Happy Peace Corps Week

My Peace Corps service today passes the mark of 627 days. In the past 1.7 years I have learned a tremendous amount about the development process, the country of Guatemala, and myself. I’ve made friends, lost friends, fallen in and out of love, learned lessons, received hard knocks, had triumphs and failures, and generally speaking- grown up. I’m leaps and bounds different from the person I was one year ago, and this newfound perspective on the world and on life is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I hope this video can provide you with some insight on the journey so far. I would like to also make a special shoutout to Marta Mudri, a beloved friend of mine who has made the journey down to visit all the way from Ohio, not once- but twice! I couldn’t find any flattering images featuring both of us on my computer which is why she does not appear prominently in the video.

Thank you to my supportive colleagues, friends, and family for all the support, encouragement, and slaps across the face- you keep me sane. Because of you all, I am able to serve Guatemala on behalf of the United States with pride, creativity, and my 110%.

The soundtrack is the song “Worn Out Passport” by The Copyrights from their album “North Sentinel Island” produced by It’s Alive Records. Listen to it, it’s the perfect soundtrack to my life and the life of any Peace Corps Volunteer, traveler, or wandering soul. North Sentinel Island is also purportedly the world’s hardest place to visit.

Celebrating Guatemala’s National Anthem

First published in ¿Qué Pasa? Magazine

On March 14th, 1897, the dulcet tones of the country’s National Anthem first rang out from the Teatro Colón. This day commemorates the acceptance of the piece, with its score composed by Rafael Álvarez Ovalle and lyrics written by José Joaquín Palma, as the National Anthem of the Republic of Guatemala.

According to the Committee for the Construction of the Monument to Distinguished Maestro Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, an official national hymn wasn’t even considered until 1887. On February 1st, 1897, a panel of three judges approved the “popular hymn,” and a decree was issued on February 19th to debut the work at the Teatro Colón which at that time existed on 11 Avenida of Zone 1 in the Guatemalan capital.

Recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful national anthems, the National Anthem of Guatemala is not only powerful and explicit in its expression of the political and social conditions of the time, but also in declaring the fervor of Guatemalans for their country. That fervor can also be seen in San Juan Comalapa – the birthplace of Maestro Álvarez Ovalle, located in the department of Chimaltenango – on March 14th. That’s an important date for the town, as it celebrates one of its home-grown personages.

The Cuchubal: An exercise in working together

Today I learned of an interesting phenomenon, cuchubales, as they’re called in Guatemala. The purpose of a cuchubal is to organize a group of friendly responsable people from within a community and collect an equal sum of money each month. For example I will organize 10 friends who will each contribute 300 Guatemalan Quetzales every month to the cuchubal. Each month one member of the group receives the full sum of Q3,000 and can use it towards some need of theirs.

cuchubalThe system is a sort of cash advance for those who need it and the order of who receives the “pot” any given month is determined by raffle. Smaller or larger groups can be arranged depending on the timeframe that one wishes the event to take place.

Some of you may be wondering why the rigidity of the lunar cycle? Why not just collect money every week and have the whole thing move along much faster? Payments in Guatemala are based on a monthly schedule- aside from obvious services like rent and utilities, salaries are paid monthly and so is tuition. So all finances in Guatemala are based around this monthly cycle. While the cuchubal doesn’t enhance wealth through interest or other capital gains, it is a large lump-sum payment issued based on gradual contributions over time which can be immensely helpful in getting your car repaired, replacing the burned-out lightbulbs at home, or paying the setup and installation fees for an Internet connection.

Cabal en Chimal is a series about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in Guatemala’s department of Chimaltenango. On Lenguaje Lunes, this blog focuses on language and cultural tidbits plucked lovingly from the people of Guatemala.

Action, Adventure, and Discovery on the Silver Screen

North of Liberty, or Norte de la Libertad as the film is known in Spanish, chronicles the story of three college freshman on a cross-country road trip in a vintage VW minibus. The film sparks a sense of wonder and amazement that these three boys are actually able to pull off the coast-to-coast journey in a ramshackle old van. North of Liberty is also a story of maturation, a narrative of boys crossing over the threshold of adulthood and becoming men. The film holds audiences captive, awakening wanderlust and curiosity while underscoring that no challenge is unsurmountable.

