Traditional methods and culture are maintained within the projects, from weaving to agriculture to construction. Rock is broken and carried by hand to clear land and the rocks are further chipped and used for gravel on roads and paths. Tree seedlings and vegetables are planted and weeded in raised beds in reforestation and the parish garden, respectively. Always hands at work.
Deforestation is a serious problem in Guatemala, stemming from the necessity of firewood, construction materials, and cleared land for farming. The deforestation has led to climate changes, soil erosion, and scarcity in firewood necessary for daily cooking.
In the parish reforestation program, seedlings of over 20 species are bagged in soil and raised until they are large enough to gift to organizations or individuals. The soil is mixed with compost to provide a rich source of nutrients to the growing trees. Once planted, the roots of the trees provide the necessary footing to prevent mudslides and erosion; without these trees, communities and farmlands are more at risk for disasters.
The Mayan woman performs the difficult work of maintaining the household, from cooking to clothing to cleaning to raising the children. Given the nature and difficulty of their household work, they often have few opportunities for socializing outside of the home. The Women’s Center was designed to provide such an opportunity; as many of the community will be quick to tell you, a happy woman (mother, wife) means a happy home.
The Women’s Center will be equipped with a variety of rooms including a multi-purpose room for classes or meetings, a kitchen, laundry rooms, and a shower area. The center is surrounded by a fruit orchard, and medicinal, floral, and vegetable gardens. These cultivated areas provide a quiet escape in natural beauty as well as resources for the kitchen, where women can pass on traditional foods and remedies, as well as experiment with new foods. Overall the women’s center will provide the opportunity for women to share: share with each other their hardships, their sorrows, their happiness, their ideas, their worries, and their hopes.
Traditional homes are built from corn husks banana leaves, and therefore, during the rainy season are prone to deterioration. Housing projects, particularly in communities, such as San Andres, have built up permanent block homes for families, providing solid shelter and simultaneously building pride and dignity.
Here, a completed house built by the Parish is fully functional. With several bedrooms, a kitchen, and a shared open space, these houses offer families comfort, warmth, and security.
Above is Raimundo, pictured chipping away at one of the many boulders found naturally in this area. The boulders will be eventually broken down into gravel to be used for roads and the cleared land for farming and building. Larger rocks with flat surfaces are used in walls, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle. Construction projects meet the basic need of shelter as well as develop the skills of apprentices working under several master tradesmen.
The Mayan woman traditionally cooks her tortillas over a small fire built on the floor of their home. Her ‘comal’ – cooking surface – sits on three rocks. This method of cooking is exhausting in energy and resources as it consumes large amounts of wood; additionally the open fire exposes the family to significant health problems. However, for many, this is all they can afford.
Smoke from the open fires is trapped within the homes, contributing to a higher prevalence of respiratory and vision problems. Walls and household items are often covered in soot and the fumes settle in the corn stalk walls.
The parish stove project designs and builds fuel efficient stoves in the local communities, reducing the cost of cooking, in terms of both money and health. The design is such that exposure to flames, smoke, and fumes are significantly reduced. Furthermore, all the materials are bought from businesses within the community, supporting the local economy. The end product, pictured here, is also a beautiful addition to many homes.
The Granja Juan Ana, named in honor of Father Greg’s parents, is an experimental and educational farm, intended for sharing farming techniques. The farm includes a honey project, ‘cafecito’ (coffee plant) project, vegetable garden, and a small animal farm. A portion of the harvests are sold in the community to maintain the projects, but more specifically, the honey is sold to visitors, the coffee plants mature for planting during the rainy season, and the vegetables and animals (primarily chickens and rabbits) are both used in the Parish kitchens and gifted to some families for their invaluable nutrients. The improved techniques are also shared with farmers in the community.
Water is a precious resource, often taken for granted in “first world” countries. It is an essential aspect of the Parish projects; without access to water, housing projects and land acquisition are essentially meaningless. Water is brought to the communities through a distribution system using a combination of gravity and electric pumps. Providing access to water reduces household burdens, water pollution in streams, and improves health.
In addition to pumping water to communities, the parish also creates storage systems for rainwater, on the community and home scale. These stores also help to offset water shortages during the dry season, providing a reliable source of potable water.