Posts Tagged ‘The Project-Guatemala’


Thank You Vancouver!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
Grand Fiesta at the Imperial Theatre

Grand Fiesta at the Imperial Theatre

Last Thursday, Project Somos held an event that is destined to be a major milestone on our journey to build an eco-sustainable village for orphaned and abandoned children in Guatemala.  We threw a Grand Fiesta to celebrate a remarkable 12 months of progress on the ground in Tecpan.  The event exceeded our wildest expectations and raised over $54,000 in a single night.

I continue to be amazed and inspired by the generosity of  our community of supporters in Vancouver and the tireless energy of our volunteers.

Muchos gracias, amigos.  

Joe Fiorante

Board Chair, Compassion Fruit Society

GrandFiesta - Colour-72

The bidding for “Fund a Need” was on fire!

p.s. And a big thank you to Tanya Tourout for these wonderful photos!

There was a buzz in the room!

There was a buzz in the room!



Tianna Nori from "The Project-Guatemala" joined us for the evening

Tianna Nori from “The Project-Guatemala” joined us for the evening

Transformation – Human Alchemy

Monday, September 30th, 2013

“The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”

– Albert Einstein

When Project Somos received the nine The Project-Guatemala participants, it was hoped that they would be transformed from egotistical, self-centred individuals of entitlement into an unselfish, hard working group that cared about the welfare of someone else, other than themselves.  That’s a tall order for 42 days, but that is the goal and premise of the show.

For the readers that have endeavoured to make steps in the direction of self development, spirituality, building character, or losing some bad habits to become a better human being, you will know that it is not easy or quick, no matter what you label it.  It is an ongoing process, and for some, a life’s work.


Often some desire of change is triggered by a trauma, hitting bottom, being inspired or by a personal dysfunction that becomes unbearable.  There are no certain outcomes, but there is always the potential of betterment of character and healing – perhaps losing destructive personality traits like anger, resentment, envy or self-loathing. Taking action after a trigger point is optional, but advisable, for the sake of long-term happiness and fulfilment.

For the nine, young TV participants, they did not specifically choose to be transformed, but rather chose to stay and work with Project Somos.  As most of our voluntary volunteers know, the experience of offering time, energy and resources to assist abandoned kids in Guatemala, can be an eye opening and heart expanding experience.

Human transformation has some ingredients that make a favourable environment for the process of becoming a functioning human being; gratitude, humility and love.  Volumes have been written on the subject by the wise over many millennia. I will give a thumbnail description in a few paragraphs.

There is a deep happiness in unselfish giving.  This extends beyond the giving of material things to giving of one’s talents, time, character and love.  Altruism is actually a selfish activity because one receives much more than one gives and true philanthropists know the deep satisfaction of reaching out without any desire of a return.  “As we give, so shall we receive” is more than an aphorism, it is a formula for happiness.

Gratitude, in the definition I use, is the awareness of privilege.  The absence of gratitude of the participants was obvious to all in the first and second episodes.  They had no real idea or inventory of their privileges as young Canadians. As time went on they began to see their obvious privileges like hot showers, flush toilets and the material abundance of Canada.  Did they become aware of the privilege of opportunities, you’ll have to wait and see.

“Never be satisfied, always be grateful.”


Humility is the awareness of our dependence on each other.  This would have been a natural asset in the very different/difficult circumstances the participants found themselves in.  Unfortunately, as we saw, independence and self-centredness prevailed and interdependence and helping each other was not activated for their mutual benefit. Independence morph into a very negative and destructive “us and them”/ Lord of the Flies scenario.  It was disturbing to watch.

Thousands of songs and poems have declared the transformational power of Love.  Even sports fans are united in their mutual love of the particular sport.  Mothers overcome life-threatening circumstances with unconditional love for their child. Caring for each other is the name of the game.  What’s the prize?  Love and happiness.  Love is more than attraction and hooking up, it is bearing each other’s pain and suffering and sharing each other’s joys.  Love is the magic ingredient of transformation.  What did the participants love? Did they rise above loving their image in the mirror they choose?