North of Liberty Poster 1

Todd Whitaker, North of Liberty‘s director, sums up the spirit of the film as encouraging to “follow your dreams, overcome your fears, and try to get to know this wonderful, vast, and multifaceted world that will surely surprise you.”

The film comes to San Juan Comalapa on January 30 and 31 for a double header.

San Juan Comalapa: The Florence of the Americas

First published in ¿Qué Pasa? magazine.

Leer en español.

San Juan Comalapa is a peaceful mountain town about 35 kilometers north of La Antigua. This rural municipio has more than 50,000 inhabitants, of whom about 90% are indigenous Kaqchikel Maya.

The town, located in the department of Chimaltenango, is home to the largest hand-painted mural in Guatemala. Spanning more than 180 meters in length and 2 meters in height, it has 62 distinct scenes depicting events from the foundation of the town by Mayan gods to the armed conflict that wiped an entire village off the map. This mural’s beauty lies in the story told from a uniquely Guatemalan perspective and rendered by artists born into a vibrant tradition of painting. Internationally acclaimed artists Andrés Curruchiche and Óscar Perén hail from Comalapa, and the influences of their unique styles of art predominate in the expansive mural.

San Juan Comalapa has more to offer to those who are looking for even more culture: the town is well-versed in music. The score of the Guatemalan National Anthem has its origins in humble Chixot – the Kaqchikel name for Comalapa, which itself means “between comales” (the flat, metal pans used for cooking tortillas over open flame). Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, the anthem’s composer, was born and raised in San Juan Comalapa where he began his ascent to fame as an acclaimed classical musician and composer. In Comalapa, a museum has been erected in Ovalle’s childhood home where an extensive collection of carefully restored personal effects and original scores can be found.

Proudly proclaimed as La Florencia de las Américas (The Florence of the Americas) by locals, San Juan Comalapa lives up to this reputation as a locale with a grand cultural tradition and is an embodiment of what it means to be Guatemalan. A trip to the Land of Eternal Springtime isn’t complete without a visit to the heart of the Mayan world – conveniently located between comales.

Rubbish to Riches: Green Buildings to Improve the Quality of Life in Rural Guatemala

First published in ¿Qué Pasa? magazine.

Leer en español.

Long Way Home uses sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient schools that promote education, employment, and environmental stewardship. Celebrating its 10th year in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, Long Way Home has awakened a growing consciousness in the community that repurposed waste materials can be used to build homes and schools. Using the organization’s model, garbage that would otherwise contaminate drinking water and fertile farmland ends up serving the community in a variety of ways.

#long way home #ngo #green buildings #que pasa #guatemala #1

The social and environmental benefits of building with waste are numerous and long-term. Environmental decontamination leads to both restored ecological integrity and improved human health. Ridding the landscape of litter adds to its aesthetic and recreational value, beneficial both to Guatemala’s tourism industry as well as to the local population. This is a low-cost development strategy, appropriate and affordable for rural, low-income residents.

Long Way Home is in the process of completing the final buildings for their 18-building primary, middle, and vocational school campus. Simultaneously they are hosting 61 students from kindergarten through Grade 6 and providing a scholarly environment with professional development opportunities for a qualified, local faculty.

Additionally, Long Way Home contributes to a growing awareness of green building, serves as one of the largest private-sector employers of local people, and encourages youth to see their potential for global impact. Long Way Home runs an active volunteer program that accommodates people with various skill sets and schedules. Volunteers have the opportunity to gain valuable experience by developing skills related to sustainable construction, community outreach, and nonprofit management. Furthermore, the organization arranges for its volunteers to live either in a communal house, in hotels or in homestays with local families, depending on personal preference and budget.

To learn more about Long Way Home and how to volunteer with them, visit their website at lwhome.org or contact their Development Director Genevieve Croker at genevieve@lwhome.org.

 Photos by: Genevieve Croker

A PCV Gives Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. When I was a kid, the Sethna family always trotted out a game after dinner (thanks to Kim, my loving stepmother). This game really is not a game, rather an exchange of flattery by those present at the table. But the idea was that we would observe, at least a little bit, the original intentions of the holiday: giving thanks for what one has.

