Day 1 – Guat’s Up San Lucas

June 22, 2016

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The Rigoberta Menchú Foundation

We are here. San Lucas Tolimán: a beautiful quaint town on the shore of what has been called the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Atitlán. Looking out across the surface of the lake is something like heaven on earth. With three volcanoes surrounding the deepest lake in Central America, it is a privilege to be at such beautiful place in the world. After months and months of preparations, two full weeks of intensive Spanish language training at CELAS Maya Spanish School in Xela, and after many hours traveling, we have arrived in San Lucas. We can tell that this next month will be fantastic.

We arrived yesterday on our shuttle to the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation, where we will be staying for a total of one month to conduct our projects. We were welcomed by two friendly staff workers at the foundation, Carmen and Mayra, greeted us and showed us the way to our new homes for the next month. We settled in and prepared for the first day of working on our projects today.

The foundation itself is really large and beautiful, right beside the lake. The Rigoberta Menchú Foundation, named after the one of the most influential Guatemalan individuals who gave voice to the indigenous Mayan people during the atrocities of armed conflict and the latter part of the 20th century. The foundation is a school, which has 176 grade-school students from all different towns around the lake. They teach over a dozen different subjects, including all the core subjects, Spanish, Kaqchikel (the native language), English, Music, Dance, Art, Homemaking, various trades, and a few other courses as well.

Carmen and Mayra cooked us a lovely dinner of Pasta, meat sauce, steamed zucchini, and bread with lemonade. We got to know them a little bit better as they cooked in the kitchen for us, talking with them and Carmen’s brother-in-law who was there visiting as well. We also received our room keys and were shown the rest of the facility. We are staying in dormitories – me (Logan), Aurora, Sarah, Brianna, and Emily. This is the UVA crew. Our project team consists of myself, Logan Haley, Sarah Dar, and Aurora Lofton. We are fortunate to have another team working alongside us in San Lucas. Emily and Brianna are working on a project in women’s reproductive health.

For our project we are working on water filtration in San Lucas Tolimán and other surrounding communities. The goal is to continue a on-going project started in 2010, which promotes water security and clean water access in rural communities through the free distribution of HydrAid BioSand filters to families. Since 2010, hundreds of families in these communities have received filters as a part of the UVA Guatemala Initiative after participating in an education class on how to use and maintain the filters. Our two main jobs this summer are to 1) check the water quality of from the filters already installed in families homes, and 2) collect survey information from each family about their filter usage and maintenance. From these goals stem many other specific goals, but our main focus is project sustainability this summer – sustaining the efforts of the already implemented filters and launching the filter project forward in the best ways possible for years to come.

This morning, we were fortunate to have an amazing pancake and fruit breakfast prepared by Carmen and Mayra. Afterwards, we were able to meet the staff members we are working  with for this month on the project. The two members working with Sarah, Aurora, and I on our project are named Elcia and Lesvia. Felipa is another staff member who has been with the project for the longest amount of time, and will be working with Emily and Brianna on the women’s reproductive health project. The staff members took us all on a tour of the city of San Lucas, which was such a cool opportunity.

Afterwards, we arrived at the Oficina (Office). This is where most of our project’s analytical work will be done. We were able to see all of the supplies available at the office while we talked with Elcia and Lesvia about the project more.

We returned to the Foundation to make a schedule for the month, including which days we would like to visit the communities to take water samples and conduct surveys, taking into consideration the days that Elcia and Lesvia are busy installing other filters. We may even have the chance to accompany them to install filters in some communities some days! While we were planning, we also looked at the questions we had prepared for the community surveys together. We shared them with Elcia and Lesvia, and they helped us to translate them into the best, most understandable Spanish questions as possible, although they will have to be translated into Kaqchikel (one of the native languages here) as well. After that work was done, we returned to a delicious lunch of steak and potatoes, rice and corn, and steamed carrots and green beans. It was ornate.

After lunch, we returned to the office to work with Elcia and Lesvia on printing some survey questionnaires and identifying the names of which families are our priorities to test their water quality and conduct the survey. We made a goal of 163 water tests to conduct today with Elcia and Lesvia, including families in San Martín, Xejuyú, and San Gregorio, in addition to testing public water sources in the communities, like the lake, wells, tanks, faucets, and rainwater. We felt like we got a lot of work done.

After preparing for the last two weeks with meetings with Jessica, the in-country coordinator of the UVA-GI, we have been figuring out different details every day that help us progress. It is surreal that the project is finally starting to happen, and we are excited to see how it goes. I personally can’t wait to look back at the end of this month and reflect on the work we will have done. We also cannot wait to experience the culture of Guatemala in a new and up-close way as we visit every family with Elcia and Lesvia.

Again, it’s going to be a great month.

-Logan Haley

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The view of Lake Atitlán from one of the docks at San Lucas during the sunrise is incredible.
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Here is another picture of the docks of San Lucas!
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Here is Lake Atitlán in full glory, courtesy of Google Images.
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