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

– Albert Einstein

Stay tuned, it’s quite a ride,

– Greg, Project Manager


Does it REALLY Matter What they Wear?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
The participants in all their glory!

The participants in all their glory!

I have to confess, when I saw the nine participants step off the bus on that first day of The Project – Guatemala, I seriously revisited the decision to participate in the show.  I clearly understood before it would be a lot of work as Project Manager – dealing with 9 self-centred 20-somethings, keeping an ambitious construction schedule with inexperienced, and perhaps unwilling volunteer labourers, but I underestimated the wear and tear it would take on me with my other responsibilities.

One of my ongoing and important tasks is to develop and maintain positive relations with the local community of Chivarabal.  This is a rural village, in the central highlands of Guatemala where 900 indigenous Maya live. They are culturally conservative, not particularly worldly and are very aware of everything we do as “gringos”.  There is no internet and few have travelled outside of the state in which they reside. My work to establish ongoing good relations with the mayor, council and the four churches is a creative social challenge, for sure.

In the first episode, I am sure you saw the charged conversation between Nina, Nikki, Mia, and Bethany complaining (like spoiled children) about being “told” what to wear while working.  The instructions were fairly simple and reasonable for a worksite – no cleavage and no short shorts. These “volunteers” were working with my guys – 14 young Maya men, who never have had much exposure to gringa women except for our previous volunteers, who always abided by the work dress code.  Nina’s response to the repeated requests was “I’m not Guatemalan, what does it matter?”  The others chimed in, “No one is going to tell me what to wear”, etc., etc.   Let me explain how it matters:

This is what we got to deal with and hopefully does not come back to haunt Project Somos

Cleavage and short shorts were a challenge

We are guests in Guatemala, even though we are offering some form of social assistance to their country and culture, we are still guests.  We are not here to spread or impose our culture here. The local Kaqchikel Maya culture deserves our respect and if our dress or behaviour offends their culture, we should either change them or go home.  Maya women are very modest in their attire, they are covered from the neck down to the toes. In the global overview, this modesty is not unusual – consider India or any Muslim country.

If the local Village of Chivarabal believes we are a negative influence on their village and children, the work and children of Project Somos could be shut out and shunned, which would be disastrous. Abiding by the cultural rules is a small price to pay for being able to offer orphaned children a future. It is not our place to culturally flaunt anything, but rather, be sensitive, appreciative and curious about the prevailing culture we find ourselves in. It is important to be humble and not believe we “got it right” or have the answers.

We have worked on the ground in this village everyday for the past three years, and there was no way as a Board member, the Co-Founder of Project Somos or the Project Manager that I would allow all of our past work, and future benefits for the orphaned kids here to be jeopardized by a small group of camera focused 20-somethings, who felt they were entitled to express their narcissism.  The Guatemala countryside is not the place to force fashion lessons on the local inhabitants, but perhaps a place to be open to learn a life lesson from their culture.

-Greg Kemp, Project Manager

What Kind of Strange Construction Was That?

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The first earthbag family home in the Children’s Village

If you watched the first episode of The Project – Guatemala, perhaps you wondered, “what kind of strange construction technique are those guys doing?”  When Project Somos first began in 2007, we researched many innovative construction techniques, but earthbag or superadobe was the most eco-sustainable, inexpensive and earthquake resistant that we found.  When architect Nader Khalili ( traveled the Middle East looking to the buildings that stood the test of time, he found the oldest ones had two things in common; they were made of earth and they had curved walls.  He came up with the super adobe technique and quotes the poet Rumi, saying, “earth turns to gold in the hands of the wise.”