As of writing, I have been in Guatemala for 528 days and a oath-sworn Peace Corps Volunteer for 461. There are 268 days until I close service in August of next year. As I round off my second Thanksgiving in the Land of the Eternal Spring, I want to share what I am most thankful for.

  1. My family. I would not be able to continue to serve the people of Guatemala- in a place so different from where I grew up- without their constant encouragement and support. When my sister, dad, siblings, mom, stepmother, and grandparents, thank me for my service and tell me how proud they are of me- words cannot express how I swell with happy feelings and fulfillment.
  2. My Guatemalan family. Many people have an idea that Peace Corps means going off into the woods and abandoning human contact while struggling to build fire and wipe oneself with leaves. The second part is partially true. I am still abysmal at putting together a self-sustaining fire and I usually carry around some toilet paper in my backpack- which has become a second extension of myself. However, more than anything serving in the Peace Corps is about sharing the spirit of friendship with my host country: Guatemala. Without the love and support of my host family- Señora Juana who has helped me find countless professional opportunities such as the work done with a local blackberry factory and local youth radio. My girlfriend, Marta whom I love. Because of her I learned to accept that I really don’t know everything. I’ve been learning patience- communication is hard (let alone cross-cultural communication), understanding, and patience again. She is a truly wonderful, strong person who listens to me, laughs at my jokes, and shares my passion for discovery, experience, and life. Her daughter, Isabela is a bundle of pure joy. Never before have I truly felt compelled to set a good example until she came into my life. She, like her mother, is incredibly smart and one day will be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, or whatever she wants to be.
  3. My friends from Comalapa. Óscar, his wife Angelica, and Nico are some of my best friends from town. They’ve helped me integrate and have inspired me to be the best I can be. I am so proud of Óscar and his family for starting the Alpha & Omega English Academy. It has been a dream of his to create a business that uses his strengths as a fluent English-speaker. Nico is unquestionably my best friend and confidante in Guatemala. I admire him so much for having the courage to dedicate his life to music. A classically-trained musician in rural Guatemala is about as rare as free beer. Furthermore, Nico has a beautiful vision for the future of his country. He is brave, a risk-taker, and a calculated professional.
  4. My friends at Long Way Home. The local NGO has been something I’ve written about extensively on this blog and through other outlets. These folks have reaffirmed the value of non-traditional work ethic and thinking outside the box. Lars and Ben, perpetual lovers and bros help me view cultural sensitivity with a grain of salt. They’ve got a few years on me and really help me to keep things in perspective. Sarah, Genevieve, and Executive Director Matt are also inspirational leaders, creative thinkers, and cosmopolitan people. Their vision is changing the face of sustainable development and green building across the world- spanning countries such as Colombia, Peru, and South Africa. Finally, Dori, easily my best gringo friend from my time here in Guatemala. He’s got my back- simple. He’s got a level head on his shoulders, a deep raspy voice, and knows how to boogie. I’ve learned so much from him in terms of my own outlook and worldview. Despite constant challenges he always maintains an upbeat perspective and has taught me how to focus on small successes and take things one at a time. I’d go to the end of the earth and back again with Dori.
