Mil Milagros

Meet Nikte:  A Scientist and an Artist

Nikte is in sixth grade, and as a top student in her class, she will soon be graduating from primary school!  After finishing, she plans to continue studying and hopes to eventually become a nurse so that she can “help others who need help.”    That being the case, not surprisingly she is drawn to mathematics and natural sciences and says she wants to know all about cellular systems.

In addition to her passion for math and science, Nitke is also a gifted artist. She and both her siblings were among the six winners of this year’s Mil Milagros drawing contest at the Chutinamit school. Her winning drawing was incorporated into the beautiful mural that she and her classmates painted outside the front door.

Nikte says the houses finally being built in her community are great.  She is especially excited the homes have real cement floors (instead of dirt and dust) and that she will have a bathroom with a shower in her new home.

When we asked Nikte if she had a message she would like to send to friends and supporters abroad, she said, “Thank you for the books and fruit so that we can study, play and be happy.”

Casa Guatemala Raises Funds for Mil Milagros

More than 150 members of the Boston area Guatemalan community and Mil Milagros’s Board members and supporters gathered last night at the Balera Ballroom in Newton, MA to raise funds for Mil Milagros. This fabulous evening was organized by leaders from Casa Guatemala including Elvis Jocol, Marisol Jocol, Mayte Jocol, Ed Saso, Jose David Ovalle, Julio Hernandez and Mil Milagros’s Board member Juan Gil. Margaret presented each of these leaders with “gracias” drawings from the children of Mil Milagros. Guests enjoyed beautiful traditional Guatemalan music by the Maya Quetzal marimba group, and dined on traditional food. The evening featured a presentation of the Mil Milagros video created by local artist Blanca Bonilla who joined the festivities along with her sister Ana. 

Mil Milagros is deeply grateful to the leaders of Casa Guatemala for mobilizing support for the children we serve in Guatemala. ¡Mil gracias, compañeros!

Meet Professor Mauricio:  Teaching His Students to Turn Trash into Treasure

Teaching six grades all at the same time?  That sounds like just another day in the life of Mauricio, the principal and lead teacher at the Chutinamit school.  When the new school year begins each year, the school is assigned just one teacher -Mauricio- based on the number of students. (This year there are 23.) Mauricio has spent eight of his nine teaching years in Chutinamit and each year Mil Milagros advocates with the Mayor and the Ministry of Education for a second teacher. Until a second teachers arrives, the beginning of the year is a bit hectic!

Mauricio takes it all in stride though, keeping all of the children engaged and learning. He shares that the textbooks from Mil Milagros have been a huge help because he can assign a task in their books for some children to complete while he is teaching with students in another grade.  Mauricio is especially good at showing the children how to turn trash into treasure.  For example, the mobiles in the photo above are made with used CDs. The children make multiplication table counters with bottle caps, they built baskets out of old soda bottles, and decorative snakes out of plastic bottle caps.

Mauricio says his motivation to become a teacher came from his own fifth grade teacher who was very good at inspiring him and his classmates.  He wanted to be like that teacher and influence students to study and work hard.  One of the biggest challenges has been keeping motivation strong while his students struggled with the devastation of losing their homes due to Tropical Storm Agatha. He saw a radical change in their behavior, with the children full of sadness and lacking excitement for daily activities. Now, however, he reports that the children are happy, curious and excited again— with their new houses being built and readied for them and their families.

Bathrooms Where There Were None

Since being displaced by Tropical Storm Agatha, our families in Chutinamit have been forced to share communal latrines.  They did not have indoor plumbing or access to showers.  However, in the past few months, we have seen this reality change. 

For the first time in more than FOUR years, the whole community will have access to private showers and toilets in their new homes.  The first rooms of the last two homes are scheduled to be built this week.  That means that by the end of this week, we hope to see every family with a new bathroom of their own!

Meet Pedro: A Young Leader Following in his Mother’s Footsteps

Do you remember our profile of Doña Ricarda, the president of the Community Council in Chutinamit?  She mentioned a son that was very ill and how she hoped that the new houses in Chutinamit would prevent diseases in the future.  The son she mentioned was Pedro, a sixth grader at the school in Chutinamit.  Luckily, after a brief stay at the hospital, he is doing much better and is back to being a leader like his mother.  He currently serves as the president of the student government at his school.  (If you missed Doña Ricarda’s story, read it here:  http://bit.ly/1rxiXWy )

Pedro’s favorite subject is mathematics because he says that in math class they play with numbers and it’s really fun.  Pedro also says that he really likes getting homework because, “sometimes we get bored playing, and then we go home and do our homework.”  It was refreshing to hear this from the mouth of a child!

After finishing sixth grade, Pedro plans to continue studying but says he will move to Guatemala City so he can study there with his cousin.  Pedro wants to be a teacher because he “wants to teach all of the children that don’t know how to speak Spanish, only Quiche or Kachiquel.”  He is worried about children that have trouble communicating because they only speak a Maya language.  Even as a twelve year old, he is very aware of the discrimination and social limitations that individuals who don’t speak Spanish will face in their lives—and he wants to help them.  We look forward to seeing all the great things Pedro does as he continues to grow as a leader for his community!

