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Being face to face with a chimpanzee is exhilarating. One of the closest relatives to humans I recognize similar expressions and actions. Our hands… our fingers… they look and bend the same way. Photographing Chimpanzees in Kibale National Forest is one of my favorites. Learn about Chimpanzees and how to photograph them. Then join us in January for an Epic African Tour!Read More
Rafael Trejo Gym is the training facility for many of Havana Cubas World Champion and Olympic boxers.Read More
Entre Mundos is a home for those looking for volunteering opportunities throughout Guatemala. The purpose of our Volunteer Program is to connect the expressed needs of national and international volunteers who have specific skills with local organizations that have concrete needs and are interested in receiving volunteers. This is a collaboration that reflects our name, “Entre Mundos,” “Between Worlds,” and allows for personal and professional growth and development for both parties while bringing together two different realities on a shared path toward knowledge, connection, exchange on several levels, and friendship.
EntreMundos offers interested people the opportunity to volunteer with more than 100 organizations in the country, the majority of them in the western highlands. These entities work in fields such as education, health, nutrition and food security, hygiene, environment, renewable energy, agriculture, comprehensive rural development, community tourism, defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, of women, of children, and of youth, among many others. We cooperate directly with each one of these organizations to identify what kind of volunteers they need and to make sure that our potential volunteers do not only have an excellent experience, but that they also offer a useful service to the organization with which they work. (From the Entre Mundos Website).
He Speaks for the Trees...
Marco Cruz has been working on rehabilitating the forests around Xela for over 20 years. He started out planting trees with 2 others. They would go out and replant trees to keep the forests alive. After 10 years his friends left to work on another project leaving Marco on his own.
Marco started Chico Mendes (named after a tv show). Originally he was asked by the government to work together . They said that after 15 years they wanted the option of being able to cut down the trees again. Marco didn't want the trees to be cut down again so he decided to go off on his own.
He worked closely with the chiefs of the different communities. They have given him permission to plant trees in hopes of re-establishing the Mountain Range.
Marco uses both Local and International volunteers to help regrow the forests. The volunteers help maintain the trees currently planted. These volunteers go out once a month and clean around the trees clearing away weeds and other plants that may cause the baby trees to die.
The volunteers also assist with planting seeds. The seeds that are planted are put in bags with composite from other trees in the woods, dirt, and sand. When the trees are ready to plant in the ground Marco will take the volunteers up the mountain side to put the trees into a specific locations to make sure that the forest will regrow properly.
Most recently Marco and his team of volunteers planted 200 trees on a hillside. He has projects that will include planting another 2500 trees. Entre Mundos works with his organization by connecting volunteers who are interested in rebuilding the ecosystem.
Community Organic Farming
Armando Lopez runs a community farming project. The goal of the project is to connect local families to trade local crops.
Each family has a crop or two and instead of selling them at the market they trade what they have amongst each other. Trades include vegetables, flowers, fruits, eggs, milk, meat, honey, and more. Each person in the community has their own specialty.
Armando and the community farms utilize volunteers to assist with farming. While volunteering the volunteers have the opportunity to learn about organic farming and crop growing techniques. Armando shares his knowledge with volunteers and even offers classes. As a thank you for volunteering he offers a place to stay and fresh meals.
Armando so kindly invited myself and Lilya the volunteer coordinator into his home. He shared with us fresh dried fruit, wine, a papaya and guava drink that all came from his farm.
Entre Mundos Community Tourism Projects
It seems like it was so long ago that I spent 2 weeks documenting Entre Mundos in Guatemala. I’m finally getting around to finishing some pieces on my experience !
The last article I wrote about Entre Mundos we explored the a few of their Small Grants Programs. We will visit more of those later. This article is about their Community Tourism Program. This Program, which EntreMundos has run since 2010, aims to help rural groups strengthen and improve their sustainable community tourism projects.