  5. My friends (and family) who have made the journey south this year: Marta, Lou, Dad, Lienne, Mason, Ryan. You guys are awesome. Completing the circle and bringing folks from home up-to-speed with my life really rounds the corners of the Peace Corps experience. In the short time that I’ve been here, I’m becoming an expert on the place that’s not much bigger than Tennessee. Getting to share what my day-to-day life looks like, how beautiful the country’s scenery, culture, and people are not only fulfills the goals of the agency but makes me feel like I’m able to bring a broader awareness of a tiny, under-appreciated corner of the world to my friends. Marta and Lou came to visit me during a difficult time when I was dealing with some health issues brought about as a result of service. They brought light to me when all I could see was a long, dark tunnel. Dad and Lienne followed-up shortly thereafter breathing new motivation into what I continue to work with Guatemalan youth to achieve. Mason went diving with me- a new passion. We climbed and explored. Ryan, who was just here a few weeks ago refreshed my perspective on the world by reminding me that it’s still there and bigger than what I’m normally exposed to. The year will conclude with a visit from my sister. How fortunate I am to have so many people who love me enough to come visit the beautiful, but slightly father than the corner store, land that is Guatemala.
  6. Folks who, although unable to visit, have kept in touch. My (forever) roommate Cameron, Mike (Clay Lampshade), Cindy, Eric, Tom, Ben, Alex, Abby, Meagan, Jessica. Even though you all live incredibly busy lives you always find the time to reply to my emails and log into Skype. A special thanks to those of you I’ve cajoled into writing recommendations for grad school.20140212-093025.jpg
  7. The lovely people who participated in art exchanges this year: Ledgeview Elementary School, Mrs. Stone, my loving and supportive stepmother Kim, and the folks at OneWorld Classrooms. I also want to reach out and thank my municipal government colleagues and friends stateside who proved that it is possible to arrange these types of fun cultural exchange projects on a smaller scale (and without a $100 “handling fee”).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  8. Engineers Without Borders, University of Minnesota chapter. Thanks for coming again and again to this little part of Guatemala. Even though people often times don’t see the long-term value in their infrastructure development work, it makes huge waves. These guys- particularly my friend Jacob are hardworking and dedicated. They aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty and don’t let setbacks discourage them. They are go-getters, knowing what they want. Even if the path to success is indirect or convoluted, I am always impressed by how much progress these industrious engineers are able to make on their short trips during university breaks.
  9. Darien Book Aid. Really what awesome people. Thank you so much for braving the Connecticut winter to search for Spanish-language and basic English texts. We received more than 30 tomes from this philanthropic organization run by RPCVs (returned PCVs). The books have inspired a community library in a local school and have motivated the principal to look into expanding the collection. Anything that gets people excited about reading is great.
  10. My students. Finally, but certainly not last on my mind are the students with whom I work. In this moment I have on-going Kung-Fu classes and discussion groups. While my groups are small- less than 15 people in each one (there are 4 in total)- everyone attends completely by free will. They are dedicated, motivated, and on a quest to succeed. I greatly admire their work ethic and feel that together we have the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves.1412579_452123838224990_1936038352_o 857986_452124171558290_1711128056_o

