In my last blog post I talked about how I was preparing for a final workshop meeting to disseminate the rest of the project to CONRED. Well, the workshop went really well! I had immense help from Fundación ESFRA (the non-profit I have been working with); together we hosted a workshop for approximately 15 people representing CONRED and various other organizations from around the Guatemala City Metro Area. At the end of the workshop, we officially handed off the project to CONRED! This was the official last step in my year-long project in Guatemala and was quite the way to wrap up all of my work!
There are still many steps needed to complete the project, including training and implementation. The non-profit and other Guatemalans will manage this best, which is why I have been training and transitioning myself away from this project in preparation for these next steps. I also just received word that the new leaders of the project made a ton of progress and are planning on meeting with various other municipalities to begin promoting and passing out the project information on a bigger scale. Awesome!
Now that I am ending this crazy adventure, I have taken time to reflect upon this past year. The richness of this country is unbelievable. For example, every time I went out into a community I always made a point to introduce myself to the families at each house I visited and we always stayed and chatted for a little bit. This aspect was very important to me as it helped build relationships, trust, and provided an opportunity for me to truly understand their lifestyles and how I could help develop something beneficial.
It was always fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of others, how they live, how they view things and their challenges. One of the Guatemalan stakeholders in my project told me this approach is the reason they thought my project has been so successful thus far—taking the time to truly understand the situation (from a first-hand view) is invaluable and, according to him, is sadly not the normal approach. He told me that many decisions are made for the people living in these precarious settlements and not with them. Therefore, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings that could be mediated with increased face-to-face communication.
It was also really fun getting to work with Fundación ESFRA each day! We made a lot of amazing friends and even had fun teaching each other our respective languages. I helped teach one of our friends in the office English. He asked me to teach him a word a day and by the end of my trip he had learned several phrases, which he took back to his family to practice using them with his daughter (who was learning English in school). In return, he helped me with my Spanish and he even taught me K’iche’—one of the many active Mayan languages in Guatemala.
K’iche’ is unlike any other language I have heard. It was so much fun to learn, but also very difficult. I bought two books written in K’iche’ to help me learn, one of which is called Popol vuh, a sacred Mayan book that explains the origin of the people, life, and their gods. My friend helped me translate parts of it. I also got an English version so I could read it fully and better understand. I highly recommend it.
This opportunity has been a dream-come-true. I have had a passion for humanitarian work since undergrad, and having the opportunity to come down to Guatemala, live within the culture, and utilize my education in a direct way to help improve the lives of residents here has been incredible.
I always hoped I could apply my engineering in this way, and to be given the opportunity to do so is amazing. I am truly lucky and I am definitely going to miss Guatemala and all of the great experiences I gained. I am also going to miss all the friends I made here this past year—friends who were infinitely patient with me as I learned Spanish and the culture, friends who opened up their homes to me and welcomed me into their family, and helped make this past year one I will always remember and hold dear. Lastly, I want to thank everyone who helped make this project possible. I would especially like to thank the InterExchange Foundation and the Christianson Grant for the generous funding and support.
Thank you everyone!
Until next time,