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The lake view from our hotel in San Juan, where I’m living this week

On Monday, Michelle, Bo, and I loaded up a micro-bus with our group of ten students and traveled down to the lake for our first two field weeks. This week, we’re in San Juan, working on projects with the weaving cooperative Lema’ – helping them to formulate plans for opening up a cafe and to create a marketing plan for the cooperative’s homestay program, their weaving products, and ultimately the cafe as well. We’re also working on some projects for SolCom itself, specifically, beginning a marketing campaign to attract new entrepreneurs for the region, as there are large areas that we currently are not able to reach. Finally, tomorrow, the students will be conducting two additional SolCom campaigns as we did last week, helping our regional entrepreneurs sell reading glasses, filters, solar products, and more in San Juan itself and in San Pablo, a neighboring town.

Rosa, the head of Lema', explains the significance of San Juan's famous Mayan murals

Rosa, the head of Lema’, explains the significance of San Juan’s famous Mayan murals

San Juan is un pueblo muy tranquilo (a tranquil town) across the lake from Pana, known for their naturally dyed weaving products and for drawing in tourists based on their unique culture and products (rather than for the more backpack-y restaurant/bar scene that neighboring town San Pedro is known for). Rosa, the head of the Lema’ cooperative, offered us a workspace on the top floor of her house – it’s open air so a bit susceptible to rain (pretty much a daily occurrence), but there’s a gorgeous view of the town and of the lake! The students self-divided themselves into different groups to accomplish all of the various projects we’ve assigned them, and it’s been a great experience for me to get to know all of the students and see how each of their strengths blend together to contribute to our ultimate goals. I can really understand why everyone has told me how necessary the SECorps students are to our program – I’m personally so grateful that the students are here as they’re doing a lot of the beginning leg-work for many of the projects I’ll be responsible for leading in my region!

Michelle and I!

Michelle and I!

Setting up the Lema’ Cafe has been one of our biggest priorities and one of my favorite projects thus far. We’ve divided the project into a few categories – training and technique (ie. teaching Rosa how to make and sell coffee), marketing and branding, layout and decorations, and finally, a financial analysis. Rosa came up with the idea of the cafe herself, as she noticed that the town of San Juan has lots of tourists but nowhere for the tourists to buy even a simple, good cup of coffee! The idea we’ve been moving towards with the cafe is emphasizing its connection to the woven products that will still be sold in the space, as well as on the distinct community and tradition that is embodied by San Juan. We’re planning on purchasing the coffee locally (from a cooperative that operates just down the street), hopefully using mugs created by potters in a nearby town, and incorporating aspects of tejido (traditional Mayan woven cloth) into the cafe’s branding and design. Rosa is eager to get the cafe going as soon as possible, and we’re hoping that, especially with the support of our second group of students coming later this month, we’ll be able to get it off the ground sometime this summer. I’ve had a chance to spend a bit more time one-on-one with Rosa which has been really helpful, as ultimately it’ll be up to me to stay connected with her on this project and others. The other day, I went on a short excursion to Rosa’s old house and ended up helping her feed some of her animals, pick some herbs and medicinal plants, and pick some leaves from a tree that she told me she’ll use to create a blue natural dye for her weaving. Rosa told me about some of her other ideas for the future – like turning her old house into a weaving workshop and holding lessons for members of her cooperatives to learn new skills to improve their craft. She clearly has an entrepreneurial spirit and is going to be really fun to work with, but of course, I have many other partnerships and projects that I will be helping to manage.

SECorps interns presenting their ideas to Lema' at the end of the week

SECorps interns presenting their ideas to Lema’ at the end of the week

I’ve also had some time this week to get to know some of the chapin (Guatemalan) staff that works in the Solola region – Juana, the regional coordinator who I will be working very closely with, Wicho, our office manager and one of our best entrepreneurs, and Rosa, another one of our entrepreneurs – all of whom have come to San Juan this week to publicize our two Saturday campaigns and to work with our students. It’s going to be really important for me to slowly build up confianza (trust/confidence) with my whole team, as this is something that’s really highly valued in Guatemala. It’s not always that easy for me – I’m not 100% confident in my Spanish ability and sometimes I just don’t really know what to say – but this is just another thing that I’m going to have to work on poco a poco.

So now I’ve been here almost two weeks. Not a lot of time in the long run, and I still feel a little confused a large portion of the time, but I’m amazed by how much I have been able to learn and take in so quickly. And it hasn’t all been work – I’ve had plenty of time to bond with my coworkers, explore my surroundings, and of course, eat plenty of tortillas. Here’s to a fantastic start to an exhausting but productive summer!