Tag Archives: El Modelo

Waiting for Water: Excerpts

Since the end of the semester nears, I’ve decided it’s time to include some of the story. This is the intro and the conclusion. I wrote the beginning on a hammock in Guatemala and the end on the plane home, while looking at the clouds.

The beginning:

Cranking and whining, the machine delves deeper, looking for water.
Sitting on the highest hill in El Modelo, the contraption has drilled 60 feet so far.
But there’s no water yet.
And even when there is—it won’t be enough and it won’t be free.
With 300 families in El Modelo and the number constantly growing, the well may not be enough to sustain the whole town. The poor village in Guatemala builds on free land from the government. Now, the government-funded well project towers on the hill, reminding everyone that they need the help.

The end:

Majali Ramos Arias lives much farther from the well. Wearing a gray shirt with an American flag and the words “Freedom will stand,” Arias talked about spending eight days in August without water (except small pitchers from neighbors). On those sunny days, it didn’t rain, and she couldn’t afford the water from the truck.
She worries the well could make her life worse because she will have to pay a monthly rate of 25 quetzales whether she uses that much water.
But Arias wasn’t worried about having water that cloudy day in El Modelo.
She looks up at the sky and says, “Somehow, God gives us rain.”

Most of the photographers have put up images that they took in Guatemala: Jeremiah, Carlos and Jason.

Our exhibition will be December 9 at 7 p.m. in the Reitz Union gallery.


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Filed under Guatemalan Life, My Story

Cash flow and flowing water

So the story is about water.

There’s so much that could be said. My job as a journalist is to take everything I know and narrow it down to about 2,000 concise words that describe what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned.

So the writing process begins.

I want to portray that access to clean water (or water at all) for Guatemalans is largely determined by class. And I don’t think this will change much. I found a 1998 case study that summed up a good portion of what I thought.

But this case study doesn’t move anybody. I want people to read my article and see the injustice that I saw.

This water jug in El Modelo hadn't been filled with purified water for months.

This water jug in El Modelo hadn't been filled with purified water in months.

People in El Modelo are stuck in a sort of “hybrid society” (phrase courtesy of filmmaker Isaac Brown, who is working on a similar story). Basically, they have adapted city life but revert to ancient ways when they can’t afford it. Most people buy water off the water truck, but some are forced to drink rain water.

The rural village of La Puerta relies solely on rain and creek water. The middle class city of Estanzuela drinks from the tap, but only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Drinking water is readily abundant to the public in America from fountains. Can you even imagine your wealth determining access to water?

I’ve never written an article of this length (or importance). I want it to be just right. We have about a month before the final version is due in class.

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Filed under Guatemalan Social Issue, My Story

Water, water everywhere and drinking every drop

It’s so exhausting to be here. We’re working 12 hour days out in the field and having long group meetings at night.

But apparently my eight-year-old brother looks forward to the sophistication that is my blog, so I decdied to wake up early and write a little to make up for the last two nights.

I have been in El Modelo every day to write a story about the struggle to get water — and especially clean water.

This is Merilena in her bathtub:

It's a long walk to the creek, but many families need the water to bathe or do laundry.


Everywhere I look, I see ironies. Four water towers surround the village, but the people have to beg the neighboring villages for water. A developer is trying to sell land in a neighborhood called “Vista Hermosa,” which means “beautiful view.” Many of the mothers wear shirts donning American flags and slogans of freedom.

Today, though, I am headed to a different village in Gualan. Erik heard that the people there are forced to drink out of puddles!

I’m a little worried about walking into a whole new village at this point in my story because it feels like more than one story.

And just a random sidenote before I go eat breakfast: The lizards here are friendly.

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Filed under My Story

How do they stay so happy? First look at El Modelo

As soon as I stepped off the bus in El Modelo today, a group of children welcomed me and my group. The little girls grabbed my hands and rubbed up and down my arms. “Hola! Hola!” Grinning ear to ear, they examined my long fingernails and felt my nail polish. I couldn’t understand anything, but we all just smiled.

I knew we would be welcome as soon as our bus drove in. All the people stood out front of their homes and waved. Then everyone followed the bus to the school — a building built by the NGO Hope of Life.

Barbed wire separates each plot of land issued for free by the government. Most of these plots contain homes made of wood, trash bags, cardboard and anything else the people can find.

With 150 families living in poverty, it seemed like Jeremiah and I would have no problem finding an amazing journalistic story that Americans could never imagine. Our program theme this year, however, is malnutrition.

Strangely enough, the children were not visibly malnourished. Without having to pay rent, the families put all their money toward food, so they are eating. The problem is chronic malnutrition — food, but not enough over a long period of time — which causes stunting (a low height for age).

We had a lot to discuss at our group meeting tonight. We are going back to El Modelo tomorrow, and I think my story is about a community squabble over water. It costs 5 quetzales for a drum of water, but only 2 to ride the bus.

I’ve never seen anything as jarring as El Modelo — the model city.


Filed under Guatemalan Social Issue

Save the children! (They’re the mothers too.)

Bristol Palin’s unborn baby is an election-year scandal.

But she’s kind of old to be a mother in Zacapa.

A human rights report I read stated that 44 percent of women in Guatemala have had at least one child before the age of 19. Though my El Modelo story isn’t about women’s issues, I couldn’t shake that statistic from my head.

A female duo of journalists in my class are taking on the epidemics of young pregnant teens, malnourished mothers with infants and women who die during pregnancy. (All three of which are often inter-related.)

While the first two seemed to have a lack of education and resources, I thought the third had a fairly simple solution. I asked Casey- the photographer working on the story- why the women didn’t have midwives.

She said the villages are too spread out, too many women are pregnant at once and there’s no way for them to get adequate training or supplies.

Seems the historically slacking government might have had my same thoughts about midwives. They are offering $20 American for each high-risk pregnancy referred to a doctor. Unfortunately, transportation is a huge issue.

In fact, Casey said that she hopes to follow a pregnant woman on the long trek to the nearest hospital. She said often times women don’t make it and have their babies right then and there in the dirt.

I just hope President Colom is onto something.

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Filed under Guatemalan Political Issue, Guatemalan Social Issue

Poverty in El Modelo– the model city

At the risk of sounding like an 80s Sally Struthers infomericial… Imagine what it’s like to live on just 50 cents a day.

I’ve seen a million of these videos asking me for just a dollar a day to feed a hungry child. But I don’t think I’m going to understand that level of poverty until I’m face to face with it.

Our FlyIns class chose from a list of story topics last Wednesday. Jeremiah (a photographer) and I will be working on a story about the what’s been described as the most impoverished village in the Zacapa area.

We got the information about the village from Carlos Vargas, the founder of Hope of Life, a non-profit organization that helps alleviate malnutrition in the Zacapa area. (Our class will be staying at their ministry.)

About 300 families live in the village called El Modelo. The name means “The Model (City).”

Homes have roofs made of woven palm trees and walls of plastic bags. There is no water, electricity or sewage. Women give birth on the dirt floors of the homes. Carlos told Jeremiah he wouldn’t last one night in the model city.

I read another woman’s El Modelo experience on her church’s blog. She wrote much of what I’ve heard.

But how many words can describe that kind of poverty? Can words and pictures even capture the experience?

I guess I’ll only know the answer to that when the semester is out.

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Filed under Guatemalan Social Issue