miércoles, 30 de enero de 2013


I have been home in Algonquin Illinois for the past week.
I know, I'm confused too.

When did this happen?  I mean I vaguely remember a few hugs, hearing my flight being called... its all a blur really.  Am I really done?  And now I'm in this strange cold place...

Needless to say, the last three weeks in January in Guatemala went really fast.  The new volunteers came and we old volunteers trained them.  I worked with a German volunteer who will do recreation therapy with the kids with learning disabilities.  Apart from that I just worked on tying up loose ends. I tried to take advantage of spending time with everyone - the kids, the volunteers, and the employees.  It was very busy.

We had a good bye lunch with the kids with special needs.  We hiked to a beautiful park in the woods, had a bon fire, and enjoyed the afternoon.  It actually all worked out perfectly :)


With Santiago - my section of adolescent boys - we said goodbye by going swimming for the day at a place called Aposentos.  It was a lot of fun even though I neglected to bring my camera :/
They were really funny.  I attempted to teach some of them how to swim, but it turned into an arm flailing, leg thrashing mess.  Good thing they had plenty of shallow pools :)

I will/do miss them a lot.  I've been having dreams about all the kids the last couple nights.  And then I wake up and realize that I won't see them today...

Then of course - I spent the last couple weeks with the other awesome volunteers.  Our last Saturday night, all of us in house 4 moved our mattresses out to the main room to watch a movie and spend the last night together.  It was really cute... and really sad.  I miss my housemates so much!

Charlotte, Nona, Vroni, Katie, me, Elena

And its good.  Its time to start something new.  Its time to get a job in the real world and I hope to go to grad school in the near future.  Its time to say goodbye to Guatemala, my kids, and the life I had last year.
And thank you all for following my blog.  It was a really hard year.  There were a lot of challenges, miscommunications, and overwhelming moments.  But I learned a lot and met really incredible people along the way.  I know that there is no experience quite like what I had at NPH Guatemala.

I wish you all well!  And I hope you keep enjoying your own adventures! Hasta pronto.

lunes, 31 de diciembre de 2012

November, Navidad, and Nebaj

So, the last time I wrote you all it was less than a week before my mom was coming to visit.  A lot has happened since then and it has all happened fast.
First on November 12 our kiddos had their first Special Olympic tournament.  It was really awesome to see NPH supporting them.  We took a whole school bus of athletes, volunteers, and NPH employees to the tournament in the capital.  Unfortunately because of earthquakes and such, not all the departments of Guatemala could come to participate.  Because of that, the tournament was more of a recreational competition without medals, but still very cool.
Our fantastic team :)
A few days after the tournament, my wonderful mother came to visit me for two whole weeks.  It was so good to see her after being away for more than 10 months.  We did a lot of fun things including Semuc Champey, Tikal, Belize, Livingston, and Rio Dulce - check out pictures on facebook if you'd like :)

The day after my mom returned to the states, I started as a tia for the month of December with the kids with special needs.  I was excited to be working with some fun tios and to go on plenty of excursions.  One day we went to a Christmas fair in the capital to go ice-skating.. yeah I wondered the same thing - but they had a big machine to keep the ice cold even though we were outside and it was hot.  Throughout the month we also decorated for Christmas, went swimming, did art projects, went for runs, did activities with visitors coming to donate gifts, and made cakes!

The Christmas fair in the capital

Christmas day - Leo is excited with his new action figure
A chocolate strawberry cake the kids made Christmas day
Odi playing with her new doll

The tios and volunteers having cake Christmas day after the kids went to bed.
On December 26th all the tios and tias came back from Christmas vacation and the volunteers were officially done being tios.  Before starting to work again January 2nd, Charlotte and I took advantage of our last opportunity to see more of Guatemala.  We went for a two day hike in Nebaj, which is a really pretty place with a lot of small Mayan Ixil towns.  We went with a guide and walked and walked, stopping at peoples' homes for meals and lodging.  It was so nice to be outside, experience another culture, and see such a beautiful place.