“The principal goal is for local communities to be competent and capable of taking charge of their tourism projects without external help or financial support. This goal anticipates a process of accompaniment and institutional strengthening that offers an alternative source of income for rural areas that depend solely on agriculture, preserving natural resources while allowing tourists to appreciate their natural environment, culture, ancestral knowledge, and lifestyle. “ –Entre Mundos Website
While I was with Entre Mundos I joined Helvetas one of the community tour program companies that Entre Mundos supports. I traveled to various parts of Guatemala with Pam, Ana, Cesar, and Daniel.
The first stop for the day was a hike to see four of the twelve alters that are still used for rituals amongst the Mayans. The first alter is the Alter of the Toad, the second was an alter that appeared to look like an old man and woman. From the top of the hill you could see the valley of Quetzaltenango. On the distant mountain ranges additional alters presided. While on this tour we also went into an alter that was inside a cave.
Our second stop on this day was to Paqui. Here we hiked to more ritual alters with Luis, Santos, and Juan from the committee on sustainable natural resources and environmental projects of Paqui.
Our last stop on the first day was Parque Chajil Siwan. Here we met up with Santos Gutierrez who gave us a tour around the ecological park. The park is perfect for hiking, camping and bird watching. It also has a zipline that you can take around the park to get a true birds eye view.
Over the weekend, we traveled to San Marcos to visit a few more Community Tourism Projects. The first stop was Sustentar. A beautiful park that is perfect for hiking. The park also has beautiful cabins for both large and small groups to stay in as they make their way up to the top of local volcano. The large cabin area fits up to 15 people in a community like setting. While we were there we met a few new rangers who were learning about the all the wildlife and plants that are in the area.
Because of the rain (Note to travelers... it may be warm and hot in the US in June... it's cold and rainy in Guatemala.) we saved San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta for the next morning which. It was great because the weather was perfect. San Rafael is gorgeous. Known for it's hiking, and bird watching especially for the Quetzal. We spent the morning hiking around the park looking for the infamous Quetzal. Today they stayed hidden but we did see some amazing waterfalls.
On our way out of San Marcos we made two final stops. The first was at a coffee plantation called Fica Villa Alicia . Roberto took us around his plantation and showed us how he develops coffee from start to finish. We were able to see the coffee plants being planted.
Our last stop on the way back was to Granja San Fernando. This little farm off the side of the road is know for it's fresh goat cheese and tortillas. And they were delicious! The farm also serves fresh goat milk, eggs, and more.
The last stop that I visited for the Community Tourism Project was Parque Regional Municipal Quetzaltenango. This location was tough to get to. We drove for about 30 minutes on really undeveloped roads. Here we went on a 2 hour hike up a mountain to where we had a view of one of the active volcanos in Quetzaltenango. After the hike we stopped at a little hotel that had thermal baths from the volcano.
When I was first assigned to this project I went onto their website to find out what I would be documenting. Entre Mundos which was formed in 2001 supports organizations and groups that are committed to the fight against poverty and the defense and promotion of human rights for the country’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations.
EntreMundos firmly believes that it is possible to achieve positive change in Guatemala – principally in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable areas – through programs with a “bottom-up” focus on rural development, based on the needs, expectations, ideas, and initiatives of local populations, so that the communities themselves can fight to defend their civil, social, cultural, political, and economic rights and have a positive impact both at a local level(rural development) and at a national level (political advocacy). (From Entre Mundos Website)
It wasn't until I arrived and had my first conversation with Fabio the director of Entre Mundos that I realized exactly what that meant. Entre Mundos serves as an umbrella to smaller grassroots organizations. They provide assistance through funding with grants, finding volunteers, and promoting community tourism (amongst other areas).
