Monday, October 19, 2009

Women and Youth Development Scholarship Program

I'm now the Secretary of the Women and Youth Development Scholarship Program, which works to administer and raise funds for scholarships to poor, rural, Salvadoran girls. To be eligible, the girls need to have at least a 7 (out of 10) average, and need to submit recommendations and essays that prove their good character and community involvement, as well as their financial need. Scholarship money goes towards matriculation fees, transport costs, uniforms, school supplies, etc... and the distribution of funds is overseen by the Volunteer in the scholarship recipients' site.
A few weekends ago we had a camp for the scholarship recipients of 2009, and it went really well! The different session themes were gender and sex education, resume writing, interviewing skills, self defense, etc... I brought two girls from my site and they loved it! I helped give the sex ed charlas, which included me dressing up as a man AGAIN :) for an activity where the girls practice saying no to sexual pressure. I also gave the career prep session using the materials from my career prep class at the local high school.
We are receiving the applications for the 2010 school right now, and the amount of scholarships we are able to give depends on how much we can raise! If you would like to donate, you can do so on the Peace Corps Partnership page:

Me and my girls, Alba and Lupe

Group Pic from the Camp

Giving charlas

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s so unreal to think that I’ve been in El Salvador for 8 months, and in my site for 6 months – my service is 25% complete!

I was so happy to get a chance to go home and visit for 5 days at the beginning of August month although it was not nearly enough time!

I’ll try to fill everyone in on I’ve been up to here in that last few months. June I was still working with and learning from the previous Volunteer here in site. We also had our second phase of training back in our training city and host communities. We got a little more Spanish training as well as more technical training and resources on topics like grant and project proposal writing, working with youth, fundraising, and other technical topics.

In July the other Volunteer finished her service and headed home. We had several going away events for here with the community – lots of dinners, mini parties and presentations. She had a really great relationship with the whole town, and everyone is sad she’s gone. It’s been a hard adjustment for me as well. We became really close in our time together here, and it’s been hard to lose my closet connection so soon after getting to my site. Now it’s like the training wheels are off and I’ve been dealing with a whole new set of challenges. We had In-Service Training for a few days at a beautiful hotel to learn how to complete and submit our reports and to do a review of the Municipal Development program. The Muni program was developed 10 plus years ago and is in need of revision as many of the conditions that existed at that time - those that the program was designed to address - no longer reflect the realities of many communities.

My town’s Fiestas Patronales, or Patron Saint Festivals were in August. It’s the biggest party of the year, and the whole town looks forward to it all year. There was a rodeo, carnival, pageant, parade, and dances almost every weekend, and I was the guest of honor at several events  I even dressed in drag for ‘Miss Puxtleca,’ escorting the men dressed up as women around the stage.

My work currently includes: working to make the youth radio sustainable and turn it over to the community, teaching life planning/career planning classes and English classes at the local middle and high schools, working with my counterparts in the town hall, teaching exercise classes twice a week, communicating with and updating the Engineers without Borders group on the progress in the work site, helping to solicit water and latrine projects in a local community, and working as Secretary of the Women and Youth Development Scholarship Program and helping two local girls apply for university scholarships through this program.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I have a parasite.

Yep. Its finally happened. Just when I was congratulating myself on my iron stomach and superior immune system...BAM...mal de mayo gets me. This month is the beginning of winter/wet season, which means the bugs have multiplied a million times and practically everyone comes down with headaches, body aches, and stomach problems. I finally got my medicine today, so in 3 more days I should be back to normal. 
In the last two weeks I was able to have a few meetings with the new mayor, and I finally know who my counterparts are! Last Thursday I had my general assembly with the community, which I had been stressing about since I got to my site. The purpose of the assembly is to introduce the new volunteer to the community, explain Peace Corps and what work the voluteer will do in the community. For the first month the volunteer is supposed to work with the counterpart in the mayor in getting to know the community and preparing for the assembly. I, however, didnt found out who my counterparts are until two days before my assembly. I had reserved a space in the town hall well in advance to have the assembly, and when I showed up that morning I discovered the room was filled with fertilizer. So then my counterparts and I had to find a new venue and clean it before people started showing up. To make things worse, the projecter I had reserved to use for my power point presentation had been given to the casa de la cultural for a film festival, so I had to do the whole presentation without my powerpoint. In spite of all this, it went pretty well. About half the people I invited showed up which was way more than I expected, my counterparts helped with the presentation, and I got some good feedback from the community members. 
My computer stopped working last week, so I took it to a guy in town who owns a cyber cafe. I think he managed to save my documents, music and pics, but he had to redo all my programs and stuff using the software he has to fix it, so now everything on my computer is in Spanish....As if I wasn't bad enough with my computer before :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

