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

 

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