Day One: Small Grants Program
In 2013, Entre Mundos created the Small Grants Program, an initiative that offers economic support to local organizations that work in field of social development and human rights promotion in Guatemala and that otherwise would not receive any type of support for their projects. (From the Entre Mundos website)
With the assistance of Project Wheeler (one of the largest and prime donors) Entre Mundos is able to reach out and assist organizations all over the country. Every year these organizations put together a wish list of what they need and provide Entre Mundos with a grant proposal. Entre Mundos goes through the grants and with the money donated from Project Wheeler they disperse the money amongst these organizations by determining which projects fit their mission the greatest.
I started my visit with Entre Mundos by visiting two of the organizations that were recipients of grants this year. I was accompanied by Jessica the Coordinator of the program and Fabio the director of Entre Mundos. The first is a Woman’s Community Organic program and the second a School that is working of building a brighter future for the children of Quetzaltenango.
Asoderam is a program created by the Minister of Agriculture in Quetzaltenango. The purpose is to teach Mayan woman how to grow organic crops. The purpose of this is so that they can feed their families with healthy chemical free vegetables and also sell their remaining crops. By selling the additional crops the Mayan Woman are able to bring home some money to help take care of their family.
There are 10 communities under the Asoderam program with approximately 75 woman participants.
With the company of Eric, the minister of Agriculture, I was able to meet with three of the communities in the Valle de Palajunoj.
The first community was Llanos Del Pinal. This community was located in the valley of the volcano. Five woman shared a plot of land. They each had 2 lines to grow whatever crops they wanted. While we were there they had just started a new harvest that included lettuce, radish, broccoli, and Califlower. The woman visit their crops once every week to clear the dirt of unwanted plants. The goal is to share the crops amongst their family and then sell the rest at the market. These woman travel to the market one time a week during harvest season. They typically make around $30/week.
Instead of using pesticides to keep bugs away from the crops they use Lavender and tea plants. One plant will keep the insects away from a whole row.
The next community we visited was Bella Vista which means good landscape. This community was located on the side of the volcano at a much higher elevation. Because of this they spent most of their season in the mist.
This community was similar to the first except that each woman had their own plot of land that was attached to their homes. Because the land was bigger they were able to grow more crops. Also in between seasons the woman grew flowers and sold them once a week at the market. Each of these woman had animals that also assisted with the organic soil fertilization process. They owned cows, chickens, and pigs which provided fertilizer. Chickens are said to be the best.
The last community we visited was Chuicaviol. This community was back at the bottom of the volcano and similar to the second was a much bigger space of land. The woman that we met worked with her sister to harvest the land. She grew a few crops that were different from the others. Potatoes and beans along with lettuce, radish, and broccoli. The potatoes were just for the family. The rest they would sell at harvest time.
Semillas de Fe- Seeds of Faith
One of the ways people make money (small amounts of money) is to go to the dump and dig through the trash looking for recyclables to sell to trash plants. Although, this may sound easy it could take 2-3 days of digging through contaminated dirty garbage to find enough plastic to sell to the recycling plant. Of course the more hands to find what they need better so parents will often bring their your children with them. Day after day these young kids 10 and under will dig through the trash just to earn enough money for dinner.
Semillas de Fe was started to get children out of the trash and into school. To most this may sound like an easy thing to do. Wouldn’t a kid be happier in school then digging through trash everyday. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Parents need their kids help because two more hands helps gather the trash faster so they don’t encourage them going to school. That’s where Gaby and Carlos come in. They go out to the dump once a week in search of kids working. They then ask them a series of questions such as, what they want to do when they grow up, do they like digging in the garbage. They receive all sorts of answers to their questions including that the kids are happy in the dump and that they hope to be a garbage man when they grow up. Gaby has found that when the kids she meets really don't want to go to school she can win them over with love. She says to them... You know I love you don't you... Will you do me a favor and go to school with me. To which they usually answer yes.
Semillas de Fe is a school run entirely on donations and volunteers. The parents of the students donate what they can. That may be wood for a fire to cook lunch, eggs, or fruits and vegetables from their garden. They receive donations from local businesses of food and fruit drinks. All of the staff that works at the school are volunteers.
