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News from Foundation Todos Juntos
& la Asociación Pop Wuj

Spring/Summer 2016

Parachute games at the Family Support Center
Photo by Elizabeth Barnes
Family Support Center kids play parachute games in the new backyard at Ixcanul Noj with coaching from FSC teacher Santos Istazuy Pérez and long-term volunteer and former intern Dawn Bailey.
Changes at the Family Support Center
By Elizabeth Barnes | Student Coordinator
Late in 2015, Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado and other Pop Wuj staff made the difficult decision to make several fundamental changes at the Family Support Center. Scaling the project to include so many children was causing problems, and Carmen wanted to ensure that the FSC did not reach a size that would compromise the quality of care provided to participants.

The Family Support Center therefore reopened in 2016 with an age cutoff of sixth grade. Along with the independent decision of some participants to withdraw from the program, that age cutoff reduced enrollment to 24 children. (One latecomer in March has brought the total to 25.) Carmen met with all the older children after announcing this change to ensure them that Pop Wuj and the FSC will always be sources of academic and social support for them. Older FSC participants joined us for a day of baking at Pop Wuj in March and reforestation in Llanos del Pinal in June, and we have further plans to keep them involved.

Another monumental change was the relocation of the FSC from the house of Doña Delfina to Ixcanjul Noj, the community center across the street. Ixcanul Noj has long been the site of Pop Wuj medical project work in Llanos del Pinal, but Carmen and former Student Coordinator Amy Scheuren negotiated a new agreement with community leaders to use two of its classrooms and backyard for the year.

Everyone still eats their meals and snacks at Doña Delfina’s house, but this move allowed the family more space. The ample walled backyard also gives the children safe, easy access to outside play, which we lost when the family lending their land to us for playground space decided to begin construction there. One classroom is for “los chiquitos” (the little ones) for whom the FSC provides all-day childcare. The other classroom houses “los medianos y mayores” (the medium-aged and older ones) whose teachers support academically and lead in extracurricular activities.

Although these changes were emotional and demanding at the outset, everyone has adjusted well to the new setup of the FSC. If you’d like to learn more about the move to Ixcanul Noj and see what we’ve been up to this year, check out the
FSC tag on our Projects Blog.
Spotlight: Eulalio Vasquez
Don Eulalio, a Scholarship Program father
Photo by Adam Wohlman
Don Eulalio is a father in the Scholarship Program whose family has taken advantage of the intersectionality and long-term commitment of Pop Wuj's projects to improve their quality of life.
By Adam Wohlman | Scholarship & Education Projects Coordinator
Through the generous donations of our sponsors, the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program currently supports 122 students throughout the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Our mission is to fight the significant gap in education levels between youth from urban and rural indigenous communities and between young men and women.

To provide a more in-depth perspective to our donors and others interested in our work, we’d like to share the story of one of our participants to illustrate just how the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program actively supports local students and their families from local communities.

This is the story of Don Eulalio and his family. 

Don Eulalio was born and raised on the Finca Guadeloupe on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, a tropical region known more for its sprawling plantations of sugar cane, coffee, and bananas than its beaches. The history of such plantations, or fincas, is rife with examples of forced labor and debt peonage, including the forced labor of children. As a child growing up in a harsh, hostile environment Eulalio often worked as an ‘ayudante’ (or helper) to his father, keeping his machete sharp, gathering and cutting firewood, and helping to plant coffee. A native Mam (Mayan language) speaker, Eulalio acquired the Spanish language through his daily interactions with other laborers on the plantation. At the age of 15, his father had saved up enough money to leave the Finca Guadeloupe for good and their family ultimately settled in Cajolá Chiquito, a rural agricultural community located about an hour outside of Quetzaltenango.

Today, Don Eulalio resides in Cajolá Chiquito with his wife and five children, two of whom are adults and two of whom attend school and receive Pop Wuj scholarships. As the family does not have a regular source of income, they are dependent upon subsistence agriculture, primarily corn and beans, and odd jobs to provide for the family. The Q200 per month that Pop Wuj provides not only supports the continuing education of Manuel (12) and Elsi (10) by covering the cost of necessary school supplies and materials but also allows for a more diversified diet and the purchase of essential household items for the family. However, it should be noted that monthly scholarship payments are contingent upon the current enrollment of each child and a satisfactory academic performance in each of their classes in order to facilitate active parental involvement and academic encouragement. 

While Don Eulalio’s youngest child, Alex, has yet to enroll in school, he played an inadvertent role in bringing his family and Pop Wuj together.  After a trip to the local health center in Cajolá Chiquito more than three years ago, Don Eulalio and his family were referred to the Pop Wuj Clinic to seek further assistance regarding Alex’s trouble walking. The medical student who referred them was Carmen Rosa Alvarado Benítez, who has since become a doctor and done years of work with Pop Wuj's medical projects. She provided the bus fare and directions that ultimately resulted in today’s relationship and more than two years of paid, weekly physical therapy for young Alex. Today he walks comfortably, and when he begins school he will be eligible for a Pop Wuj scholarship.

Pop Wuj partners with many people who came to us via our medical projects and now participate in our social, educational, and environmental projects. When we begin a relationship with a clinic patient or a safe stove recipient, we recognize the complexity and multidimensionality of their circumstances and commit to following through with their family. The Pop Wuj Scholarship Program is one important front from which we work toward long-term solutions that government healthcare, education, and social services lack the resources and will to provide. Supporting the Scholarship Program helps us uphold our commitment to the families we serve.
Reforestation in Llanos del Pinal
Photo by Russel Gee
This year's reforestation work kicked off on June 23 in Llanos del Pinal. A mix of Safe Stove Project families, Family Support Center participants and alumni, Pop Wuj students, their teachers, and long-term volunteers came together to plant trees all morning.
Down to Earth
Integrating Environmental Work Across All of Pop Wuj's Projects
By Nadia Mondini | Environmental Projects Coordinator
In the rural communities around Xela, environmental problems such as water and air pollution, deforestation, and waste accumulation damage both the ecosystem and human health. Massive wood consumption has drastically reduced forest cover, increasing wood prices and aggravating the repercussions of rainy season flooding. Untreated wells or streams are often the only source of water, and water quality in communities that do have public systems is still poor. Open kitchen fires, particularly those that burn plastic garbage, constitute a serious health risk for women and children especially.

