Wednesday, June 30, 2010

CIPI 101

CIPI stands for Centro Inmediato de Proteccion Infantil, or Immediate Child Protection Center. It´s basically the first stop for any child that enters the "system." The bulk of our orphanage work this summer is being done here. On any given day there are around 170 kids here, supposedly only for a space of 30 days before having to be placed in a more permanent facility or returned to their families. Kids come here for many reasons, and the majority of them are abuse victims.

There are around 55 adolescent girls, some pregnant, some with newborn babies, many pulled out of street gangs or from hospitals. There´s a group of about 25 young boys from 8-10 years old, all abuse victims, and as a group all were dropped in CIPI´s lap about two years ago, and CIPI has nothing for them to do, they can´t go to school, and there aren´t resources to teach them there, so the bulk of CIPI´s energy goes into finding stuff for these boys to do.

There is also a group of around 20-22 special needs kids, these ones get the majority of the local volunteers´time so we haven´t worked with this group a ton. The number of infants ranges from day to day as they are easier to place in homes/centers (usually under 30 days old, some with birth defects). It´s definitely an overwhelming place to walk into, but the director, Marielos, is amazing, and the few staff there really like HELP and what HELP´s done in the past.

We love working with CIPI, and have developed some great projects here. We run a weekly workshop with them. Twice a week, three hours a day, two adolescent girl groups and the boys group are rotated through three activities.

Esther has been heading up a physical activity hour, usually dancing which the girls love. The boys usually play tag or find fun physical games to play to keep them active (futbol is always an easy default, no kidding...).

Christina and Jeanette have been also having an art hour, where the kids are learning to sketch and draw, and find creative ways to express themselves.

The third workshop includes some life skills and psychology subjects, but oftentimes volunteers have found better luck just spending time with the kids, reading to them, and finding ways to make them feel important even for just a short period of time.

The CIPI project when it comes down to it really is several projects. These workshops only account for a small part of what we hope to accomplish here. Kristen Widdison, a micro-finance intern, is working on a business skills workshop project to teach the adolescent girls occupational skills to improve their chances of a more successful life than they´ve led up til now once they leave CIPI. Jeanette Langston, another volunteer, has been getting the paint project moving along quite a bit in the past week or two, which aims to improve the look of the facilities so the kids here are less likely to see this place as a punishment for being a victim of abuse, something that more often than not happens. Though they weren´t the ones who did something wrong, they feel like they are being punished, rightly so as much of the place here looks similar to a prison. HELP volunteers in the past have done murals here, and according to CIPI staff, it has done wonders for those that come through here.

One of our volunteers, McCall, isw heading up our volunteer network project, where we take advantage of the university requirement nationwide for all students to serve a certain amount of horas sociales, or social service hours. Psycology students, nusrsing students, education majors, etc... can all be recruited from right here in San Salvador to spend time working on the projects and workshops that we´ve been implementing this summer so that there is a constant, year-round source of volunteers for this very wonderful, but needy institution, and most of all for these kids.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wave 2 Initiation Station

Our second wave is fully here, including Andy, Mary and Dusty who arrived a week or so after the main group. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for them they missed out on the main initiation, so we´ll find some way to welcome them formally to this wonderful country. The rest, however, were put to the test the first Friday they were here, and I guess you can say they passed with flying undergarments!

The Challenge:

Brave the central market

Though these pictures don´t do it justice, this place is huge and full of nooks and crannies of the most oddball random items imagineable.

Our second wavers were given the assignment to find the most random item in the following three categories:

  1. Child´s toy/play thing
  2. Item of jewelry
  3. Undergarment (mind you this was presented as anything worn under clothes, including socks, so we don´t feel in any way responsible for the hilarious outcome...ok maybe a little...)
The following Sunday during our weekly planning meeting the treasures were unveiled and winners were chosen, here´s how it played out...

In the Jewelry Category, the winner was...

...Jaclyn with...those things...

For a Child´s Toy the winner was...

...Heidi! This creepy rolly polly clown thing scared the crap out of all of us...

And the Undergarment award went to...

...Erica for her "hoohaw frame" as Jay Porter coined it, lack of material and the fact that it was covered in dirt helped her win this category.

Jessica DeCosta was our overall winner, chosen for her thrifty shopping (she spent all of $1.34 for all three items, quite impressive), the hideous piñata she bought that would only terrify children (it´s better we don´t have a picture I promise), and for being the only one who found an undergarment for men, granted it probably would only be worn on special occasions (again, it´s best that we don´t post pictures...).

Everyone was a great sport, we had a lot of fun, and they all did great braving the crazy market and bargaining with local vendors. Don´t you wish you had come here now!

Monday, June 21, 2010

All about BALSAMO

So technically we call this project the "BALSAMO" project, but in reality our real partners are the community members in a small county called San Lucas. We are working with four small family group communities (caserios) in this county, which is located in the municipality Cuisnahuat, which is in the Sonsonate department (our equivalent of a state). BALSAMO itself is a micro-credit and agricultural organization working in rural communities here, who we´ve worked with for several years now, mostly utilizing their know-how, their transportation, and their contacts in the community.

We began the summer with some basic needs assessment strategies. Initally we met with BALSAMO to discuss the potential projects they saw a need for in the communities they work with. Our history with BALSAMO mainly consists of square-foot garening projects, so we went into the meeting with this in mind.

