Transitions by the Tortilla

Since my arrival in Guatemala, my zapatos (shoes) have seen the floors of many houses, villages and stores.  I have completed and served as the practicum for each of the ten individual homestays with each family trained in the Rising Minds homestay program.  I have visited each of our partner programs from small highland villages in Chacap and Panyebar to those hugging the shores of Lake Atitlan in San Pedro and San Juan.  I have opened a new office space for Rising Minds on the main drag in San Pedro to host English classes, cultural exchanges, volunteers and meetings (the first official office in the history of the non-profit).  And, alongside another Rising Minds intern, Fiona, I have outlined the milestones, steps and materials necessary for each our summer programs:

The Rising Minds Office will serve as a educational co-op, workspace (for staff and volunteers), classroom for ESL, a cooperative to sell women’s eco-art and a space for cultural / language exchange.

  • Youth Leadership Program (Panyebar)

Rising Minds Youth Leadership Program promotes critical thinking, creative expression and community involvement through its hands-on, engaging activities.

  •  Communities Gardens (San Juan, Chacap and Panyebar)

  Teamed with nutrition education these gardens, planted and maintained by the local   community, will provide fresh vegetables and herbs to educational programs in the area.

  • Caring for the Rising Minds Nursery and Bottle Wall:

Building a sustainable wall to contain the Nursery as well as grow seeds for nutrition trainings.

  • Sustainable Playgrounds (San Juan and Panyebar)

Rising Minds’ Sustainable Construction initiatives exemplify the mission and community development work of Rising Minds. Working with community partners, we employ creative strategies to address environmental degradation and building needs, all while strengthening the voice and involvement of program members.

  • Nutrition and Health Classes (Panyebar)

Rising Minds is providing seeds teamed with nutritional trainings to women in the Guatemalan Highlands so as to lessen food expenses and confront malnutrition. By combining nutritional trainings with the actual seeds, families will not only have the materials needed to lower their food costs and reduce malnutrition, but also be armed with the knowledge of why eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables is important.

  • Small Business Development Courses (San Juan)

Rising Minds works with small businesses/cooperatives to promote sustainable business practices, community involvement, and transparency.  Rising Minds meets small businesses half-way, providing on the ground developmental support in the form of trainings, increased employment opportunities, and, in some cases, microloans such as to ADEMVI Cooperative this summer in the form of a sewing machine.

  • Recording Folklore Stories from Ancianos (Elderly Center in San Juan)

The loss of cultural practices and indigenous language is a concern voiced by the members of the oldest generation in San Juan la Laguna. In order to confront and prevent the erosion of traditional knowledge and foster a greater appreciation of cultural preservation, Rising Minds is working in conjunction with the Center for Indigenous Elders to record and share the stories of the people, places and events that have shaped San Juan. By combining these stories and histories we hope to create a series of books for the outside world that can help share and ultimately preserve the beautiful culture of the lively elders in San Juan.

  • San Pedro Trash Barrels

Rising Minds is partnering with the local government and shops to install 25 trash barrels constructed from bottles in San Pedro, where there are currently no public trash receptacles.

  • Local government sustainable wall construction (San Pedro)

In coordination with the local government, Rising Minds plans to build a wall made from plastic bottles on a previous city dump site.

  • Preparation for CPR/First Aid Trainings (Fall 2012)

In communities located more than 45 minutes from emergency response care, there is a pressing need for training on how to respond to immediate, life-threatening situations. Rising Minds is implementing a First Aid and CPR training course in public schools throughout the Lake Atitlan basin. Along with certified youth, we will provide CPR and first-aid training programs, with an overall aim to certify every public school teacher within San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo communities by 2013.

  • English for English teachers classes (San Juan and San Pedro)

Our aim is to equip teachers with basic English comprehension, conversational skills and literacy.  Furthermore, we will provide free resources, materials and tools for teachers to learn and then share their newly acquired knowledge in their classes.

