicia’s sister) came down for a quick visit for Heather’s birthday. It was really exciting for me to be able to show them the changes in the last few years and for them to meet the families. It’ll be sad to say goodbye to them this weekend.

As a volunteer here at Somos, I’ve been given different tasks and jobs. Lately I’ve been helping with the preschool and helping the kids play and learn. Such a joy to see them learning and enjoying!

The girls love reading!

The girls love reading!

They love preschool!

They love preschool!

I’m so excited to see where the next couple months will take me! There is such incredible things happening here at Project Somos and I’m so blessed to be a part of it.

~ Gabi Dubland

 

 

Guest Blogger – Genny Tevlin

 

I have now been volunteering at Project Somos for over a week, and I have learned volumes.  Greg and Heather´s vision to enable the family unit to survive through endured hardship is inspiring, and even more so considering what a great success they have had in realizing their vision.

Genny & Antoneita

Genny & Antoneita

I have been occupying myself with several different tasks in my time at Project Somos. One endeavour is working with the mothers as a teacher. Antonieta is a young mother of two. She never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write. Before coming to Project Somos she lived most her life as an orphan working in conditions that could only be described as slavery. The transition from her poor living conditions prior to Project Somos and now, are monumental; shedding light on the restrictions of being illiterate. Antonieta was becoming frustrated relying on the other mothers and children in the house assisting her with simple tasks such as when to take something out of the oven, or to dial the phone. When I began teaching her she was very eager, and every day she makes a visible effort, telling me that she studies every night. It is amazing to me, the progress I have witnessed.  Learning is truly not something that comes easy to her and I suspect that she may have a learning disability. However, with her hard work she has gone from not being able to recognize any number to now being fairly accurate at recognizing and writing the numbers from 1-10. This week we are working on the teen numbers and the months of the year. Again she is struggling but I suspect that she will grasp this task just as she did last week.
Moreover, I have been working with the remaining two mothers Marta and Ana. I am teaching them conversational english and they both are ever so zealous to learn. Every day they both come with their pens and notebooks ready to learn. This morning Marta came up to me, reading some words she had written on her arm in an effort to memorize some of the most common english verbs. Both mothers have young children to look after every day, and (they have said), they are basically constantly washing their babies clothes for the young ones have not yet mastered the art of potty training. Marta expressed to me that she enjoys these classes we have every day because it is an hour to focus on herself and skills she wishes to develop, in a world that generally centers around her children. Learning skills like english at Project Somos is a great opportunity for these women who could not imagine such an opportunity in their lives before arriving at Somos.

-Genny Tevlin

 

Sibling Love

Sibling Love

Carlos and his poncho

Carlos and his poncho

Marta with the twins on the slackline

Marta with the twins on the slackline

 

Tis the Season

 

On this, the Eve of Christmas, and on behalf of all the mamas and children living here at Project Somos, we wish you and yours all the best tomorrow and in 2015. Our families are brimming over with gratitude for all that YOU have done for them since arriving at Project Somos. They are all safe, eating healthy food, learning many new things and looking ahead to the future with more hope than they have ever experienced before. THANK YOU.

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy at this time.

All the best and with a heart full of gratitude,

Heather Alicia

Welcome to my party, come on in!

Welcome to my party, come on in!

Decorating our Norfolk Pine in the centre of the Village

Decorating our Norfolk Pine in the centre of the Village

Making paper chains to decorate their family home.

Making paper chains to decorate their family home.

One of our elves making stilts and hobby horses for the kids.

One of our elves making stilts and hobby horses for the kids.

Our Winter Solstice Mayan ceremony.

Our Winter Solstice Mayan ceremony.

Winter solstice light ceremony.

Winter solstice light ceremony.

A blanket gifted to Heather and Greg for Christmas from the wooers.

A blanket gifted to Heather and Greg for Christmas from the wooers.

The kids are THRILLED with their hobby horses and stilts!

The kids are THRILLED with their hobby horses and stilts!

 

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