Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ann Sullivan Guatemala

Ann Sullivan Guatemala, our first volunteer location, is a community center providing services to young people with disabilities. Approximately six years ago, they started providing sessions to increase the independence of children with disabilities. As they have been growing, they have become involved with the Ann Sullivan center in Lima, Peru, latching onto their programs. Thus, the Guatemalan center is able to receive their curriculum ideas, supports, and continuing education.

So, what really goes on? In the morning, between 5 and 10 kids come for what is effectively a half-day of school. The school is based on the Ann Sullivan curriculum. Everything is functional, a lot of pictures are used, and kids maintain a routine. In the afternoon, kids come for one-hour one-on-one or two-on-one skill building sessions with their specialists. These sessions target whatever the kid needs, ranging from improving gross motor (through play) to improving fine motor (through writing activities) skills.

So, what have we been doing? Well, we wake up at 5:15 every morning! We drive through shockingly bad traffic to arrive at the center between 6:15 and 6:30. Conveniently, the center is a transformed house, so it is equipped with showers and all the house fixings (it serves as a second house in the city for our host family). For the first hour or two of the day we do some combination of the following: run (three times a week), read, write a blog, dream about a real cup of coffee (Joe, every morning), unsuccessfully try to access the internet, shower, and eat. After the specialists arrive and everyone has completed the hugs and kisses welcoming routine, we begin the slow and arduous process of changing the world. Our mornings are spent painting, constructing a wheelchair ramp, making potential adaptive devices, and helping as needed. In the afternoons, Joe performs more manual labor or he reads, and Juleen switches to assisting in treating kids and providing potential suggestions. While she doesn’t feel like she is revolutionizing the services being provided, she has provided some good OT 101 suggestions, as none of the specialists are trained therapists. At the end of the day, we drive home in shockingly bad traffic, arriving home around 7:30. After a light dinner, we start heading to bed.

But don’t worry much about our taxing days, as we are moving onward and forward Saturday.

Pictures are the following: upstairs roof before, indoor patio before, inaguration of the wheelchair ramp (the ramp did not get completed as easily as it might appear), upstairs roof after, and indoor patio after.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


As you might know, after another week and a half in Guatemala City we planned on doing a week´s worth of traveling in Guatemala before making our way into Honduras. Pop quiz--what´s happened in Honduras recently?? If you happened to guess coup three months ago, followed by internal turmoil, and ultimately border closures, then you were right on! You might have already put this together, but I will go ahead and spell it out for you--border closures are bad for would-be Honduran travelers.

So, what do we do? We call upon our biggest asset--YOU (well, really your constant supply of super-fast worldwide web)!

To earn first prize -- Find a place (organic farm, hostel, nature reserve, community clinic, whatever!) that offers free housing and (I´ll be greedy) some food for volunteers. And where? Somewhere in Guatemala, Nicaragua or El Salvador. Finding a place on an island earns a ¨bonus¨!

To earn second prize -- Find the same type of place as above in Costa Rica or Panama. Or find a place anywhere in Central America, excluding Honduras, that charges a minimal fee for volunteers to stay and work.

To earn third prize -- Find a cheap way (boat, plan, Maah da Hey trail (sp?), whatever) to get from anywhere in Guatemala to anywhere in Nicaragua.

Consolation prizes for anything (and everyone) else!

You can post your ideas as comments here or email them to joe.d.moore.ii(at) and (equally creative) juleen.rodakowski(at)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lago de Atitlan

Since our arrival in Guatemala all we’ve heard from the locals is how much there is to see and do in their wonderful country. As the weekend quickly approached we made our decision: we would go to the Guatemalan gringo capital—Panajachel, a town that sits above the shores of Lago de Atitlan (Atitlan Lake) while volcanoes tower over the lake. The staff at the community center jumped on board, and they were calling hostels (getting a non-gringo price), finding bus routes, and recommending activities.

Friday afternoon we were taken by staff to the bus stop. They were told a direct bus to “Pana” would leave at 1:30. Since we had ten to fifteen minutes, we were taken on a mini-tour of the district. The time quickly passed, and we were blocks away. We finally asked, something to the effect of, “shouldn’t we get to the bus.” We were assured the bus never leaves on time. At 1:45 we pulled up to the bus stop. The bus was long gone. Ooops. Fear not. Our driver took off down the roads, following the typical bus route, as we craned our necks to look at each bus we passed. Veering in and out of traffic, we finally found it, flagged it down (which isn’t uncommon), and hopped on. A few uneventful hours later, we arrived at the lake.

Most of Saturday was spent at a nature reserve next to Pana. We went on a 45 minutes hike full of swinging bridges, animals we had never seen, most notably monkeys, and a striking waterfall plummeting through the forest. After the hike, we enjoyed the reserve’s butterfly sanctuary and swimming in the lake at their private beach.

While the scenery is one-of-a-kind, we couldn’t help but enjoy the English-speaking American population at least as much as the natural setting. Whether it was an Oregonian lawyer turned guitar player, a middle-aged coffee shop owner, or a young woman holding down the fort at a used bookstore, the similar accents and stories were quite a joy.

