Thursday, May 27, 2010

A much needed update...

It has been a month since Juliann, America and I showed up in San Salvador, and it has just completely flown by. Our first wave has been here for a good three weeks and the second wave team will be arriving in a few short weeks themselves! They have their work cut out for them too, the first wavers have been great as we´ve been putting things in motion and coordinating various projects for them to be working on. We´ve been running on empty for weeks now and have lots to show for it, hence this blog being extremely late in the making!

We´re pleased to present our wonderful home, where our volunteers have packed themselves in, can´t wait to cram 10 more!

We´ve had a great time getting to know the city. On one Saturday a few weeks ago some of us took it upon ourselves to explore the city center, check out the main cathedral, center markets, and the like. San Salvador is awesome!

The courageous country directors sporting "Che Guevara" hats, as if we have a right to.

Weather has been interesting, while it´s supposed to be the rainy season, the first week to two weeks of everyone being here was uncharacteristically dry, and quite hot. The first bout of rain that the volunteers saw was an exciting event.

Now it seems we can´t get it to stop, it´s been downpouring on us all week, and all day, which is also uncharacteristic. We´re waiting for the normal torrential downpour in the afternoons surrounded by beautiful clear skies in the mornings and evenings, so far no luck.

Project-wise things are so busy we couldn´t be happier. We started right off with the local partnership of Habitat for Humanity, and found ourselves digging trenches and preparing lots for foundations. The project has been lots of fun, Brian Lunt is our project lead for Habitat and has kept us busy at least once a week working to rebuild homes for families displaced by Storm Ida last year.

Habitat has requested that we provide an EMT training for their volunteer coordinators and head masons for the entire country, we´re excited to add an educational supplement to this project this year, something that will be very sustainable and will be a great asset for them to have.

We also were able to get things right underway with FUDEM. We really can´t say enough good things about them. We took all the volunteers their second full day in country to the main FUDEM clinic in Col. Flor Blanca where we were all trained on taking visual accuity for the outreach campaigns we´ve been doing with them.

It wasn´t long before we were off on rural and urban campaigns providing subsidized eyeglasses and referral services for those without other resources to proper visual healthcare.

With FUDEM we have in the works an addition to their program, in preparation for their new Ventanitas de Luz program targetting needy school children throughout the country, we´ll be helping them develop training materials on eyeglass care, proper use, and signs for teachers and parents on potential visual health problems in their students and children.

The LDS Church Employment Center has partnered with us again on our annual English Classes geared towards increasing employment qualifications through improved language ability. In the first two days of sign-up we had over 130 students wanting to join our classes, it was a madhouse.

With so much demand we were unable to even accept everyone that wanted to take the class, which is a first in the history of the class. The first day volunteers interviewed all applicants indivdually to do the "pruebas de nivelacion" or placement testing.

We now have functional weekly basic, basic advanced, intermediate, and advanced classes with the goal of some of the advanced students teaching further basic classes throughout the remainder of the year while HELP volunteers are not in country.

BALSAMO is one of our other main projects that is moving along really well now. We are working with them in a small group of caserios, or family groups, in Canton San Lucas. We´ve met a couple times with community leaders there and have been coordinating with BALSAMO who has been working in community agricultural projects there for years.

This was our first meeting with the BALSAMO technicians working in Canton San Lucas, it was on May 10th, which is Mother´s Day in El Salvador. So while we got a lot of work done, and some good plans made, it wasn´t long before Brian and I found ourselves karaokeing Hey Jude at their party in the back room and dancing with all the employees.

They have a nice way of convincing you to do something you might not want to.

This is the community center where many of the community leaders meet for various reasons. Our first meeting had only four community leaders there, but the second trip out earlier this week was full of leaders, both men and women, ready to work with us on some great projects. We are hoping to implement a community garden project which will include a nutrition component, analyzing the fruits and vegetables native to their community, and developing a customized food guide for them to use along with training workshops to know how to best utilize their food to provide a balanced and fully nutritious diet for their families. Canton San Lucas has some of the worst rates for child undernutrition in the country right now.

Last week McCall and Peter arrived, finishing out first wavers. They´ve already been down in the dirt with us at Habitat and helped work on many of these awesome projects.

Orphanage work at CIPI (Centro Inmediato de Proteccion Infantil), Health Information Systems and proper signage/health education literature at Hospital Bloom, among other projects are also beginning to come together, which we´re very excited about. Expect more information on those soon! And for more continuous updates, so you´re not stuck reading our novel chapters everytime we´re able to update the blog!

El Salvador rocks!

Friday, May 7, 2010

At the Muelle!

El Salvador HELP Volunteers are the cream of the crop, not that this was ever in question, but just in case, here´s some proof of this fact!

As part of their welcome to El Salvador we decided to take them on a surprise excursion just over 12 hours after arriving.

Wednesday, 8:00 pm; Volunteers arrive at the airport.

Thursday, 7:30 am; Volunteers board a bus to an undisclosed location.

Alex will have to get used to just being too long for EVERYTHING!

11:00; Volunteer arrive at La Libertad, a scorching coastal town of El Salvador, treated to some delicious Michoacanas (Mexican fresh fruit popsicles).