One Month Down

So much has been going on! Engineers Without Borders were here the 13th through the 19th. Some of them crashed at the house down the street from me where they all ate their meals and the rest stayed at my house…it was definitely crowded! We were working in a community called Las Pilitas. It’s a poor neighborhood situated in a ravine where dirty drainage water runs right through it and they have to walk up steep slippery ricks to get to the rest of the town. The PCV here applied to EWB for a project to build a street or walkway to safely connect them to the rest of the town. This stage of the project involved them taking a lot of survey data, training the community to use the tools properly to break up the rocks in the ravine, and prioritizing clean up campaigns. That week was really my fist week on the job, and it was a huge test of my Spanish skills! The other PCV and I basically had to coordinate everything the Engineers need to do and translate or everything (which is why I now know how to say drill, shovel, rebar, fencing, and a variety of other construction materials in Spanish). My counterpart and I also gave a charla (workshop/training/class) on proper trash disposal and the environment to the community and helped form a clean up committee in the community. Hopefully well help them get a water committee organized as well, as we hope to solicit for some public water taps in the community as well. On Saturday we all went to a nearby beach and spend the day relaxing in hammocks and on Sunday we visited the Izalco Volcano and Lake Coatepeque.- absolutely gorgeous!

This week the other PCV and I have had a ton of meetings and activities. The other day I taught a class on leadership at the school (in Spanish of course!) and yesterday I had and interview and helped with an English class on the youth run radio station that the other PCV helped start. We also met with the cleaning committee in Las Pilitas and set up house visits in the community above them to talk about trash management (i.e., asking them not to throw their trash in the streets and into their community!)

In more wildlife news, I finally saw a scorpion! One of the engineers was washing his pants in my pila (stone sink thing) and found a scorpion and two babies in his pants….

I’m really homesick now that the engineers have gone. I was doing good until they all came and stayed at my place, I got used to having a bunch of people around, and then they left to go back to the States and I kept thinking about how it would be if I was going back for a visit too…I wont be able to leave or have visitors until late June or July, so I’m looking forward to the second training session in June where I’ll get to see my training group again. Hopefully this will cheer me up!

Meeting with Las Pilitas community

Cleanin Up and Breakin Rocks

Engineers Without Borders - Central Ohio Professionals Chapter

Broadcasting in the Radio

Furry Chicken :)

Izalco Volcano

Lake Coatepeque

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I've been in my site for a week now and so far so good! There is another Volunteer here from Peace Corps who is leaving in July or August. The first day she took me around and introduced me to the community - everyone was so nice and welcoming (got lots of free food and lots of "Welcome to our town, come to me if you ever need anything"). The Volunteer has been on vacation in Nicaragua this week, and her host family has been great - letting me hang out in their house all day, eat meals with them, taking me to Semana Santa processions and activities. I have a house down the street from her host family. Its small but perfect! I have four rooms, tiled floors, and a big shower! Well, everything is perfect except for the walls, which are all painted a bright lime green and have mix-matched wallpaper borders...but everything else is amazing!
Semana Santa (Holy Week) was this week a lot of my town is Catholic, so there have been special Masses and processions all week. Last night the town painted "alfombras" in the street of saints, bible scenes, etc... before the big procession of the night.
This week Engineers without Borders is coming to my town to bust up some boulders in the river, so hopefully I'll be working with the Volunteer here to help out.
In wildlife news, I killed a ton of big ass ants that had a colony or something in my windowsill, saw a tarantula and a snake (which was later stoned to death by the townsfolk) down by the river, and have seen a few cockroaches climbing out of crevasses in my house. Have yet to see a scorpion climbing down my wall to launch itself at my face while sleep, and have bought a gigantic can of anti scorpion/ant/cockroach to prevent this from ever happening in the future.

Semana Santa Procession in my town

View from the hilltop - on a less cloudy day you can see the ocean!

Swearing In!


Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Official

I am now no longer a Trainee – I am officially a Volunteer! We had a beautiful Swearing In ceremony at the American Embassy in the capitol yesterday, followed by dinner and a party hosted by other Volunteers. Everyone departed for their sites this morning – lots of tears and goodbyes! I’m excited to get to my site even thought I’ve been placed far away from everyone else in my Training class. I’m replacing a Volunteer so we’ll have an overlap of a few months before I’m alone in my site.

