Mil Milagros

Mil Milagros Welcomes Dr. Rick Martinez and Our J & J Partners

This week MM welcomed Dr. Rick Martinez of Johnson & Johnson to Guatemala. Margaret met Rick at the airport and joined him for a meeting with J&J staff in Guatemala City. The following day, six J&J colleagues traveled to Santa Lucia Utatlan to join Rick and MM at the Pahaj School where the children had prepared an impressive show of traditional dances, songs and poetry, along with live marimba music. 

While some members of the J&J team helped serve lunch to the children, Rick and J&J’s Andrés Salas met with mother and teachers leaders to learn about life in their community and the impact of Mil Milagros’s programs. As one mother shared, “If it wasn’t for Mil Milagros and the nourishing food the children receive, many of the children would only have tortillas and salt to eat.” Teacher leaders talked about the children coming to school early, lowered absenteeism, and improved graduation rates. Several mothers stressed the need to help more schools.

Mil Milagros and our partner schools and communities are thankful to Johnson & Johnson for their support. We look forward to continuing our work together to reduce child malnutrition and hunger and to ensure that every child in Guatemala graduates from (at least) sixth grade, healthy, literate and prepared to continue their education.

 ¡Mil gracias al equipo de J&J!

Sunday Morning Shopping

This semester we are piloting a new centralized purchasing system which will allow us to reduce costs and ensure uniform meals in all of our schools.  That means very early morning shopping trips to the market with our new buyer, Maria!

Here’s a quick peak into the process.  We turn in a list of everything we need for the following week.  Then on Sunday morning Maria goes to the market early, so that, as she says, we can get the best and freshest chicken. 

After collecting all of the food and paying everyone, Maria calls a pickup truck to bring the food down to the dock on Lake Atitlan.  Everything gets loaded into a boat and shipped across the lake.  The teachers and mothers of San Juan la Laguna then head down to the dock on their side of the lake.  They then carry it all up the hill and make sure it is properly stored for the week.  I’m still amazed that the eggs can make it across the lake during the bumpy boat ride, but they always do!

The Start of a Better Future in Chutinamit

We are excited to show you the first new homes that have been built in Chutinamit.  With support for so many organizations, individuals and groups, the community is finally able to see progress and hope for a better future.  

The construction of all 22 houses will be built in three phases with the help of our wonderful partners at ConstruCasa.  During the upcoming months, one room and a bathroom will be built for each family.  As soon as funding is in place for the following phases, additional rooms will be built on all homes so that at the end of the process, each family will have a three room home with a bathroom and shower. 

Can’t wait to see each family with their own new home!

Ground breaking in Chutinamit - at long last

This is the day we have waited for for four years, since the Chutinamit community was forced to leave their mountain village after a severe storm rendered their homes unsafe for habitation. Since then, they have lived in a makeshift community of tents and lean-tos surviving rains, winds and conditions none of us could manage. Mil Milagros had been working with this community for three years when they became homeless. We responded by expanding our school-based feeding program year round and raised funds to feed all the young children too. We recreated the children’s school, renting space in a nearby weavers’ cooperative. We created a vacation school for the children, funded “portable” gardens, and secured monthly medical services.

And when the community asked us to find an organization to help them rebuild, we found ConstruCasa, a Dutch non-profit that builds houses for the poor. Like most non-profits here, they usually build just one house at a time. Thanks to the generous support of several donors from the US, all 22 families will have homes within the next three months. And then hopefully a new school too.

Today we joined the community to lay the first “block,” along with our partners from ConstruCasa, the nuns who raised some of the funds to purchase the land, and the Mayor who secured government funding to secure the land for the new “Chutinamit.”

Prayers answered. A dream come true.

Ten Golden Hygiene Rules

Last week, the students in Guatemala had a week long mid-year break. To take advantage of the quiet kitchens, Lucy prepared cooking demonstrations for all of the mother leaders in each of our five schools. The mothers worked together to prepare Chinese Chicken, a recipe similar to stir-fry that is loaded with veggies. The new recipe will be added to the menus prepared in the schools for all of the students. 

