Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"No, I don't want to bathe with cold water." Notes from WVU's Mexico Service-Learning Course

Thanks again to Kat Stackel, WVU-Amizade Course Facilitator, for contributing from the road:

Here goes my last e-mail from Mexico, and hopefully I can try to encompass our entire experience so far. I think that I should preface this e-mail by saying that Mexico is HUGE and every place is so different that it is difficult to give an explanation of "how it is," and better to remind you that our experience has been limited to two parts of a very diverse country. In the words of a student I'm traveling with, "my stay in Guanajuato has made me question my previous classification of Mexico as a poor, developing country lacking the infrastructure necessary to maintain safe and healthy conditions." For the last week I've been questioning my assumptions of Latin America in a new way. I know that my experiences in the Peace Corps and otherwise are the backdrop of my knowledge and this is something different.

To start, we finished our volunteer projects in Puerto Morelos on 6/14. The kids at the pre-k center were an absolute delight. I think that my students would say they learned more from the kids than they actually taught them. Their Spanish went from zero to about 2.0 pretty fast.. with them having a great, big vocabulary for directing students to learn and play, and a working knowledge of enough Spanish to ensure their survival.

Our favorite project was completing a video translation for the visitors' center in that town. It was an 8-minute video about the reef national park and the history of the settlement. At first we were confused on how we would go about this project since I am the only one who could understand the video. Well, my English-translation skills are mas o menos when it comes to sentence construction, and with a grammar expert in the group, it turned out to be a very inclusive project for all. We translated all of the text, timed the video perfectly, and re-recorded all of the audio in English. It was fun, frustrating, hilarious and completely satisfying.

We were sad to say goodbye to the Puerto, but we think we'll be back. Actually, all 5 of us ended up taking a parasitic souvenir from the place, which wrecked the beginning of our stay in Guanajuato, but left a special memory in our hearts for forever. Dignity was lost, but things could only go uphill at this point!!

We arrived in Guanajuato at the level of "fist" on a scale of fist, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (think hands). Two got sick first, then two more, and then our "MVP" who lasted until the 3rd day. We were out of commission for about 4 days total and the Mexican mothers were having a field day with suggestions for our improvement. With my help, the students learned some new and very important vocabulary:

No, no quiero bañarme con agua frio... No, I don't want to bathe with cold water

No, no quiero tomar bicarbonato con limón...No, I don't want to drink baking soda with lime

No, no quiero sopa de verduras... No, I don't want vegetable soup

Last one- very important.

Since we've recovered, we are discovering how different Guanajuato is from the Puerto. We are up at 6,700 feet and north of Mexico City, and our homestays were arranged with some pretty wealthy people in the area. In contrast, we are volunteering with some extremely disadvantaged groups. Most of the beginning of work was filled with heartbreak and guilty feelings. We are moving past that somewhat and getting down to what needs to be done.

Our project here is to work with an NGO called Arco Iris, and a convent, battered women's shelter, and girls' orphanage. Arco Iris is a group of Mexican, American and Canadian women that work with the latter 3 groups. The latter 3 are all inter-connected yet separate at the same time. At the convent, we've been doing some serious spring cleaning for a group of nuns that are elderly and need a lot of help. I am always hesitant to use this word when talking about volunteering, because it has a lot of implications and the power structure is skewed, but, they need helping hands.

We are also working with the children of the women's shelter. Pretty much, these children were taken out of their homes because of death threats against their mothers, and they are currently at risk of being kidnapped by other family members. They were taken out of school, relocated, and are not able to re-register until the next full year begins. They do not have their friends, other family members, many of their possessions, etc. We are playing with them, working with them to express certain values (given by their group leader), and for those that care to learn- teaching English.

In the girls' orphanage, we are simply spending time with a group of 30 girls that is otherwise only attended to by the two very busy people that run the orphanage. The girls range in age from 4-17 and it is clear that they all have very different needs. We are happy to take a few hours to just play with them. Simple things like coloring books, sidewalk chalk and jump ropes can really change a child's day and so that's how we went armed. I love watching my Amizade group remember all of their games from camp, and the girls are loving learning them.

