Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ category

My Baby Is All Grown Up

December 14, 2008

No, not that one. Mason is unquestionably still an infant, as proven by the fact that I’m sitting in the dark typing up a blog at 4:30 AM while the Squirmy Wormy sits beside me and the two of us try to leverage a bit of sleep for his mom. He had his six-week birthday yesterday. We sang to him, of course.

The one I’m talking about here, though, is a different baby. A bebé, actually. Deanna and I started dreaming about PEG Partners on our honeymoon in 2004, first wanting to help out one school in the mountains outside of Antigua, and later realizing we had the potential and opportunity to have an impact at many more schools and libraries across Guatemala.

At this point PEG has raised over $75,000 and worked with nine schools and three libraries in different places across the country. That’s not a ton of money in the US, at least not in the context of building buildings, paying teachers, etc. But in Guatemala it’s a lot. A whole lot.

And yesterday at our board meeting I stepped down from the board. I no longer have any official capacity in the organization. I can’t even vote on decisions about direction and whether or not to fund certain projects.

Wow. My little one grew up and is heading out on her own.

It’s exhilarating to see it fly and to be strong enough to not need me. The board is in great shape, and will add someone else strong to take my position. Caroline Proctor is the new chair (I was that until yesterday), Paul Scouten Vice Chair, Cecil Bothwell Secretary, Tom Patteson board member at large and Katherine Neville is our financial guru/bookkeeper. It’s a formidable team, and I can’t wait to see what they do.

The other significant team member, of course, is John Smith, who is the new musical spokesman for PEG. I took him to Guatemala in October and he was both moved and motivated. He’s been telling stories at his shows and has already sent in several hundred dollars in donations.

I’ve got some transitional things to deal with to pass on all of the details that Caroline will need, but then I’ll be turning my attention even more toward Australia and away from this hemisphere. And once again I find a strange mix of emotions swirling around in my heart.

I’m proud of what we’ve built, and I think even prouder that it is strong enough to go on without me. And though the board has invited me to keep attending meetings ‘ex-officio’ and offer input, it’s really strange to have no official title or responsibilities.

It’s good, perhaps, to have some time at 4:30 AM to stare at the night and soak it in. One more gift from the NEW baby, and the one I’m giving lots of energy to helping grow up these days. He’s got two chins now and is working hard on the third one, so I guess we’d better go bother his mom after all…


Guate trip I

October 20, 2008
Da Guate

It’s always good to be here, and renewing, even at a time like this when my heart is pulled strongly toward the US. With my dad in the hospital and my baby boy getting ready to make his grand appearance, there’s a lot to feel and think about these days. Hugs and songs from Guatemalan children, though, go a long way toward reminding me why I’m here.

Thanks, by the way, for the good wishes regarding Dad. He’s scheduled for bypass surgery on Tuesday, so this is a time of waiting, mostly.

The main purpose of this trip to Guatemala is to introduce my friend John Smith to the work we’re doing here. John’s one of the few people I know who actually does more shows in a given year than I do, and I think he’ll do a great job spreading the word about PEG while I head off on my fellowship.

Da Guate

John and some children in Chacaya

John spends a lot of time in Ireland but hasn’t really need anywhere like Guatemala before. We’ve spent the first couple of days checking in on two projects where PEG has made some contributions, and buying some school supplies for a third project where PEG has been integral.

We touched down a half-hour late in Guatemala and were greeted by a Mayan man named Nicolas in a Chinese-built mini-mini-van with a spider web crack in the windshield. Nicolas navigated the darkness, the potholes, the perros and late night middle-of-the-street soccer games for four hours, talking US politics for most of the way (he’s excited about the idea of a US president who knows something first-hand about poverty and how most of the world lives, and seems to really care about it).

A little after 11 (1AM on the east coast) Nicolas and his micro-van delivered us to the Posada de Santiago at Lago Atítlan, where we’ll base for the next four nights. The folks at the Posada had left some food to be heated up when we arrived, so we ate ravenously and gratefully fell into our beds, listening to the rain and an occasional avocado landing on the roof.

Da Guate

We headed down to the dock on Friday morning and caught a boat across the inlet to Chacaya, where PEG recently helped build a new school. Our original intent last summer was to build the building, but as it turned out a larger organization with deeper pockets showed up and built a gorgeous facility while we were still chewing on plans and gathering funds.

Da Guate

The folks from Chacaya got in touch with some concern to let us know they had this opportunity, and I was happy to reassure them that we weren’t the least bit worried about turf and were thrilled that the kids were going to have a good school building.

The land they had bought with assistance from Sharing the Dream is very steep, though, and as it turned out they needed to build a strong retaining wall to make sure their beautiful new school didn’t wash down into the lake. We agreed to take on the retaining wall, and after gathering a few bids and talking through the details, it was built this summer with money from PEG.

More specifically, that money was raised for PEG by Jason Haney and Eric Keen, who cycled all the way across Canada last summer as a fundraiser. They covered 4000 miles in 37 days and raised $12,000 in the process. The retaining wall required about two-thirds of that, so along with celebrating the new wall and the new building, John and I met with two men from the parents’ committee that runs the school to talk about what their current needs are and how best to spend the rest of the money that the cyclists raised.

The parents’ committee is going to talk it over and gather some information, then be in touch with us to present ideas. It looks like one likely scenario is to buy some desks, of which they are certainly in need (kids are sitting on the floor in some classes because there aren’t enough seats). Another possibility is to work on erosion problems on the side of the school where the road comes up (using the term ‘road’ rather loosely).