Early meeting with BALSAMO staff Rosi, Carlos & Alvaro

Not long after working with and getting to know the BALSAMO staff we were able to go out to the community we decided to work with (San Lucas) and meet a few times with the community leaders to discuss the needs of the general population there.

Meeting Center in caserio Los Conces

Waiting for our first meeting with community leaders

We were able to decide on a few needs to address this year: the high rate of undernutrition for the children of the communities and a limited access to health care facilities.

The back of the truck, often how we get around, even in the rain

To build trust and foster a good partner relationship with the community members we started off our projects with a celebration, inviting all community members to come get to know us, have some delicious arroz con leche, dance, and laugh at us.

Kassandra Bellingham, one of the project leads, dancing with a community member

Our skit about a jealous husband during the inaugral celebration

We´ve began our large-scale intervention for undernutrition through a coordinated family garden project. The goal is to implement square-foot gardens in the home with trainings on well-balanced meals, incorporating fruits and vegetables, and cooking methods in cases where this hasn´t been a usual thing. Most families we visited average one meal a week that has any vegetables, and one meal a month including meat (almost always chicken). A regular day will usually consist of beans and tortillas for all three meals, with rice at lunchtime.

The current status of the project is looking very promising. We´ve surveyed a large percentage of the population and now have a running list of the types of fruits and vegetables they commonly grow and eat there, as well as their understanding of a balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle, and clean water. With this information we plan to organize all the foods that they have and customizing a food pyramid to fit their resources, that way they can learn to vary the foods that they eat, and incorporate the fruits and vegetables that have been lacking, by growing them in their own yard. With river rocks, local soil, sand, and dried plant products, community members are being taught to create a small family garden in a way that can produce great quantities of healthy food year-round.

The past two weeks we spent working in the four caserios doing garden demonstrations. They were great successes, and many community members are interested in having their own family gardens.

The Montes home, where our first garden demonstration was held

Bringing up river rocks for the box around the garden

Building the box

Teaching the right mixture of soil, sand, and plant products

The next phase of the project now begins, visiting the homes of interested community members, building or helping build the gardens on a large scale, and teaching the nutrition basics for an improved nutritional status of the family.

We also are now starting the work on the health access portion of the needs we assessed. Interventions for this problem include disease prevention workshops, a health fair at the local school, and a small pharmacy provided for the community. Stay posted for updates on this amazing project!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nacho Libre, Jauyua, and adventures in the back of the truck

Ok so this is going to be a random blog post but we thought it was time to throw some more pictures up here of our fun adventures. Don´t worry we are also working very hard! We just also know how to play hard.

This is us first wave girls with the cheetah from the World Cup advertisments in South Africa. The World Cup began this last week and it is SUCH a BIG DEAL here. Every person we sit next to on the bus or every taxi driver has their own opinion about who is going to win and who has the better team. It is always fun to ask them who their favorites are and to have them explain why. In our English Conversation Club on Friday morning the theme was the World Cup. We talked all about the differences between Latin America´s view towards it and the USA´s. They all think that we are so strange for not knowing a lot aobut it or evening really caring about soccer.

One Saturday night we treated ourselves to Benihana´s and a movie at one of the malls here in San Sal. The malls here are actually quite incredible. We were pretty impressed with the chef, especially Brian.

In El Sal we travel by every mean possible, but one of our favorite ways is in the back of a truck...especially when it is pouring down rain. This picture doesn´t really do it justice but all of us were crammed in the back of a friend´s pick up and we were getting drenched. It was awesome!!

Here´s me (Juliann) and Esther traveling back from English class in the back of a truck.

And here´s America, Christina, and Esther again.

Here we are again in a much bigger truck traveling with our partner organization Balsamo to the rural communities we are working with.
Once again it totally poured down rain on us. You don´t have a lot of options when you are in the back of a truck in the rain, so you just hope that your big black trash bag will be enough.

Here we are in all of our trash bag glory. They actually did the trick and kept our clothes nice and dry...just not our heads or arms or legs. ha ha This is Kassandra, Kenna, and Esther. Kassandra already had a rain jacket so she decided to use her trash bag as a skirt thingee. She was drier than all of us. Peter, Juliann, Tyler and America

The weekend that Tropical Storm Agatha decided to roar into town we decided to go out and explore La Ruta de Las Flores. This is a historic route that goes through several colonial cities. They all are supposed to have fun little markets, cool central plazas, and food festivals on the weekends. We rented a micro van and all went along for the ride. But of course because of the rain almost everything was shut down. We were a little bummed but still had a great time. We accidentally sat in on a catholic wedding at one of the cathedrals. Jauyua is the biggest city on la Ruta de las Flores and it has some really fun stuff to do there. They have a Festival de Gastronomia (I know that sounds gross but it actually just means a big food festival) there and we could pick between tons of different delicious options.
One of the options was frog...which of course Tyler ordered. He said it tasted like...frog.

The thing that made all the rain and the traveling worthwhile was that we finally found the movie Nacho Libre. Kenna and several of the other volunteers had been wanting to watch it ever ince they visited a Catholic Seminary for boys that looked exactly like the little orphange in the movie...big ugly school bus and chunky little kid included. We had made it a "SMART" goal to find it at one of the many piraterias here and watch it. We had asked at every one of them and never had any sucess but finally in Jauyua, Peter found it for us and we all freaked out! It was great.

Some of us also went dancing and we had a blast. Esther, who is studying dance education at BYU taught us all how to move our hips. What a good-looking group!