This is how we will continue our last week in Mexico, with slight interruptions for certain (ahem), World cup games, never to be missed (the hum of those horns can be heard at any time from any place here in GTO). Also, we are going to be attending a special ceremony for some of the girls and will hopefully get to visit another much bigger orphanage before we depart. It's been a great learning experience.

Thanks for reading about our adventure. The rest of the pictures (so far) have been added to this album:

- By Katherine Stackel

Sunday, June 6, 2010

WVU - Amizade Latin American History Service-Learning Course Rolling in Mexico!

A GUEST POST from Katherine Stackel, Amizade's Facilitator for the WVU-Amizade Latin American History course taught online by Dr. Evan Widders, and including excellent cultural experience and service opportunities in Puerto Morelos and Guanjuato. Take a look:

Amizade site coordinator Luis (*see below) and I have been leading the students around and getting everybody ready for our month in Mexico. Since the first day things have been great. We are staying at Luis's family's inn, a 10-room hotel on the beach. It is rustic yet beautiful, and it has been very interesting to learn more about this region. I've traveled through the Yucatan peninsula before, but the other times what I saw was a little different.

We are working on a couple of different service projects. First, we are teaching ESL in a kindergarten across the highway on "the other side" of Puerto Morelos. This community is divided in a sense, because half of the town is located on the side of the highway with the beach (the highway runs parallel to the beach). On "the other side" you can definitely see what a difference it makes when community members do not see the good impact of tourism, i.e. money. The houses are much bigger on this side, and although I would call this a sleepy town, there are still various small, and professional, tour companies here. Many people speak at least some English. The schools on this side, since they are visible to tourists, are in better financial situations because they receive many more donations than those on the other side.

On the other side most of the houses are "casas de interes social" (social-interest houses: built by the government for people with no savings/money. These citizens can get these houses by agreeing to pay a small-ish monthly fee for the following 15 years-- though people in town say that the fee is actually quite exorbitant compared to what the houses are actually worth-- credit options for the poor... always a debate-able theme...). Luis and his family, and Amizade, have worked on the other side of the highway for years.

Because of this project our days have been filled with hours of planning. Kids learn so fast! We have been having fun trying to remember all of the songs that helped us learn things when we were children. Songs we have sung so far are "one little, two little, three little indians," "hokey pokey" (to learn body parts), "head, shoulders, knees and toes," an invented song about colors, among others. There is no shame in this work. The kids love to see us make fools of ourselves. They love learning English and have been really good about participating. But I think their favorite activity is dragging us around the playground. There's an album at the end here.

Other than that we spent a good part of today translating a video for the tourist information center in town.

Basically, Playa del Carmen and Cancun's mega-tourism infrastructures have destroyed much of the ecosystem in this part of the country. There is not sufficient infrastructure for controlling these resorts. Puerto Morelos is located almost directly between the two. Giant building projects have destroyed reef areas, caused flooding, sewage problems, and are not really providing jobs for people in this area or (for the most part) in the cities where the operations are located. It seems that most of the workers in these big places come from other areas of the country, or other countries in the world. This is not to say that the region doesn't gain from this tourism. The transportation systems (highways, airports, etc) are phenomenal- which can be of great help. Having such large, important projects in the area has also brought high schools and even a university to the area. There is a give and take happening, but it is definitely happening more on the latter end.

Puerto Morelos is an extremely organized community dedicated to changing that. In 1995 the community got together and gained enough support to get national park status for their area. They are protecting 21 km of reef, and some great mangrove areas that are important for fish hatching and bird migration. They got government support to limit the amount of development that is happening in the area. They continually lobby against plans to continue developing the town (and especially limit its tourism operations) until they are able to achieve proper sewage and water control. The workers at the tourist information center (and many hotels involved in these projects) volunteer their time for these efforts. You can sense a big culture of conservation and it is very refreshing. They are also careful of how they talk about the mega-tourism operations. Their idea is to learn from them and continue working towards positive change and better regulations.

At night we have 2-hour long classes based on academic service-learning articles, and the students' overall experiences and how they compare to the stereotypes that we brought to the country. We are analyzing our own way of life as well, and how it relates or absolutely does not relate to what we find during our experience. We will continue working on these and other projects (eg. cleaning out and preparing for organic gardens, etc) until June 15th, when we head to Guanajuato in the central hills. We have other service projects planned for that time. I am lucky to be traveling with 4 very open-minded, well-behaved and somewhat reserved (and observant) college students. We are learning a lot from our Mexican partners and we know that we are all very lucky to be having this experience in paradise!

