Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Last week the digging for bodies, claimed by last year’s mudslide, began in Panabaj. Fundacion de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala, FAFG, has divided the area around former Hospitalito Atitlan, into different sections that will be searched systematically.

In the early stages of the work two front-end loaders cleared the road that leads past the former public school, the hospital, the justice center and up the hill another 100 meters or so. So far the loaders have removed boulders and tree trunks, but representatives of FAFG are confident to find most of the estimated 130 bodies that are still buried in the mudslide. In a similar search in the department of San Marcos all but one of 46 bodies were found.

“Our goal is to find all the buried bodies, even if we have to uncover the whole area,” said Fredy Peccerelli, General Coordinator and FAFG director. At some places the dirt from that devastating night lies four meters deep. The freshly dug areas still smell of wet dirt that evoke strong memories from the days just after the catastrophe.

Former Hospitalito Atitlan has put aside two buildings that FAFG uses for offices, morgue and storage. FAFG has parked a big refrigerated trailer where retrieved bodies can be kept until properly buried. For now the area is closed to the public by temporary fences.
FAFG has been in the area for about four months in preparation for the search. Shortly after the mudslides several hundred people were reported missing, but little by little they showed up in shelters and in hospitals. Now the number of missing bodies is down to about 130. Through interviews with relatives of the missing, FAFG has learned about the bone size and teeth of their loved ones. This information will be of enormous help when identifying the bodies. David Cabrera, a forensic anthropologist, said that the relatives have been very supportive, although some aspects of the job have been cumbersome.

“The landowner is buried and the documents to land are buried along with him,” said David Cabrera.

During the work in Panabaj, which is estimated to take several months, FAFG is supported by Red Cross and Santiago Atitlan’s volunteer firefighters. For now the area is dominated by people in bright orange suits and hardhats, so different from when we watched the Hospitalito staff in their white, pastel blue and green outfits.

FAFG has formerly worked in most departments of Guatemala, opening mass graves and identifying bodies that were buried there during the civil war.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Electrician Henry Mendoza installed eight 115W Evergreen Solar panels on the roof of the temporary Hospitalito Atitlán this week. When the electric bill exceeded $600 a month, the board of directors began to investigate solar energy. In 2005 a 16 battery emergency UPS (uninterrupted power supply) was donated and installed in Panabaj. With that, Hospitalito Atitlán had half of an alternative energy system.
Thanks to the generous donation of California friend and solar enthusiast Bill Cuneo, we purchased these panels. Electricity in Santiago Atitlán costs three times what it does in the US per kilowatt hour. On January 13th, Henry will assist Ian Woofenden, editor of Home Power magazine for a one day solar energy conference in Santiago Atitlán. The $55 cost for the one day conference will go to Hospitalito Atitlán.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

First Graduation Since Stan at the New Panabaj School!

Monday, October 30 was a happy day at the Escuela Rural Mixta Cantón Panabaj, because 38 students from 6th grade were celebrating their graduation. This is a remarkable achievement for Guatemalan families because not so long ago this was only possible for a low percentage of the population. Nowadays Guatemalan families still need to make a big sacrifice to put their children through school, as some of these families barely earn enough to be able to feed their children. For these same difficulties most of the children who finish primary school are not able to continue studying.

It is customary in Guatemala that the children choose a “Madrina” or “Padrino” (Godmother or Godfather) that will accompany them on their celebration, and who will somehow collaborate in making the celebration possible. The main consideration for choosing this person is to find someone who has benefited the Community. For Pueblo a Pueblo it was a great honor to have our Benefits Coordinator chosen as Godmother. Montserrat Deu has been coordinating the School Sponsorship Program since the beginning of year 2006. She has been going to the Panabaj School very often and we can say that even though the School Sponsorship Program is still really young, we could not expect any better reward than the recognition of the oldest students from the Panabaj School.

Last year, due to the mudslide caused by Hurricane Stan that left what we now call the “Old” Panabaj School unusable, there was no Graduation Day. This was one of the reasons that made this years’ graduation even more special.

On Monday 30th the graduation started at 10:00 in the morning. The two most brilliant students from the 6th grade, Irma Leticia Xicay and Juan Ignacio Letona, started the ceremony entering the Guatemalan flag, and then all the sixth graders where called one by one. The director, the teacher and the Godmother gave the diplomas and after some words from one of the parents, Montserrat Deu distributed bag packs for each one of the students in name of Pueblo a Pueblo as a recognition for their big effort in finishing primary school. The celebration ended with a lunch, prepared at the school, for the children, their parents and the teachers, with cake included!

You could see it on their faces; it was a memorable and emotional day.

Congratulations to all!!!!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Architect David Schele, shown with Hospitalito Atitlán Board members, Karina Bergstresser, Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, and Juan Tziná. David Schele is an architect whose specialty is the design of hospitals and clinics. He works with Felder Group, an Austin Texas based architectural firm and has volunteered his time and experience to design the new Hospitalito Atitlán. In June, prior to the purchase of the land, David met with the board of directors and hospital staff to discuss plans. After months of exchanging ideas by email, David came to Santiago Atitlán for a site visit. It has been an intense and productive three days.