Happy New Year Amigos,
After spending some quality time at Christmas with our family in the Czech Republic we are feeling rejuvenated and excited to start a new year.
I want to take this time to share with you a bit about our experiences of the last three months. It has been both very difficult and rewarding, and depending on the day, we want to leave tomorrow, or stay forever. We have had a major disappointment with one of our programs, but we now have an exciting new pilot project at the Guatemala City Dump. Because of the success of the daycare we set up five years ago, they have asked us to implement our "Planting Seeds" philosophy in a reinforcement program at the grade one level. We continue to work on our new school in Sacala and hope to have an official opening probably sometime in February."El Jardin de Suenos"( The Garden of Dreams) preschool program will be starting its second year in the village of Xenecoj this month. After a very successful first year, parents are anxious to sign up their children and the mayor has once again agreed to pay the salaries of the teachers.
Just before Christmas, there was a land invasion right next to our daycare in the dump. Over a period of a few days, over 300 families moved onto a small piece of land which was at one time to be used to build a high school for "Camino Seguro". The daycare was shut down and it is still not known what is going to happen. If the owner of the land tries to remove them, they have guns and there will be bloodshed. It is a real dilemma and could escalate into a very dangerous situation.
Also, our teachers have been through very hard times this year. Several had difficulty getting to the classes because the bus lines were shut down. Many bus drivers have been killed lately because they refuse to pay protection. Last week in zone seven two men got on a bus, killed the bus driver and then proceeded to shoot all twenty passengers. Our new pilot project is located in this zone, so you can only imagine what some of our children have to go through on a daily basis. The police in Griselda's village have left town because vigilante groups recently assassinated a police officer because he was extorting money from the villagers.........so their town has no police "protection". Madeli , who was the principal in Pastores last year was robbed after taking a teacher's salary out of a bank machine at knife point. It was very traumatizing for her. One of our teacher's assistant’s, Anner lost his Grandfather just before Christmas. He was 71 years old and lived alone. Apparently intruders came in ransacked his house, tied him up, blindfolded him and then murdered him. The family has no idea why, because he was a very poor man.
In spite of their personal hardships, the training went very well. We trained 16 new teachers including four from an orphanage (Seeds of Love) in Paramos. We were not able to build furniture for them, because we were too busy this year, but they are very keen to use the "Planting Seeds" program as a model for other Children's homes in Guatemala. They have a beautiful spot in the country which should provide an ideal setting for their new programs. We have agreed to supervise the program and offer ongoing support. We have hired Madeli, who has worked for us for many years to co-train the teachers and co-ordinate the programs when we are in Canada. Yesterday we ran into an American fellow who asked us to train some teachers for him last year. He told us they were so motivated by the "Planting Seeds" training program they each wanted to set up their own programs, so he got sponsors for them, and they now have their own little schools. Also after the two week training program it gave his group a better idea of how to train teachers in a very limited amount of time, and they have gone onto to train 17 more teachers last year, and are going to do the same this year, so it seems Early Childhood Education is finally receiving the attention necessary to help change Guatemala's future.
The furniture construction team, as usual did phenomenal work. In three weeks they built all the furniture for the new school in Sacala and for the pilot project at the Guatemala City Dump, and also replaced many pieces for the daycare. We are at a loss as to what more we can say to our dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been down here four and five years in a row. It doesn't matter how much work needs to be done, we always seem to have just the right number of volunteers and the necessary amount of time to finish. Your enthusiasm, support and hard work set such a special tone for this Community House. On behalf of the children whose lives are enriched daily because of your efforts, we want you to know the new sense of personal worth, and the intrinsic joy of really "learning how to learn" has been transformational in the lives of each and every student. The lifelong skills they have acquired in such a short period of time is inspirational to see.
In February, there is a large team coming from River of Life Church in Arnprior. They have worked through "Oneness" for the past two years building houses with "From Houses to Homes". This year in addition to that, they are working with a project in Santa Lucia. They have raised funds for the first stage of a community center and will be building it when they are here. They will also be building chicken coops, setting up a feeding center and visiting widows of the community. This is a very hard-working dedicated group and we support them in their efforts to make a difference in this small Guatemalan village.
John and Dorothy are returning in February to meet with the Village of Sacala. For five years they have tenaciously worked with this village trying to get them a well. It has been nothing less than a "labour of love". Despite major disappointments year after year, they have continued to raise funds, consult with the experts and deal with local politicians to keep the dream of "water for the people of Sacala" alive. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them as they once again attempt to get the necessary paper work to give them access to the land for the well. We are with them in spirit and recognize and appreciate the tremendous effort put forth on behalf of a struggling people.
In March, Ana Rosa and other representatives of the Retired Teachers of Ontario will be visiting the small mountain village of Tioxya to see our preschool and deliver supplies purchased with a grant from RTO. This organization will also be paying the teacher's salary for one year. It is through the efforts of our dear teacher friends that this was able to happen.
At the end of March Pam and Rich from Wisconsin will be arriving to take over the Community House. After working with us for two years, they graciously accepted to run the house for a few months, which helps us pay for the rent and household expenses during the summer.
After a very meaningful experience last year, they are looking forward to bringing more teams down this year to build homes for the poor.
We look forward to spending some quality time with this group before our return to Canada on the first of April. On top of being dynamo workers, they are truly a fun group.
Since our lease for the Community House is being renewed for two more years, and we have received further funding to cover the shortfall of our yearly expenses (thanks to bulldog Marjorie), it looks like our House of Service is meant to continue for a while. Though it has been very labour intensive, the rewards have far outweighed the struggles, and the personal transformations that we have been able to witness, provide the incentive for us to continue this, mostly satisfying(sometimes overwhelming) work.
A very special thank you to Angie MacDonald and Bill Behan for many long hours of work revising and updating our website www.oneness.ca It is a huge amount of work, and the sharing of your unique talents and skills has been such a gift to us.
We are so sorry that we have not been able to answer some of our personal emails. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We hope this newsletter at least brings you up to date, and reminds you of how important each of you is to this mission.
In Peace Love and Joy,
We Remain in Solidarity with the Poor of Guatemala,Susan and Richard