Here is a short album of everything so far: http://picasaweb.google.com/k.stackel/MexicoWAmizade2010#

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Farleigh Dickinson University Students Report on their Amizade Navajo Nation Experience

Check out THIS Feedback. And many thanks to Jackie Chua for sharing the team's feedback with us at Amizade! 

Kadi Cisse "Life changing experience" 

Anassa Tulloch My life went beyond the stereotype.

Christina Marie Holowinski "I would do this every spring break. I am so glad I got the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. Even though we only spent just a few days with the kids, I know I have made great bonds with the people I met. It was definitely a life changing experience.

Olga Fridman "I gained a lot more than I expected and never imagined that I would have the opportunity to experience such a fascinating and surreal culture."

Angel Rose Santiago " The best thing I ever did with my life, hands down."

Simone Hawkins "Arizona was beyond amazing. I learned to lead with my heart, something i couldnt have learned anywhere else." 

Kevin Celisca "Its an experience you have to have in your college career."
"The people, the culture, and the way of life changed how I see my own life."

Stefania Trelles "College is a time for new experiences. Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is an experience no one should go with out. Although it was only a week, ASB not only allowed us to make a difference in the lives of those on the Navajo Nation but also gave us the chance to reflex on our own lives. Whether we were climbing to the top of a Canyon, playing games with Navajo kids, herding sheep, or bonding around the bonfire, each moment of ASB changed us more than we could have ever imagined. "

Jordan DeGroat "my experience on the spring break trip to tuba city will always have an imprint on my heart and mind. The experience completely changed my perspective on how precious the life given to me is here in New Jersey. It is also comforting and inspirational to see first hand a selfless society in the United States that are proud of who they are, where they live, and the kindness they share with others. I will never forget the friendships and new cultural views I have taken away from the Navajo Nation and would not have to think twice if given a similar opportunity like this in the future."

Ludger Sparks Deryce One word extraordinary…..I had one of the most amazing times in Arizona. It is the ultimate college experience, a life changing experience. It helps with setting new goals in life and refreshing your memory with the old priorities. The Alternative spring break should be an ongoing program at FDU for the years to come; it is an experience that could only benefit the school in the long run and shape student character in the process. Caroline Malia What we learned in a week was more than I will ever learn from books or class lectures. The culture and tradition made me appreciate my own culture and everything I take for granted. The trip left me thinking what else can I do and learn. I would go back in a heartbeat just maybe with more sunscreen! Thank you to everyone who helped us and please continue to support other trips!

Madeleine Morales One of the very many memorable moments that stood out for me while on this Alternative Spring Break in Arizona, was the enthusiasm, flexibility and positive attitude that everyone in our group had every morning. We had somewhat of a basic schedule everyday, but there were a few days that we had to make changes. Tracey, the site director complimented us every day at how well we all adapted to the activities planned each day. When we're in school we have our routines and at times feel uneasy about not sticking to them. Going on trips like these allow students to take a break from hectic schedules to get to know other students and learn about new cultures.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Amizade Plays Role in Haiti Forum at West Virginia University

Aftershock: Knowing Haiti Now
The Earthquake in Context—History, Politics, Culture
a public forum

7:00 pm
March 23, 2010
Ming Hsieh Hall (Oglebay G20)

The January 12 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince launched Haiti into the world’s spotlight with scenes of unimaginable suffering. Too often, those are the only media images to come out of Haiti. And they leave us with more questions than answers: Why did the buildings fall so easily? How can Haiti be rebuilt? Will international aid do good? Does the Haitian political system work? And, amidst dire conditions of poverty and disaster, how do the Haitian people manage to show such resilience and faith?

This forum aims to answer these questions and more by putting the earthquake in context. Panelists from across the university will discuss Haitian history, US-Haiti relations, the economics of development, and media response to the earthquake. There will be plenty of Q&A with the audience following the presentations. Haitian music will play as we serve refreshments following the discussion.


