RISE Now and Playgrounds!

Bret

Since growing up in rural NH Bret Ingold has traveled extensively and lived in the US and many places internationally. While exploring and learning, Bret has gained a unique skill set working in a wide range of industries including: hospitality, building, sailing, off-grid caretaking, disaster relief, refugee education, the arts, metallurgy, and much more. Through RISE Now Bret hopes to use his diverse experiences to help bring about contagious systemic change.

I was recently asked a great question: When there are so many pressing problems such as starvation, desertification, wars and disease, why is making playgrounds from old tires important?

Where to begin? Our playgrounds prove tire “waste” can be useful construction material.  They also prevent discarded tires from becoming breeding pools for mosquitoes infected with Malaria and Dengue fever. They even stop private developers from buying up once open, public space and abandoning it to garbage and squatters.

But the real answer to this question is that development work is supposed to empower local resiliency. Thousands of pages of research attest that play and playgrounds are essential for childhood development of cognitive abilities, creativity and problem solving skills.  If we can add this often missing element to a community’s education system, we can help enable young people to find local, lasting solutions to the challenges they will inherit.

DSC_0403The idea of providing a better future for our kids is probably the oldest idea of sustainability, one that predates the word sustainability by millenia. We may never see the whole reach of this work and the effect these parks have on the futures of these children and of their communities, but this does not mean it is not immensely important. If we are always reacting to the disaster of the day, we ignore the underlying causes.  We will be stuck in a cycle of aid and relief that consumes resources and energies.

So why are playgrounds important? They are a simple, clear step that we can all participate in to build a better future.  Along with addressing social issues, they encourage education, childhood development and community strength as they become a symbol of goodwill towards children and for a community’s burgeoning power. Oh, and yes, because playgrounds are a lot of fun!

Yo’onik: Past Borders and Into Partnerships

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Ian Ramsey-North was a member of the Haverford University Chapter of the IHF from Oct 2005 to Dec 2006. He volunteered in Santiago Atitlán during the summer of 2006 and participated in the Santiago Atitlán Youth Scholarship Program and general disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Stan in 2005. Ian currently works in International Development and is a Natik adviser.

Welcome to Zinacantán — a municipality of Chiapas, Mexico, famous for its Tzotzil Mayan culture, Zapatista rebels, and recently, an air of pariahdom.  As a result of the locals insistence on political rights from the Mexican government and the dominant, mestizo culture, Zinacantán has become a cultural island.  Even the links that one expects with the Mayans just across the Guatemalen border are tenuous at best.

So it is exciting that Natik is facilitating a relationship between Puerta Abierta, in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, and Yo’onik, an emerging community-run school program for the many under-served children in Zinacantán.

As it stands now, Zinacantán’s schoolhouse is a dark and undecorated room that is brightened with children, volunteers, and energy for but a few hours each day. The two sisters driving the school initiative, Xunca and Yoli, have plans to build an actual school house, equipped with the basic learning materials and resources that will help create a dynamic learning environment, but the school will still need know-how help. Neither the two sisters nor the high school students who volunteer have any training as educators.

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But Natik knew who to contact. Having operated for over eight years in very similar circumstances, Puerta Abierta is a great companion.  They can provide ongoing consultation, demonstrate best practices and even share lessons on working with a Mayan community.

Though Yo’onik is young and has minimal resources, it has already harnessed the enthusiasm of the children.  They gleefully scream out the teachers’ names. Math and reading lessons are pieced together with a good mix of discipline and fun.  While the pedagogy isn’t quite as refined as Puerta Abierta’s yet, these children have a longing for education that far exceeds what we, who had guaranteed education, are used to seeing. This is a cultural island I’m pleased we are bridging.

 Click here to learn more about Yo’onik or to donate today.

Staying Power

Sarah_MawhorterSarah Mawhorter joined the Natik board in 2011, after four years working on marketing and graphic design projects. She continues to work on the catalog and website, as well as monitoring and evaluations and our recent rebranding process. Sarah is a Ph.D. student in Urban Planning and Development at the USC Price School of Public Policy. 

There are lots of community development nonprofits out there – so why support Natik? As a small, mostly volunteer-run organization, one way we measure our success is through our staying power: how long do the people who get involved with Natik stick around? In this metric I’d be willing to go head to head with just about any other organization.

Take Roisin Duffy-Gideon, who began working with Natik in Chiapas on a semester-long Harvard fellowship in 2012. She stayed in Chiapas for an extra six months as a Natik Fellow. Now working at a full-time job in New York City, Roisin has joined our board and is still deeply involved in projects such as writing and collecting content for the catalog and updating our website.

