Earth Day, April 20-22, 2021 Restore Our Earth

Sowing Opportunities is focused on the village of Chajmaic, Guatemala developing greenhouse agriculture for food security and livelihood.

 

We have an Event coming up in Malden, Massachusetts – Rescheduled date: Sunday, May 23thfor Earth Day!

 

​We’re raising funds for training and supplies. Can you help?

Watch Sowing Opportunities’ 1-minute Earth Day video!

See Sowing Opportunities’ recent Neighborhood View article.

In early March 2021, Alfonso Gómez started a mini-greenhouse, planting Swiss chard, in the hopes of beginning a small greenhouse project.

 

However, it didn’t sprout because the people of Chajmaic didn’t have the on-site technical support. Sowing Opportunities is working on making that a reality, even incrementally. This is difficult to achieve because of the remoteness of the region.

 

As of Earth Day 2021, the people of Chajmaic are preparing the land and Sowing Opportunities is working actively to bring someone to provide support.  This effort is in process.
The cost of bringing in a technical expert for one month of intensive training is $4,639, which includes $1,481 for travel (5 days), $818 for hotel and meals (30 days), and $2,340 for salary (30 days).  This comes out to $19/hour (30 days @ 8 hours/day) for advice from Federico Arriola, Expert agronomist advisor.  We intend to begin this work in Chajmaic in November 2021, after the rainy season ends in Guatemala.  Here is the annual budget for the greenhouse workshop.

This is an example of Federico’s work after working for the past year in an area that was devastated by Volcán de Fuego (Chi Q’aq), Guatemala, when it erupted in April 2020:

 

Meanwhile, the people of Chajmaic are working to develop the land, and learn what they can on their own:


And the children enjoy the earth, as well!

Children playing in the earth at Chajmaic


How to build a water tower!

Chajmaic’s greatest resource is its abundant river, el Río Cahabón.  This river flows for over 120 miles and provides for all the needs of those in the village.  See Sowing Opportunities’ recent Neighborhood View article and our recent newsletter email.

However, as in many places in the world where a body of water serves all the needs of its population, it contains water-borne illnesses: multiple parasites, worms, gastritis, and Helicobacter Pylori.

Over 30 years ago the municipality initiated a project to pump the water from the river, to deliver it to sections of the village so that people wouldn’t have to carry it back to their homes:


This is a history of Sowing Opportunities’ Water for Life project:

  • In December 2017, our project manager, Ricardo San José, and two agricultural engineers, Antonio Longo and Federico Arriola, met with the municipal mayor, Lillian García Contreras, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and she showed them the pump house in Fray and they gained her approval for our team to do the work in Chajmaic.

 

  • When the team returned on a goodwill visit in May 2018 to meet with village leadership (COCODE), they learned that Alcadesa García had already begun the project in Chajmaic!  A new pump house, a 600,000 gallon capacity water tank at the top of a steep hill, and pipes running to and from the water tank had already been constructed:

 

  • The only things lacking were electricity and faucets to each section of the village.

In August 2019, a new mayor, Arnoldo Fontana, was elected to the municipality of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.  He completed the project, going even further than the previous plan, bringing not only electricity, but also faucets to each of the 350 homes in the village:

 

The next thing that is needed is to install filters at water tower, which costs $5,000 per filter.  Two filters are needed at the location of the water tank.  Each filter lasts two years, so that annual cost would be $5,000, divided by two years.  The other cost for the water project is the monthly cost of electricity for the water pump @ $97 per year.

  • The filtered water will be used for drinking and for agriculture, as well.
  • Sowing Opportunities is seeking seed money to purchase two filters for the water tower and ongoing costs for electricity to run the water pump.
We’re raising funds for filtration and paying the electricity bill. Can you help?
See Sowing Opportunities’ recent Neighborhood View article.

In March 2021, in celebration and support of World Water Day one of Sowing Opportunities’ key contacts in the village, Wendy Gómez, got these quotes and photos from the people in the village regarding fetching water:


 

 


Choc Tiul family

  1. Why is water important?

Because it is something that helps us survive and without water we die.

