Pop Wuj is responsible for several community development projects in Xela and the surrounding area. These projects were designed by Pop Wuj to address the immediate needs of the community, as well as promote sustainable growth and development. Part of the tuition of every student who attends Pop Wuj contributes to the continuation and success of the projects, and every student is invited to participate in the projects. While the students in the Medical Spanish and
Social Work programs have the most direct involvement with the organization and execution of the projects, students enrolled in the regular Spanish Immersion Course have several opportunities each week to donate a morning, afternoon, or whole day to the project of their choice.
For frequent updates on our projects and information on how to help them, please visit the Pop Wuj Projects Blog which is updated by the students of the Social Work Program and long-term volunteers/interns.
Volunteers able to make long-term commitments to Pop Wuj can choose to take on more intensive leadership and organizational roles within the projects. You will find more information in the Long-Term Volunteer section.
Family Support Center
El Centro de Apoyo Familiar, or Family Support Center, serves the families of single working mothers in a rural community just south of Xela at the foot of the Santa Maria volcano. The Center is located in Llanos del Pinal, a short bus ride from Xela. The families contribute a small monthly fee per child. The Center is staffed by two teachers, a childcare worker, as well as several women who help with cleaning, maintenance, and lunch and snack preparation. The women are all affectionately referred to as "Tía" or "Aunt" by the children.
In addition to the wonderful staff, the Family Support Center relies heavily on the presence of volunteers to help the children - who range in age from toddlers to teenagers - complete their homework. As many of the children come from very modest backgrounds where their family members are largely illiterate, the Center is often their only opportunity to receive help with homework. It is also often their only source of reliable nutrition throughout the day. The children are given a balanced, hot lunch and healthy snacks, as well as vitamins and moisturizing lotion to combat malnutrition and skin problems.
In addition to working with the children at the Family Support Center, Pop Wuj provides counseling and social work services to the mothers whose children attend. Issues such as family disintegration, alcoholism, domestic violence, and depression are common among the families. The Center is a safe place for the mothers to seek advice and support. In addition, the Center's existence allows
mothers to continue working after the school day ends, which often makes the difference between a child who is forced to quit school and work and a child who can continue his/her education. If you are interested in supporting the Center by making a donation, please see our Wish List or click to donate.
One of the most important - yet least visible - projects here at Pop Wuj is the Scholarship Program. Illiteracy is a problem of epidemic proportions in Guatemala; this is due largely to the parallel problem of epidemic poverty rates. Many families must survive on a very low income, so children are pulled out of school at a young age in order to begin working and contributing to their families' financial resources. The situation is particularly grave for young girls, whose families often perceive them to be of greater value in the home than educated and in the workforce. This attitude breeds a cycle of illiteracy and poverty, which is precisely what the Scholarship Program works to combat.
The Scholarship Program provides additional income to the family, which compensates for the gain they would receive by sending the child prematurely into the workforce, a choice that most families make out of necessity, not out of a lack of value for literacy and education. The scholarship can mean the difference between a future as farm worker and becoming a teacher.
In addition to contributing funds, Pop Wuj also assists with the practical matters of finding a school, transportation, and school supplies. Pop Wuj closely monitors the progress of all scholarship recipients via monthly community meetings as well as a yearly celebration for all scholarship recipients. This celebration also recognizes the hard work and commitment of the students who complete their secondary or professional education.
One of the most important aspects of the Scholarship Program is its promotion of community involvement through learning. Rather than giving the scholarship to isolated individuals, Pop Wuj usually chooses a number of students from a given community to receive scholarships. This fosters accountability among recipients, as a representative of each family must attend a monthly meeting in order to receive that month's scholarship money. In one community the recipients requested that they receive less money per student so that the scholarship funds could reach a greater number of families in the community.
The typical scholarship amount is currently 100 Quetzales per month for each participating family. This means that each family receives Q1,200 a year, equivalent to about USD $170/year. Although this seems like a very small amount to pay for a child's education, it can mean a world of difference to many Guatemalan families. If you would like to support the Pop Wuj Scholarship Program please donate via the Foundation Todos Juntos.
Safe Stove Project
The Safe Stove Project is a joint effort between Pop Wuj and several communities surrounding Xela to improve the environment, health, and sustainability of the communities. The Safe Stove Project was developed in order to combat the serious issues facing households who rely on an indoor open fire for their cooking needs. These problems include deforestation due to increased consumption
of firewood, severe respiratory problems attributable to heavy smoke and poor ventilation in one-room homes, back pain due to cooking over an open fire on the floor, and frequent accidental burn. Illnesses contracted from smoke inhalation are the leading cause of death among children in Guatemala and are a serious health problem for adults as well. The Safe Stove project aims to alleviate these problems and foster community development through the construction of simple yet more efficient and safer stoves.
The stoves require simple materials - concrete blocks, cement, clay and pumice for insulation, bricks, and a simple "plancha"-type stovetop which allows for both the heating of pots and pans and the grilling of traditional foods such as tortillas. The building procedure is easy enough that both novice volunteers and community members can participate fully in the project. The stoves are durable, functional, and relatively inexpensive. The design is culturally appropriate, and addresses local needs -
economic efficiency through decreased need for firewood, safety through a contained fire source, and health by channeling the smoke outdoors - as well as the global needs of decreased deforestation and environmental awareness. The stoves are actually over 50% more efficient than an open fire. The
project is also a unique opportunity for foreign volunteers to work side-by-side with community members throughout the planning, organization, and execution steps of the project. Stove building is heavy, dirty work, but the satisfaction one gains through participation is unbeatable!
The Pop Wuj Clinic
With the help of local medical professionals and the students in the Medical Spanish Program, Pop Wuj runs a medical clinic three days per week. The clinic is free to all those communities and individuals who participate in Pop Wuj's other projects, including the Family Support Center, the Scholarship Program, and the Safe Stove Project. Other patients are charged a small fee
per visit, which includes consultation with the doctor as well as medication as needed.
The permanent clinic is located in Xela in the same building as Pop Wuj's Spanish school. The clinic is generally open two mornings per week. In addition, one morning per week the staff and volunteers gather the necessary supplies and they travel to one of several villages served by
Pop Wuj. The mobile clinic is set up in either a school, home, or community building made available by community members. The mobile clinic serves individuals who would otherwise have little access to much-needed medical treatment. Often the Social Work Program teams up with the mobile clinic in order to bring hygienic supplies and social and public health workshops to these remote communities. The mobile clinic rotates through various communities served by the school's projects, so each area receives visits with some regularity. This allows for relationship building between patients, doctors, and volunteers, which subsequently facilitates follow-up treatment as needed.
Please visit our Medical Program Wish List if you are interested in donating supplies.
During the rainy season, specifically June and July, Pop Wuj also conducts a Reforestation Project in the communities that participate in our other projects. Due to the widespread reliance on open fires and wood stoves for cooking and heating in Guatemala, deforestation is a widespread problem threatening the health of the environment as well as the human population. Pop Wuj's reforestation project is not affiliated with any government program and only plants trees on private land.
Other Environmental Projects
Pop Wuj also manages a small Recycling Program at the Pop Wuj Spanish Language School and at the Family Support Center in Llanos del Pinal. There is no recycling system in the city of Xela and no waste management or trash pickup of any kind in Llanos del Pinal. Often families in Llanos del Pinal burn their trash, including plastic. We recycle plastic, metal, glass, and paper at Pop Wuj and hold a monthly plastic recycling competition at the Family Support Center.