IMG_4534All of the buildings of Project Somos are designed with curved walls and constructed using earth-bags. Long tubular polypropylene bags are filled with a mixture of earth, sand, a bit of cement and then compacted. Two rows of barbed wire are laid between each bag to stop any lateral shifting. Chicken wire is secured to the bags and the walls are then plastered with a mud and lime mixture made from the soil of the land.  The earth-bag method has been approved and actually exceeds the stringent California building code.

The internal walls of each home are framed with, locally sourced bamboo and filled using eco-bricks, (empty plastic pop bottles filled with soft clean plastic garbage) and are then plastered. There are over 8000 local school children participate with Project Somos in the filling of the eco-bricks. Each house uses 7000 and Project Somos has already used 19,000 eco-bricks, removing over 8 tons of plastic garbage from the streets, rivers and canyons in the Tecpan area.

-Greg Kemp, Project Manager




The Project-Guatemala and Project Somos Children’s Village

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

What happens when Project Somos agrees to put nine unsuspecting “volunteers” to work?

Watch this space to see how things unfold on the ground in Guatemala!

Greg Kemp, Project Somos Co-Founder and Project Manager will be a regular on the show as he puts the volunteers to work each day! Greg works closely with host, Ray Zahab and Project Somos foreman, Antolin Gonzalez on the build with the volunteers!

Greg has worked with many volunteers since moving to Guatemala in 2011 and this group definitely tested his patience!

Greg Kemp, Project Manager and Ray Zahab (host of TV show) on "set"

Greg Kemp, Project Manager (R) and Ray Zahab (L) (host of TV show) on “set”


That Reality Show

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Filming "The Project-Guatemala"

They are calling it “The Project-Guatemala” and it is going to air across Canada on September 30th. We get lots of people asking about it. We are still only permitted to tell you a little bit for now.

Nine privileged 20-somethings think they are going on the vacation of a lifetime. Instead, they are brought here to Project Somos to help us build. They are given the choice to stay or go. For six weeks they lived here and “volunteered” for us.

For six weeks, we hosted them and a crew of 25+ from Canada. It was an experience we will not soon forget! We will be back in Vancouver in September prior to the first show to host a special event. Stay tuned to our website to keep up to date as more information unfolds!

The Project-Guatemala on OLN


-Heather Alicia


Ray Zahab

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

We had the privilege of working closely with Ray Zahab during the filming of the “The Project-Guatemala” (a reality TV show filmed on site at Project Somos) Ray was chosen as the host of the show and for us was the deciding clincher when we were debating whether to enter into this adventure in the beginning.

On site during the shooting of "The Project-Guatemala"

For those that don’t know the name, Ray Zahab is an inspirational Canadian. He is an adventurer, an ultra-marathoner, a father of two, a motivational speaker and a champion for young people. He believes in making the impossible, possible. Hence, his foundation Impossible to Possible (or I2P).

While here, Ray infused the site with enthusiasm and humour. During the mornings it was always his voice we first heard and always, he was raving about the food being served and greeting everyone with a huge smile and hug. Keep in mind at this point in the morning when we were all stumbling out of bed, he’d already completed 20km of running through the intense mountains and valleys that surround us!

Andrew and I hanging with Ray

While here, Ray was provided with a hotel room in Tecpan and a tent for relaxing “on set”. His tent was situated at one of the peaks of the “finca” and he fell in love with it right away. The hotel room was dropped in exchange for nights on the land. Ray has an intense love of nature and appreciates being a part of it as much as possible.

At this time Ray is about to embark on yet another incredible adventure. Starting on Sunday (tomorrow!), he will run 2300 km across the Gobi desert! He and his buddy, Kevin Lin will attempt to do this run in 35 days!  I encourage you to check out his work and follow his journey on his website.

Run, Ray run! Your Somos friends and family will be cheering you on from here!

-Heather Alicia


Greg and Ray on set of The Project-Guatemala

p.s. For an inspirational watch, check out Ray’s documentary “Running the Sahara”