Saturday, February 26, 2011

What we are doing at Common Hope

 Our "office"

Break-out sessions

Every Monday morning from 8:30 to 10:00, we conduct a workshop for 20 Guatemalan leaders of Common Hope. This Monday will be the 4th session and four more to go. The course we've designed with the HR director and Country Manager consists of two weeks of topics dealing with managing yourself, three weeks of leading others and developing teamwork, and two weeks of leading and being a member of teams. Our friend Anne will be visiting us next month and will be leading a session on the cultural implications of working with Americans. So we've even designed a guest lecture!
Then our other major component is a one on one realtionship with eight leaders. Linda mentors five and Jack three. We meet with our mentees three times a week on a wide range of topics. We discuss the topic from the last class, perhaps help with their homework, talk about the relevance to their work, and help them with their English. In teaching English, we are learning about our native language and often struggling for rules. ( Do you know the difference between counting and non-counting nouns?) We are finding it very rewarding and love the enthusiasm and openess of our Guatemalan partners.

Jack in action

  Turning on the projector

Preparing the agenda

Why we're here....

The Front Gate

Time to talk about Common Hope, the organization that we are working with and that impresses us so much.  Everyone in Antigua knows "el proyecto" (the project), as Common Hope is known to the locals.  And everyone knows, and is thankful for, the good that it does.  Children who are sponsored by Common Hope (through sponsorships by donors) are provided with everything that they can't afford to get an education - school supplies, shoes, uniforms, as well as after-school enrichment programs, a library and counseling.  In addition, when a child is sponsored, his/her whole family is "affiliated" - meaning that they benefit from the resources of Common Hope.  This can include medical care, social work visits, legal help, vocational training, the opportunity to work sweat equity towards a solid home with a cement floor, or a stove that's vented to the outside.  If the parents pull the child from school, the deal is off - hopefully instilling the value of education into the whole family.  Common Hope is coming up on 10,000 sponsored children who have graduated from high school - a phenominal achievement in a country where a sixth grade education is not an assumption. 

"Familias de Experanza" - Common Hope in Spanish
 These photos are of the "proyecto" - the safe and secure place where sponsored children can come to study and to learn; and where affiliated families come for their needs.  What is missing is the power and energy that flows through these walls and out into a community of people who need help. 

Beautiful waiting area for the clinic

Pre-school kids

Clinic and some education rooms

Volcan Fuego smoking a bit

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Most Beautiful Lake in the World

Or at least that's what Aldous Huxley said after he visited Lake Atitlan.  To quote: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitl├ín is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."  Well, it really is that beautiful.  We spent the weekend in La Casa del Mundo, a lovely hotel perched on the side of the lake.  The lake is surrounded by three volcanos - in fact, it's believed to be the caldera of a volcano that erupted a long, long time ago.  We walked along the cliff to the next village (most transportation from village to village is by water taxi), talked to villagers setting up for a fiesta, met a lovely friend-of-friends who now lives there (and met, through her, some of the expat community), kayaked in the early morning - but mostly just sat and looked at the lake.  Here are some photos which definitely don't do it justice.

Hanging out with the expats

A wood-fired hot tub!

Carrying a basket of tomatoes - good posture required.

Sunrise on the lake

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hermano Pedro's Tree

Hanging out at a little park next to El Calvario church, we noticed people walking around this tree, picking up dried blossoms that had fallen from it.  Turns out, it's Hermano Pedro's (Brother Peter's) tree.  Hermano Pedro is the Main Man around Antigua - Guatemala's first saint, canonized in 2002.  Seems like he was a very good person, working, in the 1500's, with the homeless, founding the first hospital and doing a lot of good work.
Well, purportedly he planted this tree around 1570.  It has white flowers year round and if you gather those that fall from the tree and brew a tea from it, it will cure headaches and many other things.  As the English-translated sign says, "the active ingredient is faith."                                                                            

As we watched people gathering flowers, this little boy started gathering and giving us what he got.  Guess he figured we needed a little help getting started.  Soon he and Jack were gathering together.  So now we have a handful of dried flowers to brew into a tea that cures what ails 'ya.  Thanks, Hermano Pedro.

