Nesselhuf continues ‘sharing the dream’ in Guatemala

Nesselhuf continues 'sharing the dream' in Guatemala
Editor's note: Diane Nesselhuf of Vermillion has returned to Guatemala to work on Sharing the Dream and other projects designed to improve the lifestyle of that country's residents. Below is the first of her travel journals, sent to the Plain Talk by e-mail.

Sunday, June 25

As you can see, I am back in Guatemala. I arrived Saturday, June 24 in the evening. The airplane sat in the runway in Dallas for one hour before we took off, so we arrived late. Diana, who stays at the Sharing the Dream centre, came with the taxi and picked me up. We went back to the centre, had a bite to eat and then went to bed. Sunday morning Diana fixed me eggs and beans for breakfast and then Virginia came. Virginia works for Sharing the Dream part time and is in charge of the centre. Before Virginia came, I had time for a cup of coffee and then went and looked at the garden. Kevin had cleaned it when we were here in February and I had planted some things. The garden looked great. The plants are huge. I think it is from all the rain they have been having.

About 9:00 Rosemary came. Rosemary is one of our students who had a scholarship through high school, now English school, and will start college in January. The scholarship is thanks to a family in New York. She couldn't start college until January, so we thought going to English school on Saturdays was a good thing to do. She says she enjoys it.

Virginia and I worked with Rosemary on making jewelry. I had brought down a lot of beads and Virginia is a designer, so we thought we could handle helping her. Rosemary works very fast and is very bright, so she caught on quickly. She has a good eye for color so was quickly designing her own. We wanted Rosemary to learn to bead so she can have an income while going to college. We will pay her for making the jewelry and then sell it back home. Rosemary is the one who has three disabled sisters, so right now she takes care of them during the week and beading is something she can do at home.

Virginia has been checking around to find groups or families who make beads or do the silver findings. She says she thinks she has found an area of the country that does this, so she is going to check this out. She reminded me that I should be staying an extra month because she has new groups with new products she wants me to meet. We did our work on the top floor of the centre and it was beautiful. It was sunny and warm and we had lots of light.

In the afternoon, I packed up my things because we are going to the mountains for five days. I am taking my lap top because all of the information I need is on it for working with this group, so I don't have much room for clothes. It is rainy season, so I need a change of shoes and rain gear. I pack things in my computer bag and take another small backpack. Virginia and I leave and go to her house, which is closer to the bus stop for tomorrow morning. It has started to rain.

It is really pleasant at Virginia's. They live in the country in a small house that they built and the scenery is beautiful. I am staying in a small house up the hill from hers. It is two stories with the kitchen and bath on the bottom and the bedroom on top. Staying in the bedroom is like staying in a tree house. It is on a hill surrounded by trees and overlooks the mountains.

The rain, however, doesn't stop. Virginia said we will be lucky to get to Comitancillo tomorrow and hopefully there won't be any mud slides. She said there have already been a couple. Comitancillo was hit pretty hard last year when Hurricane Stan went through and they still haven't been able to repair homes. That is one of the things we are going to look at.

The evening was very pleasant. I had dinner with Virginia and then went back to my tree house. It is so peaceful there, I wanted to enjoy it. I have been pushing myself to get things done at home before the trip, so I found out I was very tired on Sunday. This will be a way to rejuvenate before taking off. Last week, I had a talk with my husband and he said sometimes a person needs to slow down. He said that in the Bible, it says, "Be still and know that I am God." He also said it doesn't say, "Be busy and know that I am God." Last night I felt the stillness. I took time to just enjoy the view and the rain on the roof and do some meditation and prayer. I didn't get out my computer or do any work. I did feel the stillness. So Ed, your words of wisdom sunk in? at least for an evening.

It is now 6:30 on Monday morning. I had a chance to shower, pack up and now I will go catch a bite to eat with Virginia before we take off. She has planned most of our travels in the morning, as that is usually when it isn't raining.

Monday, June 26

Today is the start to our journey to Comitancillo. It is probably one of my least favorite places to travel to. It is a long way on curvy roads. I love the people and place when I get there, but traveling is not fun. Erwin, Virginia's husband, took us to the local village to catch a bus to San Marcos. We left at 7:30 and caught the bus a little after 8. It was a first-class bus, but what a ride. When we got on, it was full with standing room only? so we stood for about 15 minutes and about six more people got on.

The driver's helper must have felt sorry for Virginia and me, so he said to come forward. He put a cushion down for me right next to the driver, behind the shifting gear, and a newspaper on the steps for Virginia. So this is how we traveled. It wasn't too bad until the driver had to shift into fourth gear. I was turned towards the door so when he shifted into fourth, the shifting gear and his hand went into my left arm pit. I tried moving more forward but then the shifting gear and his hand hit my left breast. I went for the arm pit. So this is how we rode for over three hours.

The driver's helper also wanted to put on a CD for us in English. Great idea, but the first song was Another One Bites the Dust � not particularly what I wanted to hear.

