New friends, old leaks, and girls in charge at Casa Hogar in Jalapa

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This February, we went on a new year’s visit to Casa Hogar in Jalapa, where many changes are under way. It was lovely to see everyone, especially some of our littlest friends! They are growing well and in great health and spirits.

A bit of silliness after a long day.

The site is buzzing with activity. A group from Switzerland has allowed Casa Hogar to add a school building, meaning that for a good number of the home’s 102 girls school can now take place every day, independent of weather conditions, and above all in a safe place. The building turned out beautifully. What HEAR liked in particular about this arrangement is that the on-site school allows some of the home’s older girls to find employment that otherwise would be inaccessible to them. Luisa (left) has become part of the teaching staff, and the change this new responsibility has made in her is quite breathtaking. She is confident and joyful. Because of her disability most other paths of employment are closed, meaning this opportunity is unique.

Luisa with some of her present and future students.

Luisa with some of her present and future students.

Employment, and the empowerment that goes with it, was the red thread running through this visit. One of our first visits was to the Milagros workrooms, where Gracia Inc employees Ilma and Sucely gave us a demonstration of their skills. We observed the same change: they were confident, in charge, and comfortable teaching us (rather than us teaching them).

A lesson in bracelet making.

A lesson in bracelet making. 

Some of the little ones seemed to enjoy the demonstration in particular!

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For these little ladies, seeing a young female employee confidently demonstrating her skill is still far from the norm. For HEAR, the great success story of Gracia is precisely that: the girls see a living example of a way to independence.

Little girls with Madre Clauda, or - as they like to call her - "Mamita."

Little girls with Madre Clauda, or – as they like to call her – “Mamita.”

Construction projects in various stages are going on across the site, and these are a mixed blessing. Some very necessary projects are being undertaken, such as communal living space and a dispensary. But these projects are putting an enormous strain on the home’s fragile water system. There are leaks all over the site, and identifying these and coming up with a plan to fix them took up a considerable amount of our time.

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Various stages of water damage. 

Nevertheless this trip turned the corner to a very positive and encouraging place, and the reason for this is that Casa Hogar is finally gaining the local support that it needs for continuous maintenance. While we visited me met with a good round dozen of people, from water experts to engineers, who have come forward and regularly support Madre Claudia. We are currently waiting for a complete report on the water situation – once that is in place, we’ll be able to make plans for the rainy season!

Building site for the chicken coop.

This unassuming spot was the biggest source of excitement for us on this trip. Thanks to a generous donation by Trades of Hope, we will be able to return to Casa Hogar in May and build a chicken coop with a 150 hen capacity. The plans were created by a team from St. Carlos University under the guidance of Prof. Mario Gonzales. The young men created a plan for a coop that will produce enough eggs to become self-sufficient once it is up and running. The best part? As far as we are concerned, it’s the fact that this coop, along with a variety of responsibilities around Casa Hogar and the agricultural project, will be placed in the hands of two young residents. These young women have proved themselves capable and proactive, assisting Madre Claudia in a variety of ways and demonstrating a strong willingness to contribute.

Team Chicken Coop!

Team Chicken Coop!

We feel that the best use of our time and resources is to help Casa Hogar’s resourceful young residents gain independence, and we were thrilled to find a strong drive and initiative on their part. During our hunt for what was causing water leaks in every bathroom on site, Gabby demonstrated an absolutely uncanny instinct for finding defective valves all over the ground. And when HEAR volunteer and family nurse practitioner Roger Barillas saw over 20 girls in less than half a day, Lupit simply decided that he needed a hand and took notes on diagnosis and follow-up for girl after girl. We are just pleased as punch at the prospect of working with these young ladies, and we can’t wait to keep you all updated where our collaboration goes.

Tired but happy.

Tired but happy.

Our next trip is due in May. If you’d like to come along and meet some of these wonderful young women, we can always use volunteers – please contact us at vera@hearfoundation.org.

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A Visit to Jalapa – Fall 2014

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A Visit to Jalapa – Fall 2014

How are things at Casa Hogar in Jalapa?

This September a team from the HEAR Foundation visited Casa Hogar to check in on the girls, inspect any work that needs to be done, and hear from the home’s residents themselves how they are faring. We got about a million hugs in the process and left energized and excited about what new year will bring. The home is growing and thriving, the crops are blooming, and the girls got a good laugh out of our attempts at making jewelry.

Our visit fell into the midst of the rainy season, and water issues and solutions for them dominated most of our time. Of course our first visit was this the girls and their concerns, after which we went on tour around the premises.

Visiting the farm with Mr. Cerna.

Visiting the farm with Mr. Cerna.