Tiul Coc Family

  1. What is water for?

To drink for domestic use cooking and washing many things.

Choc Choc Family

  1. Who does water benefit positively?

To our community.

Pop Coc Family

  1. What would happen if the water ran out?

We would die because without water we would not bear to live long.

Figueroa Chavez Family

5.  How does water improve the functioning of our body?

It keeps the kidneys healthy and hydrates the skin.

Sacul Chub Family

6. Why is it important to conserve water?

Because it is what helps us to survive and we must make good use of it properly, so that we can have it more easily at our disposal.

Choc Lima Family

7. Why take care of water?

Because without water we cannot do much and as it is vital for us we have to take care of it because the water runs out and if we do not take care of it we will run out of water.

Cú Ical Family

8. Why are ways to preserve water created?

Because in many places rivers have been drawn and people cut down many trees and throw away a lot of garbage and there is a lot of pollution.

Macz Tiul Family

9. Why are there organizations that promote water care?

To prevent humans from continuing to pollute and become aware of our duty to care for and use what is necessary to avoid misuse.

Ba Chub Family

10. What are the consequences of not conserving water?

Because if we don’t keep it well or don’t take care of the place where we get the water from, it can run out and we run out of water.

Gomez Caal Family

11. What are the advantages of caring for water?

Because we can have the amount we need and if we take care of it we avoid contaminating it and thus we do not get sick.

Ical Ba Family

12. Why is water important for animals?

Because it helps them survive

Tiul Cucul Family

13. why does water promote plant growth?

Because it moves soil minerals through the plant when the soil dries out, root growth slows down and plants don’t grow.

and grow and helps them keep their bodies healthy.

 

 

 



Used clothing fundraiser through www.savers.com

Sowing Opportunities just concluded its Savers FUNDrive (deadline August 28, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details are here.

Sowing Opportunities held a clothing drive and, thanks to the support of many, we collected over 300 large bags totaling over 5,000 lbs.  Through the Savers FUNDrive® program, our #nonprofit earned over $1,300 for purchasing #groceries for families in the #village of Chajmaic, #Guatemala during the #pandemic, or to start our #agricultural project.  We are seeking a #corporate, or individual, sustaining supporter/s.  Details: https://conta.cc/3bvuXGU

Daniel from Savers was amazing, unloading the truck with his co-worker, Nick. We had a wonderful talk with Daniel, who is from Guatemala. We talked about Guatemala and his career dream to be a large animal vet.

Our goal on June 29, 2020 was 100 bags.  On August 29, 2020 we delivered over 300 bags to Savers!

We brought the collected bags of clothing to Savers in exchange for a donation to the nonprofit. We have been using these funds to feed hungry families in the remote village of Chajmaic, Guatemala.

Email sent on July 13: https://conta.cc/3gH2uz3

Sowing Opportunities is indebted to the capable assistance of Elena Martínez and Valmy González for their help in organizing and LIFTING and transporting (from one storage facility to another), nearly 260 bags of soft goods for our Savers fundraiser!  Val did the heavy lifting all day (August 2nd) and Elena was our constant support, providing website assistance, taking professional photos to document our day, and keeping track of the bags.  Not an easy feat!  If you are looking for a skilled and innovative web designer, check out Elena’s website!

Sowing Opportunities appreciates the generosity and efforts of the employees at U-Haul, 124-126 Eastern Ave., Malden, MA.  The manager, Amilcar, provided our nonprofit with three storage bins for one month and, at one point, one of the employees, Devyne, helped me bring 16 heavy bags down the stairs to our bin when the elevator was broken.  Kevin tried his best to help me open a lock that was truly jammed and the team provided a new lock so that the process was (almost!) effortless.  The efforts of the employees at U-Haul, 420 Eastern Ave., Malden, MA were equally amazing!  Luis, Trey, and Andrew set things up for us and were incredibly efficient and kind, fork-lifting our U-boxes to us when we requested them.  They are indeed an essential service in Malden!

We are also very appreciative to Kyle and Enterprise Chelsea Truck Rental for their support and contribution for our clothing fundraiser.

