David shares stories of his 2008 Guatemala adventure.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Festivities and Graduation at La Pedrera

This week at La Pedrera we had a fun week and accomplished some things that you can see for yourself on the links below where I published stories created by students. I have a few more pictures this week. Remember that you can click on the pictures to see the larger versions.

The Posada.
On Tuesday evening (16 Diciembre), Casa Xelaju hosted a Posada for students and their families that included students, teachers and staff at Casa Xelahu. The Posada is a Christmas tradition that involves walking through neighborhoods with candles, blowing whistles and beating on tortous shells. Fireworks seem to be obligatory, as well as a float with Joseph and Mary kneeling in the manger. When the parade arrives at their destination, a special song is sung. A group on the outside sings the story of Joseph and Mary asking for entry at the inn. A group inside responds in song that they cannot open the door for strangers. The two groups respond back and forth in the song: “Para Pedir Posada” (To Ask for Lodging). Finally the group on the inside understand that Mary is carrying the child who is the son of God and of course open the door, welcoming everyone inside. Speeches, benedictions and traditional food complete the celebration. I was really impressed by the connection between the school and the families of La Pedrera and the enthusiasm with which the teachers and staff of Casa Xelaju welcomed and fed the crowd of nearly 50 people. It was quite an exciting evening.

Graduation and a Sad Goodbye at La Pedrera
As I mentioned in the last week's posting, I have been working with a group of kids, shooting photos, preparing them for the web and having the students write stories to accompany the photos. The stories are quite different from one another. The story of Heidy, celebrates the blessing of the generations of families. The story of Camilo is a ficional story of a young Guatemalan who dreams of playing professional soccer. The story of Eva and the story of Lilian tell of their experiences in the La Pedrera Project.

So at the end of the week, I presented diplomas to these four students who completed "Level One in Computer Graphics". I don't think they were expecting this so they were quite pleased. I was also pleased to get smiles, handshakes and farewell cards from many of the students. I hope to return to the project in January so that a few more students can get diplomas as well.

On Thursday, we also paid a sad farewell to a long term volunteer Chris Boegner. Before I arrived, Chris and his co-worker Brian were already hard at work on evaluating the computer lab and getting things ready for my arrival. Chris poured his heart into working with the kids. He and Brian played futbol daily with the boys and also counseled them continually on having respect for the girls. Even though he is on a very limited income, he made the decision to provide sponsorship for a la Pedrera student in the coming year. He hopes to make more regular visits to the school in the coming years as Xelaju (and a certain Guatemalan gal) have captured his heart.

Give the Gift of Education
Finally, I want to remind everyone that it is never to late to give the gift of education to a Guatemalan child. In the link below, you will find a PDF file that you can print and send to a friend announcing your gift to La Pedrera as a gift to them. If you are still looking for the perfect gift for a concerned and conscientious friend, donate to La Pedrera now!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Computer Classes Get Serious

Hi all... Please click on the photos for a larger view.

Computer StudentsWe just finished our first week of serious classes. Up to this time, the students have been helping us with inventory and fixing computers. We had a few lessons on the parts of a computer system and took a couple apart to learn about what’s inside. It has been partly difficult because we don’t always get the same group of students and always difficult because of my weak language skills. On a good day, the students correct my Spanish. On a bad day, they act totally bored, like the day we had our discussion about computer safety and safe internet use. Some of the kids are very savvy and already have MySpace and Hi5 pages.

This week, we came in with a serious plan. First, we selected 6 students who were regulars. We asked the students if they would tell their own stories about la Pedrera project using photographs and text. Then we set them loose with digital cameras. Using their photos, we used GIMP to crop and resize the photos. I had a real difficult time because all the menus were in Spanish, but we managed to finish a lesson on preparing files for Students doing stitchworkthe Web.

I thought some of you might be interested in photos taken by the students to tell their la Pedrera stories. Because school is not currently in session, students are working on manual skills that teach patience and also touch on the Mayan cultural heritage of working with fabric. I am not sure, but the cross-stitch pieces they are working on may also be presents for their family for Navidad. When students return to school in January the main focus will be on homework and school related skills.