While waiting for the food to finish cooking, Lucy also taught the mothers about the “Ten Golden Hygiene Rules.” These rules were developed by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health and include many ways to ensure that food reaches the table safe for consumption. The guidelines have been developed with a rural Guatemalan context in mind. This includes open kitchens without refrigerators or screens on windows and food bought from an open market without any hygiene controls.

After eating, many of the mothers told us they had never used broccoli or green beans in their cooking, even though they are abundant and inexpensive in Guatemala.  They thanked Lucy for teaching them a new dish that they were excited to share with their families and implement in the schools.  Well done, Lucy!

Expressing Ourselves!

The students at the Mil Milagro’s partner schools have been hard at work showing their creative talents these past two weeks.  A few weeks ago we asked the students to participate in drawing contest.  They had to create a drawing that depicts their interpretation of “The Miracles of A Thousand Miracles (Los Milagros de Mil Milagros)”. 

The entries we received were beautiful.  They expressed school lunches, toothbrushes, doctor visits, and school books.  Even more precious were those that showed their mothers volunteering in the kitchens and their classmates studying and playing.

Some of the best drawings were then combined into mural designs and the winners were asked to become large scale artists.  Children between the ages of six and fourteen all worked together to contribute to murals on walls in their schools.   They mixed helped choose designs, mixed paint colors, and painted their own drawings.  I was so impressed with their abilities to focus and complete their work with such details—and I only had to remind them once that we were painting the wall and not their classmates J

I must admit, as someone with no talent for manual arts, I was nervous to begin this project with the children.  However, it has been such a rewarding and fun process.  Watching the children express themselves and their relationship with Mil Milagros has been beautiful.  And even more rewarding was the opportunity to show the children that their efforts and talents are appreciated and valuable.  Stay tuned to the Mil Milagros blog to see how the final products turn out!

A Top Teacher:  Meet Miss Magda
Meet Magda.  Magda teaches the combined 4th, 5th and 6th grade classroom in Nuevo Progreso.  When a school is very small, the school is forced to combine grade levels based on the number of teachers they receive from the Ministry of Education.  There are two teachers working in Nuevo Progreso.  Magda used to be the principal of the school but this year stepped down to allow her partner teacher to further develop her leadership skills.  During the transition, Magda has been serving as her mentor in addition to supervising a student teacher.   
Magda has worked for ten years as a teacher, six of those in Nuevo Progreso, and she says she decided to become a teacher because she has always loved to work with children.  Her favorite subject to teach is Communication and Language, both in Spanish and in the local Maya language because it is fun to teach.
 “Magda is always on top of everything.  She goes to buy the supplies for our programs in the school.  She sends notes to the moms.  And even though she doesn’t live in the community, she is very involved in what happens there.  She even visits students’ homes when there are problems,” says Carolyn, our In-Country Director.
When I asked Magda if she has seen a difference in her students since the Mil Milagros programs began in Nuevo Progreso last year, she responded, “Yes, now the children don’t miss classes.  They come every day to school—the food really motivates them.”  

A Top Teacher:  Meet Miss Magda

Meet Magda.  Magda teaches the combined 4th, 5th and 6th grade classroom in Nuevo Progreso.  When a school is very small, the school is forced to combine grade levels based on the number of teachers they receive from the Ministry of Education.  There are two teachers working in Nuevo Progreso.  Magda used to be the principal of the school but this year stepped down to allow her partner teacher to further develop her leadership skills.  During the transition, Magda has been serving as her mentor in addition to supervising a student teacher.   

Magda has worked for ten years as a teacher, six of those in Nuevo Progreso, and she says she decided to become a teacher because she has always loved to work with children.  Her favorite subject to teach is Communication and Language, both in Spanish and in the local Maya language because it is fun to teach.

 “Magda is always on top of everything.  She goes to buy the supplies for our programs in the school.  She sends notes to the moms.  And even though she doesn’t live in the community, she is very involved in what happens there.  She even visits students’ homes when there are problems,” says Carolyn, our In-Country Director.