As we come away from another Thanksgiving, I hope that you too have much to be thankful for. Season greetings to you and your families and remember, Guatemala is just a plane ticket away!

Hoy en día es de Acción de Gracias en los Estados Unidos. Cuando yo era un niño, la familia Sethna siempre sacó a relucir un juego después de la cena (gracias a Kim, mi madrastra amorosa). Este juego no es un juego, en lugar de un intercambio de halagos por los presentes en la mesa. Pero la idea era que se podría observar, al menos un poco, las intenciones originales de las vacaciones: dar gracias por lo que uno tiene.

Al momento de redactar, he estado en Guatemala por 528 días y un voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz de juramento jurado de 461. Hay 268 días hasta que cierro servicio en agosto del próximo año. Como he redondear mi segunda acción de gracias en la Tierra de la Eterna Primavera, quiero compartir lo que estoy más agradecido.

  1. Mi familia. Yo no sería capaz de continuar sirviendo a la gente de Guatemala- en un lugar tan diferente de donde crecí arriba sin su aliento y apoyo constante. Cuando mi hermana, papá, hermanos, madre, madrastra, y abuelos, me dan las gracias por mi servicio y me dicen lo orgullosos que están de palabras me- no pueden expresar cómo me llenen de sentimientos de felicidad y satisfacción.
  2. Mi familia guatemalteca. Muchas personas tienen la idea de que el Cuerpo de Paz significa ir al bosque y abandonar el contacto humano, mientras que luchan para construir fuego y limpie a sí mismo con las hojas. La segunda parte es parcialmente cierto. Sigo siendo abismal en la elaboración de un incendio autosostenible y yo suelo llevar alrededor de un poco de papel higiénico en mi backpack- que se ha convertido en una segunda extensión de mí mismo. Sin embargo, más que nada de servir en el Cuerpo de Paz es acerca de compartir el espíritu de amistad con el país anfitrión: Guatemala. Sin el amor y apoyo de mi anfitrión familia- Señora Juana que ha ayudado a encontrar un sinnúmero de oportunidades profesionales, tales como el trabajo realizado con una fábrica de mora y la radio locales de juventud local. Mi novia, Marta quien amo. Debido a ella aprendí a aceptar que yo realmente no lo sé todo. He estado aprendiendo comunicación paciencia- es difícil (por no comunicación intercultural solo), la comprensión y la paciencia de nuevo. Ella es una persona realmente maravillosa y fuerte que me escucha, se ríe de mis chistes, y comparte mi pasión por el descubrimiento, la experiencia y la vida. Su hija, Isabela es un paquete de alegría pura. Nunca antes he realmente me sentí obligado a dar un buen ejemplo, hasta que llegó a mi vida. Ella, al igual que su madre, es increíblemente inteligente y un día va a ser médico, abogado, científico, o lo que quiera ser.
  3. Mis amigos de Comalapa. Óscar, su esposa Angélica, y Nico son algunos de mis mejores amigos de la ciudad. Me han ayudado a integrarme y me han inspirado a ser lo mejor que puedo ser. Estoy muy orgulloso de Óscar y su familia para iniciar el Alpha & Omega Inglés Academia. Ha sido un sueño de su para crear un negocio que utiliza sus puntos fuertes como con fluidez Inglés-altavoz. Nico es, sin duda, mi mejor amigo y confidente en Guatemala. Admiro lo tanto por tener el valor de dedicar su vida a la música. Un músico de formación clásica en la Guatemala rural es casi tan raro como la cerveza gratis. Por otra parte, Nico tiene una hermosa visión para el futuro de su país. Es valiente, una persona que toma riesgos, y una calculada profesional.
  4. Mis amigos en Long Way Home. La ONG local ha sido algo que he escrito acerca en gran medida en este blog y otros puntos de venta. Estas personas han reafirmado el valor de la ética de trabajo no tradicional y pensar fuera de la caja. Lars y Ben, amantes perpetuos y bros me ayudan considero sensibilidad cultural con un grano de sal. Tienen un par de años en mí y realmente me ayudan a mantener las cosas en perspectiva. Sarah, Genevieve, y el director ejecutivo Matt también son líderes inspiradores, pensadores creativos y personas cosmopolitas. Su visión está cambiando la cara del desarrollo sostenible y la construcción ecológica en todos los países de los mundialmente como Colombia, Perú y Sudáfrica. Finalmente, Dori, fácilmente mi mejor amigo gringo de mi tiempo aquí en Guatemala. Él tiene mi sencilla fondo. Tiene un nivel de la cabeza sobre los hombros, una voz rasposa de profundidad, y sabe cómo para ir a bailar. He aprendido mucho de él en términos de mi propia perspectiva y visión del mundo. A pesar de los desafíos constantes que siempre mantiene una perspectiva optimista y me ha enseñado a centrarse en los pequeños éxitos y tomar las cosas de una en una. Iría hasta el fin de la tierra y de vuelta con Dori.
