Claire recounts her experience at a Village Visit in Solola, Guatemala

22 06 2011

After an hour long bumpy drive in a tank-like hummer, four students, our field guide, and our sunglass wearing driver arrived in Nueva Victoria. Nueva Victoria houses a community displaced by Hurricane Agatha last may. When their old town, Panimache Tercero, was destroyed by a mudslide, flood, and hurricane, the community members collectively purchased land in Nueva Victoria and moved there together. It struck me that if my town in the US were destroyed, we would all scatter to live with other relatives and worry little about other community members.

Nueva Victoria consists of countless shacks created from lamina, or metal roofing material, and US Aid tents. The concodes, or community leaders, who greeted us, told us the “houses” had just been completed last week. Augusto, a quiet 50 year old who acts as the town’s main leader, ushered us out of the hummer, through the brightly painted but shoddily constructed school, past the communal tortilla cooking area, and into the clinic that doubles as a municipal building. This building, like all of the others, is constructed solely of metal and boasts a dirt floor and sparse medical supplies.

We’d come to talk about Quetsol, a new solar technology that has the capability to light an entire house and charge cellphones. John and Ted unpacked and set up the product for a demonstration while Sony and I began to chat with the community leaders. We gave a brief introduction to the product, turned on the lights to show how bright they were, and explained how to use and maintain the product. Sony informed the leaders that they can actually save money by using this kit, rather than using 2 candles every day. The men seemed skeptical, so Augosto ran out to grab a calculator. After many calculations and a rapid conversation in Quiche, an indigenous language as foreign to us as Arabic, the men concluded that they can save money with solar power. We now had their entire attention and faced many questions from the curious leaders.

After about 45 minutes of explanations and conversations, Augusto informed us that the men were very interested in lighting either the school or the clinic with solar power. He planned to present the idea and the information to the rest of the community during their weekly reunion on Sunday. The leaders refused to make any decisions without input from everyone.

Despite the fact that no products were sold and no material gains made, each student walked away with an incredible amount of pride. We had learned so much simply by talking to these men and seeing their living conditions in Nueva Victoria. Our project, our work here, and the decisions of the community leaders had been focused and sharpened thanks to a simple conversation.

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