So much has changed since I last posted a blog. For one, the year has changed (hello, 2017), but also this is a new time of different projects that World Renew is working on here in Guatemala; new year, new changes.
Since it's been so long since I've written, I should probably give an update on what happened at the end of last year as well. Last November, Bethany and I traveled with our coworkers to Chiapas, Mexico to visit one of the partner organizations there (World Renew Guatemala works with four partner organizations here in Guatemala and one in Mexico). The partner organization in Mexico is called Diaconía Chiapas, and while we visited they were starting to do community assessments in a new community, El Corozo. Bethany and I split up and while she listened and wrote the history of the community (based on the information she was given from different community members), I observed (and semi-facilitated) a community-mapping activity. In a community-mapping activity, some of the community members come together and draw their community, labeling the assets that can be used for future community projects. The participants label things like houses, roads, lanes, gardens, schools, churches, and rivers, among many other things. This community labeled some fruit trees too, because they're a source of food for some families. My boss pointed out that often the participants will forget to label things like power lines or sewage systems, or they forget to draw a key at the bottom, showing the different symbols they used. The goal of the map is not only to make the participants more aware of the assets and resources they have around them, but to also increase the pride they have in their community. I loved seeing how much care and effort the participants put into their map to make it look nice and accurate. Afterwards, my boss went over it with them and asked them what each part was and then asked them how they felt about their community after the mapping exercise, to which the participants responded that they felt good about their community.
In December, Bethany and I led a two day training for the four partner organizations in Guatemala. Two people from each organization attended, so we had a total of eight people in the trainings. The goal of the trainings was to show the importance of reporting and to show what belongs and is needed in a report. The reports are read by donors, the home office, partnering organizations, and many other people, so they need to include complete, accurate information and meet certain criteria. Pictures are also great to include for people who like visual representations. Although I was really nervous about leading a training in Spanish, it went well and parts were fun! Bethany and I created activities and encouraged conversations as a way of learning between us and the partners. I actually ended up learning a few things too! Needless to say, we were extremely tired after those two days!
Luckly, when I flew back to Guatemala from Christmas break, my coworker was picking up a team from Pease, Minnesota that was coming to visit the communities of the partner organization, Vid y Pámpanos. They had plans to paint a school and add a room to one of the other schools. I only was able to spend three days with them while we were returning to Xela from Guatemala City, but it was wonderful to see their group interact with such joy and excitement. They all got along so well and their hearts for the Lord were so evident for all to see. I got to know a couple of the group members more in depth, and it was so encouraging and amazing to see how all of the different paths Christ had brought them on all converged on this trip. Everyone seemed to have such different background stories and the fact that some were willing to share those with me was such an honor and a blessing.
Bethany traveled with the group while I stayed in the office and worked on some reports and started the grant process for a Village Savings and Loans Project. Since many people in rural communities often don't have access to formal banking--either due to the distance, time constraints, lack of ability to read, or not having enough money to open an account--village savings and loans tends to be a better option. I started doing research and found some videos pertaining to savings and loans in rural communities and found some great information on them. The concept of village savings and loans is pretty simple, but for them to work effectively, all of the members have to trust each other. The members (they have to volunteer to be a part of the group) elect a board of directors and then proceed to make rules for their group, such as what will happen if someone doesn't pay back a loan, how often members can withdraw loans and to what amount, the criteria for being a member of the group, and so on. Each member has a book where they can track the amount of money they put into the cash box and how much they take out for loans. The members put their income into a metal box with different locks on it that different members keep the keys to, to prevent stealing. During the meetings, members can request a loan for different things (seeds, school materials, cloth, etc.) up to a certain percentage of their income. Then they pay it back with interest. The goal is that participants will be able to expand their materials (seeds, etc.) and be able to increase their income from that. All of the four partners have selected groups of women that have already been formed in their communities for this project (of course, the women have to volunteer for this project). Last week I made a concept note outlining the details of the project. It'll be reviewed and I'll find out if I need to make changes or not. After the concept note is approved, then I'll start to form a plan with the different partners on how to implement this project.
Although my time here has been littered with periods of growth and change--some really hard and some not as much--as well as incredibly sweet times with people, Christ has been so present through it all and I can feel him drawing me closer to Himself through different situations I encounter. It doesn't always feel like this; sometimes I wander and can't feel his presence, but I know he'll always be there. It's also very comforting to know that Christ is the one who does the work through everyone; we get our strength and abilities from him. It totally helps take away stress when I can lean on this sweet reminder!