Even people who take time away circle back to Natik.  Ian Ramsey-North volunteered on and off since 2005, but just when he thought he was leaving for good, we pulled him back in.  He is working on his own international development projects now, but he is also an invaluable Natik adviser.

I have a similar story. In 2007 Ryan McAnnally-Linz’s mother ran into my mother, and mentioned that Ryan’s wife was looking for someone to design a logo for Just Apparel. I had no idea that my simple yes to a small graphic design project would lead to six years (and counting!) of rewarding involvement with Natik.

There’s a story like this for every single person involved with Natik, and the even more surprising thing is that it’s so difficult to think of counter-examples. The bottom line is that once people experience Natik in action they’re hooked.

It is exciting to see this pattern play out again and again. Most recently, Brittany Burton spent last summer in Santiago Atitlán helping Just Apparel with product development and setting up our e-commerce sites. Now back in the U.S., Brittany is still working on projects with us. Who knows where this will lead? But my money is on hearing from her for years to come.

IHF_MothersDayCardsOne of my favorite projects so far – handmade Mother’s Day cards. Incidentally, design and craft projects like this are a great way to recuperate from my academic endeavors.

Sure I’ll go to Mexico…

Caitlin Graves moved to Chiapas with her husband, Devin, in September 2013. Devin is the monitoring and evaluation fellow for Natik, but for Caitlin the move to Mexico was quite a leap since she was going just as “the wife.”  Since moving, Caitlin has gotten involved with several projects in Natik, and she is loving all the new experiences!  

Caitlin Graves

Moving to Mexico had never really been a dream of mine, but when Devin was offered a fellowship with Natik, we knew we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by. There were several things that made me extremely nervous about moving to Mexico. I didn’t know Spanish; I wasn’t sure what I would do while Devin worked; and I really didn’t know what to expect (if it was safe, if we had to hand-wash our clothes, if we would have warm showers, etc.). But the transition has been truly remarkable and all those fears I had seem so insignificant now!

From day one of arriving in Chiapas, Anita, the director of the organization, welcomed us with open arms. Within that first week she had introduced me to enough people both inside and outside of Natik that I was able to get involved. Even though I was not “technically” a part of the Natik organization, Anita made me feel like family, which is one of the great things about Natik. They treat everyone like family.

One project that really caught my attention was the remedial education program, Yo’onik, in Zinacantan. I didn’t know much about it, but after visiting it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it somehow. Natik has given me the opportunity to volunteer there each Saturday and help with the development of this program. I even had the opportunity of going to Guatemala to observe another one of Natik’s projects, Puerta Abierta, and get ideas from their school for Yo’onik.

As I have been working with Xunca and Yoli in this project I have found much joy in what I am doing. I have also been able to share that excitement with others. Just last weekend my parents traveled to Chiapas from San Diego.  I had mentioned to them that this little school is lacking supplies, and they brought along a huge suitcase full of school supplies. They even got the opportunity to volunteer, and fell in love with each of the kids. My mom later shared with me that this was the best experience of their trip for her.

Although the Yo’onik project has been my main focus in the Natik organization, I have also been able to get involved with some other side projects and even teach English at a local Institute. This experience with Natik has been absolutely incredible for both my husband and me. We have learned so much and have fallen in love with the people here. It reminds me of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

Yes, I may have been nervous to move to Mexico since I didn’t know what to expect, but I am so grateful that fear did not get in the way of the many experiences I can enjoy now!

Year-End Message From Our Executive Director and Board Chair

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Dear Supporters,

In 2013 we celebrated ten years of work and made progress on many fronts! Thanks to your support, our partner organizations are making real and lasting changes in their communities.

More than ever, we are working to share knowledge and skills between our projects and across borders. We are especially pleased that Puerta Abierta Library is mentoring the new Saturday tutoring program in Chiapas by sharing their successful model and materials from Guatemala. In return, artisans from Chiapas are sharing more than 15 years of design, marketing, and sales expertise with Just Apparel artisans in Guatemala.

Over the past year, we helped academics channel their ideas into finding pragmatic solutions for marginalized communities. We organized trips and facilitated academic exchanges with the University of Denver, Edgewood College, and Mary Washington University in the U.S. and the Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH) in Mexico.

We strengthened our fellowship, internship, and adviser programs, with remarkable results. With fellows working full time in Chiapas and Guatemala, we have been able to take on new projects, improve our organization and communication systems, and begin to develop a strong monitoring and evaluation framework. We also connected our partners with volunteers who contributed their time and expertise to special projects such as setting up ways for artisans to sell their products online.

On behalf of our board, staff, fellows, volunteers, and partners, we invite you to join us in this exhilarating phase of our work. Take a look inside our catalog, browse our website to see what our partners have been up to, and consider including Natik in your year-end giving.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Perkins, Board Chair
Anita Smart, Executive Director