Da Guate

I shot this picture of a girl in the village. It centers me to think that with an education she may be able to expand her options beyond this kind of work.

Da Guate

This was John’s first glimpse of a project we’re working on, and he found it deeply moving and encouraging. The parents’ committee has worked with three different organizations to make this school a reality, and it is powerful to see the result.

That was day one, and a solid start. More adventures tomorrow.

Da Guate

Fathers and Sons and Guatemala

October 16, 2008

US Airways Flight 1831, Charlotte to Miami

Da Guate 081016

Touching down in Miami

It’s extraordinary to realize that I woke up in Missouri yesterday, in Black Mountain, North Carolina today, and will wake up in Santiago, Atitlan, Guatemala tomorrow, after spending brief moments in Asheville, Charlotte, Miami and Guatemala City. Even for me, that’s a pretty dense forty-eight hours, especially given that there were twelve hours of driving included.

I’m just glad I don’t have to fly the plane.

I feel like I’m covering about that much emotional ground, too. I’ll be in Guatemala for just six days, but this is my last trip away for more than a weekend before I hang up my mic cables. Deanna is due in five weeks, and though there’s no reason to imagine that Thumper will join us before he’s expected (Nov. 20), it’s a little scary to be away.

Still, I love being in Guatemala— the children, the avocados, the schools and the sense that we really are making a difference— and this will be my last trip there for some time since we’re moving to Australia in January.

Then there’s the fun of introducing my friend John Smith to Guatemala. John’s a good buddy and someone I really admire, both as a songwriter and as a human being. His songs go right to my heart, and the hearts of many other people, for that matter. He’s kind of like a human multi-vitamin; I find that spending time with him makes me feel better in all sorts of ways, and makes me generally healthier.

A few (maybe ten?) years back, John, Chris Rosser and I did a run of shows together up through New England. We called it the Bad Boy Tour, given that all three of have reputations for being kind of mean, nasty, rude people.

OK, not really. But we couldn’t call it the Nice Guy Tour. The eleventh and twelfth shots here are of John, me and Chris on the Bad Boy Tour. Chris is the tall one, and we eventually figured out that the shot would work best if he was on the bottom step.

As we trekked north toward Boston in Dan the Tan Van, we started giving each other points for anything ‘bad’ we did— yelling at other cars in traffic, salty vocabulary, etc. I was firmly in the lead by the end of the trip. Or maybe I lost. I’m not sure we ever decided whether it was like golf or like basketball — were we trying to get more points or fewer?

At any rate, all that to say he’s a good guy. And he’s the one PEG has invited to come to Guatemala and have some first-hand experience there in order to tell stories at shows and raise a little money for the schools we work with.

John tours pretty constantly, like me, so we had some trouble finding a time we could both go down, and these six days were the most we could carve out. The timing’s not ideal, given that some schools are getting out around now in Guatemala, and not all the ones we work with will be in session, but it should be a good introduction to the work we’ve been doing, and a good first trip down.

Of course, the proximity to Thumper’s arrival makes it tough for me, but I had no way of knowing that it wouldn’t be the toughest part of leaving this time.

A couple of days ago my Dad, John LaMotte, was taken to the hospital with some tightness in his chest. He had sextuple bypass surgery (yep, six) twenty-one years ago. He has been off all the charts in his recovery (in the good direction), walks three miles a day, and is certainly the healthiest seventy-seven-year-old I’ve ever met. He built a rock wall in the back yard recently. You get the idea.

Still, it’s scary stuff, given the history.

The first word we got from the docs after they checked him out yesterday morning was that they might just put him on some beta blockers and such and try to treat the new blockages with drugs. The down side of that would be that he would have to live a life of less activity.

There are people in the world who could live that way and be OK. My Aunt Evelyn was one. She lived pretty quietly for many years and was pretty happy. I might be OK that way myself. Dad, not so much.

This morning my dad called while I was literally sitting on the plane in Asheville waiting to take off and let me know they’ve decided to do bypass surgery instead, and they expect to need three of them. I can’t help but remember when he went in twenty-one years ago and they told us there was a chance they might need to do as many as four.

They did six.

Dad sounds good, and clear on the decision. I’m on board too. It’s scary. There’s real danger here. But Dad wouldn’t be happy, and wouldn’t be Dad, if he weren’t vigorous and vital.

I want very much for my father to know my son. And I want my son to know my father even more. He’s quite a role model and a wise counselor. One whose shoes I’ll never fill (it’s good, I guess, that I have my own shoes).

So if you’re the kind that says prayers, we welcome them. If you’re more about sending love and Light, please do that. To me, that’s pretty much the same thing.

And in the meantime, I’m heading to Guatemala, with a big part of my own heart heading in the other direction. I’d really like to be there with the family, and if John Smith weren’t flying south on his first trip there, I’d be on a plane home instead. Dad felt strongly that I should go, though, so off I go.

Mom and Dad came to Guatemala with me last year, which was an extraordinary trip. They bounced down washed out dirt roads with me to visit schools and explored on their own in Antigua, making their own friends. There’s a shop owner there who still asks about them by name each time I visit. They get why I’m there.

I’ll post more updates as the trip goes on. Thanks for reading, for the time and for the support I know you’ll send because you always have.

paz, justicia y salud,

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…