Lots to report from the last few days! On my first night in Antigua, we had a team dinner with all of the Field Consultants, in honor of those who are leaving and as a sort of celebratory welcome for me. We ate at Fusion, one of the best restaurants in Antigua, enjoyed homemade pasta, and shared a few bottles of wine…not the worst first meal in Guatemala! As part of the celebration, two of the Field Consultants put together a bunch of superlative awards and I was given awards for being the most likely to succeed AND “most improved” since my arrival in Guatemala…clearly a joke, but in the best way possible. It feels great to be part of such a supportive team, and having the chance to get to meet everyone all together before heading off to my region was a great transition period, if only for a few hours.
Michelle and I woke up early yesterday morning to catch a shuttle to Pana, which is where I am now! I checked into another hotel where I’ll be staying for the remainder of this week, before heading out for fieldwork with the interns at the end of this week. I’ll probably actually be sticking in this hotel for the rest of the month since I will barely be in Pana at all, and looking for a more permanent place to live in July. So looks like I’m living out of my suitcases for now! Michelle also talked me through some of the specifics of the projects we will be working on with the SECorps intern during our field weeks this summer, and they’re all really exciting and right up my alley!
In addition to working on some marketing projects for SolCom (ie. coming up with new marketing materials and campaign strategies to sell our products), we’re also partnering with two weaving cooperatives, LEMA and Saniq. LEMA is a natural dye weaving cooperative in San Juan that has been very successful since its inception in 1998, but it’s having a hard time lately and may ultimately have to close. So the main project that a team of our SECorps interns is going to be working on is putting together a business proposal for a new “MicroVenture,” specifically, fleshing out the details of LEMA opening up a small coffee shop in the extra space in their storefront. Since this will be my region once the interns leave, this is a project I could potentially be playing a big role in later on this year, depending on how successful and feasible the proposals are. Other groups of interns will be working on brainstorming and developing new product suggestions and designs to help LEMA diversify their offerings and expand their market, and helping to promote Posadas Mayas, the homestay program that LEMA also has taken on. In later weeks, our interns will be working with Sanik, an artisan cooperative that also happens to be run by Juana, my SolCom counterpart for the Solola region. We’re aiming to give the students pretty much full ownership over these projects, but my job is to oversee their market research, proposals, and presentations, and ultimately to implement whichever products we decide as a CESolutions team to try out through our MicroVenturing initiative.
This morning, we woke up early to take a lancha (public boat) across the lake to San Juan and San Pedro. We met with Rosa, the head of LEMA, to finalize details for our students week in San Juan – homestays, meals, projects, etc. Then Michelle introduced me to her contacts at the Oficina Muncipal de la Mujer (Women’s Office), who we worked with recently to set up a stove project. Ten women in San Juan purchased stoves through SolCom, but unfortunately two of the women have yet to pay – a problem that’s only happened in this region once before. This is problematic because by policy, if every single person in a community does not pay for their stove, SolCom will no longer conduct stove projects in that community, and there are many other women in the community who have expressed interest (as we don’t want a precedent to be set that not paying is acceptable). This was one of my first important lessons in social business! We later stopped by the houses of each of the women with outstanding payments to follow-up and are working on negotiating new payment plans for each of them, as it would be more work, more hassle, and altogether costly and disappointing for everyone involved if we ultimately have to go in and remove the stoves.
Then, we took a tuk tuk one town over to San Pedro, stopped for lunch at a great restaurant called Zoola that I remember from my previous time here, and went to meet with the town alcalde (local government leader). We weren’t able to catch the alcalde but we were able to chat with his receptionist, and we are working on setting up a campaign to sell our products sometime this summer as well as a charla (a presentation/discussion) about our stove projects within the next few weeks while our SECorps interns are in the area. So it’s been a crazy couple of days, but poco a poco, I’m starting to learn everything that I need to know. The biggest challenge I’m going to have is probably cultivating new relationships with community members and NGOs that have worked with Michelle for almost 3 years, but that too will come with time. Tomorrow morning, I’m putting my two suitcases in storage at the hotel and Michelle and I are going to the Solola office and I’ll finally meet Juana, the SolCom regional coordinator whom I will be working closely with on a daily basis. Then, I’m taking a shuttle directly to Antigua to meet up with the rest of the team and the SECorps interns, and attending my first campaign!