I have officially been in Guatemala a whole year! I have not set foot in the U.S. of A since 2011!  crazy.  What is 2013 going to bring?  I hope you all have a happy new year!

sábado, 10 de noviembre de 2012

NPH Anniversary, Friends Visiting, and Day of the Dead

NPH Guatemala is (well was...) celebrating its 16th aniversary.  Normally there's a big three day celebration in November, but this year it was a big one day event in October due to all the financial issues.  But it still was a lot of fun.

Four hours a day for a week we practiced our dances and cheers that we would perform with our aniversary groups.  Everyone was all mixed up - kids of every age and employees from every department.  It was chaotic, a little crazy, but definitely fun.  Here we are in our costumes - my group's theme/dance was salsa. mmmm

                                                And here's my group on anniversary day

In the morning we played a bunch of games led by the teachers such as obstacle courses, riddles, and tug of war.  It was a lot of fun.  Then in the afternoon all the groups performed their dances and the winners got prizes like lunch at McDonalds or a day at the pool.  The whole day was pretty fun and a good way to spend time with the kids, especially ones I didn't know too well.

Then in mid October I had some friends come and visit and that was a lot of fun.  We went to Lake Atitlan, Antigua, and Semuc Champey. Here's some pics of the latter.


It was so great having them here.  And my mom comes to visit me in ONE WEEK!!!! I haven't seen her or hugged her for over 10 months.  I'm excited :)

Then acouple days after my friends headed back to the states, it was halloween and day of the dead.  I really like the traditions here a lot.  On November 1st and 2nd everyone goes to the cementaries and has a big barbeque.  There's tons of food and families and everyone having a good time.  I like how the atmosphere is happy and light-hearted instead of solemn and serious.  Its a nice way to remembered loved ones who've passed I think.  A really important part of the celebration is the kites.  I think they symbolize spirits and soaring up to heaven or something like that.  A bunch of kids make their own and others too to sell or compete in the big kite contest.  They make them out of tissue paper and its amazing.
We went to Santiago - a town famous for this day and their kites.  They were HUGE and very detailed, telling stories of Guatemalan history and ancestors.

Incredibly detailed right?

So yeah, that was fun :)

And now - I'm somehow so ready for Christmas.  I crave the music, the movies, the cookies.  I never thought that I would miss winter so much too.  I'm anticipating seeing pictures of Chicago snow soon :(
But I'm watching my first of many Christmas movies this evening and hopefully this will help me somehow get through the eternal springtime that is Guatemala.  gosh, my life is hard

well - hope you all at home enjoy the fall and Thanksgiving and all that stuff that comes this time of year.  I'm sure to spend a very different, but very memorable holiday season here in San Andres Itzapa.

sábado, 15 de septiembre de 2012

Independencia - Guatemala feliz que tus alas....

This week/month is all about independence.  It hardly seems like we have school with all the activities.  Its been really fun and different.

We had a day where a bunch of surrounding schools came with their bands to play and compete and be patriotic.  My kids and I watched from the second floor.

We also had a big parade with neighboring schools.  My kids dressed up as flowers, a bear, and a frog.  It was really cute.  We marched around San Andres Itzapa with our band playing in the back.

My favorite activity by far was the torch run.  Only the older kids went and it was such a unique and unifying experience.  First we drove about an hour and half away to swim and have fun.

Then we ran home! what?!?  We went to the town San Martin where the mayor made a little speech and lit our torch that we would bring all the way back to NPH.  Ok - we were a  little low on time so we drove about a half hour first, but afterwards the kids and volunteers ran through several towns, lots of hills, for about 2 hours.  Random people from random towns cheered us on and threw water on us.  We were exhausted; I didn't know if I was going to make it.  At one point I was way behind everyone with our bus on my butt honking.  All the tired people had already climbed on to take a break, but I had to keep going.  It was an incredible feeling to hear a bunch of kids cheering on "Estephanie! Estephanie!" and I caught up to the rest.  Then we finally made it to Parramos. (ok, most took a break, I skipped some hills...).  The younger kids came out to meet us along with the tios and we all ran the last stretch together.  Then we lit the torch and sang Guatemala's national hymn (well not me... I'm american) but it was super cool.

