Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Setting Writing Goals

The things I want to accomplish this semester are mainly to organize and put into action my ideas. I had an amazing experience this summer and it’s only been a couple weeks and it already feels like the inspiration is slowly slipping through my fingers.
            I met incredible people who do so much to help others. I was there to see these people make sacrifices to do the best job; there were opportunities to slack and perhaps take an afternoon nap. But these people were constantly trying to improve the projects for the kids, filing paper work, making and preparing materials. What I value most about their work is the fact that I can trust them to do and choose the best for the kids.
            As we prepared to leave on the field study, our mentors and teachers emphasized our need to do reciprocity for those who we worked with and had hosted us. I tried to keep an eye open for anything I could do, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I realized what would actually be helpful for the organization.  It took some time to really see what would be most helpful. In the beginning I was thinking about the generic aid strategies, money, shoes, and yes those would be helpful but they’re a few more specific things that would help out the facilitators. They work a lot with the kids in big fields, and use athletic equipment every day.  Orange cones are used multiple times a day! They also need soccer balls, pumps, and paint to make materials.
            Just in case I didn’t catch what they needed just based on my observations, I asked the project coordinator what he thought would be a good contribution. It made me happy when he said, “Can you just stay here forever?” Later we discussed the possibility of starting a sponsoring program for the kids. The facilitators in El Salvador would seek out the cases that need the most help, and I would help to match them up with a sponsor here. We haven’t quite set up a system yet; maybe the sponsors can each be for a specific athletic equipment for one of the communities.
            This is where I need some planning, and organizing. How can I continue to help while I am here? Ultimately I would love to be able to set a somewhat self-sustaining system I can manage and advertize for.  I have thought about setting up a fundraiser, or “awareness” booth somewhere. And would these be the best ways to help? I can’t physically be there to help all of the time…even though I would love to. 
            I think writing will be a good chance to not only explore and develop the ideas born on this trip, but writing can also help me solidify my good intentions and actually make something happen. I am not out to change the world, but rather make those small changes that can make life a little easier for those who already give and do so much.  One thing for example, would be helping one of the facilitators finish his home. He works everyday teaching soccer to the kids; he has children of his own, and has been saving to finish his home for a while now. He only needs $300.  And I need to think of a way to let people know how to help. And to be completely honest, I believe I need some idea-development myself. Where there is a will there is a way!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Thoughtful Return

I know I have changed as a result of my experience because I feel like I have finally resolved a huge inner conflict I had been battling for a few years now. I was born in El Salvador, but moved to the US when I was still young. Even though I always remembered my country and my many youthful adventures there I knew that there was something keeping me from belonging there. I know I came back, I know I left my homeland once more, however this time have taken back my right to say that I am from El Salvador. My trip changed me as I have taken back my pride to be a foreigner. It was easy to try to ignore my past once I was here. The many adventures, sunrises and sunsets I lived in El Salvador, were quickly silenced by the mocking laugher of the children who pointed at me in middle school for not speaking their language, for wearing old clothes, and for simply being different.
The lessons from my experience I never want to forget are the ones that were taught to me by the children I had the pleasure of working with. These kids march forward in life, barefoot, malnourished, yet with a big smile on their face. They are the most creative children I have ever seen. They will turn the dimmest environment into a playground even Fisher Price would be jealous of. I never want to forget this optimism. Its not that they are unaware that they don’t have much, they watch TV they know how the rest of the world lives, but they don’t let this affect their ability to create happiness.
I wish I could explain to my family and friends that I was not on vacation for three months. I feel like even though I have explained it a thousand times, and gone as far a posted my blog on my Facebook page people still think I just went to vacation for the summer. They really don’t realize how much work this was. They don’t realize how mentally and physically challenging these few months have been.  I taught almost 3 classes a day. And each class was in a different town; somewhere up to 30 minutes away or more in the motorcycle. By the end of the day, my arms legs and booty were exhausted. Sometimes there wasn’t enough time to eat a proper breakfast or lunch. Mentally—well imagine trying to control a class of twenty-four 12 to 17 year olds. I had to find new ways to keep them engaged, and enthusiastic about coming to the classes. By the end though, the hour and a half class time did not seem like enough time to spend with the kids.
Now that I am home the thing I want to do with this experience is use it to fuel my next project. I want to create an aid program to collaborate along side with FUNDAMUNI (the organization I worked with) to bring more uplifting changed to these war-affected regions of El Salvador. Throughout my experience in high school and college here in the United States I have heard about countless aid relief efforts and organizations involved with helping all of the Central American countries, except for El Salvador. I know it is dangerous to go there…but I was born here, my siblings still live here, the kids I spent three months with count on a future to live in this same country so many are afraid to visit. There are organizations here, but really how many times have you heard, “Aid for Guatemala! Nicaragua, and Honduras”? It is El Salvador’s turn. I want begin writing the backbone of this organization. I don’t know how to call it yet (I am open to suggestions) but ultimately I need a framework, a story, and a written form to explain and convey what needs to be done in El Salvador and how everyone can help.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Water and Sanitation

