On Being a Child

 

For 10Q ($1.25) Greg fixed a broken down children’s bike that had been sitting at our Tecpan office for two years. The joy this small gift gave has been enormous. Jorge’s older brother, Alberto already had a bike. Although his bike brings him much joy, he didn’t own a bike for pleasure.

Jorge and Alberto on their way to Project Somos for the first time

Jorge and Alberto on their way to Project Somos for the first time

Before moving here to Project Somos, Alberto, 8 years old, attended school in the mornings and in the afternoons cycled 8km to work to work in a thread factory. He earned $4/week. Because his father passed away under two years ago, he was forced to become the “man” of the house. This came with the responsibility of becoming a household bread earner.

Now Alberto and Jorge ride their bikes together around the Village. Alberto is learning to be a kid again. He is playing, attending school and riding his bike. But interestingly, he’s also looking for work. In his state of gratitude he is offering to help plant and harvest things. This morning he went on his regular walk about the Village wall collecting blackberries for his family.

My hope is that all of the children that come to live here rediscover the joy of childhood and that they can grow up not bearing too much of the burdens that life eventually offers all of us.

-Heather Alicia

 

The Value of Expertise and Labour

 

When looking at the ambitious building plans for Project Somos Children’s Village, it is somewhat overwhelming as project manager, to engineer a plan to construct everything in the coming years.  But, alas, there is hope!

We are fortunate in our efforts to have family groups and school groups of willing volunteers, who arrive ready to do anything necessary to assist us move the Somos vision ahead. There is always a lot of labour needed – building eco-brick walls in a volunteer dormitory, mixing soil for the earthbags, putting bamboo fence posts in place, helping Nico and Dora in the kitchen, planting trees and working in the garden. The task list is almost endless…

David

David trained our worker, Amadeo during the month he was volunteering here.

We are equally fortunate to have individual volunteers who arrive to offer their particular professional skills. They usually stay longer than the groups and provide Project Somos with important assistance in the carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work of construction. The most recent volunteers, Alf King, Derek Emmerson and David Hoban, also did capacity building with our workers, enabling them to become more skilled in their future tasks.

Many thanks to Alf for all his assistance while here!

Many thanks to Alf for all his assistance while here!

Without our volunteers Project Somos would not be where it is today. They have enabled us to move ahead in our construction at a pace that is impressive to all who visit. In three years we have completed two family homes, a Community Hall, an adventure playground, an organic orchard of 200 trees and the staff housing.  In the next few months we will complete a dormitory for volunteers and a library.  This is not to mention the extensive infrastructure that was required as well.

Not only did Derek do lots of carpentry while here, he helped carry sleeping babies to their beds!

Not only did Derek do lots of carpentry while here, he helped carry sleeping babies to their beds!

So here is a toast to all the willing and compassionate volunteers that have assisted Project Somos over the past years.  May you receive one hundred fold what you have given in your service here.

Greg Kemp

 

Media Release-April 11, 2014

 

“Orphan Prevention – First children move into the Project Somos Children’s Village in Guatemala”

In 2011, Heather Knox & Greg Kemp moved from Vancouver to Guatemala to build a children’s village for orphaned and abandoned children. Over the years, they discovered a much greater need: supporting mothers so that their children don’t become orphans in the first place. 

There are an astounding 370,000 orphaned or abandoned children in Guatemala. By definition, an orphaned child can still have one living parent: this accounts for up to 90% of  the world’s orphans. It is not necessarily abuse or neglect that triggers a child to be removed from his or her parent, but often circumstances of extreme poverty. It is rare to find a Guatemalan mother who does not do everything in her power to provide for her children.

In order to address this crisis, the Vancouver-based Compassion Fruit Society founded Project Somos, an eco-sustainable Children’s Village located within a small community in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Executive Director, Heather Knox and Project Manager, Greg Kemp believe that a child’s best chance for success comes from being raised by their own family in a stable, supportive environment. As an orphan prevention program, the Village supports widowed and single mothers at risk of losing their children and offers the conditions required for families to heal and begin anew.

The Children’s Village is comprised of two family homes (more to be built), with a shared organic garden, orchards, playground, soccer field and a beautiful community hall. Mothers take vocational training in order to provide for their families on a long-term basis, while the children are required to attend school in the nearby community of Chivarabal. Families are educated in nutrition, hygiene, gardening, and other skills. After one or two years, the families will be  provided with a new home and relocated back into their community.

