Since returning from Guatemala, I have some updates to share with you.
First, I cannot fully relay how moved I was to hold hands with those beautiful children in Chajmaic. They literally would not let go of my hands until our contact there, Alfonso, told them that we had to go single file up the slippery stones, climbing the steep mountain to where the water tank has been built by the municipality.
Second, my heart was literally broken to hear that Alfonso was strongly considering coming to the U.S. without documentation to escape the poverty and gang violence. When he told us this, I had just read that the U.S. government was going to undergo a shutdown over the border wall. The desperate need of the Guatemalan people leads me to consider immediate action for our project.
Here are the facts, as we know them:
- The population of Chajmaic has doubled from 1,600 to 3,000 in approximately four years. This is due to new births – not due to people moving into the region – and the resources (land, housing, funds) that they have are the same as previously. There are still 250 families living there. Here we are entering the village on market day.
- The water project is on hold because this is an election year and the project is now under the auspices of the nearby municipality of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, which has built a water tank which can hold 600,000 gallons of water in reserve.
- This water would be pumped from the river and then piped to individual faucets for the 250 families.
- The municipality has installed a pump house and electricity, but no pump as yet. This is an election year, and we must be hands-off, in order not to be seen as being on the side of the government, which has historically taken from and not given to the indigenous poor.
- The pumped water does not take into consideration filtration. That is something that must be taught – the how as well as the why. For now, the villagers are continuing to trek to and from the plentiful, but contaminated, river, using it for all of their needs, carrying away buckets of water and their laundry on their heads.
- Ricardo and I asked the villagers what they want. Water they have, although it is not purified, but for now, they don’t see the need to change. A latrine project was started at some point in the past, but for a reason we need to explore, the villagers have no interest in adapting to them.
- The villagers want the municipality to complete the water project. But what they want most are jobs. We have a solution to that:
One of Ricardo’s agricultural engineers, Federico, started an agricultural project in a Catholic boarding school for indigenous children, teaching the young students to grow vegetables in greenhouse farming – a system he learned in Israel – for food and livelihood. We visited this school, outside of Guatemala City (in Mixco), and learned that his plan is to replicate this system in Chajmaic.
- Another project on a back burner is low emission stoves, for which one of Ricardo’s agricultural engineers, Antonio, has designed a proposal.
- When Ricardo and I visited the two nonprofit incorporation lawyers in Guatemala, we learned that it can take up to two years – especially during an election year – to get a Guatemalan branch of our nonprofit in place. There are many legal procedures, starting here in the U.S. – and with the government shutdown, we may face additional wait times. And, so, during this time, we cannot build, but we can raise funds, give donations, and do smaller projects.
- With the water project on hold due to the election year, it is our desire to start first with agriculture. Since we cannot build a greenhouse, we can start by using the existing schoolhouse on the land, by holding trainings there.
- Part of the process that Federico has established in the boarding school is “bag” farming, using low-cost existing materials and creating an easily transportable product. We saw corn growing at the boarding school in this manner.
- We could grow other crops that are not indigenous to the area in the same manner because we will use purchased soil – not the rocky local soil in which almost nothing grows.
- To set this up, Antonio has offered to stay full-time in Chajmaic, and our key people in Chajmaic, Alfonso and Lety, have agreed to build an extension on their home for this purpose. They own the deed to the land on which their home is built, so this is possible. This is an extreme act of generosity on both the parts of Antonio and Lety and Alfonso.
- It is also our intention to involve the children – through another of the villagers, Wendy, a young woman aged 18 – and to teach them the basics of Spanish, as well as to get them to participate in the project. They are young, eager, and ready to join in!
- We would pay apprentices a short-term stipend for learning the farming technique. 10-15 apprentices at a time would sign up (via a non-written sign-up system) for 2-3 month training sessions. After they learn, they can teach others and their ongoing compensation after initial training will be enjoying the crops that they grow for their families’ food and livelihood.
- We also plan to involve the informal leaders of the village, and to get the women involved. Women are the primary water-bearers and once they have learned the importance of hygiene for their families, they can teach others.
- The cost to set up an agricultural project is: USD $109,086
with this breakdown on an annual and monthly basis: