So I’ve not written a blog post for a long time, but as I have just returned from Guate (again!) I thought I’d write something down. I don’t expect people to be interested but it does help me to reflect and consolidate my thoughts.

What a few weeks it has been, so amazing to see my Guatemalan family again. After about two hours of being there I felt like I had never been away, didn’t even bat an eyelid at the 4am firecrackers and only once forgot to put toilet paper in the bin and not in the toilet! The first few days were spent at Rodolfo and Sary’s house (Rodolfo was the leader of the project I worked on). It was so great to see them and congratulate them on their 25th wedding anniversary.

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My Guatemalan family

I then went on a visiting frenzy, visiting my most favourite families that I got to know when I was living there. Thank you so much to The Sikahall, Ramirez and Ortiz families, I love you all 🙂 I also had an afternoon meeting up with some other friends and stayed with Suzanne overnight.

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With Isra and Alex

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With Dini, Trish, Tito and Fernando.

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With the Sikahalls

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With the Ramirez family and Cesar.

Then I headed over the Zaragoza, the town I lived in when I was there. What a welcome! Kids were running at me from all directions and people shouting “Seno Hannah” every two minutes. Even people that I don’t know seemed to be shouting my name. It felt like I was home again. During my time there I was working on the project called “Educando para la vida” or “Education for life”. How amazing to see how the project has grown in the last year. The project had taken over a new building when I was there, but now this has really been developed and put to great use, a kitchen has been fitted, and a roof has been put across the patio making a large area for the kids to be able to come and study (and have fun!). While I was there the project won a grant to receive a water filter, and now Edgar, one of the Guatemalan volunteers lives on the premises 3 days a week and provides clean water to a large number of the families and public schools in Zaragoza. There was a constant stream of people coming during the week to collect their water in their large water containers.

In addition, the library has been developed and now there is a computer room, where children can come and use the internet and do their homework. The project has been blessed with another Guatemalan volunteer, Miriam, who is now running this aspect of the project. Rosa, who I spent all my time with in Zaragoza is still in charge of “Aulas Abiertas” or “Open classrooms”. Children in Guatemala complete an exam at the end of each school year, if they fail they repeat the year again. Some kids don’t go to school as they need to look after younger siblings or go to work. Aulas Abiertas is an afterschool homework club for any of these children to attend. It focuses on literacy and numeracy skills and getting children who attend school through the school year. The aim is to get as many as possible through primary education and onto the secondary education. In Guatemala (at the moment) only 3/10 children finish primary education and 1/10 finish secondary. Rosa also runs an adult literacy class twice a week and the project is looking at getting involved in a further adult literacy programme that is broadcast over the radio next year. Vivi, Rosa’s daughter is trying to reinforce the english classes that I taught when I was there (really can’t imagine how that goes!)

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With Rosa

What a blessing it is to see firsthand how the project has grown and how God has blessed it’s small beginnings, bringing more people and resources.

But really I was in Zaragoza to help with the campamento. I could not believe this was my forth campamento. Althought it is called a camp, the kids don’t stay overnight, but just come everyday of the week and on the Saturday we perform “Belen Viviente” or “Living Bethlehem” in the central park for the local community.

I was thinking of the first campamento and how there were about 10 volunteers and about 100 kids, we didn’t have much of a clue of what we were doing and I didn’t speak much spanish and didn’t even understand what Belen meant! This year there were about 200 kids and 50 volunteers! Rodolfo’s cousin from Puerto Rico has brought a team and medical supplies from Puerto Rico for the past few years and he brought another team this year. There were also volunteers from Nicaragua, Korea and this year I wasn’t the only Brit as two guys from UK also came to help. A truly international team. Ruth (Rodolfo’s daughter) did an amazing job of preparing all the materials for the different ages each day and we were all given things to prepare and be part of during the week. Also, Anaeli, Rodolfo’s other daughter was home from Uni in the States, so it was great to be reunited with both of my Guatemalan sisters!

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All the volunteers…almost

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With my Guate sisters.

The first day, all the volunteers headed over the Antigua where we spent the day visiting various places in the town, catching up and getting to know the people we didn’t know. I had spent 9 weeks in Antigua when I was at language school, and I was happy to be back and see what had changed. It was a beautiful day, with no clouds so the volcanoes that surround the town were fully onshow.

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The volunteers split in two with those with a medical background helping with a medical clinic in the Educando para la vida premises during the week and the other half helping with the kids’ camp in the local public school. I worked in the school during my time in Guatemala giving english classes, so it was great to return to this building and also see how it has been improved. When I was first at the school there were no toilets, but a toilet block was built while I was there which made life a whole lot better, both for me and the kids 🙂 There is now also a row of sinks to wash their hands in and a new classroom which is nearly completed.

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Latin Link, the organisation I went to Guatemala with sent a short term team to Zaragoza in the summer and they painted a mural on the school wall and also constructed a roof over the courtyard in the middle of the school. This is a great improvement as before the kids would either be boiling from the sun or soaking wet from the rain in wet season when they went out to play. The new roof still lets the air and light in but protects the kids and when they have graduation ceremonies etc, they no longer have to put tarpaulin across the gap.

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I was a little bit undecided as to whether I should help in the medical clinic with my nutrition which I have done before, or work with the kids, but as usual the kids stole my heart and I spent my time there.

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Many of the kids in Zaragoza live in poor conditions, both physically and emotionally. Many are exposed to physical and sexual abuse on a daily basis. The camp focused on “I am a treasure of God”, reminding the kids that they do have value. In the mornings the kids moved around different stations in their different age groups eg. teaching, memory verse, playing games, worksheet etc.. The kids got two snacks per day and Corina, the lady I lived with when I was there provided all 200 kids and 50 volunteers with a hot meal everyday, what an amazing achievement! In the afternoons the kids were split as to what they chose to be in the performance of “Living Bethlehem”, all the shepherds made lanterns, angels practiced their singing etc.. On the final day, all the kids received a gift and a T-shirt of the camp, and two huge inflatables arrived and we tried to control the very excited kids!

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Everyone…mas o menos!

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On the Saturday, we finished the camp with the performance of the Nativity in the central park in Zaragoza. All the kids met in the school with their outfits on and we walked up to the park with Mary on the donkey. The kids were asked to bring any goats, chickens etc that they owned, so they walked too. A huge stable had been constructed in the park and we performed the Nativity there in front of a very large crowd. A real baby Jesus lay in the manger. The kids loved it and of course, I spent the evening crying as kids held onto me, gave me presents and asked me not to leave. Finally I cried my way through the final meal and presentations.

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The small stable

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What an amazing privilege it is to have been involved in this project from its small beginnings, long may it continue and grow….I will be back again soon.

El Hijo del hombre no vino para que le sirvan, sino para servir y para dar su vida en rescate por una multitud. Mateo 20.28.

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So, I’ve not written a blog for quite a few months…and today was thinking about it and thought I’d write one as I sit under a blanket IN THE MIDDLE OF AUGUST! How I’ve missed British summers.

Well the last few months have been a bit difficult for me. Leaving Zaragoza was traumatic to say the least and being back in England still feels strange and at the same time comfortably familiar. I feel like I’m in a constant state of wanting to “fit in” again but at the same time, not wanting to become comfortable and “fit in”. How do you fit into a world that constantly talks about “slimming world syns” after living in a world where women can’t afford to feed their children? Where people spend their weekends cutting down hedges and mowing lawns after living in a world where people work all day long working on their crops just to survive. Where people leave their house, get in their cars and don’t know the names of their neighbours after being in a world where the whole village walks everywhere and everyone knows each other or is related.

There have been times when I have been unable to cope with things that people have been talking or complaining about and rather than say something I regret I have had to walk away which then I have worried has made me look rude or uninterested.

How do you suddenly adapt to life in UK again? I still don’t know, although over the past few months it has become a little easier.

There doesn’t seem to be much Christian literature about the theme of “re-entry” but I did read “Re-entry” by Peter Jordan which was very useful and listened to some sermons online. One thing that has been helpful has been to not think about the return to the UK as “coming home”. Guatemala had been my home for 2 years, and I need to think of Liverpool as another place to live and serve God. Also although the people there have not died, they were my family for 2 years and now I don’t see them everyday and although it may sound strange there is a mourning process to go through and it’s OK to miss them and wonder how they are doing. It has been useful to talk to other people who have worked overseas for a number of years and their experiences of returning to the UK. Many have had similar experiences to myself and it’s been good to know I’m not alone in how I feel, and I’m not just going to be fine after a few weeks or months. I didn’t by any means expect all people to be interested in what I’d been doing and was very aware that I didn’t want to be constantly saying “In Guatemala, blah blah blah” but when sometimes people just asked me something like why I wasn’t more suntanned, it was somewhat frustrating. But then when someone asks me “How was Guatemala?” I actually have no idea what to say. How do you summarise all of that?

So what have I been doing since I returned in May? Well for the first 5 weeks I stayed between my parents’ house and my friends Carrie and Ed in Liverpool (thanks guys you’ve been great). I visited friends, went for walks, ate lots of cheese, choc and curry (I really need to stop this now!), signed on (deep joy), went dancing etc.. My first trip to church was interesting and not really what I expected. During my time in Guatemala I had attended various churches and although by end I could understand the majority of the service one thing I missed the most was worshipping God in English, I never felt like I “connected” in Spanish. When the first song started in English and everyone started singing I just started sobbing (and wondering why on earth I’d sat right at the front, and not brought a tissue), it was just totally overwhelming. I don’t even know why, I was just expecting to feel happy to see everyone again but I think I cried for most of the service.

I went on a bus…another memorable experience. Everyone was queuing in a straight line, and when I everyone got on, no-one pushed or shoved or even spoke. On the journey, there was SILENCE. Weird, no music. No-one tried to sell me anything. No-one sat on me. No-one asked me to marry them. No-one gave me a baby to hold. AND I had BOTH my bum cheeks on a seat. There was more than a 2 second opportunity to disembark. I felt like everyone was wasting an opportunity not selling anything at all and was wishing I had a stash of chewing gum or jelly in bags to sell.

Another significant and quite upsetting day was when I went to stay at my best friend, Hannah’s and we went to her daughter’s school to pick her up. Not being a teacher in UK I’m not used to be being in English schools. The size of the classrooms, the decorations, the equipment, the number of books, the games was all amazing to me and I was almost in tears again. Her daughter is 7 years old and was just finishing reading a Secret Seven book, whereas some of the children I’d been working with could just about manage writing the alphabet at the age of 7.

I moved back into my house. Everyone had given me horror stories about renting out houses but it was amazingly fine, cleaner than I ever lived here, even all the horrible black mould has gone out of the bathroom (God’s certainly  been good to me)! I have found myself doing slightly ridiculous things like trying to work out how many Guatemalan families could live in my house (it’s small but I concluded about three) . I feel guilty about things, like spending money -even on things that I need,  I’ve felt guilty about not being in Guatemala to help Rosa, the other volunteer, guilty about wasting food etc..

I’ve been trying to find work. I’ve locumed as a dietitian for a few weeks in Wigan which was crazily busy and I’m applying for permanent jobs. Britain seems to be even more health and safety / rules and regulations / I’ll sue you crazy then when I left. I could not believe the amount of form filling, CRB, immunisation checks, mandatory training etc etc etc stuff I had to do just to get on the locum lists in the first place.

My sister got married! It was a great day. She looked so beautiful and I was a very proud sister. Despite a downpour of rain as we came out of the church, it was sunny when we got the reception and we were able to enjoy the beautiful gardens and have photos taken there. The ceilidh in the evening had everyone up dancing.

I miss Guatemala but it has become a bit easier over the months (and with the world of skype, I can still have communication and practice my spanish). I miss the kids SO much. I am often working about what time it is in Guatemala and what they will be doing. I pray for them everyday, especially the ones in difficult situations. I miss the family I lived with. I miss frijoles. I miss Guatemalan greetings and hugs. I really miss the sense of community. I miss walking around and kids shouting “Seno Hannah” every 2 seconds. I miss my friends. I miss sunshine. Every now and again I’m not thinking about Guatemala and I’ll see someone that looks like one of the kids, smell a smell (usually not a good one!), or hear a noise and it’ll remind me of there.

There are some things I don’t miss. I didn’t live in fear in Guatemala but I did live in a heightened sense of awareness for my safety all the time. It was not possible to go out at night or go walking alone at any time, so it’s great to be able to do both of those things, and to enjoy the long summer evenings. I don’t miss 4am firecrackers. I don’t miss mosquitoes. I don’t miss visits to the dentist. I don’t miss confusing, crossed-wired conversations. I don’t miss being stared at 24/7. I don’t miss having no personal space. I don’t miss lack of punctuality. I don’t miss putting toilet paper in a bin.

So, what does the future hold? I don’t know but I know who holds the future. At the moment I’m just taking one day at a time. God made it so clear to me that I should go to Guatemala. I have to remember that this is not the end of the plan, there is more to come.

The One who called you is completely dependable. If He said it, He’ll do it. 1 Thes 5:24.

I also want to thank all of you that have listened to me, supported me, prayed with me, fed me biscuits and coffee, taken me for a walk, invited me to your small group to talk about Guatemala, sent me texts and emails, invited me for dinner, told me it’s ok to feel this way, let me play with your kids…you’ve all been great.

I thank my God every time I remember you. Phil 1v. 3.

Well here I am writing this in ENGLAND! I arrived back in UK after the mammoth journey on Wednesday evening. April was a great month.

After my amazing birthday celebrations on the 1st April, on the 2nd April we officially opened the new premises for Educando para la vida (Educating for life). The premises are a house which is owned by Corina’s son, but as he is currently working in USA and has no plans to return at the moment, we can use the building. The garden area has been concreted over and a roof constructed over the garden, so we now have a large area to hold Aulas Abiertas, (the homework club) and other community events. In the evening of the 2nd we held a celebratory meal and invited many people who support Educando para la vida, other volunteers, the teachers from the school etc.. About 50 people attended and we presented the work we did last year, what we hope to achieve this year and officially opened the new premises. I was also presented with a plaque to thank me for my work in Zaragoza. It says “Seño Hannah, The children of Aulas Abiertas, we love you and are grateful for your love and service to us. Zaragoza, Guatemala, April 2011”. So that set me off crying again!

Rosa and I doing our presentation.

Receiving my plaque.

Head in another cake!

After that, we started to plan the trip from the group from Puerto Rico who arrived on 14th April for a week. The trip was organised by Jose (Rodolfo’s cousin) who is a doctor by profession. He brought 15 people in total from his church ranging from the age of 14 to 73 years old to work in medical clinics in Zaragoza and Puerta Abajo (a small village close to Zaragoza). The day before they arrived I had a crazy time cleaning the new premises where they stayed, cleaning the school where we held the medical clinics, making signs for the clinics with the kids etc.

This day the water filtration unit were had applied for also arrived! We are setting up a water co-operative for families in the community and the public schools. They can pay a small amount every month to receive the filtered water at a much lower cost than usual.

We had told all the children and families we know about the clinics and had erected a big sign outside the school to inform people, however I was still a little unsure if people would turn up…how wrong I was. Anaeli and I went down to the school 20mins before it was due to start and there were about 200 people waiting outside! It was a great two days in the school, we had 3 doctors, a dentist, social worker, prayer clinic, sexual health clinic, psychologist and… I had a nutrition clinic. I literally saw a none stop stream of people from 8am to 6pm for two days in Zaragoza and a day in Puerta Abajo. I think I talked about nutrition in those 3 days than I had in my whole time in Guatemala! I have sometimes felt a little frustrated that I haven’t been able to use my nutrition knowledge more in Guatemala, but it was like I was making up for all that in the last 2 weeks!! In the evenings we also had some workshops eg. On drugs for the teenagers, rights of children for the mums etc..

A few supplies

Just a few people waiting on day 2

On the Monday we took all the kids from Aulas Abiertas on a trip to Iximche (Mayan ruins). The kids loved it! We waked around the ruins, had a cooked lunch (prepared by Corina and her team), played games, piñatas, acted out Noah’s ark, sang songs etc..

Josue told me he's going to build me a house with these tools for when I return...because there's space next to his house :O)

Corina where she's most at home- feeding people!

After that all the team went to Lake Atitlan for a day to relax. We had a morning of praise and prayer. I think that was my spiritual goodbye. It was an amazing time.

After they left I had one week left. I continued helping out with Aulas Abiertas and spent the rest of the time visiting people to say goodbye. Last Friday I went to the British embassy with 4 friends to celebrate the Royal wedding. It was great to go to a big, posh house and celebrate with pizza and drinks and watch a recording of the wedding.

With a very young queen

Last Aulas Abiertas

With 5th grade

With Nydia and Diny.

Byeee Emma, Alastair and The Downings!

With Tito

Last Sunday Corina had organised a good-bye party in her house with about 40 members of her family. We ate outside and had piñatas and a huge cake.

With Susanita and Cristiancito :o)

With all the grandkids

With Sofi

With Vere

Lucy's dripping on me...

My best friend in Zaragoza!

On my last day there was a surprise party for me with all the kids from Aulas Abiertas, some of their mums and the mums from the adult literacy class. Each person gave a speech and a present (yes more clothes out of the suitcase and more presents in!) and we had a snack and drink. I was overcome (yet again) with emotion and sobbed my way through my speech!

Sobbing through my speech

With my Guate sisters.

With Rosa

With Sary and Rodolfo

With Corina

With Rafa and Edgar

On the morning of my leaving everyone was coming round to the house to say goodbye, even the dentist (who I have got to know very well!) was crying! Cristian (Corina’s grandson, 8yrs) has been with me everyday I have been in Zaragoza, along with his Sister, Susanita, for 3 weeks everytime he has seen me, he has hugged me and said “Don’t go Hannah”. He really wanted to come to the airport with me but his mum said he’d get too upset, so I had to say bye to them as they went to school. Rosa (the other Guatemalan volunteer with Educando para la vida) and Corina prayed for me and left a huge puddle of tears on the floor of my room. I could hear kids’ voices and Corina told me I needed to go outside. When I opened the front door the headteacher was there with all the teachers and ALL the kids from the school!!  I went along and hugged them all, and then left to a stream of “Addiosss Seño”. Members of the family came to the airport with me along with other friends I have made in Guatemala. What a great send off, another day I’ll never forget.

With Esgrid...speaks english with an english accent, yay!

With Benji...speaks english with not just an english accent but an Essex accent and supports Liverpool!

With Nydia

With Susana and Cristian

With Corina

And now here I am, no-one speaking spanish, no kids shouting Seño every 2 mins, no tortillas or beans, no goats in the street, no English lesson plans, no Aulas Abiertas etc., but it is great to see my family again, speak English again, drink fresh milk and put toilet paper in the toilet!! Mum has told me off for not using my knife to eat with, but it’s a bit difficult after not using one for almost 2 years.

Chapina hits Blighty!

For the next month or so I will be living with my parents / friends in Liverpool until the guy who is renting my house moves out on 9th June. During this time I’ll visit people, have my Latin Link debrief, look for work, think and pray about my future etc..

I’d like to take this opportunity to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has sent me messages, supported me financially, prayed for me, sent me chocolate, the support of the other Latin Linkers in Guate etc.. It was a very difficult move to make leaving my job, my family, house, friends etc., but God told me to go, so I went. Praise God for His plans, they are better than mine. When I was a teenager I always thought I’d finish uni, get married, have some children, live close to my family etc., and although I still would like all that, God has had another plan for me and although some times were very difficult, in general it’s been GREAT, I’m so glad I took the risk for Him. Something that has always stuck with me is something Beryl Craig from BSF said, “God’s plan maybe painful, but His plan is perfect.”

So I’ll keep you up to date with my future plans. Thanks for reading. Hannah xx

So, first of all I’d like to say a BIG thanks to everyone who sent me birthday messages/cards yesterday…it was very kind of you all. I can honestly say I had an amazing birthday, one I will never forget. Firstly I was woken up at 6am with the obligatory firecrackers, and then all the family came round for birthday patches (like mashed potato and tomato wrapped in a banana leaf), and singing. For many weeks the school where I work has been organising a “secret party” for me. The kids have been preparing “secret” performances, making “secret” cards etc.. The day before my birthday, Lucero told me about 20 times there was going to be a surprise for me but it was a secret and I couldn’t tell anyone ;o) I’d been told to wait in my house until some children from the school came to get me. At ten o’clock, three sixth grade girls came to get me, but then started making up excuses of places we had to go around Zaragoza to keep me out of the school abit longer. We eventually arrived, and all the kids in the school were there with their younger brothers and sisters and alot of the mums I have got to know too through Aulas Abiertas and the nutrition group. I first saw Josue (I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but if I could bring one child home it would be him!), leaping towards me with a rose and then he flung himself into my arms.

With Josue

Then I was ushered onto the stage and sat on a chair with all the kids sitting around the playground. Firstly the headteacher gave a speech explaining it was my birthday but this was also a goodbye party (although I still have 4 weeks left), then some girls in first grade did a dance, then a girl performed a poem specially written for me, then more speeches from different teachers, and then sixth grade got up to sing happy birthday to me.

First grade dancers

Me on the stage waiting for it all to begin.

Sixth grade "Feliz cumple" singing.

All the kids lining up with their flowers, cards and presents.

A small selection of the things I received.

Then the WHOLE school, all 210 kids lined up to give me flowers, cards and presents. I had two bin bags full of things at the end. Then the mums gave a speech and gave me an embroided bag they had made. Afterwards the teachers had organised lunch with cake for us, followed by more speeches, by this time I couldn’t speak as I was crying so much.

In the afternoon I went to the adult literacy class to another “surprise” party. It started by Dona Elisa praying for me, but she only managed one sentence before crying…which set the rest of them off and then me again! More speeches, games, a specially made GIANT cake and more presents.  See photo, noting I am the tallest for the first time in my life!!!

Bubble gum blowing competition.

Get the string into your mouth to get the sweet competition.

Banana eating competition

Pass the string around and give a speech.

With Yeimi and David

More cake...

Head in the cake!

Candelaria and Alex

Giant Hannah!

After this I went to party number 3. I had been invited to Alejandro’s birthday party. He is a boy in one of my classes and his birthday is 2nd April, but he was having a party on the 1st. So I went there for more cake and speeches!

Finally, party number 4 with the rest of Corina’s family that couldn’t come in the morning. More singing and eating…thankfully no more speeches…I couldn’t cry anymore! So all in all it was quite a day!!

March has been great, Aulas Abiertas has been going really well. I feel Rosa and I have a better relationship with the teachers now and we can involve them more with what the kids in each grade need help with. Loads of kids have been coming along and they seem to love it! I’ve actually been enjoying teaching English…this is quite a turn around from when I dreaded every lesson. I think I just have more confidence as I know the kids and the teachers better now and the school is a lot more disciplined with Seno Bili being the headteacher. I’ve had to do English exams with the kids…apart from not a single one STILL being able to write thank-you correctly, they generally went well. Lots of mums have been coming to the adult literacy group and I’ve been teaching English there too.

