As we prepare for our October 2015 launch, JUNTOS Director Joanna Poz-Molesky and JUNTOSAmbassador Program Director Catherine Keller travel to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico for a week of meetings and investigation. Read below to follow their travel blog!
Our newest program, directed by Catherine Keller, is now open and accepting applications! This one-year leadership program is open to past JUNTOS participants (current students, alumni, and international participants) and aims to offer JUNTOSAmbassadors a platform for future endeavors.
Documented by Joanna Poz-Molesky.
SUNDAY 15 marzo: The launch of our program! We hopped on a bus early this morning from Managua and headed north two hours to León. (Yep, 7am was already 90 degrees.) A lovely 45-minute walk or “scenic route” from the bus stop led us to our destination: León’s Cultural Center and home of Yaxall youth dance company. There, 10 interested individuals – all past JUNTOS participants – trickled in to hear more about this (groovy) new program available to them. Catherine swiftly explained the details and logistics, answered questions, and we left the morning with a handful of eager applicants. After lunch at one of our favorite cafés in León (accompanied by Sterling Vasquez, director of Yaxall), we headed out to Nagarote to meet with high school NicaPhoto students. We spoke with NicaPhoto director Ronnie Maher first, catching up and discussing the program more in depth. She had selected four young women, all 15 years old, to be possible Representatives of this – a point of contact for future JUNTOSAmbassadors. It is an opportunity to involve yourself in the community at NicaPhoto, in Nagarote, and develop your own base for future programs, we explained to them. Although all four were eager to develop their leadership through this program, two appeared determined and one wanted to sign up right then. After chatting with the young women, they walked us over to the bus stop where we hopped on to the next microbus back to Managua. A long day of meetings, which of course did not deter Catherine and I from discussing and evaluating programming long into the night.
MONDAY 16 marzo: Monday morning we “relax” (relax means no meetings or travel, but computer work) and prepare for our 11am meeting at the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua. We arrived at the embassy with plenty of time and were met by two curious representatives. Feedback was very positive – we clearly have established our organization as well as our work in Nicaragua. We are interested in developing our work here in the country. We walked out of the office feeling confident, especially after two of the security guards asked to take a photo with us (knowing prior to us being there we were ‘the dancers’ arriving today). Catherine and I then headed back to the hotel, packed our bags, put them in the back of our cab, and rushed over to the Academia Nicaragüense de la Danza for our final junta in Nicarauga. A small group of youth greeted us at the school and are excited to share this program with their peers (whom we have worked with for the past three years). Following our meeting, we of course ran out to our taxi, rushed to the airport, and are now headed off to our next destination… Guatemala!
TUESDAY 17 marzo: I’m pretty sure we spent more time in the car than out of it today! In case you didn’t know, Guatemala City is very large. And has lots of traffic. And our final destinations are also very far from it… Catherine and I departed our hotel at 8am and greeted Sussan and Christian shortly after a few zones away (30 minutes drive). We walked down to our favorite breakfast spot before our meeting, discussing the new program a bit more in-depth with our two Guatemalan international liaisons. We arrived at our 10am meeting at the National Dance School a few minutes early, ready to meet with the director (whom we had also worked with in January). She asked a few questions, suggested a few individuals to contact, and was overall receptive to this new idea. We walked out feeling confident and pleased to know we have more Guatemala City contacts for this program. Oh, then more driving! One quick meeting for Sussan on consulting and branding, then off to Totonicopán for our 5pm meeting. As mentioned previously, Guatemala City has TRAFFIC. Not only that, but traffic paired with an over-heating car = we need to add water! (I suppose we could have said Sussan’s car was thirsty.) Of course plenty of truck drivers stopped to help, give us canteens of water, and help us on our way. All this in time to reach our 5pm destination to meet with the directors of Teczion, a rural school focusing on critical thinking and forward-thinking education. Here, we hope to find representatives for the new program as well as develop a stronger partnership with the school and its affiliates. The reunion proved promising, and we departed for our final destination: Xela! Has it only been three days?
WEDNESDAY 18 marzo: Our first day not rushing off to another town. Catherine and I moseyed out of bed around 7am, gratefully sitting down for a bite to eat before we headed out. Our plan? Review our work thus far, brainstorm for the remainder of the week, and look in depth at the year and our plans (especially) before we launch in October. And we did just that throughout the day, aside from small meetings with various individuals to catch up on other JUNTOS work (Sussan and Christian re: JUNTOSAbroad reviewing itineraries!). Although it appeared to be a more “relaxing” day without travel, I must admit the trip started to hit our bodies (struggling against being tired). Additionally, we were moving on a much different level: our brain work was much more active than our bodies traveling city to city! After our last informal meeting at 6pm, we headed over to the Centro Cultural Augusto Monterosso for our “Potential Ambassador information session.” A total of about 15 curious JUNTOS international participants arrived (some form Retalhuleu, 2 hours away!) asked questions, and packed the information sheet carefully in their bags. Yes, I believe we may have a competitive first round of applicants! 9pm and tired, Catherine and I spent a bit of time with our friends from Reu honoring their long drive to Xela, and finally headed to bed shortly before midnight. We need to cherish the three hours of sleep we get tonight!
JUEVES 19 marzo: “Good for you for fighting for this dream and getting to where you are now. It is inspirational.”
Sussan (our international liaison!) picked us up at 4am. All of us were exhausted! I (and admittedly HORRIBLE at staying awake on moving vehicles) forced myself into the front seat to accompany Sussan as she drove us to Guatemala City, a four-hour drive. Into the mountains, swirving around curves and through the clouds we went, quick breakfast, and off once again to the City.
So in case you are new to Guatemala City, you should probably know it is a very large city with some beautiful zones and some extremely dangerous zones. After an accidental tour of the city (luckily not through the dangerous zona 15 o 18!), we somehow made it to our destination: the U.S. embassy. The cultural affairs assistant officer greeted us swiftly and we were guided into the cultural affairs office. A productive, positive, and inspirational meeting, the cultural affairs officer was inspired by our work and suggested we take it to offices in Washington D.C. “Good for you for fighting for this dream and getting to where you are now. It is inspirational,” she commented. And so we departed the embassy in good spirits and feeling motivated. 11:30am… we have a couple hours before we need to be at the airport; we took advantage of the time to grab lunch with my cousin Tepeu for his lunch break. Off to the airport now! San Salvador once again, 2 hour layover or work break, and to Mexico City. Travel travel travel… 12:30am arrival time to our hostel in the historic center. Better get some rest, early 6am tomorrow!
VIERNES 20 marzo: 7am skype meeting with someone in Guatemala, 8am departure, and 9am meeting at the U.S. embassy. Last meeting in the embassies and feeling positive from results, we jutted to the bus station, grabbed tickets for our trip in the afternoon, and returned to the center for a meeting with another organization in hopes of future partnerships. Curious the three women were, and quick to think of how to work further in depth! “Let’s put it in the blender and think about it,” they finished with – think about all the possibilities and figure out the best options. 12:30pm now, we grabbed lunch an discussed our meetings and best use of time for later. Time for more travel now: bus station and a 5 hour bus ride to our next (and final) destination – San Miguel de Allende.