Sowing Opportunities is incredibly grateful to Mary Selvoski, master tailor and Seamstress to the New Hampshire stars, who must liquidate her stock during this pandemic, and who donated over 125 of 40-gallon bags of clothing for our Savers fundraiser!

Donations and support gratefully received from:

 





Updates since returning from Guatemala

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:


An incredible visit to the village of Chajmaic

On December 21, 2018 Fern visited the remote village of Chajmaic for the first time since learning about it in early January 2015.  If not for the reports and photos for several years, she would have been in shock at the abject poverty.

Before arriving in Chajmaic, she bought boots in Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (30 minutes’ drive away) to prevent being bitten by a poisonous snake while in the village.  We arrived in Chajmaic on their busy market day, which was just at the entrance to the village.  The entrance road was paved six years ago.

We gave our project leaders in the village, Lety and Alfonso, a gift of appreciation for their work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some facts:

  • Homes are constructed of raw lumber with openings for windows, tin rooves and dirt floors.
  • Thanks to the municipality of Fray, every house now has a faucet, which will become functional when the water pump is operational. The water project was started in January 2018.
  • Alfonso recently lost his job as a gas station security guard in Fray.
  • They have a very small store adjacent to their home.
  • Alfonso knows the owner of the land we plan to rent for the greenhouse, and it is available.
  • The village size has grown from 1,600 in mid-2015 to 3,000 at the end of 2018, for the same square footage, which means more poverty in the same space.
  • Some (very few) houses now have internet access via smart phone.
  • Electricity is run by a wire through the inside of their home, on the ceiling.
  • Some children sleep on the muddy/dirt floor, as they can’t afford a bed (Q. 2,500 / $300).
  • Chajmaic and its river are stunningly beautiful and verdant, but nonarable, because of the rocky soil.
  • They have a bridge that overlooks rapids where the river moves quickly due to its descent.
  • Almost no one in the village speaks Spanish – just Q’echqi’.
  • The warmth and kindness of the people is a statement of their integrity and resilience.

 

We climbed a steep, muddy, rocky and slippery hill of 60 meters (200 feet) to get to the water tank, which, when the water pump is installed, will become operational.  There are two pipes – for inflow and outflow – that leads to each faucet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is an abandoned latrine project from years ago, which the villagers said they didn’t want.  This needs to be explored further.

Bilingual (Q’echqi’ – Spanish speakers) may become the leaders, and this could be a motivation for young people to learn Spanish as a second language.  Leaders could become Spanish teachers, as well.

We visited the pump house near the road on our way out of the village.  It lacks installation of a pump.

We invited 3 adults and 4 children to come to lunch in Fray and discussed our plans.  Alfonso told us he was thinking about going to the U.S. without documentation to bring his family out of poverty.  To discourage them, we told them true stories – some from personal experience – and I cried.  We hope that we convinced them.  But this demonstrates the extreme desire to extricate one’s family from the oppressive conditions which they face daily.

As a testament to the depth of their empathy and character, one of the children with us at lunch, perhaps age 7, whom we learned was ill with fever, came to me after Fern  cried and asked her in mixed Q’echqi’ and Spanish why she was crying.  The girl had been holding Fern’s hand throughout my stay in the village.  Fern told her it was because she cared about her and her family.

At the end of our stay together, Lety and Alfonso blessed us.

None of this would be possible without the able leadership of our Guatemalan project manager, Héctor Ricardo San José Roca.  His decisions and actions have brought us to the successes we now have.

Our message:

We can demonstrate need.      We can demonstrate capability.

We can demonstrate solutions.    We can demonstrate results.

Here are three videos of the group of 10 – 6 adults and 4 children – at the top of the steep hill, at the water tank.  The first video is with Alfonso speaking in Q’echqi’ to the children:

https://bit.ly/2GE25At

The second video is with Ricardo speaking in English, with Alfonso carving a walking stick for a safe decline:

https://bit.ly/2QRigz7

The third video is with Alfonso speaking in Spanish, handing Fern the walking stick that he had just carved for her safety:

https://bit.ly/2GFuVjJ

Details on the entire visit can be found here: http://www.sowingops.org/en/learn/guatemala-travelogue-december-2018/