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As the end of the rainy season approaches, my spirit brightens with the weather. I imagine spending afternoons outdoors, rather than the days spent inside watching it rain and hoping for safe roads so the terrumbes, or mudslides, will stop taking Guatemalan lives and washing away precious soils. It is times like these, as the country faces yet another threat of natural disasters, that I am reminded why I am here and why the work of Semilla Nueva is so important, as they attempt to protect the soil that offers life to those who cultivate it. I often can’t help but wonder, “will Guatemala ever get a break?”

As I get off the bus and walk toward Xacaná at the beginning of each week I feel both excited and nervous. I have come to appreciate the daily life in the campo, eating simple meals of tamalitos con frijol (small tamales with beans), working with the children in the mornings, and relaxing with the family as life temporarily halts with the torrential rains in the afternoons. As beautiful as this lifestyle sounds in print, the reality of actually living day after day in this way is quite different. I reflect on my own comforts in the United States as I witness the harsh way of life that exists for the people of Xacaná as they live and work the land of the tierra fría.

I have feelings of eagerness mixed with anxiety I approach the village, and I attribute these emotions from realizing the poor living conditions of the people I have come to know and value. My goal in the upcoming months is to use these truths as fuel to continue with vigor as I live and work within the village. I am currently working with the school and teaching first through sixth grades lessons on environmental science, and relating the education to our school garden. The hands-on activities lent by the school garden helps connect the science to tangible and stimulating perspectives.

School gardens are used around the United States to extend beyond the standard curriculum and develop life skills such as proper nutrition, responsibility, appreciation for nature, and patience. In coherence with these objectives, school gardens can be incredibly beneficial in communities such as Xacaná as they relate science and math to their own livelihood. Similar projects have found that a greater impact of food security have the potential to be realized if methods taught in school gardens are transferred into real life practices.

Nearly all the children’s families participate in agricultural activity, thus critical thinking in the realm of environmental science is essential for sustainable agriculture. It is a long-term goal of Semilla Nueva for the kids to apply their knowledge of healthy soil and plant life to large-scale realities, such as their own agricultural plots within the community. As a result of linking scientific methods of environmental science to agriculture, the students will have the ability to become stewards of their own lives, using the skills learned for continued self-education to adapt to the ever-changing environmental circumstances that Guatemala, along with the rest of the world, will continue to face in the future. It is my ultimate goal that the students will be an integral part in building a bridge between sustainable agriculture and community mobilization in Xacaná, through the ability to link comprehension of environmental health and nutrition to their own realities.

I can see the potential of this goal as I witness the progress of the students each and every lesson. Because the ideas are relevant to their lives, they are easily received. With time and patience, I believe the sustainable methods will prove themselves and can become the norm in the village. I am confident in the capability of sustainable agriculture to answer many pressing nutrition and food security issues that exist for numerous Guatemalans; people who are in desperate need of essential living improvements.

It has been incredible for me to see the outlook of Guatemalans: people who live far less luxuriously than others, and I have yet to hear a complaint. The mood around me is generally a happy one, as they deal with everyday counters and shake off a bad situation. “Así es la vida en Guatemala” (such is life in Guatemala) is a well-known saying, portraying that life is what it is, plain and simple.

~Callie New

Callie, a recent graduate from Southern Oregon University in Ashland, has been volunteering in Guatemala with Semilla Nueva since August 2010.

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