Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Project

As mentioned in my last post about Comalapa, only 3% of people have trash pick up. Even the legal dumps are an eye sore in an otherwise beautiful country. One of Long Way Home's (LWH's) mission beliefs is "We believe in being good stewards of the environment" found on their website.

It was explained to me that we humans do not have a good plan for the trash that we create. I tend to agree with this. To be good stewards of the environment, LWH is using alternative resources to do their construction. What does this mean exactly? Basically, it means they have a plan for some of the trash we create as humans. While working with the organization, when ever I purchased something in a package, instead of throw it in a trash bin, I would cram it into a trash bottle. They called these bottle bricks. The key to a good bottle brick is using a metal bar and compacting as much garbage as possible into the bottle so it becomes hard like a brick. These bricks are then used in the construction of different buildings for the school.

Other environmental resources include dirt tires--dirt being pounded into tires to make walls--and earth bags. I can imagine the idea of using trash can sound gross to some people, but the school buildings that have been built actually look quite nice. At the tops of the buildings they use glass bottles which act as sky lights. These not only can look nice but will also require less electricity to light up the classrooms.

One of the projects I helped to prepare the resources for was the school logo. Different colours of glass were used. The glass gave from bottles and other various items that would have just sat in a dump. I had to organize the glass into colours and smash it. Then I sifted it into two groups, big and small. This was a very tedious project. After I had gathered a lot of material we did a floor pour--we poured concrete--for the floor outside the classrooms. When the floor dried over the next few days a couple Guatemalan workers used the glass to make the logo. I think it turned out great!

Unfortunately the building manager of the school, Technico Mayo, was not in the country when I arrived. He was spending time visiting his home in the USA. That meant we were doing a lot of other small and random projects not as closely related to the school, but still important to the organization. A lot of the work I ended up doing for these involved moving dirt and or digging holes. In my last weeks there however we spent quite a bit of time at the school. I got to see all the students currently enrolled and even practiced the little Spanish (very little) I knew with them. They were adorable and make the whole project and time spent well worth it.

Long Way Home employs several people from the United States and a couple from Canada as well. These people are wonderful altruistic people who work way harder than what they get paid to do (which is next to nothing). They have devoted at least a portion of their lives to the project, to trying to help break the cycle of poverty.

 There is also a Guatemalan staff who work very hard as well. They do a lot of hard labor and seem to do it with a lot of ease. They are paid more than minimum wage in Guatemala. They need to promote the environmental ideals or the organization by creating their own bottle bricks in order to get paid each week. If they don't make enough trash they are encouraged to get what they need from one of the illegal dumps in the area.

Finally there are the volunteers. The volunteers pay $300 US per month to volunteer. This money goes to the program costs, including paying the other members whom work so hard. It includes a place to stay and a great group of like minded people to spend your free time with. Not to mention it gives you the opportunity to practice your Spanish and more importantly help fulfill another LWH belief, that every person has the responsibility to work towards ending poverty.

I just wanted to add some information about donating if this is something you may be interested in. Right now they have a "$21 can change a child's future campaign." The information on it can be found on LWH's webpage.

I appreciate you have taken the time to read my blog (please continue to do it) and I am sure the organization will appreciate any support you can give them.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Buenos Dias!

Welcome to the small mountain city of San Juan Comalapa. While walking through town, it is very common to say "Buenos dias" to everyone you see. Unless, of course, it is the afternoon in which case I say just "Buenos" or I say "Buenos" and mumble something because I don't know what to actually say.

Comalapa sits at approximately 7000 feet above sea level. As you walk up the hills that make up the mountain, one thing will surely take place. You will be out of breath.

One reason is because the view is breathtaking. With greenery falling under a gorgeous blue sky sprinkled with monstrous fluffy white clouds, the view never gets old. Add to it the peaks of different volcanoes on clear days and breathtaking doesn't even begin to describe it.

The second reason you'll be out of breath is the elevation. Exercising 7000 feet above sea level is sure to make anyone wheeze. The altitude has become a bit of a scape goat for everything. Why am I winded after a 2 minute walk up a hill? Damn altitude. Why am I feeling sick? Damn altitude. Why can't I speak Spanish? Damn altitude.

On one of the first few days that I arrived to this postcard-worthy setting, I went on a tour of the town. As you get into town there is a beautiful mural about the history of Comalapa. It shows the Mayan civilization and the eventual results of colonization. It also has pictures of the hope for the future.

That brings us to some of the sobering facts pertaining to Comalapa. Many people speak the native language of Kachiquel. This becomes truer the further you get from the town centre. The income of 64% of the population falls below the poverty line. That means the majority of people earn less than $2 U.S. per day. In addition to that 64%, 27% live in extreme poverty, which is less than $1 U.S. per day. These stats are similar throughout the whole country of Guatemala.

Only 3% have trash pick up. Trash ends up just sitting in a giant ravine. There is one such ravine just off the main road of town. It acts as a legal dump, while other ravines in the area and throughout the country act as illegal dumps. 90% of these dumps throughout the country are illegal, but nothing is done to enforce this.

That brings us to Long Way Home's role in the community through alternative construction. That will be my next exciting post!