I don't think I found many surprises when looking at the sanitation aspects of my stay. Everything is dirt. There are dirt roads, and dirt floors, though I don't  think this necessarily means everything is "dirty".
What I did love was the fact that everyone is very conscious of washing their hands before they eat. Its good I also got in the habit of that. Even the most run down place to eat will have a little sink on the side. And if its a house where they are serving the food, the clients are welcome to go into the house to wash their hands. It was very interesting having this opportunity to check out many little homes this way.

One of the major problems I found were the latrines. This was the most high quality facility I found in all of Chalate. At least there is paper! The problem with this is that bugs and such get into.. yeah, and spread any diseases that might be there...  covering it helps, but as you can see not everyone remembers to do so.

The other problem is the water and how it is way too public. For example one day I saw a child and a horse drinking from the same poso, or little water whole. I don't know but this didn't seem too safe for me. Animals and people shouldn't share it all..

This is where the people drink from. These faucet are commonly found around soccer fields, parks, or town plazas.

 Its is a good thing however to see that there is clean water available!

This water is very clean compared to the lake near by. One day I was complaining about the heat, to one of the town's people. He told me it was too bad that the lake was so dirty. I walked a little up town and saw what he was talking about... 

I don't know if the people have just developed super strong immune systems from all the exposure they get, but I was surprised to see how they stored water in one of the schools...
They are open containers, with dirt, animals, and leafs falling inside. This day the girl here (Jessica) was getting some water to cook. They were making dulce tipicos. The kids have dulceria-which is a class where they are taught how to make these candies. After they made the batch we ate it! Using leafs as our plates! It was very good, I took a picture of it too.
Super YUMMY! Even though it looks a bit suspicious haha.

 If you had just had a accident, or anything that needed immediate attention this is what would take you on the dumpy road, about 40 to 2 hours to the hospital in the biggest city of the departamento (state).
Okay, so some of my last concerns were for the emergency preparedness, awareness, and response. The problems are the lack of transportation, facilities, and equipment. The roads are very inaccessible, and the ambulances are falling apart. 

Most people have to depend of local medicine in their towns. There usually is a town "curandero" or "sobadero" who can take care of broken bones, or sprained ankles, etc. I don't know how to put videos on this thing, we took one of my friends to a sobadero to get his shoulder fixed. These people don't to study how to massage the muscles, or what herbs to take--they just pass on the knowledge to the next person. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good basic understanding of the plants around them and how these can be used as medicine.

I love the fact that 3 months were long enough time to get a look as many areas of public health. I had time to go to the schools and hospitals, and towns meetings about programs, etc. There are a lot more stories and observations to talk about and share. This was a good way to begin to introduce the many challenges these communities face on a daily base.

Monday, July 16, 2012

THIS is what we do!

I really had no idea how much FUNDAMUI does for the communities they work with. I have been able to learn so much and do so much so far.
I can't believe I only have two weeks left in the field, each day goes by so fast!

So, FUNDAMUNI basically works in projects. First they see the unique necessities of each community and then they form campaigns to execute them. What I love about the projects is that they are done and organized locally. The main office of the organization is in the capital. Life in the capital is 100% different than life in these communities. Unless you are from these places you have no idea what the real problems are. FUNDAMUNI not only recognizes that, but also is doing something to solve this comprehension gap.

For their campaigns they hire a community representative to join the project. These representatives, run, organize, and report back to the office. In each 'departamento' or state of the country FUNAMUNI has an office. Right now FUNDAMUNI has been working most closely with children in Chalatenango. This is where I've been living Tuesday through Saturdays. The athletics, soccer, and dance teacher (me) live in San Salvador, we travel each week and live at the office, which is a big house with beds, etc. for us to live in.
The representatives of the communities are also teachers. Most of them only teach in their community, it is us who teach more specialized things that travel to all the communities. And we sure travel a lot! Even though it can be exhausting I am truly getting to see it all!

Every Friday morning, from 8am to 12pm all the teachers from all the communities meet in the main office of the state to discuss the week. We plan out the next week, see how to solve problems, and develop future projects.

I love blogs with fotos, that's why I make the effort to take pics! This is what we do.....

I already talked about the trash collecting campaign, but there are more.