  • Eco-Art / Cooperative trainings (Panyebar):

Rising Minds provides hands-on trainings for indigenous women in Panyebar. Through the comprehensive training course, the women are challenged to creatively produce supplies for local educational programs, their children, and with the potential to sell.

There have been times when the do-lists for the summer have seemed overwhelming, but as I count my days by tortillas consumed and the faces which have become my new partners and friends, I have nothing but optimism for the days to come.


Rising Minds is working with the Panyebar Community Center to enrich the diversity of activities done with the children, support their efforts to improve the center itself through, and to plant a community garden that will provide nutrition education teamed with fresh veggies for the 53 children involved in the program.

My three-week transition training to serve as the Rising Minds Summer Regional Director has highlighted the fact that those running small grass-roots non-profits must become the Go-Go Gadgets of all trades.  I have been trained to budget on a dime, coordinate volunteers, communicate cross-culturally in Guatemala, complete basic playground construction, communicate with government officials, organize transportation via chicken bus (school bus turned public metro), tuk-tuk (motor taxi) or truck bed (hang on for your life) and address the technological needs of the organization.  Most of my poignant learnings have not come from the official training schedule the co-founders of Rising Minds (Courtney and Owen) had outlined.  This is where flexibility is the key.  For example: I have learned that it is impossible to schedule meetings with Guatemalans over the phone, to be aware of power dynamics between foreigners and locals (how not to exploit others nor be exploited) and which restaurant sells the only authentic style pizza in San Pedro.  I have already begun to challenge my previous perspectives on the difference between the romanticising cultures versus helping to empower people.  Currently, I am looking forward to becoming more adept at the balance between flexibility and planning.

The homestay program provides an opportunity for tourists to experience daily life in San Juan, learn Spanish and Tzu’utujil, help economically empower families, as well as create meaningful cultural exchanges.

My daily schedule has been pretty strict between completing ten different homestays to opening a new Rising Minds office.  However in between each training I have managed to ride a Ferris wheel made of PBC pipe and chicken wire and attend the biggest parade of the year in San Juan!  Step by step, tortilla by tortilla my Live-It Grant project will be realized.  The Live-It Grant has already began to impact Rising Minds immensely as well contribute to a my own personal positive outlook on international relations.

Maps, Plans & Planes

Will Chilton

Demonstrating spinal stabilization with a KED device. Photos all credit of Will Chilton.

The first week of classes has been both exhilarating and exhausting. I have been writing lesson plans, running scenarios, and of course, working on endless documents that will be needed for the flight service. The students are enthusiastic, chiming in with their knowledge (which can be profound—there are practicing doctors and paramedics of 20 years who are taking this course), and arguing over the best way to perform procedures. I am deeply impressed by the students, and have found this to be much more of a learning experience than anticipated. Still, in teaching about pulse oximetry and altitude, or reviewing the procedure for back boarding a patient with a spinal injury, it is also clear that we have a lot to offer. Prehospital medical services are completely unstandardized here in Bolivia, and doctors who are well trained in hospital procedures are not prepared for emergencies in the field. Good to know we are proving useful in some way! If you want more details on the course, check out the A Tu Lado blog (

One of the essential parts of the project here is setting up a system of patient records and flight records. Hopefully this record system will serve several purposes, including improving patient care after hand off to hospital staff, providing a way for the organization to make informed decisions on how to improve the service, and helping to develop an epidemiological profile of the region. I have been working on setting up the run sheets that the emergency service is going to use. These will document each encounter with a patient, and will be one of the main sources of data for the retrospective analysis, as well as being part of a patient’s permanent medical record. There are plans to have the entire system digitalized by August. A lofty goal, but through our collaboration with a team of OpenMRS (open source medical record system) experts called eHealth Systems in Santiago, Chile, I think we have a good shot.