  5. Mis amigos (y familiares) que han hecho el viaje al sur de este año: Marta, Lou, papá, Lienne, Mason, Ryan. Ustedes son increíbles. Completando el círculo y trayendo de casa hasta a la velocidad con mi vida realmente redondea las esquinas de la experiencia en el Cuerpo de Paz. En el poco tiempo que he estado aquí, me estoy convirtiendo en un experto en el lugar que no es mucho más grande que Tennessee. Cómo llegar a compartir lo que parece mi vida del día a día como, qué hermoso paisaje, la cultura y la gente del país no sólo son cumpla los objetivos de la agencia, sino que me hace sentir que soy capaz de llevar una conciencia más amplia de una pequeña , poco apreciada rincón del mundo a mis amigos. Marta y Lou me vino a visitar durante un tiempo difícil cuando yo estaba tratando con algunos problemas de salud provocados como consecuencia de servicio. Ellos me trajeron la luz cuando todo lo que podía ver era un largo y oscuro túnel. Papá y Lienne seguidos poco después de respirar nueva motivación en lo que sigo trabajando con la juventud guatemalteca lograr. Mason fue a bucear con mí- una nueva pasión. Subimos y exploramos. Ryan, que estuvo aquí hace unas semanas refrescó mi perspectiva sobre el mundo por recordarme que todavía está allí y más grande que lo que estoy expuesto normalmente a. El año concluirá con la visita de mi hermana. Qué afortunado que soy de tener tanta gente que me quiere lo suficiente como para venir a visitar el hermoso, pero ligeramente padre que la tienda de la esquina, la tierra que es Guatemala.
  6. Las personas que, aunque no pudo visitar, han mantenido en contacto. Mi (para siempre) compañero de piso Cameron, Mike (Clay Pantalla), Cindy, Eric, Tom, Ben. A pesar de que todos vivimos vidas muy ocupadas que siempre encuentra el tiempo para responder a mis correos electrónicos e iniciar sesión en Skype. Un agradecimiento especial a aquellos de ustedes que he engatusados en recomendaciones de la escritura para la escuela de posgrado.
  7. Las personas encantadoras que participaron en intercambios de arte de este año: la Escuela Primaria Ledgeview, la señora Stone, mi amante y su madrastra apoyo Kim, y la gente en OneWorld Aulas. También quiero extender la mano y gracias a mis colegas de los gobiernos municipales y amigos en Estados Unidos que demostró que es posible organizar este tipo de proyectos de intercambio cultural de la diversión en una escala más pequeña (y sin una “tasa de tramitación” $ 100).
  8. Ingenieros sin Fronteras, de la Universidad de Minnesota capítulo. Gracias por venir una y otra vez a esta pequeña parte de Guatemala. A pesar de que la gente muchas veces no ven el valor a largo plazo en su trabajo de desarrollo de infraestructura, tiene enormes olas. Estos chicos- especialmente mi amigo Jacob son muy trabajadora y dedicada. Ellos no tienen miedo de ensuciarse las manos y no permita que los reveses disuadirlos. Son buscavidas, sabiendo lo que quieren. Incluso si el camino hacia el éxito es indirecta o complicado, siempre estoy impresionado por la cantidad de progreso estos ingenieros industriosos son capaces de hacer en sus viajes cortos durante los recesos de la universidad.
  9. Darien Book Aid. Realmente lo que la gente impresionante. Muchas gracias por desafiar el invierno Connecticut para buscar en español y textos básicos de inglés. Recibimos más de 30 tomos de esta organización filantrópica dirigida por RPCVs (devuelto PCV). Los libros han inspirado una biblioteca de la comunidad en una escuela local y han motivado el director para mirar en la ampliación de la colección. Cualquier cosa que hace que la gente entusiasmados con la lectura es grande.
  10. Mis estudiantes. Por último, pero ciertamente no durar en mi mente son los estudiantes con los que trabajo. En este momento no tengo clases en el curso de Kung-Fu y grupos de discusión. Mientras mis grupos están pequeñas de menos de 15 personas en cada uno (hay 4 en total) – todo el mundo asiste completamente por el libre albedrío. Ellos están dedicados, motivados, y en una búsqueda para tener éxito. Admiro mucho su ética de trabajo y sentir que juntos tenemos la oportunidad de aprender mucho sobre nosotros mismos.
    Como venimos lejos de otra acción de gracias, espero que tú también tienes mucho que agradecer. Temporada saludos a ustedes y sus familias y recordar, Guatemala es sólo un billete de avión de distancia!

