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26 Oct

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Jozlyn Pelk: the first Seattle Ambassador

October 26, 2013 | By |

My name is Jozlyn Pelk. I am a senior double majoring in Law, Economic and Public Policy and Global Studies at UW Bothell. In June, I was selected by the Seattle International Foundation and the City of Seattle Office of the Mayor to be the first Seattle Ambassador.

I returned three weeks ago from spending 8 days in Guatemala and Nicaragua, where I met with nonprofits and grassroots leaders that are making a huge impact in their communities; each with strong ties to Seattle. This was my first time traveling abroad. As you can imagine, I was extremely nervous and unsure of what to expect. It was mind-blowing to connect the issues I read in articles with the reality of poverty and inequality I witnessed firsthand.

These groups confront incredible challenges on a daily basis; lack of economic opportunities and access to education, high levels of violence and government corruption – to name a few.

Learning how women, youth, and indigenous peoples — some of the most marginalized populations — are facing degrees of racism, sexism and oppression, initially left me feeling frustrated and hopeless. However, upon returning to Seattle, my discouragement transformed into activism and commitment to inspire others to join the fight against global poverty and use our knowledge and resources to make a positive impact in people lives around the world.

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07 Oct

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Exploring 25 years of Bainbridge’s partnership with Ometepe Island

October 7, 2013 | By |

I was overwhelmed by both excitement and sadness when I woke up early Saturday morning. I would be visiting Ometepe Island, yet I was only a day away from having to return home to Seattle. I was looking forward to sharing my experiences with my family and friends; however, I wanted badly to continue my adventure in Central America and did not want to leave. I was torn.

Boarding the ferry from San Jorge to Ometepe Island awakened a sense of serenity for me as I looked east and saw what awaited across the vast blue waters of Lake Nicaragua: nothing but crystal blue skies, perfect white clouds and luscious green terrain with two volcanoes peaking out. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

Upon arriving to Moyogalpa, Ometepe, we were greeted warmly by Colleen (Bainbridge Island native) and Dora (Ometepe native), who both work with the Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Islands Association (better known as BOSIA), a nonprofit organization based on Bainbridge that works with Ometepinos to improvement of quality of life on the island by implementing various projects focused on scholarships, libraries, coffee agriculture and economic development, health, people with special needs, and student delegations.

We spent the day with Colleen and Dora meeting with local leaders of various projects supported by BOSIA. I had no idea Bainbridge and Ometepe had such a longstanding sister island relationship. For 25 years BOSIA has supported educational, technical and cultural exchanges and carried out projects of mutual interest and benefit to both islanders from Bainbridge and Ometepe. BOSIA is committed to increase awareness on Bainbridge Island of the problems confronted by people of Ometepe and Nicaragua, and promote understanding and collaboration.

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05 Oct

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Formacion Fenix: supporting youth leaders in Limon II, Nicaragua

October 5, 2013 | By |

Today marks the day of one of the most remarkable adventures I have experienced. We left Managua bright and early and set off on a three-hour drive to the coastal community of El Limon II to visit with Formacion Fenix, a group of 19 youth leaders working to improve conditions in their community and develop their leadership skills through educational, cultural and environmental programs.

The group was waiting for us at the home of Lidieth Alvarez, 2011 iLEAP faculty and Creative Director of Formacion Fenix, where they introduced themselves and shared about Fenix’s history and future plans. All of the students were sporting a blue tee that featured the Fenix logo, which they explained represented the three pillars of their work: education, culture, and environment – along with an illustration of a phoenix.

I love Fenix’s model. These youth are developing their leadership skills and are able to contribute to their community by participating in cultural workshops and excursions and working on two income generating projects: a sustainable garden an composting program (called Manos Verdes, or “green hands”); and a artisan jewelry program. Fenix strives to one day be self-sustaining from income generated through these projects. To complement their leadership in the community, Fenix also provides the youth of El Limon with the opportunity to receive scholarships for high school and to pursue their dreams to attend a university.

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04 Oct

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Last day in Guatemala: education and youth leadership in Santa Maria and Cerro del Niño

October 4, 2013 | By |

I had the distinct honor of having dinner with Don. Mario Perez Pio, mayor of Santa Maria de Jesus on Wednesday night. The town of Santa Maria sits just outside of Antigua at the base of the Volcán de Agua, one of Guatemala’s 33 volcanoes. It is also one of several towns in which Global Visionaries (GV) is working with Guatemalan youth through a year-long leadership development program, and local service projects with Seattle youth focused on social and environmental justice.