FUNDAMUNI gave each family a fruit tree to plan in their land. This is going to not only provide the family with fruit to eat, but also a source of income if they decide to sell the fruit. The children loved when we delivered the trees to their school :)

 The kid in the middle of this
picture is seriously a little MESSI! Best soccer player I've seen yet. And the plays in his socks...

The soccer league we have going on is also a big deal. Each community has four teams compete for the trophy. There is the kid's team (ages 8-13) and the youth (13-17).  Each age group has a team of boys and a team of girls. Some of the kids that are on the teams are in my dance workshops. They dance at the tournaments, were the winning team gets a trophy and the dances a diploma of participation and a dance uniform for the school to keep.

FUNAMUNI makes it a point to begin each game telling the kids that this is for fun. That rivalry is not good and that they should understand that they are all part of a bigger team. The organization provides the kids with uniforms, soccer balls, and transportation to each event. This is the final between two communities, it takes many weeks for all communities to play one another until only two are left for the final. The final was held on a Saturday. Parents came, siblings came, many of the town folk came. Local food vendors also came to the event to make some money. That day I ate a mango with chile, ice cream, yuca frita, and yes my belly hurt a little after but it was well worth it.
The organization also brings the kids Gatorades and apples as snacks. There was music, and big speakers were the rest of the town could hear each play.

FUNAMUNI also has painting workshops, there are murals all over the towns painted by the children. I will make sure to take a picture of some this week when I travel to the different places.

These programs are not funded by the schools. If it wasn't for FUNDAMUNI they would not be also to discover the arts such as painting and dancing. And they would not be able to receive athleticism or soccer classes. This is what I like about Public Health. It's not about fixing something necessarily broken, but it is about improving and preventing on a large scale.

What is coming up now is the carrera de kilometro (The kilometer mile race) in this event kids get to participate in an Olympics type project. We have gone around to each community and held races, long jumps, and other olympic games and have selected teams to represent each community. On the 28th we are bringing these kids to the capital to compete for a trophy here in a stadium in the city. The kids are super exited to get the change to come compete here in a real stadium. And my kids are going to be dancing!! ah!!

On a side note.... El Salvador truly has some great athletes, artists and dancers! Not to mention the little Leo Messi, I'm sure when he grows up he will be on the national team!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Common knowledge in El Salvador...

I've encountered some pretty interesting common knowledge here. Now, before I begin I don't mean to make fun of people's belief's here... Though, some of the things are kind of funny.

This common knowledge covers all subjects, health and well being, and everyday life.

So, I went to eat valiadas at this place that had a ton of water bags hanging from the roof. When I asked the cook why  she had these up she said it was to scare the flies away.   ???? Yeah, so I asked her how?  She said she had no idea...and that frankly she didn't think it worked, but that they looked nice anyway.
After spending half my lunch time waving the flies off my place, I ended up agreeing with her--the bags did look nice...

Here is the fly fighting bag..

There also seems to be a lot of common knowledge and advice concerning babies. The other day I heard a lady say that hiccups could be cured if you put a red string on the baby's forehead. It was the same lady that told me that one should not eat and breast feed at the same time, because the baby could choke on a crumb.

There is also a bracelet that prevent people from giving babies "the stink eye". If they are not wearing this bracelet someone could give them the "eye" and one of their eyes could turn smaller than the other, they could even die.

What's really interesting to me is that this is not one person's beliefs. Most people I have talked to have had plenty of these to give me advice with. 

I had a dog hair fly in my mouth, so I spit it out. I was told that if I ate five of those I would become infertile..

No one really knows how these things happen, but they do.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trash collection campaign!

We dance, but we also pick up trash! Every two months or so we organize a "campaƱa de limpieza" which translates to a trash collection campaign. Basically we gather all the kids from one community and meet at the local park or soccer field, we bring trash bags the kids bring their hands and we clean up!
I love it! Especially because we are teaching the kids that throwing the trash everywhere affects their own community. People in El Salvador have a nasty habit of throwing everything everywhere. People pee on the sidewalks and throw their trash out their windows.
So, we start them early and attempt to teach them to take care of their planet earth...

Here are the little trouble makers hard at work!

Contamination does worry me. The same day we were cleaning up we had a case of a sick little boy. He was throwing up and feeling faint. His big sister said he had been like that for a few days now... she said he must have eaten something.
I agree. If he drank contaminated water, washed food with contaminated water, or prepared a meal with contaminated anything this could make him sick. As a Public Health major I am closely paying attention to everything around me that is health related, and it is a lot.

While working here in Chalatenango I've had the pleasure to meet this little boy, his name is Jairito. He is such an example to all of us... he is also one of the biggest trouble makers! He lifts the young girl's skirts with his toes..haha. I can't help but wonder if the contamination around this area, both environmental and prenatal had anything to do with his condition. 
Jairo is an example to all.