The Village’s social worker, Francisca Perez y Perez, spent the last 6 weeks identifying families living in extreme situations. “All I can say is that the need is great and unfortunately, we will never run out of women and children in crisis to assist,” lamented Knox. Project Somos recognized the urgency of one mother living with her four children in an animal pen and responded immediately.

Six years since its inception, Knox and Kemp’s vision is officially bearing fruit as Project Somos’ first two families moved onto the property at the end of March, 2014. The Village welcomes Ana and her four children aged 8, 6, 5, 2 and Marta and her three children aged; 4 years and 15 months (twins).

It is a time of celebration and joy for the team at Project Somos. Volunteers from York House School in Vancouver were fortunate to have been there upon the arrival of the families and were able to assist with the families’ transitions into their new home, preparing the rooms and laying out pajamas, towels, and toothbrushes.

It is also time for the next phase of action, to embark on the positive training that will empower and support the mothers to move out of poverty and sustain the well-being of their children for the long term.

Project Somos aims to be ecologically and financially sustainable through agriculture, alternative energy, and social enterprises, but upfront costs are currently high as the remaining family homes need to be built and the family programs are being initiated.  Donations to Project Somos Children’s Village can be made at www.projectsomos.org.

UNICEF Source

Media Contact:

In North America: (612) 284-4533

Joe Fiorante (JFiorante[at]cfmlawyers.ca), Board Chair

In Guatemala: (502) 5525-3584

Skype: compassionfruit

Heather Knox (heatherknox[at]projectsomos.org)

 

BIG NEWS—Our First Children have Arrived!

 

After 6+ years of hard work, I am thrilled to share this news with you… Please bear with me while I unfold some of the details.

Two weeks ago we accepted our first two families here in the Project Somos Children’s Village!!! We welcomed two women and a total of seven children ranging from 1-8 years of age. 

Since their arrival, we have been busy dealing with a myriad of different things; health challenges, nutrition, a lice outbreak, etc. Before sharing photos and stories with you, I want to share a bit of a background about how things have unfolded here at Project Somos over the last number of months.

In December, we were approached by a group of local Guatemalan leaders about the extreme conditions faced by many families here in Guatemala. We heard many heartbreaking stories. We heard tragic stories of recently widowed young women with many children. We learned of women who had lost their children to care or were on the verge of losing them. We were told about young girls taken out of school and sent to work long days as domestic help to support their families.

In many cases, there is only enough to feed a child one meal a day. Often this is nothing more than tortillas and salt. None have electricity. Running water is rare. Toilets are non-existent or are nothing more than an outhouse. All live on dirt floors and their homes are full of toxic smoke from cooking with firewood. The majority of the moms are illiterate.

Many mothers don’t send their children to school because they need them to work to earn money to support the family. The children grow up uneducated and the cycle begins all over again.

In collaboration with these local Guatemalan leaders, we have formed a team and are working together to help to improve the situation for these impoverished families. No matter how good and caring an institution is, children need the love and nurturing only a family can give. We are launching this as a pilot project and see it as an orphan prevention program.

We believe a child’s best chance at success in life is to stay with his/her family. Our team will work together to build life skills and vocational capacity with the moms, ensuring the children have access to education, and then to re-locate the family into better living conditions. Part of the team will work specifically on building new low-cost homes for the families. These will all be equipped with safe stoves and water filtration devices and the mother will have the means to support her family.

According to UNICEF there are 370,000 orphaned and abandoned children in Guatemala. Defined by UNICEF and global partners, an orphan is a child who has lost one or both parents. According to UNICEF only 10% of orphans are double orphans (both parents deceased). This means that 90% of these children still have a living parent. In many cases, the child has gone into government care due to extreme poverty not because the parent is abusive or neglectful. It is rare to find a Guatemalan mother who does not do everything in her power to provide for her children.

Francisca shares her field work with us

Francisca shares her field work with us

In February we hired our social worker, Francisca Perez y Perez. Frances has years of experience in human rights and especially, women’s rights. She is Kaqchikel Mayan and is a wonderful women with much wisdom and compassion. She loves our vision and is excited to be working with us to better the situation for impoverished families. She spent much of the last six weeks out in the field getting to know different community leaders and identifying families living in extreme situations. All I can say is that the need is great and unfortunately, we will never run out of women and children in crisis to assist.