Friday, February 11, 2011


La Calvaria
Palace of the Captains General

El Arco (Arch) de Santa Catalina

So far in Guatemala we've been doing a variety of things: teaching and coaching at Common Hope, enjoying the people who work there, studying Spanish (4 horas), eating out a lot (alone and with new friends), figuring out food shopping, etc.  Another thing we've done a lot is ROAM.  Antigua is a great roaming city.  It's small and manageable, the streets have a Manhattan-esque numbering system of streets (calles) and avenues (avenidas) so it's difficult to get lost, and there are tons of out of the way things to discover.  Mainly there are churches.  In the 16th through 18th centuries, Antigua was the Spanish capitol of Central America, and the Spanish built lots of big stone buildings, especially churches.  After an unfortunate earthquake in the 1770's, the capitol was moved to Guatemala City and Antigua became a smaller, sleepier town with lovely ruins.  The buildings that have been restored are usually painted yellow and white.  The non-restored are just gray. 


La Merced

Our Digs

I want this bedspread!
 Here are some photos of our cute little condominio.  It's small but cozily fine for the two of us.  The internet connection (including wireless) is very good, which allows us to do a lot of our prep work at home.  There's only a small volcano view, to Jack's chagrin.  Right on the bus route and 10 minutes to Common Hope, 10-15 minute walk to city center.  We only rented this for February as we thought we could look for another place when we got here for March.  We're zeroing in on a very nice find - REAL volcano view, not so good internet connections, two minutes from the market - so we'll see.

Living room



Within the gated community

Walking through our condo grounds, I came upon calla lillies, just growing!  I'd never seen them in a garden - always thought they grew in the arms of a Hispanic woman at a market!  Very exciting,

Saturday, February 5, 2011

To Market, To Market....

   Remember the photo of the huge supermarket in Guatemala City?  Today we (and the rest of Antigua) went to try out the local Saturday market.  Being cognizant of buying only what you can peel (by the time we get home, we'll kill for a lettuce salad), we roamed the market, got lost a few times and bought food for dinner tonight - as well as a beautiful bunch of status at the flower section for 1Q (8Q = $1).  The entire shopping bag full cost $4 US.  And it was FUN!

Our purchases


Speaking of new experiences!  This week we really worked! - well, the last three days, anyway.  It's been ten years since we've had a week of alarm clocks and real appreciation for the weekend. 

What a great week it's been though.  Being back at Common Hope and being a tiny part of the good things they're doing is invigorating.  Our old acquaintances seemed happy to see us and we've met lots of friendly, enthusiastic new friends. 

So this week we've gotten settled and figured out how to get to Common Hope. The first morning we were ripped off by a taxi driver (he charged a whole 40Q, ie.$5).  So we looked further and found that the "chicken bus" goes right past our apartment - and costs 1.5Q (18 cents).  Plus we make lots of new friends!  Everyone on the bus (actually, everyone we've met in town) knows "Las Familias de Esperanza" and will help to get us there.
Chicken bus

The last three days we've had individual meetings with the six Guatemalan staff that we'll be mentoring three times a week for the next two months.  The mentoring will be primarily in English skills but the conversational part can cover any business or work issues that they have.  The level of English among the six varies greatly, but the amount of enthusiasm is similar.  

We've also worked quite a bit on organizing our first "Leadership Time."  This will be a 90 minute session every Monday morning while we're here, for 20 Guatemalan staff.  We've been working with Lisa, the HR Manager,  to pull this off.  The English skills for this group vary even more, so we're needing to translate the presentation, handouts and homework. 

So next week it's to work in earnest.  We've also located two very important things in Antigua - a language school, where we've signed up for Spanish lessons four hours a week - and a sports bar broadcasting the Super Bowl on Sunday. 
Our Language School

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We are here....

Arrived in Guatemala City at 2:30 this afternoon.  Our first thoughts, upon arriving in a foreign country and different culture were OMG, IT'S WARM!   Beautiful hot afternoon and cooling off at night.  Had quite a few nostalgic flashbacks to our April First Parish Vision Team - our arrival at the airport, wrestling bags through baggage claim, and piling the myriad suitcases on top of the mini-van.  Luckily we didn't need Glen and Kepler this time. 
We had pre-arranged for our taxi driver to take us to a large supermarket that took US credit cards so we could stock up on essentials - and he certainly did.  This place (in Guatemala City) was bigger than most I've seen in the States.  We bought REAL avocados, limes, tostadas, olives, and tamales for dinner tonight. 

Arrived at our apartment around 5-ish.  It's very cozy and green and gated.  Just 4 or 5 blocks from the market and the Central Plaza, although we haven't gotten out there yet. 

  avocados, olives and tostadas

Tomorrow morning we'll figure out how to get to Common Hope and will be meeting with three of the six Guatemalan leadership that we'll be mentoring, primarily in English but also in business skills.  Then later in the day we should have time to get into Antigua Central.