Will Chilton

Practicing loading patients onto the Mano a Mano Apoyo Aereo planes.

In the meantime, I’ve restarted conversations with the pilots in the flight service about what they want to see out of the mapping initiative. I have been working on a few maps since first coming to Bolivia in February. We had initially imagined these maps would show the normal and emergency runways with pertinent information for navigation. Turns out the pilots had begun to use Google Earth since our conversations in February, and had already figured out a rough system to plan flights using the open source software and their GPSs. Although I was initially dismayed at having been left out of the loops on this, I am feeling really positively about this unexpected development. I have already begun working with the pilots to make their system more streamlined and to use the information from ArcGIS to enhance their data on Google Earth. ArcGIS will still play an important role in helping with the retrospective analysis of flight patterns and resource usage, as well as displaying geographically any epidemiological trends that emerge from the emergency flight records. We have also begun conversations on how to improve the flight record system, so I am looking over how they currently do their documentation. Amazing how far a working knowledge of Excel will get you!

Will Chilton

An improvised patient transportation simulation, run by the Cochabamba police.

Kicking off my Peace House summer

Ah, the proverbial introductory blog. Always a favorite, especially since I see that most of my fellow live it-ers (livers? global citizens?) have beaten me to the post (cue the groaning laughtrack). And that will be my last bad pun, hopefully!

This summer, I’m working at Peace House, an unconventional drop-in center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. I’ll write more about this neighborhood in a later post, but for now check out a basic intro here. Peace House is open from 10am-3pm every day, and serves as a welcoming and safe space for people marginalized in the urban space of Minneapolis, particularly people experiencing homelessness. Folks come to Peace House for a variety of reasons: the delicious meal served every day at 12:30, the strong and organic relationships and community built inside the doors, and (perhaps predominantly) for the 45 minute community reflection or meditation, an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard and for us to learn from our mutual struggle to be heard and be free.

The Peace House Mosaic

The meditation is a unique aspect of Peace House, and my work this summer primarily takes place within this structure, which in turn derives from traditions of popular education and pedagogy of the oppressed (if you haven’t read Freire, there’s never a bad time to start). I’ll focus my next post on the ins and outs of the Minnesota Voter ID ballot referendum, but for now suffice it to say that this measure, which would require all voters to present a valid and current Minnesota state ID or driver’s license in order to vote in future elections, is a thinly-veiled modern-day “post-racial” attempt at a poll tax. If passed, it would severely limit the voting ability of people experiencing homelessness, college students, recent MN citizens, people who move around a lot, and generally people with decreased access to wealth and power. My work this summer primarily consists of facilitating conversations during meditation at Peace House around this referendum. Using the proposed bill as a starting point, we’ll explore questions of citizenship, occupying urban space, and building power within the community to name and fight oppression and marginalization through a collective consciousness.

I’m bridging worlds between Peace House and the wider non-profit community as well. Today, for example, I went to the kickoff meeting of the Promote the Vote campaign, an effort aimed at non-profits who can work to increase voter turnout amongst their constituency. The event, hosted by the wonderful folks at the Wilder Foundation, buzzed with enormous energy; I came away with a ton of posters and buttons, information about upcoming events, and a sense of community/solidarity with others who realize the importance of preserving the power of the vote. MN Secretary of State Mark Ritchie spoke as well; I was particularly amused by his tales of what he called “Minnesota exceptionalism,” instances where our lovely state defies the norm in both positive and negative ways. I still can’t get over the 78% voter turnout rate–how is that possible??!!

Thus far at Peace House, I’ve accomplished some key institutional updates. These range from cleaning up the cluttered informational boards to challenging power held by older members of the community (some of whom don’t volunteer every day and thus only see one side of the organization). These small changes have led to a larger change in the form of meditation; I’ve created a process for ensuring that all who wish to lead have a chance to, and that all topics get linked to the experiences of those in the room, particularly around marginalization in urban space. The next steps will involve explicit connections between the voter ID bill and this process of empowerment within the organization–stay tuned for more soon!