But, at present, we now find ourselves back at “the center”, where we struggle to understand five year olds; we’re pretty sure they’re verbally advanced. We have finished conducting observations of therapists and ninos, and now are moving onto to the substance of our work here. Big ideas abound: ramps for wheelchairs, yellow lines to demarcate steps, and more.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Independence Day

First off, we’d like to wish everyone a happy belated Guatemalan Independence Day! I’m sure you celebrated, right? We certainly did. The celebration was filled with parades, typical breakfast foods (including Joe’s first “real” Guatemalan coffee!), book purchases, and no work, of course. Independence Day was Tuesday, and el centro (the place we’re volunteering) followed the holiday with a little celebration for the kids and their families on Wednesday—gory details below.

El centro does a great job of teaching children with disabilities independent living skills. To incorporate this teaching and the celebration they held a fiesta for an entire morning. The fiesta wasn’t only for the children, but it included their parents and siblings. The morning included games (fishing, pin the tail on the donkey, knock the cup tower over, and a throwing target game). After games we celebrated the success with dancing. Everyone was out there shaking to marimba music. Joe was throwing kids into the air, and Juleen was twirling every kid she could. Clearly you’d need a huge feast of typical food after all of that work… Luckily, they came through. The children were working on waiting in line, ordering, paying, and receiving food while we enjoyed a sampler platter of Guatemalan food. See the pictures to begin to appreciate the fun that was had.

What is all of this typical food we are eating? Well, it’s muy rico (very rich), as they frequently say. A typical breakfast consists of eggs with a non-spicy salsa, refried black beans, and bread. While that is Guatemalan typical, on work days typical for us is a bowl of cereal. The big adjustment (for Joe) has been the lack of consistency in having coffee, especially considering Guatemala is one of the coffee producing capitals of the world. While instant coffee is most common, he has been able to savor the occasional “good” cup of coffee.

For lunch, we are ordering from a local restaurant. For about two dollars (or 16 qutezals), we have a plethora of food. Every lunch contains a drink called rosa de jamaica (a semi-sweet drink made from flower petals), tortillas, and rice. Beyond those staples we eat meat, meat, and more meat. (In fact, one of our weekend lunches featured a smorgasbord of meat options—chicken, different types of sausage, and steak. Quite a meal for former vegetarians!) The meat is frequently prepared in a soup or a salsa sauce. As you may have deduced, lunch is a huge meal. It is their biggest meal of the day.

Finally, dinner. Dinner consists of a small serving of a salad or fruit or yogurt. Nothing else. In all, fear not… we aren’t starving. The food is excellent though quite different.

Pictures included: one of a parade in Antigua on independence day, two of the fiesta at el centro, and one of a volcano as seen in Antigua (however, this same volcano can be seen from “our” front yard).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Arrival in Guatemala City, Guatemala (September 13, 2009)

The sign read “Centro Ann Sullivan Guatemala”. Those words indicated that the two women holding it were there for us. The Centro Ann Sullivan is the community center for kids with disabilities in Guatemala City where Juleen (and Joe) are helping out these next few weeks.
Once at the center, we were greeted with a welcome sign (see picture), seven singing women and lunch. Quite an introduction. After lunch we observed therapy sessions, headed home--we’re staying with the founder of the center in her quaint home thirty minutes outside of the city--, had a “cena” and were in bed by 7pm.

Day two started at 5am--we had to beat the Independence Day weekend traffic into Guatemala City. All of the Ann Sullivan centers—they are in nine different countries, predominantly in Central and South America--had a teleconference. After spending a few hours stretching our brains to understand the Spanish in the teleconference, Igor and Sophia (our wonderful hosts) took us to Antigua, a colonial city, with their two young children. We had lunch, the biggest meal of the day, at an old coffee plantation, and we got the first taste of independent traveling. The two of us walked the streets of the city, admired a few churches, and when to a museum exhibit about a Guatemalan photographer (Julio Zadik??).

On the third day our hosts took us out (again)! This time we went to Mayan ruins about an hour from Guatemala City. We spent the day walking about the beautiful ruins of Iximche (see photo of Joe being sacrificed on the ceremonial sacrificial ruins).

In all, things couldn’t be better (other than our broken Spanish, though it has improved significantly since our arrival). Our hosts are patient and kind; they are wonderful at explaining and re-explaining their stories to us. This week we are looking forward to celebrating Guatemala’s independence day (September 15, 1821) and working at Centro Ann Sullivan Guatemala.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

T Minus 2 Days!

We are back from San Jose/San Fran. We briefly checked out Stanford--disappointing! Good thing Joe didn't want to go there anyway. We visited San Fran, along with aunts, uncles and cousin. And lastly, we attended Carol's wedding and reception. Thanks Kathy, Chris, Dorris, John, Roger, Bob, and Julie and Harold!

You can (try to) check out pictures of us at the wedding via facebook by clicking here. Disclaimer: Juleen did not watch Joe as closely as she should have.

Now that the last of our summer travels is over, we can no longer excuse NOT preparing for the "real trip". We leave September 11--two days from now! Aaaaaa! We're staying with a woman who works at a center for people with disabilities in Guatemala City. She's even coming to pick us up from the airport. We're thinking we'll be there between two to four weeks. Hopefully, we'll be able to post pictures and notes once there.