Friday, June 6, 2014

The One in Which We Don't Meet Funes

It's hard to believe we are more than halfway through our GROW trip already! We continue to enjoy meeting new people and visiting the various communities in which Pastoral works.

On Wednesday we went to the rural community of Santiago Torres in El Paisnal with Mercedes. There we got to see a nutrition clinic aimed at incorporating leafy greens like spinach and lettuce into daily meal preparation. I loved seeing soy milk made from scratch, as well! Even though the GROW team was definitely shown up in an fast-paced game of futbol with the little kids in the area, it was certainly a fun adventure.

On Thursday we returned to Santo Tomas with Clelia to attend a self-esteem workshop. This workshop was for children from several local schools. The energy of our new friends Daysi and Ingrid, who helped run the workshop, was so much fun to watch. We started the workshop with a game to get to know each other. Each person said their name and a little bit about themselves and made up their own dance move. Each subsequent person in the circle had to do their own dance move, as well as all of the dance moves from the people before them in the circle. As someone who was toward the end of the circle, let me tell you that is quite a lot to remember! With a lot of help from Imani, and a lot of laughter from the students in the workshop, I managed to make it through. But my dance moves still leave a lot to be desired...

Throughout the workshop, the students worked in small groups to discuss definitions of self-esteem, and situations in their lives that could be improved with self-esteem, self-respect, and self-knowledge. I was very impressed with the focus of the students and the thought they put into their discussions. We finished up with an interactive song and said our goodbyes.

After having a truly incredible lunch at the home of one of the women who attended the piñata workshop last week, the GROW team got to talking with Clelia. She told us about how she loves being in charge of one area - Santo Tomas - in her work at Pastoral. She said it lends consistency and reliability to her work in these communities, and contributes to the success Pastoral has had in getting people involved in workshops, and keeping them involved. Seeing Clelia in Santo Tomas, I got the feeling she was in her element. I could see the trust and respect she has built up with women in that community, and it made clear to me the profound effect that Pastoral is having.

We want to give a big shout out to Globemed at Amherst's very own Reynaldo and his parents for hosting us for one of the best dinners I've had in a long time. Yum!!

Mucho amor de GM,

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Soy el Mapa; Soy el Mapa; Soy el Mapa; ¡SOY EL MAPA!


The workers of Pastoral have been extremely gracious to us for the last week. They have provided beautiful housing, safe transporation, and a wealth of new knowledge. We got a grand introduction to Pastoral, its directors, its staff and its missions on our second day; we have vistited with priests in El Paisnal; in the town of Santo Tomas we watched a piñata making workshop and met the mayor; we have visited Mayan ruins in Joya de Cerren and San Andrez; last Saturday, we hiked near the volcano Cerro Verde.  They have given so much and we do not have many opportunities to return the favor while we are here.

One opportunity for us to give to el Pastoral is our creation of digital maps of the communities. The workers of Pastoral requested we complete this project via e-mail before our trip.  Scarlet and I have taken the lead on this project. We were unable to follow up with questions about the specific purpose and intended end-users of the maps because el Pastoral's computers were down for a while.  However, based on our translations of the limited e-mails we received from el Pastoral we decided using a GIS program would be the best tool to created the final product they wanted. Thus, with our limited technical skills and knowledge, we set off to master the world of GIS! Of course we did not take on this challenge alone we enlisted the help of Amherst College's GIS expert Andy Anderson. Mr. Anderson patiently endured training sessions full with an exasperating abundance of questions, fumbles and giggles from Scarlet and I. He also patiently responded to many frantic e-mails from me.

One of these e-mails was sent on our second day here in the office. After I spent most of my nights in El Salvador teaching myself how to use GIS and spent the greater part of the morning trying to find the right version of QuantumGIS for the computers here, I finally discussed Pastoral's specific vission for the maps with Mercedes. She patiently endured my broken Spanish and explained that the maps did not require  any geo-spatial information. Her vision was to create a more professional version of hand drawn maps of the communities that highlighted risks and resources of each community. Alas, GIS proved nearly useless! Scarlet and I returned to the drawing board. We soon discovered SketchUp and fell in love with a new free computer program. Now we are trying to master this exciting program. (Can you say on the job training.) I have taken the approach of downloading every manual on  SketchUp known to man and intensely skimming. Scarlet just jumped right in and started creating shapes and structures with this 3-D modeling program. After, we both mastered some basic skills our collaboration has been fruitful:

We have learned some valuable lessons from this experience: basic GIS and SketchUp skills, the importance of tenacity and flexibility and the power of person to person interactions. In cyberspace the danger of information being lost in translation increases. Pues, adios y que le vaya bien.