With my 6th grade class

Oh just to say if I anyone sent me messages on my mobile, sorry I didn’t reply, now I don’t have a mobile. One day when I was going to Antigua, I think when I was getting off a bus, my bag was slashed and my mobile stolen. It happens alot here and I’m always really aware of my bag on buses. The bus was packed and I had my bag under my arm but they somehow managed to slash it. Thankfully I didn’t feel anything, and nothing else was taken. It was only when I needed to call someone that I noticed there was a big hole there. I had my Guatemalan chip in my phone, so still have my English chip, so will just get another phone when I’m back in UK.

Later on today we have the meal in Zaragoza for the teachers in the school and various other people in Zaragoza, to explain the projects in Educando para la vida, and to officially open the house as the new premises…and maybe find some new volunteers. The building work was finished there last week and Rosa and I and some 6th grade boys cleaned it all day on Tuesday (well we cleaned, the boys generally chucked water around)!

At the beginning of March for Shrove Tuesday, I was at the school. After my English class, all the kids started changing into fancy dress costumes and were asking me if I’d stay for the costume competition and “pica pica”. I didn’t know what pica pica was, apart from knowing that pica means spicy hot or itchy. After the costume competition, I got taken by all the kids to the plot of land behind the school and suddenly found myself having hundreds of kids smashing egg shells filled with confetti on my head. Another interesting Zaragozan experience!

Also this month, it was the 25th anniversary of the church that Rodolfo is now pastor of. It is quite far from where I live for me to go there all the time (2hours by bus) but I went for the weekend celebrations. There was a concert on the Saturday night and workshops during the day, and then a special service and lunch on the Sunday. It was great to be able to spend that time with them.

The church founders

On 14th April we have Rodolfo’s cousin and 15 members of the church he goes to, coming from Puerto Rico for a week. Many of the team are medically based and are going to complete medical assessments/workshops on the kids in the school. I think I’ll be doing some nutrition workshops. We are also going to take the kids from Aulas Abiertas on a day out which they are getting very excited about. The week they are here is Semana Santa, so we will also be joining in with some of the local celebrations and going to Rodolfo’s church.

So, it’s my final 4 weeks…I feel so sad to leave, but have to keep reminding myself that God’s got a plan and I hope I can come back soon. I’m working in the school for the next 2 weeks and then the group from Puerto Rico is here, after that I have one week left when I’m not working to say my good-byes.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!! xx

Recently there has been two media coverages about Guatemala in the UK news.

The first was a programme about a paramedic from Cardiff who went to work in Guatemala with the paramedics there for 2 weeks…and encountered a very different experience than she was used to (to put it mildly). I’m not sure if you can still watch it on iplayer, but it is available now on You tube, in 5 parts. This is the link to part one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naMmwHUPiB0

Also two days ago, there was an article in The Guardian newspaper about the education system in Guatemala and the problem of children working rather than attending school. It includes an interview with Jomara Pineda, she heads up the street team of El Castillo, where various striders have worked.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/08/global-campaign-for-education-guatemala?INTCMP=SRCH

Take a look.

February has come and gone- HOW QUICK! And today is March, which means that I only have 2 months left to go! Some days I am looking forward to coming home, seeing everyone again, meeting new babies, helping to prepare my sister’s wedding, eating English food again…but then other days even when I just start thinking about it, I can start crying. The kids in the school were asking me when I am going home and I told them May, they then asked when my sister’s wedding is and I told them July….they said, “So, you can come back in August? Sí seño? Sí?” I just have to tell them that I hope to come back someday but I don’t know when that will be or for how long.

Anyway, about February. Well the English classes in the school have restarted again. As you know this was the hardest part of my placement for me last year. This year the school has a new headteacher, Seño Bili, my heroine! She was a teacher in the school last year and I always thought she was the best teacher in the school. At the end of last year, Anaeli and I were told she was going to be the headteacher this year and we had the biggest smiles on our faces. The school this year has 210 children, 50 more than last year. When I think about the primary school I went to, we had approx the same number of children in the school but my school must have been at least 20 times as big, and the playground must have been at least 50 times as big. In the Escuela Cantonal this yr, there is no room at all between the desks, so it is impossible to walk between the desks during the lesson and they have to stagger break time, however the discipline and organisation in the school is a million times better. The English classes have been going a lot better than last year and the teachers have been a lot more supportive of me and we now even have coffee at break (last year I played with the kids at break as most of the other teachers just vanished!)

Not the best photo ever...but Seno Bili.

