Thursday, May 12, 2011

When it pours...

Ok so it has been awhile last since I have posted. I will try to give you an update on my life here.

In Peace Corps, they say it takes till the one year mark to really feel integrated in your community and to have some sort of stability with your projects. As far as being integrated, I think I can check that one off. My community no longer is looking at me like I am from outer space and now, some too often, I am being invited to be a part of community events and asked well…what does the gringa think about this? To them, I know everything. So, to keep this going, I am constantly learning along the way. Looking back now after a year and going on four months, I really cannot remember when I started getting busy. Now that I am busy, I really am missing the days where all there was to do was to lay around all day in the hammock with a good book. Peace Corps tells us to cherish this time, as it is not always constant. However, I do not know how I will live in the future without the beloved hammock.

So what has this redhead been up to?

My primary projects as of this moment are income generation vocational workshops. Back in November, I applied to a grant from an organization called World Connect. World Connect is a rather large organization, benefiting children and women. The grant I was applying for was through an program called Mothers to Mothers. This grant was focused on improving the lifestyle of women in my community through income generation. After several initial diagnostics with women in my community, it was addressed that not only did they want something to do, other than cleaning and cooking in the house, but also to be able to provide for their families better. Not able to just focus on one vocation, mainly because there were several interests, I decided to focus on four, where each workshop would feature a different vocation as well as a business skill aspect for small business development. To make this idea happen, I needed money for materials and instructon to further implement the project. As volunteers, we constantly struggle with this predictament, where will the money come from? When we come to our communities, they look at us like an ATM. Although it is rather one cruel joke, only we do not come with any cash to give these struggling communities. So we have to fundraise.

This past January I was awarded the grant to do this project. The last several months have been organizing the community, buying materials and finding instructors to teach the courses. The first workshop was focused on decorated roof tiles. These tiles basically roof the entire country. Twenty women and youth participated in this workshop and encouraged more interest in participation for the following workshop. The second workshop was focused on crochet. More women and youth wanted to participate in this workshop making woven bags, scarves, and hats.So far, there has been excellent participation and interest in the project. The goal is after these workshops, the individuals who are interested in continuing beyond a learning level will be creating a small business of their own to sell the products.

Currently, we are getting ready for our third workshop, which will be learning how to make jewelry. This one will by far the most popular workshop, as the youth are very excited to be making earrings, necklaces, bracelets, you name it. The final workshop will be focused on making organic shampoo and soap. Once we complete the vocation part of the project, then we will start our small business development courses to further develop this project towards income generation. I have really enjoyed seeing the community take an active interest in these workshops.

There have been several moments in my experience here where I take a glance and ask myself, is what I am doing making a difference? Am I creating a platform for sustainable development? And I believe the answers are yes. I hope that when I leave, these women will be capable of making a product and selling that product, generating income for their families. I also hope that they will remember these years I have been with them as memorable and all the things I have been able to provide to them. Vamos a ver, meaning we shall see.

Another project that I have been working on for awhile, and that has been taking up a substantial part of my time is our casa communal. The casa communal is what we refer to as a civic center, but in reality is a big house, where the community can hold meetings, events, birthdays, you name it. These are so important to rural communities, when there is struggle among people with religious affiliations and political parties. For several people here, that is how you choose a social circle. The casa communal is the one place where people can all come together. Again, this project like every project takes money. I have been really fortunate with the funding for this project. Essentially, the funding is coming from a group of family members who live in the states. They grew up as children here and have since been living in the states for over twenty years. They came to me when I first got here and wanted to propose how I could help them help the community. This really has been a win win for everyone. But this still is a work in progress, nothing happens fast here. Hopefully by the time I leave, we will have our building up and running.

Other than those rather large projects, I have been working in the school, doing computer and art classes. As I am the second volunteer in my community, the first volunteer managed to get computers to the school. We have typing classes as well as learning basic computer skills so that when they get older and perhaps have a chance to further education, they will know how to use a computer. The art classes are merely for fun, as they don’t really have recreational activities in the school.

Also, I have monthly meetings with the youth, awkwardly talking about sex education. This is still a struggle, as religion plays a huge part in their lives. However I think it is important, as the community still sees their fair share of fourteen year olds who are preggers.

And for this past Mothers' day, we had a self-breast exam awareness event, in which we had testimonies and demonstrations about how important it is to be safe and to have check ups. Thanks mom for sending those exams!

Ok well, that's it for now.
Pictures to come!

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