Friday, May 6, 2011

Update Time!

I suppose its time for an update on the work I've been doing! Life has gone by in a relative blur
the past few months, and, exactly as I expected, fell off the internet-bandwagon. So, here is a snapshot of things I've been doing, and I PROMISE to update more often from now

on. I was re-inspired this morning after reading some other Peace Corps blogs, so off I go to take my place again in the blogosphere:

HELPS International Medical Mission: I had the incredible opportunity to translate for a medical mission in my town. The group is from St. Cloud Minnesota, and I'm just going to say: people from Minnesota are the nicest people on earth. I took up a myriad of jobs during the week; translating for the family physician, going on outreach with a small team composed of the emergency doc, nurse and one other translator, working in triage, and giving de-worming medication. It was a huge operation, consisting of nearly 15 doctors, 20+ nurses, a pharmacist, translators, coordinators and local Guatemalan medical professionals.

The lovely cooks for the week; celebrating Mardi Gras in Guatemala!

Erin Trenin, the HELPS Medical Team coordinator and RPCV and I

Next week, I will be heading to the coast with Charlie, my psuedo-sitemate to translate for another medical team.

Nutrition Classes at the Health Center: I have started giving nutrition charlas at the local health center to a group of women with underweight children, simultaneously (attempting) to train the nurses. I had my first big charla with roughly 50 women in attendance about a month ago. I did the charla in tandem with the head nurse, Amalia, who spoke not just about proper infant nutrition, but family planning as well. I continued with some elementary nutrition concepts and finished up with a baby-food demonstration where we mashed a ripe avocado with a local squash called "uuiskiil," (phonetic spelling), and then tried it on a little 5 month baby in the audience. The ladies loved it. I also shared Britini and Allie's "Tortialls Remolachas," recipie (tortillas with beet, they turn bright pink!), and they loved it. I am giving the next nutrition charla in about 2 weeks!

Nurse Amalia (in the brown lapel jacket near the front) giving her section of the charla
Baby food: avocado and guiskil (a local pumpkin-like vegetable)

PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan Funding AIDS/HIV Relief) Workshop: The regional HIV/AIDS coordinator, Abby Lohr, my sitemate Amanda, and I, gave a HIV/AIDS workshop funded by PEPFAR, the Bush-era program for international AIDS relief outreach and extension. The workshop is really interactive, and I especially loved the dynamic short-video developed at Stanford (you can find more information about PEPFAR and Stanford's HIV/AIDS initiative here), that can be subtitled in nearly every major language from Spanish to Hindu.

The workshop participants included every head health promoter at each "Centro de Salud," (Health Center) in my department of San Marcos. The agreement, then, is that after the workshop each health promoter receives a packet of materials to reproduce the workshop at his or her health center. The idea is that it continues replicating.

Guatemala has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Central American region, apart from Haiti. Many reasons, from social to epidemiological, assist in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Something interesting we are experiencing in Guatemala is rural women, who have never left their village, are contracting the disease. This is due mainly to men sleeping with other partners outside the marriage. We address issues such as these in the workshop, as controversial as they are.

Speaking about what activities can transmit HIV and what activities cannot - an activity that also addresses stigma related to the disease.

Animal Vaccination Campaigns: One of the challenging issues in food and nutritional security in the region is lack of access to animal products high in protien and vitamins. Animals die due to a plethora of diseases, are too weak to produce milk or cannot reproduce themselves. I work with HEIFER International, a U.S. based non-profit that gives farm animals to participating families, and then the animals are bred and given to other families. Its like a "pay-it-forward," set-up; a win-win. We just had a "pase de cadena," or formal meeting where animals are passed off from one family to the other.

Recently, I have been organizing vaccination campaigns to keep the animals healthy, and to teach the women how to organize a vaccination on their own. This is actually a very difficult process for many reasons: one, live vaccines only keep for a limited number of hours, making the purchase and transportation of the vaccine cut into time they have to actually administer. Plus, due to poor infrastructure and unreliable transportation, there is no guarantee that once the vaccines are purchased, they will even get to the community to which they are destined.

I have been considering starting a conversation with my mayor about making these vaccinations a public service. Its a pretty persuasive argument, considering that the vaccines are relatively cheap, animal owners are willing to pay the nominal fee per animal (many times 25 centavos to 3 Quetzales per animal, depending on size of animal and vaccine). Thus, the only real cost incurred to local offices would be transportation costs, which, in fact, are already part of the annual budget. We will see how this goes...

Other things Guatemala... I got a new puppy! She's about 3 months old now, and roughly 13-14 pounds. She is a handful right now, but really intelligent and so fun to play with. I'm also really loving the extra company when I am alone. She goes with me to all of my communities, and is the office mascot. I named her Kemba, after Kemba Walker the UConn Huskies player. Almost as if she knew, Kemba loves basketballs. LOVES them. Really, any ball too big for her to play with.

New Apartment: I moved! I'm into a new place that's clean, warm and spacious. I live on the 2nd floor of an apartment building in a two-room (literally, just two rooms, nothing else haha) place with a cute balcony decorated with roses and flowers. I share my bathroom with a really sweet El Salvadorean woman working for a Guatemalan road-construction company.

My building
Front Door
Pilla: My sink where I wash everything! And waste a lot of water
Street where I live

Speaking of El Salvador, Michele, Kevin, Tony and I went to a beautiful surfing spot in El Salvador, just up the coast from La Libertad, the main port. We spent the week learning to surf, eating great fish tacos and learning how to make pupusas, hanging in hammocks and just relaxing. It was a true vaccation :)
Learning how to make pupusas; an El Salvadorean food that is essentially like a stuffed tortilla (beans, cheese, chicken, fish), and served with a spicy coleslaw-type salad on top and tomato sauce. They are AMAZING!

I hiked Lago Chicabal recently with Michele and Paolo, a United Nations volunteer that works with my cooperative. Lago Chicabal is a sacred Mayan site where they have for hundreds of years, and still presently, used for sacred rituals and offerings. Littered around the entire lake (which is located at the summit of a small, active volcano) are Mayan alters used by the local Mam-speaking population.

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary celebration was held at the house of the American Ambasador, Stephen McFarland. It included the swearing-in ceremony of the new group of Ecotourism and Health School volunteers. Congrats to the 128th group of PCVs!
Oh...I cannot forget the bottle school! We are now up to roughly 1,000 bottles! We are still actively looking for funding and funding ideas, and partnering with local communities for more bottles. Progress is a little slower than anticipated, but still promising. Stay tuned!

In the coming weeks, I'll write another post with upcoming work events and activities: medical mission on the coast, alternative-crop garden construction (we're planting a special variety of red corn that carries a high potency of vitamin A and protein, found in the Italian Alps, quinoa and amaranth, along with other herbs and leafy greens. We got an irrigation system and special seeds donated, thanks to Semilla Nueva and Soluciones Communitarios, thanks guys!), the first eye glasses campaign by my women's group, and an interactive half-day workshop for almost 80 women on self-esteem and machismo culture in celebration of Mother's Day. More to come! Thanks for reading!

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