It’s been a hectic few weeks. Less than a week after I was pick-pocketed, my nice, comfortable, American-style apartment, right on Panajachel’s main street, was broken into, and my computer stolen, along with a few other things belonging to my roommate. These things happen – everywhere – though it still shook me quite a bit, especially the violation of someone crawling through my window and taking something from me that’s so so personal, full of pictures and resumes and work files and who knows what else.
But life moves on, which is what I’ve been doing, slowly. We found a new apartment within a few days – an almost impossibly beautiful, spacious apartment with a huge green gate and a guardian to provide extra security. It’s been hard to get much work done these past two weeks without a computer – when I’m not in the field, my computer is really my “office,” so not having that, and not having dependable internet access, has been a challenge. But luckily a new computer should be arriving for me from the states in the next day or two, which will make my life so much easier.
Sales have been a bit challenging this month, too. Our asesores are struggling to plan campaigns, and the campaigns we have had have been less profitable than they were this summer with the added human capital boost of groups of energetic, American students. But that doesn’t mean they have to be, and Juana and I are buckling down and focusing on new techniques for selling products, like promoting the SolCom Centro in Solola with radio ads and other publicity, planning a Dia del Bienestar (Day of Wellbeing) at the end of October, and making connections with other NGOs around the lake. In the past two days, I’ve met with five different organizations, organizations that focus on fields as diverse and weaving and women’s empowerment, community development, education, and health. All of these organizations have the potential for collaboration: women doing detailed handicrafts like weaving are in particular need for reading glasses, healthcare organizations are often focused on the health benefits of clean water and clean-burning wood cookstoves, and all community organizations have existing relationships with community groups, women’s groups, and cooperatives, all of which can help us expand our reach within this region. That’s not to say that everyone I’ve met with was immediately jumping for collaboration – a common response I got was that, while our work is great, their staff is already at capacity and can’t take much time out of their schedules – but many organizations were happy to provide us with contact information and an initial introduction to the communities where they work.
And I’ve been working on a number of side projects too. I’ve been managing a large tote bag order for one of my SECorps students from this past summer, in collaboration with Lema’, the natural dye weaving cooperative we partner with in San Juan. An order of 50 bags is HUGE for the cooperative – but more exciting is the potential for the project to expand in the future, from other Greek organizations at universities to even on-the-spot personalization at the store in San Juan. I’ve been working with Juana on her cooperative, Sanik, helping her lay the groundwork for legalizing themselves in Guatemala. My two predecessors, Michelle and Alli, are also actively working to promote Sanik from their homes in the states, and it’s exciting to be part of a team of women working to support such a great organization. We also have a group of Deloitte consultants coming down this week for a short project, involving not just SolCom but three other grassroots organizations around the country. I’m responsible for managing the project around the lake, which is for my friend Alyssa’s school, AMA – where one of my roommates and many of my friends work – as well as her ethical fashion company Hiptipico and educational non-profit Milpa. And we kicked off our first “rotating monthly meeting” last week in Xela, with a “Dia con el Agua” (Water Day) hosted by Krystal. The idea is that each month, in addition to our all-team meetings in Antigua, we’ll be having a gringo team gathering in one of our sites, focusing on a big event or campaign that requires all hands on deck. The next meeting will hopefully be here in Solola, with a big event at our SolCom Centro, which I’m looking forward to planning with Juana.
Despite the setbacks, all is well. This job – and life here – is hard. Sometimes really hard. I love the independence, the flexibility, the ability to plan on my schedule. But like all development work, progress is slow, answers are hard to come by, and it’s often hard to tell if something’s actually going to work until after it’s been tried – or maybe weeks or months later. But when it comes down to it, that’s what I’m here for. The highs, the lows, and everything in between…