Through their Small Grant with Entre Mundos Semillas de Fe received brand new tables and chairs for their school. They are hoping to get 10 new computers by the end of the year so that the kids can learn even more.
The students receive free education and a warm meal for attending classes. They have one deal with the parents of the children. They can continue to attend the school for free as long as they keep their kids out of the dump. If they see the kids in the dump then they will no longer be able to attend the school. In order to encourage the parents to support their kids going to the school Gaby & Carlos go out to the Dump every other week with bread and drinks for the parents working at the dump showing that they care about them too.
On top of bringing students to the school Gaby and Carlos also do checks on the students to make sure that they are keeping healthy. Many of the students that attend the school now are sponsored from families around the world. The sponsorship money is to ensure that these kids are able to live a healthy lifestyle.
They currently have over 200 students enrolled in the school. However, they can't fit that many students in at the same time each group of kids meets on a different day or time. The program has officially graduated two of their students into high school with hopes of many more in the future.
Gaby has said that the same kids that use to want to work dump now want to be architects and doctors that help kids. Gaby & Carlos both share a genuine love for all the kids at the school. What they are doing is impacting so many young lives. Not just with an education but also with love.
In 2006, I went to Asia for the first time. I went to go visit my cousin Molly who was living in Vietnam while working on her Fulbright Scholarship. I went with my two aunts and my uncle and really had the time of my life.
This was my first real travel experience (Other then the US and Europe) and kicked off my addiction to travel. It's been 11 years but I still have vivid memories of the trip.
My Aunt had was also visiting Asia for the first time and we actually had a few hilarious side experiences. I have two favorite moments that I am going to share with you. The first was when we landed in Thailand. Thailand loves their King and they have signs all over the airport that say so. After flying for 18 hours my Aunt and I were walking to customs when she says to me... Boy they really love Elvis here... I looked at her a little confused and she pointed at the We Love the King sign. I laughed a little and said... I think they mean they love the King of Thailand.
Second Story is even better...
My cousin Molly was living in Ho Chi Minh City and told my Aunt and I to meet her so she could introduce us to some of the people she worked with. She gave us an address in Vietnamese and told us to give it to a Taxi driver. And then she left. My Aunt did what we were told. We gave the address to the cab driver who took us to an alley way. He pointed down the alley and said that is the address. And then in broken english asked if we were sure that was it. We weren't sure but said Yes. He told us he would wait a few minutes for us.
We walked down the alley and up to the building and rang the bell. A woman walked about to the door who only spoke Vietnamese. We asked her for Molly. She looked at us and said... Oh Molly and shook her head up and down. She signaled for us to follow her, so we did. She led us up a set of stairs and signaled for us to remove our shoes. We were in a temple. She pointed to the alter and started to bow. We followed her lead mumbling to each other the whole time... "How many times are we suppose to do this..." We asked again for Molly. She looked at us with a smile and said Molly, Molly shaking her head up and down. My Aunt said to me nervously we should probably get out of here. I said to her let's just see where she leads. The woman lead us over to a fenced in stairway that two barking dogs came running up. My Aunt said "Oh Hell no...we're getting out of here." I asked again for Molly. She looked at me again and smiled and said Oh Molly... Molly. In my head I was planning an escape when my cousin Molly runs up the stairs and says hey you guys are here! Both my Aunt and I breathed a sigh of relief and followed Molly down the stairs.
The images you see of the beautiful people from Vietnam were actually inspired by my Uncle. He woke me up one morning and said. Come with me. I'm going to take you somewhere that I know your going to love. We showed up at a busy market in Hanoi. We walked up and down the shop aisles and saw live fish,eels, snakes, and chickens, bowls of rice and tons of different fruits and vegetables. It was like a dream come true for a young photographer. I've still never experienced a market like those in Vietnam!