Ready for Reading

We are excited to announce the launch of Mil Milagros’ newest education program—a school library!  With generous support from our friends, Lynne and Joe Horning, last week we launched a pilot program in the Chutinamit community where the children will have access to books to use in their homes for the first time ever.  

Our first step was to set up the foundation for a community-led, school library by meeting with the teachers, community leaders, and children.  Everyone needed to be in agreement about why having access to books is so important for the children and the responsibilities of each of the involved parties.  The community is meeting to elect volunteers to be trained as the school librarians.

The children participated in a workshop on how to care for books and keep them safe. The older children volunteered to help “build” the new school library, working together to organize the books and to create an inventory of the books that the school has available. 

Books are scarce in Guatemala, particularly children’s books. Some 94% of the families with whom Mil Milagros works live on $3.00 per day or less. Subsequently, books are out of the families’ reach.  An informal survey of the children in our partner schools found that few of them have ever had a book in their homes.  As we work toward our goal of ensuring that all students graduate from sixth grade healthy, literate and prepared to continue their education, we are delighted to be working with the children to develop reading habits in their everyday lives.  

Making the Most of Limited Space

What do you do if your entire community has been displaced for four years and has lost all of its land for planting?  You create bottle gardens, of course!  And that’s exactly what they have done in the Chutinamit school. 

To learn about growing, and to provide an additional food source, the children have taken empty soda bottles that would normally end up in the trash and put them to good use.  By turning the bottles on their sides, cutting away a panel and filling them with soil, they have created mini-gardens.   Because there is little space available, they have gotten even more creative and hung the bottle gardens vertically with string.  This July, the children were able to pick and eat the radishes they grew in their gardens.

Meanwhile, in the community, construction continues full speed ahead with the first rooms of more than twelve homes built already.  Though the children will have a bit more space soon, we hope they continue to keep their bottle gardens blooming and growing!

Saying Farewell to a New Team of Supporters

It was a pleasure to host our visitors from Epiphany Parish of Walpole and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last week.  The group visited all five of our partner schools, seeing first-hand the efforts of MM staff, our mother/grandmother volunteers, school staff, and the children to ensure that the children graduate sixth grade healthy, literate and prepared to continue their education. 

The team had the opportunity to read with the children, serve them lunch, assist in training mothers on how to install water filters, and even enjoy  some soccer and games.

We look forward to collaborating with the group as they share their experience and continue to support our mission now that they are back home!

Doña Ricarda:  An Inspiration to Women Leaders

Since Mil Milagros first began working in Chutinamit seven years ago, Doña Ricarda has been a faithful leader and partner.  She graciously hosted our first nutrition and cooking workshops in her home, as she had the largest kitchen in the community back then. Today, at the age of 55, she is a busy single mother with seven children and 24 grandchildren.  Sadly, her husband died last year, leaving her as the sole provider for her two youngest children, Herlinda and Pedro, who are still in primary school.  She runs a small store in the community and regularly volunteers with the Mil Milagros nutrition program to prepare lunch for the community’s 34 children.  Despite her many responsibilities, she also serves as president of the community council (and previously served as the first woman President of Mil Milagros’s Board of Directors in Chutinamit).

According to Doña Ricarda, being on the community council is a big commitment because the community has so many needs.  However, she thrives in the role and is an inspiration to other women in Chutinamit.  When I asked her why there are such strong women leaders in the community, she first told me that there aren’t many people in the community so the women have had to step up to support the men.  However, she then joked, “At least, that’s how it used to be.  Now it’s more that the men have to step up to support us women leaders.”

Doña Ricarda’s house was the first to be built last month on the new land that is home to the new Chutinamit. She says she is overjoyed to have a new home.  When I asked about the experience of being displaced four years ago, due to Tropical Storm Agatha, she said, “We thought that relocating would be easy and quick.  But it wasn’t like that.  We never imagined it would be this difficult.”  She never imagined she and her family would have to wait for more than four years to build a new home.  Her son Pedro was recently hospitalized with a serious illness.  Though they never received a specific answer about the cause of his illness, Doña Ricarda believes it was connected to the poor conditions in which they have been living.  She hopes a new house will help prevent future health problems for Pedro and the rest of the community.

Mil Milagros Welcomes Epiphany Parish of Walpole & St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline

This weekend we welcomed a group of nine supporters from two churches,  Epiphany Parish and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, who are here visiting us and our partner schools this week.  Today we headed to the school in Chichimuch, an hour away from our office in Panajachel.

After watching a cultural presentation from the children, the group spent time painting a mural with the students, speaking with mother leaders, and serving lunch for the children.  They then headed back to the Mil Milagros office to unload and inventory the hundreds of hygiene supplies that they collected and brought for our children.  We are looking forwarding to a wonderful week with the group!