Archive for June 2008

Guate V: Chacaya

June 23, 2008

So THIS is exciting… It’s not often that you get to visit “before” and “after” in the same day.

On Thursday Caroline, Alan and I caught a boat across the lake to visit the village of Chacaya, where the public school has been holding classes in makeshift rooms on rented land for the 135 students who attend there. An organization called Sharing the Dream helped the school buy some land last year, and they are now at work building a new school building on that land.

This is not the boat we came on, but was a beautiful one on the shore that we passed walking up from the lake.

When we visited, they were having classes in those makeshift rooms, and we got to visit the new school under construction as well.

Here is the current school:

And here’s the new one under construction:

It was particularly moving to be there, though, knowing that two recent college grads from Florida were riding across Canada to raise money for this school at the same time that we were walking through it. Eric Keen and Jason Haney are avid cyclists and best friends, and they’re having a big impact on this little village they’ve never visited.

Jason and Eric left on June 18 to cycle all the way across Canada, about 100 miles a day, with the goal of raising $20,000 for this school in a village they’ve never seen. When we visited Chacaya they were on Day 2 of their 40 day trip. As I write this, they are half way to their goal, both literally and figuratively. They’re half way across Canada, and they’ve raised about $10,000. If you want to follow their progress and send them a note of encouragement, check out their blog or their web site. This video they made is a nice introduction to them and their ride, too.

If you want to help them get to their goal, by the way, you can donate (tax deductibly) at the PEG web site. As with all PEG projects, 100% of donations go directly to the project. In this case, though, the guys are taking a pretty big hit personally to do this ride, so if you would like for a part of your donation to help them cover their expenses, send a note with your donation to let me know and I’ll divide it accordingly.

These guys really inspire me. They just graduated from college and they’re spending the summer raising money for a school in a poor village in Guatemala. They know it’s not naive to think they can change the world. They’re doing it.


Guate IV: Escuelita David LaMotte

June 20, 2008

After a couple of hours’ ride on an unusually empty public bus (known affectionately by the ex-pat community as a “chicken bus”), Alan, Caroline and I caught a boat across the lake to get to Santiago, checked into our hotel and crashed.

Wednesday morning we caught a tuc tuc (motorcycle taxi) up to Tzanchaj to visit the school there, only to find that it was a holiday and school was out. The director of the school, Nino Tecun, lives right next door and his wife gave us the keys. She is a traditional Mayan woman and doesn’t speak any Spanish, only Tzutuhil, but we manage to communicate with smiles and gestures and the two words of Tzutuhil that I’ve managed to learn.

Some of the neighborhood kids saw we were there and came to say hi, so we went in and looked around and goofed off with them a little before heading back.

The next day we came early in the morning again and got to check out the school in action. There is a new teacher there, Candelaria, and it was good to see her teaching. She’s good, and the evidence is clear in talking to the kids. I had fun talking with them and quizzing them on their work. It’s safe to say they’re way ahead of most Guatemalan first graders. First grade, by the way, was just added to the school this year, occupying the new classroom that was added last year.

This school is five years old in total, though when I first met Nino four years ago he only had 11 children at the school, meeting in a rented room so tiny that it couldn’t hold any more than that. PEG built the new building three years ago and at the moment the school has 53 students, 30 in first grade and 23 in kindergarten. Another organization added a second room on to the school, and a third organization has a program to purchase beadwork from the parents of the students. Part of the money goes to the parents, and part to support a school lunch program.

That’s Candelaria, the new teacher, and Caroline, the new director of PEG.

The local hospitalito also comes out twice a year to de-worm and check the kids over. I love seeing things like that build on each other. PEG isn’t doing that medical work nor the school lunch program, but because PEG helped build the school building those kids are getting a healthy lunch a couple of times a week and some basic medical care.

The government has also started providing a morning snack, usually some milk or atol, a corn-based soupy drink popular among Mayans (and I like it too!). At this point, PEG only pays for one of the two teachers’ salaries at the school, and it’s great to see that project gradually moving away from needing us at all.

This project is particularly special to me, and not just because they named the school after me. I have to admit, though, that I was a little disappointed to find that the kids have finally learned to say my name correctly. I liked it better when they called me David de la Moto, which means Motorcycle David.

Guate III: Flora and Fauna

June 19, 2008

These don’t merit much explanation, but I thought they might be visually blogworthy…

Guatemala II: El Tejar Music Program

June 18, 2008

And now the updates about the actual work…

On Tuesday we met up with John Van Keppel in Antigua and headed to the pueblo of El Tejar, where the CEDIN school has a music program that PEG funded in cooperation with LEAF International. John works for an organization called Child Aid, which supports this school. I know that’s lots of organizations to keep track of, but hang with me. It’s good to recognize everybody who is doing this work.

What we’re doing there: PEG bought a bunch of instruments last year about this time and pays the salaries for a teacher and an assistant teacher to teach music to middle school aged kids. We also bought some instruments for the elementary aged kids who are in a Montessori-style program, and this year, we’re paying for a couple of field trips to Guatemala City so that the students in the band program can visit the conservatory there and be mentored by professional musicians. LEAF and PEG have split all of these costs right down the middle.

All of the children at CEDIN are poor and are able to attend school only because of scholarships.

Update: Folks at the CEDIN school are feeling particularly proud right now because a graduate of the music program recently won first place in a regional music contest in Chimaltenango, where she’s now going to school.

On our visit Tuesday we were entertained with a wonderful concert in which children from each grade level performed, even the littlest ones.

I played a song, too, showing the kids how guitars can also be used as drums (yes, I explained the rule: you’re only allowed to play drums on a guitar if it’s YOUR guitar).