Karleen Jones West (Political Science)
"The Impact of Colonialism on Haiti's Development" 

James Siekmeier (History)
“US-Haitian Relations in Historical Context”

Kayode Ogunfolabi (English)
"Surviving the Kingdom of this World, Or Transgressing the Margins of Imagination" 

Eric Hartman (Amizade and International Studies)
“The Solutions are Small, The Effects are Large: Locally-Driven Development”


Gwen Bergner (English)
"Haiti in the US Imagination"


Michael Vercelli (Music)
"Survival Instincts: African Musical Influence in Haitian Vodou Tradition

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tanzania: Water Access Updates from the Field

Many thanks to Stephanie Vickery and Brandon Cohen for putting together the paragraphs I'm simply pasting below. And thanks to Stephanie, Brandon, the All People Be Happy Foundation, and the many, many other Amizade volunteers and essentially good people who are volunteering, serving, and extending themselves to build a better world.

The community has decided to shift gears in their approach this year, and are using Amizade/APBH volunteers and funds in three new ways: (1) quality of construction (2) quantity of water-drinkers, not water-tanks (3) use of family labor and local materials. The real big news is in the construction of the Chonyoyo Water Tank, which will soon be able to provide hundreds of people with year-round access to clean water!

Chonyoyo Tank:
Prior to the commencement of the 2010 Amizade spring semester program in Karagwe, Tanzania in Spring 2010, Amizade signed a partnership with Mavuno - the leading water tank experts in the district. This partnership has yielded a significant amount of materials (such as cement) and volunteer labor to allow for the construction of a massive, 300,000 L water tank in the village of Chonyoyo. The manual labor that has gone into this project is almost unbelievable: a hole, deeper than 5 meters, dug entirely by hand! The gutters feeding water into the catchment area run along the roof of a very large, food storage building which is also approaching completion. The plan is for this storage structure to enable farmers to transform their wasted surplus into profit, and to provide food for purchase during the rainy seasons- after harvest has long passed and people are struggling to put well rounded meals together. The vision also involves the purchasing of communal farming machinery to be stored at the building. The water from this project will provide an incredible amount of relief for the community in the very near future, literally providing several hundred people with access to clean water, as well as nurturing the unfolding of the master plan: 

Working in conjunction with Amizade staff, Mavuno recently sent an application to the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania for funds to build a dormitory with the capacity for 240 female students at the secondary level. Funds have already been secured through the relationship between Mavuno and German Engineers Without Borders for two smaller tanks which will provide the dormitories with water. Meanwhile, the huge tank Amizade/All People Be Happy Foundation has helped to fund, will provide water not only to community members in the village, but will also meet the needs of what will be the teacher's quarters and the administration building (set to follow the construction of the the dormitory.)

Rukole Tank:
For the first time, Amizade is embarking upon a family sized water tank made of all local materials! With the expertise and direction of Mavuno, which has installed nearly 500 water tanks since their initial tank in 1993, the spring semester group and Joseph Baraka of Mavuno have worked together to select the recipient of a 6, 285 L tank. This is more than twice the size of the 3,000 L plastic tanks Amizade and All People Be Happy Foundation gifted in the past. The model that this NGO employs begins with referencing its list of applicants who have applied to Mavuno specifically for a water tank. After visiting three applicants and assessing the composition and needs of each family, a 60 year old woman by the name of Verdiana, and the three orphans she is raising in the village of Rukole, were chosen as this semester's beneficiaries. There are two young boys, Franky and Faston, ages 2 and 3, and a 7 year old girl, Bertina, enrolled in her first year of primary school. The water that is used by this family until the tank is completed and filled with rainfall, continues to be fetched from a natural source which involves one heck of a journey. The trip is typically made one to two times per day, taking 3 hours for each roundtrip, and involving mountainous terrain which would be challenging for anyone- especially for very young children and an elderly woman like Verdiana. 

Amizade has provided the funds for cement, gutters, nails, and labor costs, while the family has gathered stone, sand, water (fetched with the help of neighbors) and aggregate. This model has been proven to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility, and is a fertile avenue for direct empowerment as it engages the families in the installation of the tank, and enables them to see that in addition to receiving this assistance, they are capable of improving their own situation.

If you want to make a difference and support this effort, take part in the 3rd Annual Water Walk for Women's Rights in Morgantown or Pittsburgh, take part in a service-learning course or volunteer program with Amizade in Tanzania, or simply donate directly.