The bike trailer all loaded up for a Bike Library orientation.

These past couple weeks have been a jumble of preparation, getting familiar with the Community Partners Bike Library and our course curriculum, scheduling, and starting our first few Learn to Ride classes. A consistent undercurrent for me has been a feeling of exhilaration – of moving myself from place to place on my bike, of really being able to hear and see and smell that places I go – and of sharing that excitement about biking with the women in these classes who are learning to ride.

For our Live It project, Hannah Geil-Neufeld and myself (Essie Schlotterbeck) are co-teaching a series of Learn to Ride a Bike classes for participants in Cycles for Change’s Community Partners Bike Library. The Library loans bikes out to folks for a period of about 6 months during the warm-weather season through various partnering community organizations. Our Learn to Ride classes are geared towards immigrant women and women of color, groups that are traditionally marginalized from the cycling world and many of whom have never learned to ride a bike.

Hannah demonstrated some techniques for balancing to Naomi.

So far, Hannah and I have attended a few Bike Library orientations, where participants receive their bikes, and have held the first two classes in the series of three sessions at Sarah’s, a transitional housing program for women in St. Paul. The second class was especially exciting, as many of the women started working on braking, sharper turns, and signaling, where in the first class they had been working on more basic skills like pedaling. We try to work  with the participants in each class and tailor the activities and exercises to their individual level, so that people at many different levels can work on the skills they need to in the same class.

As a pilot project, part of what we’re doing is assessing the interest in Learn to Ride classes and, if it seems like it is a useful and effective program, take steps to make the Learn to Ride program sustainable in the longer term of the Bike Library. Both Hannah and I will be working at Cycles for Change during the school year through Macalester’s off-campus student employment, and we’re excited to be able to continue our relationships with the organization after the summer as well.

If you’re interested in volunteering at some of our Learn to Ride classes and learning how to teach these skills yourself, please feel free to email either of us at or, or fill out our volunteer interest survey here and we’ll get back to you about volunteer opportunities. We would love your help!

Nue practicing braking during the second class at Sarah’s in St. Paul.


Getting Geared Up to Live It!

Hellos All!

My name is Margo Faulk. This coming Fall I will be a senior Geography major with a concentration in Community and Global Health. Since December I have been working with a small non-profit run by two recent Macalester graduates. The organization is called A Tu Lado, which means ‘by your side’ in Spanish. We work with partners in Venezuela and Bolivia to provide training and to improve emergency medicine systems, empowering local communities with the knowledge and tools needed to save lives and build safer neighborhoods. You can check out our work at

A Tu Lado is currently collaborating with Mano a Mano, a Bolivian NGO which builds healthcare infrastructure in the Andean region of the country. Mano a Mano also provides a medical air service for the northern rainforest of Bolivia, the Beni, where a small and disperse indigenous population has very limited access to clinical care. With a fleet of four small planes, they have transported over 1000 patients to Cochabamba since 2004. In addition to those emergency transports, they regularly fly medical teams to these villages to provide primary and preventative care.   A Tu Lado is setting up a course to train paramedics to attend these flights, building a patient information system, and helping to improve the logistics of the program. I will be working specifically on the patient information system and teaching a few elements of the course. I am also mapping resources and epidemiological trends to help the flight service better know their population and maximize their efficiency. Finally, I am hoping to talk to some community members in the areas that are being served to get a better idea of what community priorities are and how they would like to see the service take shape, as often in development projects indigenous voices are marginalized in the name of efficiency and improving patient outcomes.

This project expresses my vision of global citizenship in multiple ways. Instead of unilaterally carrying out the project, I am working collaboratively with local organizations developing curricula and train local providers– ensuring a sustainable, culturally appropriate service. Instead of pursuing development blindly, my research will encourage self-reflectivity and critical evaluation of results. Ultimately, the health and flight registry systems will give our partners the tools to make informed decisions about their development.