After doing a tour with the two moms and their children, it became clear that there was an urgency to move one of the moms right away. She had been put in a very dangerous situation and she and her four children were living in nothing more than an animal pen in an agricultural field.

We believe that one of the ways to success with this model is to have the families cooperate and assist each other. They will live together and collaborate on all day to day chores and activities. Because the houses are more than big enough, this makes great sense and will allow us to provide for more families.

We are thrilled to welcome Ana and her four children aged 8, 6, 5 and 2 years old AND Marta and her three children; 4 years and 15 months (yes! twins!)

For their arrival, we were fortunate to have a team of volunteers from York House School that week. The young women were a huge help as they assisted Marta, Ana and the kids with their settling in. They all worked hard to help us prepare the rooms, the beds, the pajamas, towels, toothbrushes, etc. for the big arrival. The week following, we had volunteers from Strathcona Tweedsmuir and they too, were able to assist on many practical levels.

It’s a very sweet and emotional time for all of us. It has taken a ton of energy and work to get where we are today. We wouldn’t be here without the support of people like YOU. We thank you.

And now… the real work starts. Now we get to help impact the lives of these precious children. Now they will be offered opportunities to have a happy and healthy life. We will empower and support the moms to move out of poverty and to assist her in providing for her precious children.

-Heather Alicia

The extreme living conditions of one of the families.

The extreme living conditions of one of the families.

with total trust, off she goes to begin the next chapter of her life at Project Somos

with total trust, off she goes to begin the next chapter of her life at Project Somos

Upon arriving, the families had lunch, showers and then headed to the playground!

Upon arriving, the families had lunch, showers and then headed to the playground!

Our volunteers entertained the children while the moms got settled.

Our volunteers entertained the children while the moms got settled.

 

Toronto Grand Fiesta – Cancelled

 

Project Somos is disappointed to inform you that The Toronto Grand Fiesta has been cancelled.

Thank you so much for support.

Please join us in Vancouver for the Grand Fiesta on October 16th 2014.

TO Fiesta Cancelled

 

 

More Progress in Photos

 

During our Grand Fiesta, money for a sewing machine was donated. We purchased a sewing machine and then sent both Nico and Dora to a women’s capacity building project where they took 100 hours of sewing instruction. Here Nico proudly shows off her certificate of completion.

Nico grad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is Dora and her certificate.  This means that Nico and Dora will be able to do the majority of the Somos sewing projects “in house”.

We have a new helper around here! Three year old Delila’s parents both work with Project Somos now. Her dad, Amadeo has been with us since day 1. Her mom just started in January and works for us when we have volunteer groups and when Nico and Dora need extra help. Delila is a little chatterbox and loves our library!

Tika

 

Our collection of books is growing and one of the duties of the volunteers is to help catalogue and label each donated book.

Little Library

Even our accountant likes the days when the kids are here. Last week Claudia read the local kids a story during library time!

claudia

Library time is a hit with our dogs too. The kids are so used to Tika and Bindi being right in the middle of the action, they barely notice!

Bindi

As well as your “regular” books, Project Somos has a few 3D books that are a hit with the kids! Here they are checking out three dimensional dinosaurs!

3d

 

 

 

More Photo Updates

 

We started off 2014 with two volunteer groups and each group had three different families!

january volunteersHere is our awesome January group.

Thanks to our awesome January Family Volunteer Group!

Here is our great February group!

 

dave and kids

Volunteer fun with the local kids!

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The young girls from our February volunteer group, introduced “Rainbow Looms” to the local girls! They are hooked! (excuse the pun!)

For those that have visited Project Somos, you know we are at 7000 feet and you know how mountainous it is to travel here. Imagine doing it on a bicycle? This group of young cyclists from Tecpan made our Project their destination on one of their Saturday rides!

bike club

 

Even with our skookum playground, whenever the kids get a chance, they LOVE to play “futbol”. Our volunteers are always blown away with the skill and energy of the local kids!

futbol

Rather than purchase more tiles for the staff patio, we have collected all leftover and broken bits from the first family homes and community hall and our workers, Ruben and Enoch have done this awesome mosaic!

patio

 

 

On Site Experiences!