Grumpy Cat Movie

It has recently come to my attention that grumpy cat (aka Tardar Sauce) will be the star of her own movie: Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. That’s too bad. Tardar’s face looks the way it does because of feline dwarfism. Aside from turning her physical condition into a running joke (over two years and counting), the compassion of the internet has contributed to Tardar being interviewed on Good Morning America and attending SXSW.

Would it be cool to make such a joke about a person with dwarfism? It would in fact not. Making fun of disabilities- whether they be human or animal- is still an uneducated, uncivilized, and classless behavior. Tardar’s owner, meme users, and popular culture should be shamed for the perpetuation of such a primitive prejudice.

So You’re a Volunteer?

A crash course in meaningful development.

Why have I not been blogging that much lately? The answer is simple: I have found a better use of my time than to write at the blank wall of the internet and hope futilely that someone reads what I’ve poured so much effort into.

Just kidding. I really appreciate all my readers- YOU! Knowing that people care enough to keep checking in on me and my adventures gives me motivation to keep writing and coming up with interesting things. However, after being in Guatemala for 501 days I have decided that I want to be a journalist. My passions lie in learning, having new experiences, and sharing those ideas with others.

So where have I been? Having concluded that I want to take my aptitudes on a career path that leads me in the direction of travel writing, science, technology, and environmental journalism. I’ve been freelancing! It’s tiring work that takes up the majority of my spare time, but I’m excited to share with you- my dedicated and ever-faithful audience- that I have attained my second major publication (the first being in my hometown Macedonia’s local paper)! The piece on “voluntourism”- a popular concept among ex-pats in Guatemala- is being published in the country’s largest English language magazine, Revue.

I hope you enjoy reading the piece as much as I enjoyed writing it. And please look forward to more published work to come!

Revue article_Cyrus Sethna

Happy birthday Long Way Home!

Many of you have heard about the NGO that works in my site called Long Way Home (LWH). This organization is all about sustainable construction- that is to say they build things out of trash. So far the organization’s projects have included the construction of an ecological park complete with a swimming pool and residential cabins, a primary school, and at present a vocational school for those looking to gain marketable job skills in the sustainable construction industry.


Since LWH is turning 10 today, I want to share with you ten things that I love about Long Way Home and its projects.

  1. Pioneering waste management strategies.
    Long Way Home uses limited resources available in rural Guatemala to raise awareness and take measurable steps to reduce pollution and environmental destruction in a developing environment.
  2. Dedicated Gringo and Guatemalan Staff.
    The team that runs the organization both foreign citizens and host-country nationals work tirelessly to continuously advance the organization’s goals of sustainability-focused education and community development.
  3. Passionate and Driven Volunteers.
    The crew at Long Way Home wouldn’t be possible without dedicated volunteers like Nathan Rockey who recently won Long Way Home’s coveted “Golden Machete” award for volunteer service. The relentless flow of volunteers from across the globe to this exciting project contribute immensely to its ever-fresh perspective. A fitting climate for an organization in the Land of the Eternal Spring.
  4. One of the largest employers in town.
    Long Way Home is one of the largest employers of local people from within the community. Everyone knows about them. Every day more people are excited about what they’re doing.
  5. Local capacity building.
    Aside from providing invaluable experience to volunteers and staff, the organization has partnered with a variety of other community members. Providing hands-on and experience-based education to students in its local primary school and to other academic institutions in Guatemala are one of the ways that it spreads an important message about environmental stewardship and individual leadership to an emerging population.
  6. Facilitators of cultural exchange.
    Through their volunteer program, developing a large Guatemalan staff, and community outreach programs such as their school, Long Way Home brings its new ideas and perspective to Guatemala. But also, Guatemala’s culture and heritage travel to the world’s farthest corners with its diverse volunteer program.
  7. Runs a school for the town’s most underprivileged residents.
    Charging a tuition based on trash turned into bottle bricks, there is no longer an excuse for multiple-child households not to enroll even the youngest daughter in primary school.
  8. Brings in money from outside Comalapa.
    Through it’s volunteer program, partnerships, and grants Long Way Home is able to fund innovative new initiatives such as it’s employee microcredit program that provides short-term capital to potent local enterprise.
  9. Listen to me talk.
    These guys and gals are patient and passionate people. It’s a thrill to have a discussion with them about real ideas that are being put into action in a real community providing tangible benefits to real people.
  10. Know how to throw a party.
    Delicious food, artfully brewed beers and wines from local ingredients, live music, and enthusiastic laughter are just some of the components of an occasional soiree to relax and talk about home.

Long Way Home continues to sail towards the brightest beacon on the Guatemalan horizon. While they’re dreaming of the day when their project will no longer be necessary, there’s still a long way to go. Please consider kicking them a donation as they commemorate their tenth year as an organization.