This Sunday, I went with my new co-worker, Dolores, to meet some of the students who are receiving scholarships through our program. The students meet every Sunday at the Puerta Abierta Library, here in Santiago. This past Sunday, there were 9 students there, working on homework, reading, and studying together.

I had the opportunity to interview each of them for a short video I’ve been working on, that will be used as a part of Natik’s upcoming online fundraising campaign. More to come on that, but for now, I must say that these students are pretty incredible. Some of them spoke with such passion and enthusiasm about their studies and their hopes for the future, others demonstrated tremendous critical insight as they reflected on the impact of education on their lives.

I took portraits of each of the students to send to their sponsors in the U.S. This is one of my favorites, of Maria I.

 

Beginning Work

Work here in Santiago Atitlan has only just begun for me, but I am already eager to begin my initial assignments! The wonderful thing about working in a fellowship position (and for an amazing, transparent, small, non-hierarchical, and dedicated organization) is that many of my work experiences will be tailored to my personal interests. I, of course, have a job description and certain duties and responsibilities required of me, and will also fill additional roles based on my existing strengths and skills, but there is also ample opportunity for me to focus on learning those aspects of international non-profit, development work with which I am less familiar. And to pursue some of my creative passions as well!

Many of you have been asking what, exactly, I will be doing as a Natik fellow. I should be able to provide a much better answer to that question after a month or so. But to provide a general overview, I am providing support to the local leaders who are currently running these programs, and also assisting in program activities and interacting with participants.

My main contact here is a woman named Dolores, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time today! I will be getting to know her much better in the coming months, but my initial impression of her is already extremely positive. Dolores is a very radiant woman, her passion for the work she does to alleviate poverty in the community is very apparent, she has a unique understanding of the situated-ness of the indigenous people of this region (intersections of race, class, culture, politics, past trauma, language), and even when talking about such serious topics, she never seems to stop smiling.

I will also be working closely with the Executive Director of Natik, Anita, who is based in Chiapas, Mexico.  I have heard only the most wonderful things about Anita from all those who have worked with her, and although I have yet to meet her in person, she has already demonstrated herself to be someone I know I will soon come to admire greatly. Anita is truly committed to this work, is a very creative and collaborative thinker, and despite all that she has on her plate, has paid close attention to ensuring that I am well-oriented to my role. She and I have, so far, been corresponding very closely via email, and she will come to Guatemala at the end of this month to work with me for about a week. The plan is for she and I to alternate trips to the other’s location; so, she will come here every couple of months, and I will go to Chiapas every couple of months.(I’m especially excited about having the opportunity to visit my former home of San Cristobal de las Casas, which is in the state of Chiapas and much of Natik’s work takes place in its surrounding Mayan communities!)

So, after discussions with Anita and Dolores, these are the first couple of projects I will be working on as a Natik fellow:

  • Just Apparel Fair Trade Orders – a woman from the Netherlands has placed an order with the women artisans of the Just Apparel collective for some custom embroidery pieces, due in just a few weeks. I will be working with Dolores to coordinate this order between the buyer, Natik’s U.S. volunteers, and the artisans here in Santiago. This will continue to be an important part of my role while I’m here, and this effort enables indigenous women to put their skills to work for fair wages to support their families.
  • Working with the Scholarship Students – Natik has a group of 35 students who have received scholarships from U.S. sponsors in order to continue their education (since in Guatemala, everyone has to pay tuition beyond the 6th grade). As a part of their scholarship requirements, the students must commit to studying outside of school hours at the learning center for 8 hours and doing 4 hours of community service. They meet every Sunday morning. This Sunday, I will be joining them and leading them in activities that will culminate in writing letters to their U.S. sponsors, which they do a few times per year. I am told that many of the students are shy (partially because Spanish is a second language), but they need to learn public speaking and eloquent writing skills to perform well in school and beyond. For the letters to their sponsors, we are aiming to elicit stories from each of the students that are a little more descriptive regarding how the scholarship program impacts their lives, beyond the usual “thank you.” My plan is to have the students work in groups of two initially and conduct interviews with each other, using open-ended story-promoting questions that I will provide (i.e. Tell me about a time when…) We will also talk about what makes a good story (detail, personality, voice, structure). Then, using each other’s notes from their interviews, they will choose one of the questions they answered and put it into writing for their sponsor letters. Hopefully, this will go as planned…
  • Making a Video! – Natik has an online fundraising effort coming up, and part of my job is to provide stories and photos to our social media coordinators for this purpose. I have also volunteered myself to make a video! Videos tend to get a lot more views (and hopefully donations), so this was a desired project, but no one had the video editing skills to put one together – until me! So, I’m going to make a short video that will include a montage of the students reading the sponsor letters/stories they’ve written, as well as some footage of Natik’s various programs in action! This will be either onNatik’s blog or Natik’s facebook page, or both, so be on the lookout for it in a few weeks!
  • Meeting the Women of Just Apparel – on Saturday, I will go with Dolores into the communities where the women who are artisans in the Just Apparel group live (and work). According to Dolores, their communities are rather far from the town center, as is commonly the case, since these are the most impoverished populations. I am excited to meet these women, and will be taking photographs of them as well, for Natik promotional purposes!

Exciting things ahead!