Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday July 20, 2010: Spanish and Common Hope Tour

I attended Spanish class this morning a few minutes late since my legs are not moving as fast on these uneven streets as they’re still very sore. My teacher was happy to see me, though I felt bad that I had not finished my homework of 15 sentences in past tense since all I can do at the moment is sleep to recover from the volcano trek.

We talked about my weekend, her weekend, and the war in the past. I could tell she was hesitant to offer information on the history of Guatemala, and she waited to see what I’d been taught before telling me if it was correct or if she saw things differently. For the most part, we tended to agree on things related to the US involvement in a sort of bad way. She told me her father had two friends who disappeared during the war and she thinks it’s related to their vocal disdain for the government in the 1980’s.  She thinks their dead, but nobody really knows where many of the people went.

I asked her why she thought the war and massacres occurred and she said a lot of it has to do with the government wanting land from the indigenous people that they did not want to give up. She mentioned one town in Coban, where the government wanted to build a dam to provide electricity but a pueblo of Mayans was located there. The government asked them to relocate, but they refused so they pushed all the men, women, and children into their buildings and set them on fire, killing everyone. Pretty crazy stuff, particularly when you find out who taught this government how to accomplish these things.

My day did get less depressing in the afternoon during a tour of Common Hope, in nearby San Pedro. Also called Las Familias de Esperanza, this is the NGO that helped our field school get it’s feet on the ground. We spent an hour or so in a classroom viewing a presentation by Tiffany Boggis, an OT professor at Pacific University in Oregon. She told us about her work in Nicaragua, establishing a field school for students attending her university, and the details of what they’ve accomplished in a couple of 2 week stays. Her focus on the well-elderly population is similar to our research, but she’s been able to get community organizations in Nicaragua to facilitate and continue much of her work throughout the year. This is something we need to do for Casa Maria.

After Tiffany’s presentation, we took a tour of Common Hope which was started in the 1980’s/ and restarted in the 1990’s by a couple from Minnesota who wanted to help kids attend school. The idea of this is that if kids here can graduate high school, they can go on to get better jobs, take care of their families, and they’re more likely to become decision makers in their communities, continuing the cycle of education. Common Hope focuses on education, health, and housing because all are necessary to attend school successfully.

A few really cool things about this place: each child who becomes affiliated with Common Hope gets healthcare through their private clinic along with everyone who lives with that child, all educational related materials are provided, and families donate time to accumulate volunteer hours that can purchase them a “mobile house” (100 to 450 hrs) and/ or stove (10 hrs). The stove can also be prescribed by a doctor for a person who gets frequent respiratory infections. The woman and children here get sick a lot from smoke inhalation from cooking over an open flame indoors, hence the prescribed stove which has a vent.  A “mobile house” is sort of a prefab, one or two room house with cement blocks for floors, all of which can be picked up and moved if the family needs to relocate. The reason for this is that many families are squatters here, so sometimes they need to leave, so this is a solution to letting them keep their homes at the same time.

One of Common Hope’s most interesting philosophies though, is in not giving anything away for free. Here in Guatemala, there are so many people that are extremely poor so there’s a tendency to want to just give people what they need. This gets dangerous though because it creates dependency and complacency. Even the poorest of people are asked to pay a “symbolic fee” for healthcare and other services because it creates a sense of value. When people pay for things, even if it’s very little, they hold it in higher regard and they’re more likely to follow through with the requirements set forth. The people also put in “sweat equity” to earn houses and stoves that they can keep. They help the organization run, which in turn provides services to them and their community. It’s more of a partnership that really seems to work.