Yesterday morning before orientation we had Counterpart Day – every Volunteer has an assigned counterpart in their community (for Munis it’s usually the mayor) and they all came to the capitol for an orientation. Unfortunately, my counterpart couldn’t come, and it was really depressing being one of the only ones at the orientation without my counterpart!

The elections on March 15 went really well - no incidents that were cause for alarm. The country elected the president from a different party from the one that has been in power for 20 years, so there was a lot of excitement. Last Friday night I watched the town kill, bleed out, skin, and dismember two young oxen. That was definitely a first (and hopefully a last!!).

Another first – I climbed the San Vicente Volcano last Sunday! It was by far physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I found a guide from my training community who was willing to take us (about 8 Trainees) and we started out at 6:45 and got back at 3:30 – straight hiking with short infrequent breaks and about 30 minutes for lunch at the top. my feet were covered in blisters and I could hardly walk afterwards, but at least the view was pretty!

30 mins in

At the top!

My training community <3

Saturday, March 14, 2009

3 weeks and counting....

Three weeks and counting until I´m in my official site! Phase 1 of training is now more than half way over! The last week or two have been really busy and crammed, but now that the end is in sight I´m much less stressed (although now I have a whole new set of anxieties about starting over alone in a new place!). Last weekend my family was invited to go with my neighbors to their family´s beach house in La Libertad. It was GORGEOUS and really relaxing, and totally necessary as we´ve hardly had any free time!
Things are progressing with the youth group - the alcaldeza (mayor) said she´d try to help with the street lamp project and we´re working on a fundrasing activity with the group right now. We only have about 2 weeks left to actually be in Tepe working with the group, so it´s possible we won´t be here to see the fundraising event (which will most likely be a show of somekind) and we defintely won´t be here to see the lamps get put up.
This weekend El Sal has their presidential elections and the atmosphere is pretty tense and excited - well see what the results are on Sunday!

View from the beach house in La Libertad

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Immersion Weekend

Immersion Weekend was amazing! I went to Morazan (north eastern department about 4-5 hours away from San Vicente) to visit a Volunteer. Turns out she is from the 757 - such a small world! I had to travel alone for part of the trip and I was really nervous and kinda scared to do it at first, but it turned out to be no problem at all - I had no idea where I was supposed to go but people were very helpful and patient with my crappy Spanish. The Volunteer's site is up in the mountains, small but really nice and she loves it there. We visited a school she´s working with, went to a monthly meeting of the Morazan PCVs, went to the museum of the guerilla war, hiked a bunch of mountians and got super lost on our way to a waterfall, found the waterfall, swam in the ice cold water, hiked back, and FINALLY got a chance to relax with some of the PCVs at a hotel near her site. All in all a fantastic weekend :)

My Training group has had a couple meetings with our youth group and they decided they wanted to do a project to get street lights in part of the town. I think this is a great project, but I have no idea how were going to help them do it - we have no money and like 3 weeks to work on it. We need to get info from the Alcaldia about what kind of funds etc... they need for the project and what the youth can do to facilitate it - hard enough for us to try and do in English much less in Spanish with a bunch of people we don´t know very well! On the upside I´m getting really good at doing ice breakers/dinamicas in Spanish as I´m in charge of them in every meeting haha! Today my group also taught 3 classes of English at a local school about the verb ´to be.´ I was really dreading it but it wasn´t as bad as I thought (probably because the class I taught was the smallest and most advanced...) I´m also trying to organize an excursion to climb the volcano next to San Vicente with the training group. The US vs El Salvador soccer game is the Saturday before the day were climbing it and I really want to go, but its the same day as our family fiesta so I dont think we can...also I hear Americans get poop and bottles and stuff thrown at them at the games and usually require a security escort so... I might have to pass anyway.

El Chorreron Waterfall

View from mountain top in Morazan (looks like the Blue Ridge mountains right?!)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mi maestra Maria Luisa

Ferry ride to San Luis del Carmen

My host sis and padre

From the left: My host mom, her sister in law, and my ¨cousins¨ Katharine and Michael

Feb 09 Trainees

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Day in the Life

The days are falling into a bit of a routine now, so I thought I’d write to let everyone know what a day in the life of a trainee might be like. First, I wake up at about 2:45am to the sound of roosters crowing in all the houses surrounding mine and all over town. I drift in and out of sleep to the sounds of roosters, street cats and dogs, people, TVs, and trucks until about 6 or 7. Once up I take a shower (or a bucket bath if the shower isn’t working) and get dressed. Breakfast is usually cereal or beans and eggs with corn tortillas. The tortillas are small and thick, don’t really taste like anything but are a HUGE staple and are served with every meal. Every Tuesday we have training sessions in San Vicente with the whole big group, and on those days I meet up with my small group in Tepetitan and catch the 7:30 bus into the city. The rest of the days of the week our classes are in Tepetitan in the house next door where another trainee is staying. We have Spanish class form 8-12, lunch 12-1, and then either more Spanish or work on our community contact and community project tasks until about 4.