The farm is thriving in Mr. Cerna’s capable hands. A beautiful new corn crop was about a month shy of harvesting during our visit, and it is soon to make way for a string bean crop for commercial sale. Over the course of this year, Mr. Cerna and the girls have combined forces to grow over 17,000 lbs of produce! Our focus for the coming season is to improve the irrigation system. We are working with local contacts to find an inexpensive, organic solution that will give the home one more push toward food independence.

Inspecting the roof.

Inspecting the roof.

Rain in Jalapa falls up, down, and sideways, and that means that any surface exposed over the long haul will show some rain damage. Here, HEAR Director Jim Ziemba and our local translator and guide Mr. Pablo Castañeda are inspecting the roof surface and developing ways of preserving the structure better. We have various options on the table, and once the rainy season ends we should be able to come up with a more permanent solution. A volunteer trip is planned for February 2015, and if all goes well the home will by consistently dry and ready for a fresh coat of paint by then!

Karen focused on her craft.

Karen focused on her craft.

It was a special privilege for us this year to  be able to visit the Milagros workshops and witness the girls creating jewelry and accessories that they designed themselves. HEAR could not be prouder to have been a part of a truly functioning business endeavor that gives these young women the skills and experience to work toward independence. Thanks to the partnership with Trades of Hope, the girls are now selling enough for the program two hire two of them as on-site managers, an amazing step for them and a huge inspiration to the other girls. Check back here in a few weeks for an update and link to Milagros’ new website!

The entire home prepared a big celebration and send-off for us, and we found ourselves especially charmed by the tiniest performers.

Here’s to a good 2015!

P.S.: Want to support these wonderful young women? Come celebrate with us at our annual fundraiser on December 13 at the Montgomery Club in Chicago!

First String Bean and Watermelon Harvest

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The first of three string bean harvests

The first of three string bean harvests.

The 2014 harvest is off to a great start! The first ever attempt at commercial bean production at MyM resulted in 9,300 pounds of string beans. The residents are very proud of their accomplishment. They got to participate in the harvest, providing them with a valuable life skill, and the success of the experiment speaks to great things in the future.

MyM residents with the fruits of their labor

MyM residents with the fruits of their labor.

The year’s first watermelon in our last post has evolved:

The 2014 watermelon is crop is off to a great start.

The 2014 watermelon is crop is off to a great start.

Almost 500 pounds of watermelon and various other fruits and vegetables have been harvested so far, providing the girls with essential nutrients as well as delicious flavors. The littlest residents helped bring in the watermelon and enjoyed the results immensely.

MyM residents with some of the fruits of their labor.

MyM residents with some of the fruits of their labor.

700 pounds of tomatoes have also landed on the scene, as well as onions, peppers, and string beans. As the rainy season begins, all are looking forward to what else this year will bring!

A Message from the Residents of MyM!

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Preparing for green bean planting

Preparing for green bean planting

As we begin 2014 with new programs- commercial production of green beans, for example- the residents at MyM wanted to reach out to our supporters and share their gratitude for everything that was accomplished in 2013 and all that will be done in 2014. Their sign in the following picture reads:

"Thank you" message from the residents at MyM

“Thank you” message from the residents at MyM

“Thank you dear friends! God bless you for your help! We love you very much!”

-The girls in Guatemala

First Watermelon of 2014

First Watermelon of 2014

New Value-Added Skills Learned Through Agriculture and Nutrition Program

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Taking the temperature of milk for cheese

Taking the temperature of milk for cheese

In the past few weeks, the Agriculture and Nutrition class has been focusing on some new, hands-on skills.  The residents practiced how to make cheese and chorizo in a sanitary fashion.

They also learned how to safely hold down a cow and give vaccinations.

The young women report that these activities are the highlights of the classes- a fun and practical way to utilize some of the classroom agriculture and nutrition information they learn every week.

Ucayalino Cheese and Students

Ucayalino Cheese and Students

 

Showing how to stuff chorizo sausage

Showing how to stuff chorizo sausage

 

Chorizo finished!

Chorizo finished!

Small Business, Big Hopes

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Some of the commercial agriculture students

Some of the commercial agriculture students

A local businessman in Jalapa has agreed to contract for vegetables from the home.  A class has been formed of the young women who are closest to finishing their studies and demonstrate interest and skill in commercial agriculture for this purpose.  Yesterday they met with the owner of a restaurant to discuss demand, pricing, and products.  The young women will now have to create a proposal with cost and delivery schedule, and then execute every component of production with the supervision of their teacher.

eeting with the restaurenteur

Meeting with the restauranteur

The young women in this class were thrilled by the opportunity to hone a different set of skills and make new connections in their town.  While many of the girls will stay on in cities, the students of the commercialization class have shared with HEAR a preference for rural life.  This class will allow them to learn the fundamentals of how to successfully create an agriculture-based business in their country and therefore have the freedom to live the kind of life they want.