Mano a Mano hanger. Photo by Will Chilton @ A Tu Lado

The last couple weeks have been hectic. I have been finishing up my semester abroad in Arica, Chile, where I was studying public health, traditional indigenous medicine, and community empowerment. And of course, I have been trying to get some of the prep work done for this project. A few of the highlights in the process of getting ready to launch this project are listed below.

I took a trip to Santiago to talk with Joaquin Blaya of EHealth Systems about our vision for the patient record system and incorporating research and internal review elements. He is an expert in an open source medical records system, OpenMRS, and an innovator in applied mobile technology for medical care.

We are starting a dialogue with potential partners in South African who are also building community based emergency response systems. Already this new link has lead to exciting ideas!

The first computer purchased failed to load Windows, the second blew up. We are currently having it fixed by a wonderful Cochabamba tech wiz. Fingers crossed!

After a lot of reading reviews and comparing prices, I have purchased glucometers and oximeters to determine patients’ vital signs as part of the service. As well as improving patient care, these tools will help us to establish a system of internal monitoring over time to see what effect the service has on patient outcomes and determine areas we can improve.

Finally, I have been writing course material for the lessons I’m signed up to teach and generally reviewing EMT skills. I am honestly a little nervous about the teaching aspect… but the prevailing sentiment is definitely excitement!

Well, the bags are finally packed and I’m on the bus, headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia. I am ready to hit the ground running on this project. I’ll keep you updated as it gets rolling!

Sproutin’ Sprouts

The past three weeks have astounded me with their beauty and bounty. I have been in New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, and finally here. Today marks one week of being back in the Cities. My knees are covered in soil and my fingernails are ragged and dirty.
My Live It! project is to work with Stone’s Throw Urban Farm as an intern, providing high quality locally grown produce to CSA shareholders, farmer’s market customers, and select restaurants. Anna French, my friend and co-Live It! Recipient and intern are piloting a Stone’s Throw daycamp called Stone’s Throw Youth Grow. Simultaneously, we are installing community lending libraries on farm sites to help community members and shareholders alike build community through exchanging information. We have spent the week ironing out our lesson plans. Being back here, biking around the 14 farm sites and working on curriculum has made this project seem so real.
It seems real because it is. To me, there is nothing more real than the radishes I just pulled out of the ground, or the shareholder’s smile when I hand them a bag of arugula that I harvested that morning, or the kids, when camp finally starts, planting their first seeds.
Last Friday was my first harvest day. I got to the first site in Minneapolis at 7:30 in the morning, and harvested spinach, salad turnips, and baby field greens, until it was time to bike to the main site. We washed the harvest and weighed it to set some aside for CSA and the rest for market.
At this point in the post, I should probably explain what a CSA is. The letters stand for Community Supported Agriculture, the idea being that individuals or families “buy into” a farm, and then receive a share of whatever the farm produces in weekly installments. CSA day is Friday, when all of the shareholders come to pick up their veggies. The community aspect is what brought me to and keeps me in this kind of work. When my body hurts from hauling compost, or it is 150 degrees out, all I have to do is think of the families we are feeding, and the potential for community growth when we share food.
Hopefully this summer, I’ll be planning shareholder gatherings, potluck meet ‘n greet kinds of things so that they can get to know each other, interact with the libraries, and become more invested in the farm with volunteer opportunities and fundraisers. This is all part of my project, folding community even more into agriculture.
We start camp in a few weeks. In the mean time, those onions in Frogtown are looking mighty weedy!