You may remember me talking about Aulas Abiertas moving to some new premises well that unfortunately all fell through (it’s a long story). Seño Bili is really supportive of Aulas Abiertas but unfortunately she can only offer us one classroom in the school in the afternoons, this is not large enough to hold all the kids at one time. So, Corina has given her permission for us to use her son’s house which is just about 10 seconds walk from the house I live in (her son currently lives in USA, so is not using the house at this time). There are 3 rooms we can use in the house, but it also has a large garden, a roof over the garden is being built at the moment to protect the kids from the sun/rain. It should be completed by the end of March. Aulas Abiertas restarts again tomorrow but we are splitting the kids into 1st and 2nd grade coming on a Tues, 3rd and 4th on a wed and 5th and 6th on a thurs, meeting in the school, until the new building is ready. On the 2nd April we are going to have an evening meal for all the teachers in the school, volunteers who help with Aulas Abiertas and other “important” people from Zaragoza (like me and the mayor, he he he), to inform them about the work of Aulas Abiertas and officially open the new premises. We’ve had a meeting with the mums of the kids that come to Aulas Abiertas (kids that are repeating a yr/have learning difficulties/severe family problems) and the majority of the kids are now registered. We have approx. 50 on the books. Tomorrow we are doing maths/language assessments with the 1st and 2nd year kids to get an idea of what level they are all up to.

The new premises.

The new premises from the road (school traffic not a problem!)

Conalfa (adult literacy) classes have restarted again too. These classes give adults in the community the opportunity to complete 2 school grades in one calendar year. This year there are about 15 adults coming along and we are doing 5th and 6th grade (usually approx. Age 12 and 13 year old). I am attempting to give English classes at these classes too. It’s quite difficult when they can’t read or write Spanish, to start on another language, but they all seem to enjoy it. I was teaching the sounds of the alphabet last week. The vowels were OK, but with the constanants they were just about saying every other sound rather than the one I was saying. I started laughing and then they were all laughing so much, that not much got done….but at least they enjoy it I guess.

Although this is not part of my project, I have been helping another strider, Anna out with 24/7 prayer this month, which has been great. I don’t know what you all know about 24/7 prayer but it is when a church/school/well any group of people pray for 24hours a day for a week. You may think this sounds quite boring and arduous, but as you will know if you have ever been involved it is far from dull. I helped Anna set up the room at the beginning of the week. The room has different creative stations to help you pray eg. A praise wall for people to paint, draw, write on; a mirror to write on the labels that you or other people have given you, and then you can pray and wipe them off, maps of Guatemala and Guatemala city, a listening area, music, guitars etc. 24/7 prayer has changed communities and individuals lives. Look at the website if you want to read more: http://www.24-7prayer.com/about/what With Guatemala city being one of the most dangerous, socially corrupt and violent places on earth and currently having the third highest murder rate in the world, Anna has always had 24/7 prayer on her heart to introduce to Guatemala. She was given the opportunity to do 24/2 prayer ie. for a weekend in the church we go to in Guatemala city. This went really well, and she was given the go ahead with 24/7 week. See Anna’s entry on the 24/7 website: http://www.24-7prayer.com/features/1448 Anna stayed at the church during the nights of the week along with other people, and I stayed for 2 nights. The days are split into one hour slots and people can stay for as many hours as they like and can visit as many times as they like during the week. To me an hour never seems long enough, the time just passes by so quickly.  The day the 24/7 prayer week ended was a Sunday and Anna and I could both sense the difference in the atmosphere in the church. People had really felt God’s presence and there were many testimony’s of things God had said to people and the church. The church is now hoping to do 24/2 about once a month and 24/7 prayer during the year. Anna has also had requests to do 24/7 prayer at other churches and at the Christian union camp in April. She is currently writing a manual for people here who want to do 24/7 prayer, with info on how to do it and resources needed, ideas for stations etc..

In April Rodolfo has a group coming from his cousin’s church in Puerto Rico. There are 15 people coming to work in Zaragoza for a week to do medical workshops and medical checks on the kids in the school. I think I’m going to be doing some nutrition workshops. We are just planning the week and getting the obligatory matching T-shirts ;o)

So, I think that’s all the news for now. Thanks for reading, your prayers and interest.

Until next time.

Loads of love Hannah xx

Well it seems like quite a while since I wrote my last blog. Since then a lot has happened.

Christmas was great. I went to Suzanne’s on 24th and we joined in with the crazy Guatemalan ways, setting off fireworks and firecrackers at midnight along with every other Guatemalan in the country. On the 25th we had English style Christmas dinner with the other striders plus Esgrid (specially invited Guate guest) who asked “What’s this?” about most items on his plate. Although he didn’t seem impressed by Christmas cracker jokes.

What is this?

On the 26th I came back to Zaragoza as Corina had all her family around for Christmas BBQ and secret santa present swapping, and I had been told I was NOT allowed to miss it. This was the day I realised I was “casi Chapina” ie. almost Guatemalan. When swapping presents it not acceptable to just say “Happy Christmas” and give the present. You have to say something like “This person is very special to me, I have known them since they were born and since then I have always had them in my heart. They are an amazing mother etc etc AND the person is…..” Then everyone claps and cries. I realised I was crying when the speech was done about me…casi Chapina! I also realised after one day without frijoles (beans) I was checking to see if there was some…casi Chapina!