¡Hasta Luego!
Imani Nia

Monday, June 2, 2014

Piñatas and Pupusas

¡Buenas! No matter how incredulous the looks when we first arrive, every time we greet someone with a cheerful "¡Buenas!" (slang for good day), they reply warmly and welcome us with open arms. On Friday we attended a piñata workshop in Santo Tomás with Clelia, one of the women from Pastoral. While all the staff members have a specialty (Clelia is a social worker, others are nutritionists or doctors), each staff member also has their own community where they run the workshops, allowing them to form closer relationships with the community members that they work with. The goal of the piñata workshop is to teach women how to make their own piñatas, which in turn they can sell to generate their own income. The women were all welcoming, even teaching us how to make pupusas!! On a side note, pupusas are harder to make than they look. We tried to make them a couple nights later and well, it's good we have another two weeks to practice!
Between the five of us we are able to get the gist of almost everything, however every once in a while things get lost in translation. For example, Friday, the day we made piñatas, was also Mother's Day. Clelia had told us that we were all supposed to get her a small gift, so we ordered a bouquet of flowers. First, I accidentally ordered 5 bouquets instead of 5 flowers, but that wasn't my only mistake. In the afternoon, Clelia took us to a Mother's Day celebration. We met the mayor of Santo Tomás and as Clelia shook his hand she handed him two wrapped gifts. Suddenly, things clicked. Of course! The gift was for the mayor for inviting us to this Mother's Day celebration!! Without hesitation I handed over all 5 bouquets to the mayor and we went to sit down. After a while, the more astute members of the group clarified who exactly the flowers were for and it turns out that they were in fact for Clelia. Oops. I bet the mayor sure was confused when a little gringo (foreigner) handed him 5 bouquets of flowers. When Clelia heard she laughed, and it is now a running joke in the office. 
More than anything else so far I am humbled by the simultaneous diversity and familiarity that surrounds me. There's a universal communication beyond words that I never in a million years never expected to find as I interact with 8 year old Jaimee who called me gringito ( little foreigner) and Señora Terecita who told us how to fry plantains and Dr. Fatima, the product of Salvadoran medical education (which begins with 8 years in med school as opposed to the 4 in the US). At the same time, though this connection is tangible, I'm constantly worried about offending my hosts, staring too long at the police and the seemingly nonchalant way that they grip their shotguns, or eating a slice of crisp ruby red tomato that had been washed in dirty water. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that I am incredibly thankful that we have two more weeks here, because there is so much more to soak up. There are so many more papusas to attempt, places to go and most importantly, people to meet. I have not yet said "Buenas" nearly enough.

GM love,


Thursday, May 29, 2014


We made it! Keelin, Imani, Scarlet, David, and I are safely in El Salvador. I can´t even begin to describe all of the things we´ve done over the past few days, so I will just give some highlights.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that the people we have met have been our biggest highlight so far. Margarita and Ruth met us at the airport and they were a wonderful welcoming committee. They are patient with our Spanish and committed to familiarizing us with El Salvador and the work that Pastoral is doing. Yesterday, Mercedes and two other volunteers took us to visit El Paisnal, one of the communities that Pastoral serves. We had a wonderful time meeting Padre Filadelfo who works in that community, as well as his parakeets, dogs, and turtles. Who knew that turtles ate bread?? Certainly not me.

Our excursion to Joya de Cerén to see the ruins was certainly one for the books. Around 600 AD the area was abandoned due to the eruption of a volcano known as Laguna Caldera. The lava actually preserved the ruins so archaeologists have been able to uncover entire buildings and identify their original purposes. We even found ourselves sitting in a replica of a sauna, although the temperatures here have rendered the addition of a fire pretty unnecessary…

We can all now check showering in rain water falling from a roof off of our bucket lists. Our water has mysteriously shut off, but we are becoming masters of improvisation. We even managed to cook a delicious dinner of rice, vegetables, beans, and fried plantains for dinner last night, although the real challenge was washing the dishes.

Today we are beginning to work on digitalizing the maps of various communities in which Pastoral works. Imani and Scarlet are our fearless Quantum GIS software experts and they are hard at work preparing the maps. The whole Pastoral team is supportive and helpful and I am really looking forward to getting to know them better over the next three weeks. Stay tuned for more updates from the rest of the GROW team.

GlobeMed love,