It started to rain, more people got on, including the lady with the two baskets of food that she was selling. So now Virginia and I are sharing the space with her, two baskets, and the driver's helper. Again it wasn't bad until every time he went into fourth gear. Now you would think this was all that could happen, but oh, no ? a kid two rows back on my side apparently was ill and did projectile vomit. It hit several people on either side, missed me except for what was running down the aisle. Anyhow, everyone pitched in and handed tissue and helped. My contribution was Virginia's newspaper under her seat which was used to stop the flow coming down the aisle. By this time, though, the driver had found a cushion for her.

Then we were stopped by the police so they could check papers of people on board. I don't know who they were looking for, but they didn't ask for my papers. This happened in a very cold part of the country. In fact, it was freezing with the doors open. Virginia said this area is called Alaska.

This total experience lasted about four hours. We got to Xela and several people got off, so the driver's helper wanted me to sit in the front seat. I think the driver was relieved. Then two pretty girls got on and one sat behind the shifting gear and one sat in front. They seemed to fit much better than me.

I rode comfortably for about an hour. Thirty minutes from San Marcos, where Ruben was to pick us up, we had another problem. Going down a hill, the bus stopped. I mean dead. The driver's helper jumped out and went to the engine, along with several men from the bus. They tried and tried to start it, but it wouldn't start. Of course, there was no signal for the cell phone right here, so we couldn't contact Ruben. A chicken bus came by and Virginia said, "Let's go." Virginia and I and another dozen people. We ran for the bus. We got in the back door, which was about 3 feet off the ground. I was the last one up and over as the bus starts out.

Now we are in a very crowded chicken bus for 30 minutes. Of course, I have two backpacks and Virginia has a backpack and a large bag. We did make it to San Marcos. Virginia kept remarking that it was just another day traveling in Guatemala. Anyone reading this who has thought of going on one of my trips, don't panic ? with groups, we also have our own van and very seldom take public transport. I save these adventures for when I am alone. I told Virginia it was pretty good entertainment for the $5 bus ticket.

When we got to San Marcos, we grabbed a bite to eat and found Ruben. He had come to get us to take us the rest of the way to Comitancillo. We rode with him and Isabel in the pickup for about an hour. Isabel works with the craft groups, and Ruben is the head of AMMID, the group that we work with there. We arrived in Comitancillo a little after 4.

We went to the office of AMMID and had a meeting. We met some of the field workers. AMMID is an interesting group, because it was started by Ruben and Isabel, who are indigenous and from Comitancillo, and all the field workers are indigenous. That doesn't happen too often.

The first thing we discussed was the chicken project. This project will help the women in the craft group. There are 80 women who will be provided with chickens and training in how to keep them. The women must provide the chicken houses before they get them. This is all covered in the training. They must disinfect the area where the chickens will be, etc. Each family would receive a "poultry module" comprised of nine hens and one rooster of the "Zazo" breed.

Let me explain a bit about Comitancillo. Comitancillo is one of the poorest towns in Guatemala. As is to be expected, the effects of the "Stan" storm of October 2005 only made worse an already difficult situation of vulnerability for the people of Comitancillo. Women, who are the sector of society that is at the lowest level in terms of human development, were most especially affected. The greatest damage is found in the loss of fertile lands and the harvest of this year. (It is estimated that 80 percent of the harvests of corn, basic grains and fruit was lost). In this way, the already precarious food security levels plummeted and the risks of famine were high.

The women, who take responsibility for providing food for their children, need help � help which will permit them to confront their daily food shortages. Under these circumstances, we estimate that it is better to strengthen the family's income through production, rather than receive donations of food.

Isabel talked about the need for corn, and the worry the women have about not being able to feed their families. The eggs will really help. I explained that the project is a result of the women's work. They are in a

cooperative and this is one of the benefits of this. It is to be stressed to the men and to the children that this is a direct result of the women's work. The women present really became animated when this point was made and

said this is a very good thing. Ruben said thank you and this would really lessen the need for as much as food and they will learn some new skills.

Through donations from many of you, we have the money needed to fulfill this

project. There will be photos taken of each stage of this project. The total amount for the project is $6,647.76.

We then spent some time discussing the craft project. Sharing the Dream is basically their only buyer, so we talked about other markets and how to contact them. We discussed the price of products and fair wages for the women. We found out that some of the products that we had designed with them were not giving the women a very good wage. We asked them what was a fair wage for the women? The women in the group worked it out and they felt that Q3 per hour was a good wage. That is about 40� an hour. The women can only work for about 5 hours per day, and they thought that Q15 ($2.00) was good. So, we went back to the drawing board on many of the products. We decided that if the women can't get Q3, we would do one of several things � not do the product, reduce the size of the product or use some parts of the product and combine it with a faster weave.

We worked quite late and then Virginia and I headed back to our little hotel in the rain. It was a long day..


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