After passing through El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize and the eastern part of Guatemala in just under two months, at the end of July I found myself back in Xela to begin a three month internship as general projects coordinator at Pop Wuj, a Spanish School with a strong social lens, and numerous social, health, and environmental community development projects in the nearby Mayan communities outside of Xela.
The idea of settling down for a while was a welcome change but also a bit daunting. On the one hand, I would get to know much more closely, Guatemala and the communities near Xela, and on the other hand it meant I would never make it to South America this trip. The trade-off was getting to know an area more intimately, versus trying to see it all. So I said good-bye to the idea of dancing salsa in Columbia or taking tango in Argentina, and prepared myself for work!
Over the next few weeks, I will provide a series of photos and posts on Pop Wuj, the school, its programs, the participants in its community development programs, and my experience as general projects coordinator.
Over twenty years ago, Pop Wuj began as a non-profit teachers cooperative who wanted to invest not only in teaching Spanish to foreigners, but also invest in the communities in the Western Highlands. After two decades, the school has become one of the most established in the city, with students coming from all over the world to participate in their Medical Spanish, Social Work, and Cultural Immersion programs. The nature, size, depth, and scope of their community projects has evolved as well.
Pop Wuj’s projects include: an Educational Support Centre and Garden Project, a Scholarship Program, a Medical Clinic, a Nutrition Program, a Safe Stoves Projects, a Reforestation Project, and a Recycling Program.
Above: Photos from Elotada 2013 - Pop Wuj has worked with the community of Chirijkiak for over 18 years participating in a number of projects including: reforestation, building latrines, building safe stoves and providing scholarships. For the last several years, Chirijkiak has invited Pop Wuj to celebrate Elotada, the first corn harvest of the season. Freshly boiled and seasoned, we all had several ears of corn each!
As general projects coordinator, my task was to liaise with the students studying Spanish, the head project leads, as well as the Guatemalan participants. Myself and the other staff coordinators would take turns bringing students into the field to visit the educational support centre, to build stoves, and distribute scholarships. During my time as intern, I also revamped and updated the Pop Wuj blog and had an opportunity to photograph many of the programs over my three month term. The kids at the educational support centre in particular, left a lasting impression on me, and are one of the things I miss most about Xela.
Throughout my internship, I was constantly impressed at how much the organization could accomplish with its limited resources consisting of: student’s tuition from the Spanish school, private funding from Timmy Global Health, and donations, mostly by previous students at the school. Most of all, I was impressed by the dedication of its staff, the teachers, and the coordinators, Amy, Ashley and Carmen.
On my final day of work at the Educational Support Centre, we spent some free time drawing, and many of the kids gave me their artwork as gifts - I went home that day, my heart swelling with joy.