In Defense of NGO Overhead Costs

This day has felt so distant to me, the day when I will board a plane to Guatemala for the summer.  Even more so, the errands I have been running for the necessary project materials from the states have made the whole preparation process feel slightly estranged from my actual project.  My live-it project is to serve as the Summer Regional Director for the non-profit organization, Rising Minds, a US-based 501(c) (3) non-profit organization based in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala.  This project embodies my definition of global citizenship because it seeks to bridge cultural, economic and developmental gaps through education, awareness and the empowerment of both local and international communities.  Therefore, it is has been odd to run around collecting Chinese manufactured products such as googly eyes and whiffle ball bats from Dollar Tree in order to bring them to Guatemala.  It has made me question the global commodity chain especially within the context of international non-profits.  The balance between purchasing cheap products to make the most of the grant versus quality products has made me appreciate challenges of non-profit overhead costs.

My experience preparing for this summer has made me value grants which allow the flexibility to cover overhead costs such as critical office supplies.  Most grants only allow for maximum 10-15% of the funding to be allocated to overhead which includes staff compensation, rent, office supplies and tools for projects.  More often than not, charities are rated for their effectiveness based on their avoidance of the “dreaded overhead costs.”  However I am becoming increasingly aware that we cannot divorce our roles from development projects nor can we expect great results without investing in the proper tools.  This often seems to limit the ability of small NGOs to obtain grants who operate with little program fees yet need grants to expand through general foundational supplies.

For example, the Live-It grant is the largest grant that Rising Minds has received to date.  Alongside the staff at Rising Minds, I have been engaged in long discussions about what supplies to buy in the states, what is available here in Guatemala, what should be made from recycled materials, etc.  It is an important balance between quality and effectiveness per dollar.

That amount that an organization allocates for administration should be no indication of its success.  In fact, more often than not, the opposite is the case.  If a non-profit fails to invest in research, professional quality control, office supplies and tools, it is unlikely to make a positive impact.

Below is the list of items which I purchased using the Live-It Grant fund in the United States totaling $1,100 all of which will be used in my projects this summer.

1. Skills tool set (drill, sawzall, flashlight and circular saw) – used for sustainable playgrounds and construction projects

2. Gardening gloves (x12) – used for community gardens and composting

3. 18v battery for Skills Hand tools – used for sustainable playgrounds and construction projects

4. 1 portable projector – used for presentations, volunteer orientations, youth program, meetings with local government, etc.

5. Mini-welder/soldering tool – used for sustainable construction projects and San Pedro trash barrel project

6. 1,000 plastic binder inserts – used for eco-art training, ESL, CPR, youth program, nutrition classes and sustainable construction documentation

7. 12 thumb-drives – used for project documentation and youth program

8. 10 packs of photo paper, 50 sheets per pack – used for cultural immersion, homestay programs and promotion

9. 10 packet of laminating paper, 100 sheets per packet – used for Eco Wall project, etc

10. 10 personal size whiteboards –used for youth program, language exchanges and teaching English teachers program

11. 10 computers and 1 printer (donated from Gates Foundation) – used for all programs

12. Silk Screen, plus materials –used for youth program

13. 10 packs of crayons-used for youth program

14. 10 packs of Crayola markers-used for youth program

15. 10 packs of colored pencils – used for youth program

16. 10 packs of construction paper – used for youth program

17. 10 pairs of scissors – used for youth program

18. 5 packs of cardstock – used for Rising Mind’s promotion

19. 3 boxes of 1in brass fasteners – used for Eco Art trainings

20. 500 Googly eyes – used for Eco art trainings and youth program

21. 500 Pipe-cleaners- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

22. 2 balls of rubber bands- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

23. 25 pairs of cloth stretch-gloves- used for Eco art trainings and youth program

24. 500 buttons – used for Youth Programs and Eco Art trainings

25. 100 sheets of Foam paper – used for Youth Programs

26. 10 Digital Cameras with 8GB memory cards (donated!) – used for Youth Program videography project

27. 6 glue guns – used for Eco Trainings with Mothers group in Panyebar

28. 2 whiffle balls/bats –used for Youth Programs in Panyebar, Chacap and San Juan