The ever responsible and trustworthy country directors at work.

11:30; Volunteers are presented the Mercado de Pescado on the Muelle, the local fish markey located on the pier, really cool place!

This is where the fun starts! The volunteers were challenged to find the most disgusting or crazy thing they could in the market, barter a price, and deal with the stench of their purchase all the way back to the house. Their buys were then voted on at a team meeting that night for the best purchase. It was a great icebreaker into the culture, and a lot of fun, and at time downright nasty!

After that was when we decided it was time for lunch, so with stench-filled havoc in hand we bee-lined up to one of the local Pupuserias for some delicious pupusas.

We got to enjoy the black sands of La Libertad, practice skipping rocks, and getting clothes wet in a climate quite insuitable for drying, and having a good time together.

What a good looking bunch if you ask me, I am a little unnerved at how much I sound like a biased father-figure though...

So by that night there were some interesting smells from the garage, as our winnings had been stewing in San Salvador´s heat (only slightly more bearable than the exhausting heat of La Libertad). While everyone´s "catch" was equally fun and entertaining, here are our runners-up and winner of the competition.

In third place, and actually quite impressive:

Kassandras Tiburon (shark) head, that´s right, just the head.

The vendors on the pier were a little confused as to why she wanted the head, especially since she had it dug out of a bucket full of guts and putrid remains NOT meant for selling.

Our second runner-up, and a surprise to the end, Bryan´s fish head.

Though a shark sounds cooler than a fish, I think Bryan´s beat out Kassandra´s because of house disgusting it looked, and because he pulled it out of the bag it came in, leaving a nice spot of blood on the garage floor.

And the winner is...

Esther´s ... ... ... thing she bought...

So after close inspection, it seems to be some sort of fish, flayed down the middle and split open and flattened, with nice additions to make it look like a little devil face. Shock factor and surprise definitely got her the win. She now gets to pick our first vacation spot, nice work Esther! And to all the other volunteers who whether they wanted to or not, found something wonderfully awful and carried it home from the pier.

And We´re Off!

First things first, El Salvador is amazingly awesome and we love it here. Business-wise the work is really starting to come together and I think we´ll have maybe even more on our plate than we can handle! Volunteers arrived (dispersed over a 48-hour period of time) between Tuesday and late last night (Thursday). We´ve become well known at the international terminal to say the least.

Oh Alex...

After many long hours of travel it was great to have them out our home for the first time.

Now they they´re all here we can´t wait to get things moving with the partners we´ve been able to meet with so far, and are also excited to continue meeting with new project possibilities.

All the volunteers are being trained this afternoon on visual accuity, hopefully early next week we will begin working in rural communities across the entire country providing low cost glasses to children who don´t have them. The FUDEM clinics are phenomenal and their program is impressive and at times overwhelming, they are truly an inspiration to development workers anywhere, CHECK. THEM. OUT!

Carlos Hernandez, the director of El Salvador´s LDS Church Employment Center has been great help in organizing our annual collaborative English Classes with them. The Francisco Gavidia University across the street from the center has volunteered three classrooms to house our basic, intermediate, and advanced classes. Volunteers are eager to start classes, which will begin this coming Monday. Plans are also in the works to coordinate a way to expand the classes year round utilizting the acquired expertise of the advanced students as future teachers.

Balsamo is another incredible Salvadoran NGO that works in rural and urban communities in all aspects of development, self-reliance, and empowerment. We will be taking all of our in-country volunteers to meet with them again tomorrow morning to begin our plans of a new pilot program in which we focus on one community, "attacking" it from all angles to provide as many sustainable solutions as possible. This model will be replicated in future communities, adjusted as needed.

Put on your globes and flex those muscles, Habitat is hard work! Volunteers will begin working Tuesday morning on a project that El Salvador´s Habitat Chapter is giving us for our baby. This year´s project is a community in San Vicente, building 50 houses for families displaced by last year´s extreme flooding. HELP volunteers will be involved in much of the planning and family selection this year.

Projects involving orphanage work, the national library, a prosthetics program that will be central to our work this year no doubt, and others are still in the coordinating phase, and will be unveiled as they come together more. I promise they´ll be worth the wait!

See the following post for our volunteer´s initiation to the country, its something you won´t want to miss!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Este Es El Chiste

Juliann and I are noticing a funny trend and are assuming it might just continue. We're basically as good as a married couple. We just got a house together and have spent the past few days cleaning it together and putting together what random furniture we can find.

We also realized that we have a joint bank account, make important decisions together, budget together, etc... America is the mistress, I guess, in this situation.

Things are pulling together, and we can´t wait for our volunteers to show up in not too long!

First dinner at Estella´s, delicious Pupusas, the first of many I´m sure!

So it says "VIENVIdos" which should be "Bienvenidos" meaning welcome and the. The jist is: "Welcome to El Salvador, Fer and Adriana and Grandma are waiting for you."

Fernanda, or Fer, is one of Estella´s granddaughters, and she´s been waiting since August for the return of the HELP Volunteers, for any 2009 volunteers that come across this blog, they still remember your names, and miss you very much. For the 2010 guys, this is your new family, get ready!