 

Ever wonder what glamping (glamour camping) looks like? Here’s what it looks like at Project Somos!

glamping

Right now our volunteer groups stay in our fancy “glamping” (glamour camping) tents. Unfortunately, these tents won’t withstand the suns’ UVs or the intense winds forever so we are going to have to replace them with more permanent structures. This is our first accommodation structure-an eco-brick dormitory that will sleep 12. It was started by our February volunteer group and came together fast and beautifully!

 

One of the things our volunteers miss out on now that they stay on site is the awesome Tecpan Coffee Shop! The good news is that we have found a solution!!! The coffee shop comes to Project Somos. Here Francisco serves up a mean cappuccino to our volunteers!

coffee

 

Progress in Photos

 

Days are full and busy around here. I want to share a series of photos to keep you abreast on all the happenings.

Handmade lamps

Handmade lamps

There are so many little details that go into pulling this project together. When we were able to hang the beautiful handmade lamps (made by volunteers) it was the finishing touches to the community hall that made it come together!

 

Sunsets on the finca

Sunsets on the finca

February is a pretty spectacular month on the “finca”. Every night, the sunset is more beautiful than the last. The winds can be really intense and occasionally a freak rainstorm descends on us.

Staff housing progress

Staff housing

The staff dome home is nearing completion and is looking spectacular.!

Birthday celebrations

Birthday celebrations

Greg and I have both celebrated our birthdays in the last month. During my birthday, we had friends from Vancouver come for a visit and for Greg’s birthday we went to Lake Atitlan.

 

 

Worms!

Worms!

We have worms! We obtained our worms from Byoearth-a Guatemalan NGO started by a young Guatemalan women. She and her team came and gave all of us a workshop on composting and caring for our new “babies”.

-Heather Alicia

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger – Krisann: Her Volunteer Experience with her Son

 

“A small group of thoughtful people (can) change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

Ever since my son, Nick was able to carry his own backpack, I wanted to provide him with a view of the world that was larger than himself. Although our family traveled a lot as Nick was growing up, we had never combined our travels with volunteering in another country. As I researched this idea, “voluntouring” became more and more appealing.

Fortunately in 2012, due to some synchronicities with people and places, I was introduced to Project Somos. As I looked more deeply, I discovered that the founders of Project Somos had created a sound model for a sustainable “Children’s Village”; a safe and beautiful place to give Guatemalan kids the possibility of life beyond poverty AND they were developing it with unwavering integrity. This sounded like something I could get behind.

Fast forward to January 2014. Nick and I were off to Guatemala to become Project Somos volunteers. Before leaving we had learned that the country’s 36 year Civil War hadn’t ended until 1996…which meant we would most likely be interacting with indigenous Mayans who had suffered huge losses of life and property from which they were still recovering. In addition, to combat some pretty disturbing corruption within the system, the Guatemalan government had halted all foreign adoptions in 2008. There were now some 370,000 orphaned and abandoned children in Guatemala. In light of these daunting statistics how could the two of us hope to make even the slightest impact?

When we arrived at the Project, we were put to work…not just work for work’s sake, but work that felt useful and necessary. We wired electric lamps to hang in the Community Hall, sanded and oiled bamboo conduit, dug rock hard dirt for the gardens in the Children’s Village, staked dozens of fruit trees and helped to build an eco-brick wall made of garbage stuffed plastic bottles. We worked under the supervision of the diligent local crew…and we worked hard.

The work felt great…after all it was why we were there. But the in-between moments added even more highlights to our experience: looking at astoundingly bright stars on my nightly trek from the tent, laughing with the empathetic employees about my less than stellar Spanish, watching my adult kid play soccer with the local children who loved that he could do “headers”, sharing tender memories around the fire circle, stopping every day to absorb the breath-taking view of the ‘otherworldly’ volcanoes, enjoying the burgeoning friendships of our terrific 3-family team…and hearing Nick’s insights every night before I pulled the sleeping bag up over my head.

Photo courtesy of Ali George

Photo courtesy of Ali George

Everything I wished for had come true. Nick and I gained an expanded view of the world that we never would have known had we been mere observers, and not participants. And yes, someday when we see a photo of the apple and avocado trees standing tall and straight, or the vibrant garden surrounding a sunny patio, or hear of a child who can read a book, or drink clean water because of Project Somos, we will know that we made a difference.

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Photo courtesy of Ali George

- Krisann Meyer-Corcoran