This awesome kid from my section explained that running is seen as a symbol of freedom.  I had never thought of that before.  I really like it.  We saw other groups running with their torches and we all mutually cheered each other on.

Not that I have favorites or anything, but he definitely helps me remember why I'm here and why I want to be.
Other than all the independence celebrations, everything has been going well with the Special Olympics and working with the kids with special needs.  Recently I started helping with Club Pica Pica which is a once a week cooking class.  I really like working with other volunteers and I think the kids really enjoy it.  I love having so much variety :)

sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

mes de la patria and other stuff

Hey everyone,

I'm happy to say our first training with the Special Olympics in the capital went swimmingly.  We brought five kids with us to a really nice sports complex.  A special olympics coach lead the practice with our kids and another group of adults and kids.

getting ready to head out!
It was really neat to see them meeting other kids with disabilities who are just like them.  At first everyone was very shy, but at the end they were giving hugs goodbye and running together and it was great.  For me it really boosted my energy and excitement to meet more athletes and see my kids participating.  It was perfect.

everyone in action


Our NPH athletes
We want to try to go every 2 weeks and we'll try to bring more kids with us.  And its all free :).  In the mean time, we'll keep up with our practices at NPH a couple times a week.
On a different note, things are about to get pretty crazy around here in Central America.  September is patria month - time to be patriotic.  The 15th of September is independence day for many Latin American countries including Guatemala.  In the school we're going to have a ton of activities throughout a span of several days with bands, torch runs, parades.  I'm looking forward to a change in pace and its so interesting to participate in celebrations I've never seen before.  
So - I'm sure its not a huge shock to the world or anything, but finances are rough, not just for NPH Guatemala, but for a lot of the homes and I imagine nonprofits in general.  If you are interested in supporting NPH and the lives and family they are trying to provide for these kids, please consider donating on this link.  http://www.nph.org/ws/help/donations.php?lang=en
Also, you can donate for specific projects.  We are particularly running low on our horse therapy fund with the kids with special needs.  We do this once a week for two hours and its so good for the kids.  A volunteer physical therapist and occupational therapist head it up and the kids not only get physical therapy with balance and building trunk support, but they also get to ride big, scarey animals.  They learn that they can do it; they can accomplish something that is hard and intimidating.  I'd hate for them to miss an activity so good for their self-esteem and well-being.  All of the specific projects are listed on this link. http://www.nph.org/ws/help/projects/index.php?lang=en

So that's all for me.  I'm enjoying my low-key weekend and tomorrow I'm going to watch the first Chicago Bears game of the season! woo-hoo!

domingo, 2 de septiembre de 2012

santa maria, half marathon, and special olympics

I'm going to gloss over a lot - but here's some recent events and updates.

So, everything is still going with the Special Olympics. We met up with the director, talked things out, I've got everybody's forms, and have downloaded all the rules. We had our first couple practices and its awesome because one of the newer volunteers used to volunteer with the Special Olympics in the states and knows how to run practices and the rules we got to stick to. I'm so excited! We have about 15 kids who are going to participate and we separated them into two groups - the younger, really energetic kids, and the other older, calmer group. Its so great its happening!
Hopefully tomorrow will be our first training in an actual stadium and not at NPH. We're going to take a trip with a few of the kids and practice with the track and the lines and all that jazz. We've got transportation set - I just hope we crossed all our "t"s and dotted our "i"s to actually get there and practice!

I had a couple great weekends. A couple weeks ago Charlotte and I decided to take Friday off and head to Xela for a long weekend. Every once in a while, its so great to get away and get refreshed. We decided to climb Santa Maria, one of the 10 volcanoes that surrounds Xela. We left at 4am and arrived at the top at about 8. It was amazing. I struggled a bit the last half hour with all the altitude and steep climb, but making it to the top made it all worth it. We felt like we accomplished something (which my sore leg muscles attest to), and we got to really engage with nature. It was perfect.

