During pre-service training (PST) I lived in a community not far from the PC headquarters and even closer to beautiful Antigua. The amount of information and the pace of training made my head spin. I learned how much of an introvert I am (I knew, but now I REALLY know). Living and working in an incubator type setting was challenging.Nevertheless, I gained from every minute of my experience and I had a great group of friends and staff to share it with.
After ten weeks of PST I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) by U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, Todd D. Robinson. [Photo by Adriana Darris]
There were twenty-six of us Volunteers to join the ranks of the existing PCVs in Guatemala.
Above: Our group, known as Bak’tun 8, had, two weeks earlier, elected Francisco M. to give a speech that would hopefully speak for all of us. His speech better than I could have imagined. You can read it on his blog: guatshappening.wordpress.com
We were over the moon with excitement on the day we were sworn in. The staff did a wonderful job of making it a beautiful ceremony for us, one that I will always cherish.
Photo below by Francisco M. Can you tell how excited we were?
A couple of days later, we had a mini-retreat with our new work partners. From our hotel I could see a dragon plume of smoke rise from Volcán Fuego.
My friend, Madeline, and I walked in the woods, grateful for the chance to slow down in nature.
Now the real work begins…or soon, when school reopens after the winter holidays.
The Peace Corps around the world has many programs. The one I work in is the Healthy Schools Project; my title is: Healthy Schools District Coordinator. The Healthy Schools project was created in 1993, by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. The Peace Corps joined the project in 1997. As the project evolved, in 2000, a national Healthy Schools commission (CONAES), was formed to oversee policy and strategies for the healthy schools project. The main goal is to promote a health among schools children: physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental.
Each Peace Corps Volunteer in this project is assigned a location in the country and a workpartner/s. My workpartners are two district school supervisors—commonly referred to as a CTA: Coordinador Técnica Administriva. Beginning in January I will work with ten schools in their districts. The CTAs will tell me which schools to work with and advise me on strategies, plans, people and resources. I will work with the teachers in each of the ten schools, offering them support for teaching the healthy schools content and create a sustainable healthy schools environment. This includes things like school gardens for vegetables, recycling, safe and healthy environments, playgrounds as well as addressing important values and issues such as non-bullying, sexual identity, girl-power (I can’t remember the technical phrase to that last one but that’s how I see it in my heart). It’s of significance to note that teachers in Guatemala are required only a sixth grade education, so the Healthy Schools Project also serves to expand their expertise as educators. Guatemalan school hours are only four hours a day and school days are lessened by absences, school strikes, and holidays. Because teachers must get home to their families, it is tricky to get them to stay for the Healthy School dialogues, in-service trainings and activities. But enough good work was done by my predecessors and CTAs here that now there are educators trained and certified to promote the work. That’s called sustainability. With a few more years of stable growth, Peace Corps Guatemala will end this program and turn its focus in another direction. In case you’re interested, there are two other Peace Corps programs currently active, Youth in Development and Maternal and Child Health.
For now, during the end of the holidays, I have time to settle into my new home and community. People are friendly and I already have many new acquaintances. I have to say, I thought that living in Latin America would be like a homecoming considering my Mexican heritage. But my Navajo heritage is what is most keenly expressed in my facial features. Everyday, people ask me if I’m from China. When I say words like “Mexican” “Navajo” “First American” I get blank stares. I get it when I look in the mirror; I see what they see and it makes me sigh and chuckle. The other day a man stopped me on the street and said loudly, “Where are you from? Because I know you’re not from America! You can’t be from America! You’re from China!” It turns out that it’s a great ice breaker, a way for me to introduce myself and expand awareness of the indigenous nations in the United States. Now Tano waves hello to me when I pass his house and he has offered me any assistance I need.
Today, a couple of miles away, while ordering pizza, another man, Jose, began talking to me. Turned out that he is Tano’s cousin and just like Tano, he was talkative. Both men spent over a decade living in Rhode Island so my conversations with both were in Spanglish. Jose explained a lot of words and phrases to me that I jotted down in my little vocabulary book. It’s filling up quickly.
By the way, a friend just asked me to recommend a good program for learning Spanish. Duolingo! But the best thing is to have a multifaceted approach to learning: audio (duolingo and podcasts — check itunes), writing (use a Spanish grammar book and do the lessons step by step), listening (watch Spanish language videos and movies), and speaking (find ways to practice with a native speaker). If you can have a goal, like a holiday in a Spanish speaking country, that might help keep you on track. Sí se puedes. Vaya!