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I've lost track of all the hours I've spent travelling this month - on chicken busses (camionetas), micro-busses, pick-ups...

I’ve lost track of all the hours I’ve spent travelling this month – on chicken busses (camionetas), micro-busses, pick-ups…

This past week has made me think even more about what my own role within this “project” of development that I’ve been taking on. What falls under my responsibility, and what falls under the responsibility of Juana, or other members of my Chapin (Guatemalan team)? How can I practice servant leadership, by empowering and collaborating with my Guatemalan counterparts, while still adding my own contributions to our team’s work and finding ways to take advantage of my own strengths?

I thought about this a lot last week, as Juana and I were co-leading a few stove charlas for women’s cooperatives connected to us by one of our new partner organizations. I spent hours looking through existing stove presentation materials, talking with my coworkers, organizing visuals, and overall putting together what I thought would be a great charla. That’s not to say I did it all alone – Juana helped with the process, of course – but it was me who sat down, wrote up a script, printed copies, and led ourselves in practice.

But at the charlas themselves – we nearly threw our scripts out the window. I know Juana gets nervous about public speaking so I was expecting her to pass off more of the presentation to me – but the exact opposite was true. I lead some introduction elements and tried to manage the presentation’s flow, but really, what got through to the women was Juana talking – telling them about her own experience using our stoves, as a consumer (rather than just as a salesperson, as I probably come across), and moreover, as an indigenous Mayan woman and mother. The facts and details I’d painstakingly researched and worked to integrate into the charla – details about our stoves’ economic, environmental, and health benefits, for example – were not really what the women were looking to hear.


It was a humbling experience, watching Juana take ownership over the charlas. She didn’t really need a script or guide – she just talked to the women, woman to woman, and connected with them in a way I never could. We also offered free eye exams at the end of each charla, which again, I mostly left to Juana and Wicho, but I remember looking over once and seeing Juana explain to a woman that if the eye chart was too confusing for her, she could just use the detailed embroidery on her huipil – her indigenous dress – to determine whether or not the magnification on her glasses were appropriate. I finally feel very comfortable giving eye exams, but really, there’s no way I’d ever think to do that.

And then there are the struggles we’re facing now in our region. Low sales, some legal/financial issues with our store, difficulty finding new asesoras to expand our reach. I’m doing my best to solve all of these issues, but there is nothing I can really do without Juana’s support. There are so many nuances of Guatemala – cultural considerations, a complex business, political, and financial system, mentalities and sales patterns – that Juana is slowly helping to guide me through. Sometimes it works to play up my “gringo-ness” – people appreciate that I’m trying but still find my less than perfect pronunciation and vocabulary pretty hilarious. Especially when I try to pronounce the few words that I now know in Kachiquel and T’zutujil…

Stove Day in La Primavera, Quiche with the lovely Anna

Stove Day in La Primavera, Quiche with the lovely Anna

And so, we’re learning together. I’m so lucky to work with someone like Juana – cooperative, caring for her son, or doing whatever she possibly can to support her family and community to seguir adelante. And I’m learning from my co-workers – our whole gringo team supported Krystal in a Water Day event in Xela a few weeks ago, I went out to Nebaj this past weekend to support Anna in a Stove Day, and in light of some of the challenges my region has been facing lately, Holley and Krystal are pulling together some wonderful ideas for a water filter campaign here in Pana in early November. But it’s not easy. It’s frustrating and overwhelming and emotionally taxing, especially trying to seek that elusive “work/life” balance that so many of my fellow development workers in Guatemala, and around the world, are struggling to find, buried underneath side projects and personal projects and finding your personal place in the small communities where we are living, amongst other NGO workers and teachers and travelers and tourists, and of course, locals. Because it’s not just work…we are all so deeply embedded into our projects and communities and relationships that they become a part of who we are, and what we “do.” And really, how cool is that?