How are you doing ? On our side, the weeks go by quickly. We joined the Los Amigos de Santa Cruz teams two weeks ago already. Sarah having arrived on Wednesday to strengthen the teams, we now have various projects underway that will have to be delivered before we leave! Let’s start with a little overview of our missions.
#Our mission – from data collection to analysis
One of the point in common among my six adventures with NGOs is their growing need to have a more in-depth knowledge of their beneficiaries and the performance of their programs in order to measure the impact of their organization. As such, the collection of data as well as the analysis of the latter has become a critical issue for most non-profit organizations.
Alex, one of our contacts at los Amigos explained to us that the NGO had invested in the development of a software called Medida in which it is possible to record all the information relating to their beneficiaries as well as the follow-up of their programs. Each staff has access to information relating to beneficiaries such as their contact details, their family situation, household income, the number of brothers and sisters, etc. as well as program monitoring data such as their participation rate, their exam scores, the amount of scholarships allocated …
As volunteers, our mission is to help them improve their data collection and impact measurement processes. For example, within their “Women Empowerment” program where they support women in launching their businesses, it would be very interesting to measure over time the evolution of the financial contribution of these women entrepreneurs in relation to their total household income, changes in the budget allocated to children’s education or to what extent the Amigos program has an impact on gender equality within the household.
With Quentin, we are working on the “Women Empowerment” and “Formal Education” programs in order to identify the data to be collected upstream, to set up a digital data collection process and then to familiarize the teams with the creation of impact reports automatically generated via Medida. Our meetings sometimes take on fun turns when Spanish, French, Kaqchiquel and English are mixed. For their part, Marine and Sarah give English lessons every afternoon to different groups of young people in the village. At the same time, we are also working on a signage project aimed at promoting tourism in Santa Cruz and its surroundings.
#Life in the villages around Santa Cruz
The place of women in the community: the community operates on a still very patriarchal model. Men are expected to work and women are expected to stay at home to look after the children and cook. As the education of women is unfortunately not the norm, this considerably limits the participation of women in decision-making within the village and the family, their financial independence … while it is often they who contribute the most to household income. Tomasa, one of the leaders of the Women Empowerment program, told us that she was one of the exceptions because her father was in favor of her studying and had given her financial assistance. She told us about a promising initiative launched by two Argentines bringing together 37 women. Through early morning swimming lessons, they have created a space where these women feel safe. Discussion topics on their rights, their role within the community, etc. are thus discussed.
Jealousy: one of the most difficult “challenges” for an NGO with a strong involvement in a community to overcome is dealing with the jealousy of neighbors. Indeed, when a program works and benefits certain members of the village, the jealousy of the neighbors can quickly be felt and disrupt the dynamics of the village. For example, Tomasa explained to us that she had accompanied a group of 7 women from a neighboring village in the development of an organic egg business involving more than a hundred hens.
With an above-average income, some neighbors began by stealing chickens and throwing stones at this group of women. Los Amigos finally had to close this profitable activity. The secret: to have a strong integration within the village in order to sensitize its inhabitants.
Corruption: Corruption is unfortunately omnipresent in Guatemala. Numerous demonstrations are currently taking place. One of the latest demands: the disappearance of $ 80M in international aid linked to Covid-19. Among the villages around Lake Atitlan, the village of Santa Cruz is unfortunately no exception. He has lagged behind on education and economic development issues. As the level of education has always been very low, local elected officials often themselves have gone to school very little. In addition, small projects that can have a strong impact within the village (renovation of roads, education, promotion of local culture, etc.) are often neglected in favor of more profitable projects such as luxury hotels on which it is easier to take a “cut” in the pocket.
#The unforgettable volcanic eruptions of El Fuego volcano
This weekend will be etched in our memories for the rest of our lives. We set off to explore the Acatenango (4000m) and Fuego (3800m) Volcanoes located in the vicinity of Antigua. As the temperatures can go down to negative, we had to rent some equipment before leaving.
Accompanied by Luis – our local guide, we started with a 4 hour trek to Acatenango base camp located in front of the Fuego Volcano. Once there, we were completely in the clouds… Bad luck… However, a guide told us about the local saying: “Todo es posible, nada es seguro”. A little disappointed, we had settled down to sleep until a thunderclap sounded accompanied by screams of excitement. The clouds were gone, revealing a magnificent explosion of lava coming out of the Fuego which began to flow along the volcano. It was wonderful ! At the stroke of 11 p.m., the guide in charge cleared a night approach to the Fuego in order to explore the eruption more closely. With Quentin and the guide, the 3 of us went to the front for 4 hours of additional trek to descend part of the Acatenango and climb the Fuego to a mountain ridge serving as an observatory located a few hundred meters from the Fuego crater.
Arriving around 1:30 am in total darkness, we huddled in a hollow sheltered from the freezing wind, waiting for another thunderclap.
Each lava explosion revealed the insane power of this natural phenomenon. Here is a little preview:
#One Day One Meeting: Guillermo and Lola from San Juan la Laguna
Unable to accommodate us at her home in San Juan, Herminia kindly offered to go and sleep with the locals, what are known locally as the posadas. We were thus received by Guillermo and Lola, a couple of Herminia’s friends. Guillermo was keen to share with us his Mayan culture over a good meal accompanied by their traditional tortillas.
I was especially marked by their son who was a Spanish teacher. The Covid-19 period was very difficult for many professors who did not want to let their students down. For many weeks, he had to go door to door to drop off lessons for his students. Whenever he could, he also made extensive use of new technologies. For example, he used Youtube videos a lot to explain concepts of distance learning courses. On the Los Amigos side, they mainly used group calls on Whatsapp to continue their reading assistance program. For families participating in the program and having a smartphone, Los Amigos offered to fund internet subscription cards.
This year again, an exceptional adventure alongside an incredible NGO!
We hope you are all well,
Have a beautiful day,
Marine, Sarah, Quentin and Romain