For New year, Anna, Alastair (other striders) and I went to Tikal and Yaxha, some Mayan ruins in NE Guate. We eventually arrived after a lovely 10hr bus journey next to the toilet and found a hostel in Flores, an island in lake Peten Itza. We spent the next few days exploring the amazing Mayan sites. It was a really fun time and good to have a few days away and do something different.

A scary monkey that decided to run after me.

I

I didn't like it up there.

Then had a few days back in Zaragoza planning a meeting I’ll explain later and then we went to Nicaragua for the Central America Latin Link team conference. I went a few days early with Anna and Alastair to visit our friend, Emma, who used to work in Guatemala and now works there. Emma lives in Granada, a lovely colonial town, so we had a day there and then went to explore the island of Ometepe. It is a beautiful island made up of 2 volcanoes in lake Nicaragua.

Volcan madera

The water level in the lake has raised so much that there's no beach left!

Map of Ometepe

A spot of extreme lying down

After this we went to the conference. It was a good time to meet all the other Latin Link workers that work in Central America, to pray for each other, hear about what God is doing in each of the countries and also a new team leader was elected.  On the last day we went to a crater lake to go swimming. Lukas, (who with his wife Barbara, are the short term co-ordinators for Nicaragua) decided to get baptised while we were there. He explained that he was baptised as a child and had wanted for a long time to get baptised as an adult but was waiting for a time when he was in Nicaragua…and as he was with his Latin Link family (including 2 pastors!) he thought this was the perfect occasion. It was such a privilege to share this time with him.

Granada

Lukas's baptism

With the lovely Emma! "WAAaaaIT, I'm squinting". Oh I'm still squinting.

We arrived back in Guatemala two days before the Educando para la vida breakfast meeting. Educando para la vida (Education for life) is the collective name of all the projects I am involved with in Zaragoza. You may remember that we had this meeting last year as it was when I was extremely nervous doing my first public speaking in Spanish. The annual meeting is to explain to people what we have been doing in Zaragoza over the previous yr, to thank people who have been involved, to explain what we hope to do the next year, eat breakfast and get more support. Rosa and I presented all the projects we have been doing last year. I amazingly wasn’t nervous this year and it all went to plan.

So at the moment we are planning Educando para la vida for this year, the classes in Aulas Abiertas, I’m planning English classes until I go and we are planning what to do after I have gone with other volunteers, the adult literacy class is due to start next week and we also have a new project as part of the nutrition classes. This week a water filtration system is being delivered to Zaragoza. Water is available to the houses in Zaragoza twice or three times a week. When the water arrives everyone fills up their pilas (like a big bath to store water for washing) and the town’s central pilas are also filled up for those who don’t have them in their homes. This water is fine to wash with but is not safe to drink. Therefore the majority of people use water in big garrafones (I don’t know what they are called in English, but they are the same as the water you get in offices in UK) which get delivered to the house. However some people can not afford this water and many of the schools do not have this water. Therefore many people have parasites that they just live with. With this new water filtration system, families and schools in the community can pay a small amount each month to be part of the co-operative and a person will be paid to maintain the system and fill up the garrafones. A garrafon usually costs about 8-9 Quetzales, but with this system it will cost 1.25Q. (1Q is approx. 8p).

So, I can’t believe I only have 3 months left to go. Last week I went to visit the school where I have worked since being here. The amount of kids they have there this year is ridiculous. There are 50 more kids than last year and they are all so squashed in with absolutely no space between them. The first grade has 84 kids this year, so they are split into 2 classes of 42. To fit them in they have built a kind of metal classroom in the playground, so there’s even less room for the kids to play.

The new headteacher asked me to go and take some photos of the school for her, for an application she is making to buy some land at the back of the school for more classrooms. I hadn’t seen the kids since the Christmas camp, so was welcomed by shouts of “Seno Hannah” and being jumped on! They were all asking me when Aulas Abiertas and English classes were going to start and also how much longer I was here for…and when I’ll be coming back again. Not just the kids but the teachers were asking me the same thing.

I was also talking to some friends about how horrible it is to have to say good-bye- why does it have the word “good” in it? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was crying buckets about leaving my family, friends at SHS, friends at dancing, friends at church etc in the UK and soon it’ll be time to do it all again. But I was praying about it and God reminded me of what He told me before I came here, that our Christian family has eternal value and we will see our friends again. And I shouldn’t cry because it’s over…but smile because it’s happened. And I pray and hope it is not my last time here. I’m crying now, so I’m going to go….casi Chapina, ha ha.

Thanks for your support. love

Hannahxx

PS I’m updating my CV to look for jobs in UK. If anyone has a job for me, let me know. Thanks!!