In this precarious context, in line with the principles of sustainable development, Pop Wuj resolves to engage in a model of community development which takes into account not only social objectives but also local, small-scale action for a better environment. Three initiatives are environmentally focused: the Safe Stove Project, recycling, and reforestation. But as Pop Wuj aims for long-term changes in people’s behavior and habits, the Association tries to address environmental issues in all of its social programs.

On its face the Nutrition Program has little to do with the environment. In this health-oriented project, Pop Wuj medical staff and Medical Spanish Program students conduct monthly consults with malnourished babies 6 months to 2 years old. The doctors monitor babies’ weight and body measurements over time and prescribe appropriate supplements and medications. Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado, Pop Wuj interns, and students in the Social Work Spanish Program also lead a presentation on a relevant topic and speak with the babies’ mothers.
Water Purification Education in Buena Vista
Photo by Jonas Kowalski
Mothers in Buena Vista talk about methods of water purification during a presentation led by Social Work Spanish Students Julia Dahm [pictured] and Jonas Kowalski. Director of Social Projects Carmen de Alvarado always encourages active discussion and engagement.
In that work, Pop Wuj acknowledges that environmental factors are closely tied with health. The educational presentations tackle a variety of issues those mothers in the Nutrition Program face. In June, we focused on raising awareness about several environment-related risks to children’s health, including contaminated water (and accessible means to purify it), waste and hygiene, and exposure to smoke from open fires. We talk with mothers about how closely human health and the environment are connected, doing our best to teach and motivate them to use best practices with natural resources.
In addition to educating, Pop Wuj integrates its services across projects. “Nutri” visits are also an opportunity for families to dispose of garbage: Pop Wuj encourages mothers to bring recyclable goods (glass, paper, aluminum or tin cans, and particularly plastic) to the meetings so that Pop Wuj staff can have them recycled. Most recycling centers are hard to access without a private vehicle, and trash collection is all but nonexistent in rural communities. As a result, such areas are regularly swamped in garbage. Without many alternatives for clearing it, many people burn the trash, releasing highly toxic gases. Providing information and support in trash management and recycling is crucial.
The relatively small size of participating groups of women (30 per community) and the relationship that Carmen, other staff, and volunteers have developed with them allows us to respond to individual needs outside the means of the Nutrition Program. When Carmen learns that a family with a child in the program is cooking over an open fire, she offers to do a home visit and interview to screen them for the Safe Stove Project.
Celia and daughter, Open Fire
Doña Celia will be among the first of our new group of Safe Stove Project participants to receive her stove because she has a 2-year-old daughter, Xerline, who participates in the Nutrition Program.
Photo by Nadia Mondini
If the family meets the basic criteria of receiving a safe stove—if they have a kitchen with a roof but do not have the economic means to purchase a stove for themselves—then Carmen puts them at the top of the list to ensure that they receive a stove as soon as possible. She openly acknowledges this prioritization of Nutrition Program participants (or any families with young children) in stove meetings with all new recipients, who have been supportive of the mission to reduce health risks and firewood consumption for these more vulnerable families first.
The integration of Pop Wuj’s projects extends beyond the Nutrition Program. Recently we led environment-focused discussions with the newest group of women receiving safe stoves and with participants in Pop Wuj’s Scholarship Program. These activities draw connections with long-established Mayan practices, which are often familiar to the elderly but lost to younger Pop Wuj project participants. During our June stove meeting, Director of the Medical Program Roney Alvarado encouraged new stove recipients to recall the Mayan understanding of honoring and protecting natural resources. The discussion emphasized approaching tree use, waste management, and other environmental concerns not by looking to “Western” practices, but rather by drawing on the Maya’s long history of respectful, sustainable interactions with nature. While outside technologies can be useful, the core of a healthy relationship with the environment comes from within each community.
Effecting environmental change requires an integrated approach adapted to its cultural context. Even our nature-focused projects like reforestation and recycling operate at the intersection of the environment and people’s health, culture, and livelihood. Pop Wuj takes localized steps toward long-term change, all the while giving foreign Spanish students and community members alike insight into how Guatemala’s centuries-old cultural heritage teaches us greatest respect for "Madre Tierra."
Tax-deductible donations may be sent via check to:
Foundation Todos Juntos
P.O. Box 533
Honey Brook, PA 19344

Online donations are accepted via PayPal.
Todos Juntos logo
Foundation Todos Juntos, a 501(c)3 non profit, was founded in 2001 by former students of the Pop Wuj Spanish School to facilitate ongoing collaboration with various projects in and around Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala.

Today the Foundation supports educational, medical, social, and public health projects in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Please visit the Pop Wuj projects blog for regular updates on the projects.
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Foundation Todos Juntos
Board of Directors
Amy Scheuren, President
Grace White, Vice President
Adam Kinross, Secretary
Emily Scheuren, Treasurer
Claudia Hindo
Ginger Lee
Lara Quinlivan
David Smith

Newsletter Editors
Elizabeth Barnes
Amy Scheuren

Newsletter Contributors
Elizabeth Barnes
Russel Gee
Jonas Kowalski
Nadia Mondini

Adam Wohlman
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