In addition to Mayor Perez, I joined Global Visionaries team Aurelio, Sandra and Claudia; and recent GV youth leader Patricia; for a dynamic conversation about the biggest issues faced by youth in Guatemala, and GV’s unique partnerships with local municipalities to bring education and leadership opportunities to young people.

There are many challenges for young people in Guatemala. Many do not have the resources or the opportunity to study past the 6th grade, and must begin working at a young age to support their families. Others in rural communities are not in close proximity to a school, and therefore never receive a formal education.

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03 Oct

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Building healthy communities in Tzununá

October 3, 2013 | By |

Today was our second day on Lake Atitlan. We traveled with Rosalía by boat to the small town of Tzununá to visit two of the four nutrition programs run by Amigos; one in a primary school in the community of Tzanjomel, and the other in an outdoor gathering space in central Tzununá.

Upon disembarking at Tzununá, we were greeted by Chad, a U.S. expat who works with the community to set up organic gardens for local families. Chad explained that we’d be trekking up to Tzanjomel to see the school -– in the back of his 20 year Toyota pickup.  While holding on for dear life alongside Rosalía and Hilda (the coordinator of the nutrition centers), I realized how much I took for granted, including having access to paved roads.

As we approached the school, we parked the truck in order to cross a river by bridge. Lucky for us the water levels were lower than the bridge – the rising river in the wintertime prevents children from getting to school.

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02 Oct

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Santa Cruz la Laguna, a community of entrepreneurship

October 2, 2013 | By |

Today, I got to check another adventure off my bucket list: riding in a tuktuk. For those who are not familiar with a tuktuk, it is a small three-wheeled vehicle with no doors and has a steering wheel of a motorcycle. This tuktuk took us up an extremely steep, windy hillside to the town of Santa Cruz la Laguna, where we would visit the Centro de Capacitación (CECAP) vocational training center, a project of Lopez Island nonprofit Amigos de Santa Cruz in partnership with the community of Santa Cruz. The jaw-dropping picturesque view of Lake Atitlán, a lake surrounded by three active volcanoes, was in perfect view from the CECAP; not a bad way to start off the day.

The history behind Amigos and the CECAP is fascinating to me. Amigos de Santa Cruz was started 15 years ago as a community initiative to provide classroom materials and healthy nutrition programs to the local primary school. The Santa Cruz community knew the importance of sending their children to school; however once the children were in class, they did not have the adequate resources to learn and were not participating because they were not receiving the appropriate nutrients and food they needed to thrive.

Over the years, the community of Santa Cruz has come together through a committee to address the biggest issues affecting its population including poverty and lack of economic opportunity, alcoholism, early pregnancies and a 60% illiteracy rate. “Due to the participation of the community, we are able to address our communities biggest needs,” shared Rosalía Perez, assistant director of Amigos.

This interest to create opportunities for people and create a self-sustaining community led to the construction of the CECAP in 2010, creating a space for various vocational training programs such as weaving, beading, carpentry, computer literacy, youth leadership and blacksmith workshops. Noé Simón, director of the CECAP, witnessed this incredible collective effort by the people of Santa Cruz, who each, in some way, contributed towards the construction of the building and saw value in having a facility for education and economic opportunity.

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01 Oct

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Visiting schools in Quetzaltenango

October 1, 2013 | By |

We arrived in Quetzaltenango (or Xela as locals call it, pronounced “chela”) on Sunday evening after a three-hour bumpy car ride from Antigua, up through the green highlands and winding dirt roads lined with indigenous villages.

Early Monday we met with Fundacion para el Desarrollo (FUNDAP) staff, who welcomed us to Xela and introduced us to their programs on our ride up through the cornfields to the community of Concepcion Chiquirichapa, where we would visit one of their educational programs at a local primary school.

FUNDAP works in various areas of community development in the western region of Guatemala, including environmental protection, business development, integral health and education. FUNDAP’s education programs have a strong history of support from Seattle donors, particularly the pre-school education program, primary school scholarship program, and nutritional education programs for mothers.

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29 Sep

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Hola from Antigua, Guatemala!

September 29, 2013 | By |

Stepping off the plane in Guatemala City was extremely intimidating. I had little to no expectations for what I was about to experience or whom I was about to me meet.  I was immediately introduced to Mayan culture; the airport had gorgeous sets of Mayan architecture and sculptures, as if straight out of the Mayan ruins. After my first experience passing through immigration and customs, our driver Juan, who had the friendliest smile that eased my nerves instantly, greeted us. From there we drove straight to Antigua, where my Guatemalan adventure would soon begin.

As I stepped outside of the hotel the next morning, I was in awe. The entire city of Antigua was surrounded by luscious green mountains and perfect blue skies. I felt like I was looking at a tourist advertisement but then it finally hit me, I am in Guatemala.

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