Last weekend, a few volunteers ran a half marathon and a group of us went to cheer them on. As it was in the morning on Sunday and there's lots of stuff to do in the capital, we stayed the night on Saturday with a friend and her family. They were all extremely nice and wonderful. Saturday we took advantage of the fact that the Body Works exhibit was in Guatemala. It was really cool and really interesting. I liked the guy with all the nerves like a creature out of a tim burton movie. I think its amazing that even though the exhibit has traveled to so many of our countries, a good amount of us hadn't seen it yet. Then Sunday morning we all went to the race - about 9000 people running. The excitement was contagious and all the runners did great! (Charlotte under 2 hours whoa!!). Afterwards we all celebrated at IHOP which was wonderful and weird.

In my classes we're continuing coming up with a dance for our little play and making all the masks, props, and costumes. I hope it all goes well and I have a list of people to invite (it will be a smallish audience I think). But they are so cute. School will be ending in about a month and we have about 2 weeks of crazy independence activities amongst other things, so I hope we're able to finish everything in time.

Eeek - officially here in Guatemala for 8 months on Friday. Did that really just happen?
Anyway, its crazy hard to upload pictures - sorry about that. But I have some on facebook.
Hope you are all well!!

martes, 24 de julio de 2012

two quick stories

hey all,

so I've got two good stories and one is pending.

First of all - many of us out there in the United States and Europe are always worried about the dangers in Latin America and Guatemala.  All the robberies, pick pocketing, assaulting.  We can turn a beautiful country and people into a dark place.  Not saying these things don't happen, but just listen to my story.

For those of you who know me, I can be a bit clumsy, a little forgetful, downright oblivious sometimes.  Well a couple weeks ago, I was walking through Parramos chatting with a friend and I decided to take off my rain jacket.  There was absolutely no one around us and sometime in this moment I dropped my wallet.

After I realized it was gone and we searched for a 1/2 hour or so, we figured it was long gone.  I canceled my credit card and thought well it was going to happen sometime (please refer to attitude in top paragraph).


A few days later and stranger in town called NPH (because the number was in my wallet) and wanted to return it to me!  I waltzed down the street and a sweet young mom with her 4-ish year old daughter handed me my wallet and wished me a good day.

The only thing I lost was about $3

Take that cynics!  And be encouraged everyone!

ok 2nd story.

So ever since doing Americorps and serving with the Special Olympics, I've been enamored with how this organization celebrates and empowers people with disabilities.  Shortly after starting to work with the kids with special needs in Guatemala, I started the searching events and contacts for the Special Olympics.  After emailing and calling the Guatemala SO, the US sports director, the Latin American director, and I think a few others, I finally got the contact info for the director of Guatemala.
After a couple months of few and far between emails, yesterday the director and I finally set a time to meet up and talk!  What is more, I found out last minute about a tournament today and that we could come and watch!  I thought it was too late to try to go but suddenly everyone at NPH got really excited about it.  A few volunteers, the director of psychology, the director of the house of kids with disabilities.  A process I thought was going to be long and a struggle suddenly came together out of nowhere.

I scrambled to finish up my morning classes with the kids and as they got their snack and got ready to go to the library, I set out with the house director of the spec. ed. kids, and three therapists.
2 buses and a taxi later, we got to the stadium.  And in this moment, the tournament was ending. what?!? We just missed it.  But we did get to meet and chat with the director and some friendly athletes who had won medals wanted to take a few pictures.  They were great!

the field

an athlete

us volunteer posers :P

So, what we found out so far is that everything is FREE.  There's another tournament in November.  And all we have to do is register our kids and have a volunteer coach train them (aka, the person in my position...at least I'm guessing).  This means that our Special Olympic dreams can be realized!! It won't be a financial burden on NPH, the kids will get to excel in competition and be cheered on.
Of course there's a lot more to find out about, but everything looks promising.
We're meeting with the director a week from Friday to talk about what exactly we have to do.
so excited!!!!!

As a side thought.  Volunteering here for a year is great - a year is both a long and short time.  But, gosh, something like connecting the Special Olympics with these kids at NPH would just, wow, it'd be like leaving something lasting.  Like when Stephanie is long gone like every volunteer eventually is - to be a part of something that's going to be around for them for years (hopefully) and continue to develop and just... yeah I am pretty excited!

Anyway - see you later!