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.