One expects these kids’ concerts to be cute, but it’s always an amazing surprise when they’re not only cute, but GOOD!

One other bit of exciting news regarding this program is that the parents of students in the music program have gotten so excited about it that they’ve been bringing in donated building supplies as they can and have gotten pretty far toward building a music room on the second floor of the school. This picture is the result of a year’s worth of donated materials. It’s always good to see people taking ownership and partnerships being exactly that.

Stay tuned for more trip news…

Back in Guatemala

June 17, 2008

I woke this morning to the familiar sound of a long string of fireworks going off below my window. It was about 6:30, and it’s interesting that it no longer startled or surprised me. Guatemalans love fireworks and in Antigua they celebrate by setting them off first thing in the morning most mornings.

Four years ago, when Deanna and I first came to Guatemala on our honeymoon, I remember asking our friend and host, Tere, what that noise was each morning. She explained that it was celebratory fireworks, but we were still confused. “Every morning?” Deanna asked, and Tere replied “Well, it’s always somebody’s birthday.”

Today the fireworks are to celebrate Día del Padre, or Father’s Day. This is my first year to be featured in any way in Father’s Day, so it’s fun to get to celebrate it twice. My own father and mother took me to the airport Sunday morning and we got to have a bit of Father’s Day breakfast in the states before I flew here.

I’m traveling with my long-time friend Caroline Craig Proctor, who will be the new director of PEG when I move to Australia in January, and her husband Alan. It’s good to be personally introducing Caroline to some of the folks she’ll be working with, and renewing some relationships that she already has here. Caroline first came to Guate in 1988, and has been down several times since then. She’s been on the board of PEG since we first formed a board, and will be great in this new role.

Sunday afternoon we met up with Dennis Smith, who has been one of my strongest mentors in this work, at his home in Guatemala City. We had a good time sharing some stories, music and wonderful food, as well as gaining a better perspective on current events and history in Guatemala. Dennis is a knowledgeable and wise man, and it’s always a privilege to have some time with him.

We got to Antigua later that night and settled in at Tere’s house, then went out to La Peña del Sol Latino for some dinner. La Peña is one of my favorite places to spend time in Antigua. The house band recognizes me when I walk in, and I have to admit that it’s fun to be a regular at a music club in Antigua. After dinner they asked me to play a song, and I enjoyed that.

Yesterday was mostly a day to run some errands, meet up with a few people and catch our breath. We stopped by Probigua school, whom we’ve partnered with on a couple of projects (the library expansion at Pedro Molina school in El Tejar and the children’s section at the library in Tecpan). Caroline had a good conversation with Rigoberto, the founder and director of Probigua.

We also had lunch with some former students of Caroline and Alan’s, here as year-long Young Adult Volunteers with the PCUSA. One of them mentioned that the kids at her school were having a hard time just getting the money together to buy pencils, so PEG bought her 300 pencils to take back to the school.

Last night we attended a Mayan cleansing ceremony, and it was my first time to witness one. It was fascinating, and I’m glad we fit it in. Paco, who was being blessed in the ceremony, is also part of the band at La Peña, and assured me it was fine to take pictures, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Today we’ll be visiting the music program we started last year at the CEDIN school in El Tejar. This project is funded in partnership with LEAF International, and organized by Child Aid. It’s great to partner with other organizations on some of these projects and network since we don’t have organizational staff on the ground. By tonight we’ll be in Santiago Atitlan, and the next couple of days will be full with meetings and checking in on projects at the Lake.

I’m looking forward to standing again in the places where our work is having a tangible impact, seeing the faces of the kids. And, of course, it’s good to be back in the land of the world’s best guacamole.

It’s a…

June 15, 2008

We had a great visit to the midwives’ office. It turns out that our long-time friend Vicki was our lab technician for the ultrasound, and it was wonderful to have such a good friend show us around our baby. It’s about five inches long now, head to bottom, and looks like a baby instead of a seahorse, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Vicki checked for various problems and everything looks good. It was incredible to see the little one squirming around in there. As fuzzy as ultrasounds can be, when they’re in motion they look remarkably like babies. And the 4-D ultrasounds they have now are extraordinary. I’ll post some of them when I get back from Guatemala. They’re so much clearer and more multi-dimensional than conventional ultrasounds. The downside is that they produce strange little anomalies, so the beautiful little critter may appear to have huge lumps growing out of its head, for instance.

We started out calling it “Flipper,” after reading that it was developing “flipper-like arm buds” early in its development. After we heard the heartbeat we re-named it “Thumper.” Now it’s pretty much “Lumpy.”

So here’s the thing… we live near Asheville, NC, the alternative spirituality capital of the south. Thus, we have lots of friends who had pretty strong ideas about the gender — and they all agreed!! Deanna and I had the same idea, too. It was all but unanimous. OK, one disagreed. Other than that, everybody had the same idea.

When Deanna and I talked about names we could only think of girl names. We each had a beloved grandmother named Sarah, so that was a no-brainer. The middle name was a little tougher, but we had some good ideas, I think. The conversation always ended with “y’know, we’ve got to think about boy names too,” and I would agree, but we would never quite get around to it.

When we were done checking all of the health questions and marveling a bit, Vicki wrote the gender on a little card for us and sealed it up. Leaving the office we called my parents and asked if they could meet up with us for a few minutes. We all met at the playground in Montreat, said a prayer and opened up the card, which said “It’s a boy! And I love all three of you! Vicki”


So we’re perfectly happy, of course. I don’t think either of us had a preference, but somehow it’s so much more real knowing that part of who this little one is.

Given the difficulty we’re having thinking of boy names, Deanna’s latest suggestion is “Voldemort,” or rather “He-who-must-not-be-named.”