When I asked Magda if she has seen a difference in her students since the Mil Milagros programs began in Nuevo Progreso last year, she responded, “Yes, now the children don’t miss classes.  They come every day to school—the food really motivates them.”  

Teaching Students How to Think

This week the teachers of San Juan la Laguna had the opportunity to participate in a training related to the Santillana textbooks that they received from Mil Milagros.  The texts include five subject areas and are aligned with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education’s National Basic Curriculum for primary school.  Even more important, the teachers receive a Teacher’s Textbook Guide and a Planning Guide.  Because the teachers have never had the opportunity to use such a comprehensive textbook in their classrooms, they made a special request for the training.

When the trainer arrived from Santillana, the teachers were shy until a quick icebreaker got them moving and laughing.  After sharing their challenges and successes using the textbooks, we got to work.  The teachers learned how to effectively create more comprehensive lessons plans using the supports included in the teacher guide.

For me, the most impactful message of the class was that the teachers’ job is not just to teach content material but to also develop critical thinking and life skills.  As one participating teacher concluded, “A child goes to school to learn to live and think.  If I always have this in mind, my classes will be very different!”

A Star Student:  Meet Kevin! (Note, he’s ready for lunch!)
Kevin is eleven years old and a 5th grader at the school in Nuevo Progreso.  He has two sisters who study in the school and also has a younger brother.  Like many children in Guatemala, he adores playing soccer.
His teacher says he is an exceptional student with the best grades in his class.  He’s a hard worker, too.  Perhaps it because he really likes to study, especially math he says.  One of the last things Kevin told me was, “I am so excited because I am going to have a new school!”  (If you haven’t heard about the new bottle school in Nuevo Progreso, read about it here:  http://ow.ly/xWLmE and see pics here: http://ow.ly/xWLGe and here: http://ow.ly/xWLOn)
Kevin has so many dreams that when I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, he couldn’t answer because he said there were too many things he wants to do.  He wants to graduate college and work in an office, to be a police office and to be a doctor.  In the end, he says “But most of all I want to be a doctor so I can help other people.”  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this bright student!

A Star Student:  Meet Kevin! (Note, he’s ready for lunch!)

Kevin is eleven years old and a 5th grader at the school in Nuevo Progreso.  He has two sisters who study in the school and also has a younger brother.  Like many children in Guatemala, he adores playing soccer.

His teacher says he is an exceptional student with the best grades in his class.  He’s a hard worker, too.  Perhaps it because he really likes to study, especially math he says.  One of the last things Kevin told me was, “I am so excited because I am going to have a new school!”  (If you haven’t heard about the new bottle school in Nuevo Progreso, read about it here:  http://ow.ly/xWLmE and see pics here: http://ow.ly/xWLGe and here: http://ow.ly/xWLOn)

Kevin has so many dreams that when I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, he couldn’t answer because he said there were too many things he wants to do.  He wants to graduate college and work in an office, to be a police office and to be a doctor.  In the end, he says “But most of all I want to be a doctor so I can help other people.”  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this bright student!

Gracias and Farewell, Teacher Evelyn!

This week the teachers from our school in Pahaj shared a beautiful meal with our former volunteer English teacher, Evelyn.  Originally engaged as a volunteer just to teach English, Evelyn has done so much more.  Not only did she teach us many things about English; she also embraced the opportunity to be become a teacher trainer.  Through English lessons, she helped the Guatemalan teachers improve their instruction skills and taught them many new ways to engage their students and make their classes more interactive.   She has inspired the teachers to make learning fun.   And on top it all off, she prepared amazing New Mexican food for all of us!

We ate, laughed, shared a few grammar jokes, and even had an impromptu lesson in the local Maya language for Evelyn’s husband.

On behalf of Mil Milagros and the Pahaj teachers, we thank you, Evelyn, for your hard work to help our children.  You will be missed in Guatemala but we wish you luck on the new adventures to come!