Students StitchingOur plan for next week is to bring up a second tier of students to involve them in the “story” project. I was hoping that the more advanced students could help the younger ones. I think we will need to pare down our expectations and may simply bring their photos into MS Word or PowerPoint rather than try to make actual web pages. Some of the more serious ones are already forging ahead with Web pages. When we are done I hope to publish some of the stories on the web, linked to this blog. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

La Pedrera In Action

Hi everyone.

The struggle continues to try and get a wireless signal to the La Pedrera Community Building. We are now on hold while we wait for someone to bring cables and a new amplifier from the U.S.. Still, we are planning to further our computer graphics curriculum with a full project where the kids will make web pages about the la Pedrera project. We have installed shareware software to enhance the curriculum. "GIMP" is a very stripped down of Photoshop-like program and "NVU" is a very basic WYSIWYG Web Editor.

Last Friday I had a great experience with the students from the La Pedrera Project. A group of about 20 students from the project boarded a bus from Casa Xelaju to visit senior citizens at the "Hogar de Ancianitos de Maria Luisa de Marilar". They performed modern and traditional dances, put on a play, and then invited audience members out on the floor to dance. Then they served a delicious home-made pastel (cake) with tea. It was topped of by beautiful speeches from both sides expressing gratitude and joy at being able to be together for a short time.

I was really impressed by the good behavior of the kids, their gracious attitude and the fact that the Project Director, Teresa De Leon is doing such marvelous work with this group of kids, teaching them positive values, combining aspects of traditional Mayan heritage.

Also this week, one of the project volunteers, "Brian" left to return to work in the U.S. . While Brian was very new to the Spanish language, he spoke to the kids with his smile and projected a very positive role model for the kids. He worked very hard on the computer lab, testing computers and helping to clear them of viruses. He also stayed after school every day to play soccer with the neighborhood kids. On his last day, he received several touching letters from some of his young friends at the school.

Also this week, I discovered that there is a Yahoo Group for the La Pedrera Project. You'll I've added a link on the left side of this site. I Also posted a small photo album to the Yahoo La Pedrera Group site:

Enjoy the photos.

Finally, I am uploading a list of computer terms that I created for the La Pedrera kids. You should see the link below.

David Thomas
La Pedrera Volunteer


Monday, December 1, 2008

A Special Thank You!

A special Thank You to my colleagues at MATC from students in the La Pedrera Project

On Thanksgiving day, these students sent a special thanks to friends at MATC for $1000 in donations. These donations will insure that an additional 4 students will be able to attend at the start of the new school year in January.

A special thanks to the following people who donated money or materials for the program:
Anne Steineberg, Ay Moua, Bob Stocki, Diane Kercheck, Dorothy Sciammas, Francine Waldhart, Lucy Betz, Marcia Blackman, Margaret LaSalle, Stan Urbaniak, Susan Retzer and Tony Garza.

We are still seeking donations to the project. There are still close to 30 students in the community without sponsors. Here is a special holiday offer. If you would like to present a donation of $25 or more as a holiday gift to a friend or someone in your family, I will send you a beautiful card depicting hand-woven textiles from Guatemala (See attachment) that you can send to your loved-one.

We reached another milestone this week when we were finally able to establish a (weak but working) internet connection at the La Pedrera project building. Our first action was to try and download updates to the anti-virus software. One of my next lessons is going to be about SAFE internet use. It seems to be a serious problem here.

We had a pretty good week with our advanced students, getting them to assist us in installling software and testing share-ware typing tutors. Finally, we installed a printer in the lab that was generously donated by two volunteers.

Also this week, I attended a community Festival in the nearby town of Zunil. Here are my photos.

This week's report is a bit late because I took the weekend to travel to the rural community of Canton Vela to start hooking up a computer lab. It turns out that the community has the computers but not a secure building in which to keep them. They need to secure the windows and door a little better. They also need to restore electricity. But, using an old router, we cut and made connecting cables for the future computers. My hope is that the presence of the wiring will motivate someone to take the other steps.

If you've never stayed in a rural community where chickens and ducks roam the house along with all the grandchildren, it's pretty interesting. Here are a couple of photos. The first is just some kids and pigs playing where the "paved" road ends to Canton Vela. The second picture shows the community building in the background.

Here are links:
Direct link to the project site:
Link to Casa Xelaju project site:
Link to my Blog for updates:
Link to Photos of Zunil Festival:


David Thomas
Instructor, Visual Communications