The community contact activities are things like visiting a local school, interviewing the director and then teaching an English class, interviewing townspeople about the Alcaldia (town hall), visiting the Casa de la Cultura, etc…Basically these activities are supposed to a practice for us before we get to our site, where well have to do all these to get to know and get involved with our communities. As I mentioned before, for the community project we have to work with a group of local youths to execute a project to benefit the community. We had our first get-to-know-you meeting with a group of about 16 youths on Monday. The meeting was scheduled for 3:00, but of course everyone is on Salvadoran time so no one showed up until 3:45! Once everyone was there though, it was a really good meeting - the youth had a lot of great ideas for projects, although most are too ambitious for us to accomplish in 6 weeks with no money.

After classes and activities, I come home and hang out with my host family, the extended family of my host family and the other trainees, and study/do homework. Most evenings we have pupusas for dinner, and after dinner I usually watch my telenovelas ‘Un Gancha al Corazon’ and ‘Fuego en la Sangre.’ I’m usually exhausted in the evenings, so I go to bed around 9 every night…so yeah in bed by 9 and up around 6… I feel like a completely different person! You’re forced to be a morning person because it’s impossible to sleep through all the noise in the mornings!

There are usually activities planed for us on Saturdays, but Sundays we have free. The first weekend I was here I was able to go to a Quincenera (like a sweet 16, but for turning 15) and a wedding with my host family. The next Saturday the Munis and Rural Health each had field trips to sites. We went to San Luis del Carmen and Suchitoto to visit the Volunteers there and have them show us around and explain what work they do there. Suchitoto is really pretty, and a big tourist spot – definitely somewhere I’d try to take visitors! This Saturday all the communities had to travel into the capital city to meet at a museum – a long journey with about a million different routes and hot buses packed with passengers and vendors. Next weekend we’re each getting assigned to a current Volunteer in their site and are going to spend four days with them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Week Anniversary

Today is our official one week anniversary of our time here in El Salvador! The days are starting to get a routine - Spanish class in the mornings with Maria Luisa and work on our community contact/community project in the afternoon. Basically each training community has to either contact or create a youth group in our communities to work on a project to benefit the community. I think the PCTs before us did a clean up campaign in the park and other community spaces. We dont know what our group is going to do - but we had our first meeting with the leader of a youth group in our community this morning. It was really exciting and all in Spanish! Yesterday we were in San Vicente for training sessions with the whole group - it was really good to see everyone again. We had a medical session where they reviewed thing we cant eat/should avoid etc.... and now I probably have cysts because I had done like every single thing they said not to do....No one else seems that worried which is a good sign but I´m going to be super vigilant from now on! It´s also getting really hot here - our first few days were perfect because it was really breezy and cool, but not anymore!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Estoy Aqui!

I´m finally here! There is a group of 32 new trainees, half Rural Health and half Municipal Development - there are 2 married couples and 2 older retired women, but the rest of us are 22-31. We had 2 days of orientation in San Vicente, and now we are in our training communities in nearby pueblos. The training groups are determined by our technical groups and our language proficiency...I think I´m the worst speaker in my group, but I´m understanding more than I thought I would be able to. There are four others in my group, I really like all of them but am a little bummed the big group got split up so fast, just as we were getting close! We do have sessions in San Vicente once a week where well all get to be together for training. The first 2 months of pre service training is completely geared toward language acquisition and cultural acclimation and integration. Then we go to our actual communities and integrate there, and then in June well start tech training. More later!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Going Away Party

It's Sunday night, and I'm leavin on a jet plane in less than 36 hours!!
Saturday mom threw me a FANTASTIC going away party. In true mom-style, everything from the food to the silverware was El Salvadoran-themed, complete with blue and white balloons, pupusas, a huge El Salvadoran flag, chili beer and tres leches cake :). I hope everyone who came had a great time and plenty to eat!

I'm so thankful for all the support of my family and friends - in the difficult times ahead I know that you all will be the source of my strength - thank you again!!
Attached are pics from the party - enjoy! Also, I'm new at blogging so the format is kind of less-than-optimal...but hopefully I'll get better over time! In the meantime though, please forgive the messed up picture and text layouts and whatnot....