Jan Kurtz, a Spanish and Latin American Studies instructor at Central Lakes College, will present the free, public Cultural Thursday program on Guatemala March 7 at noon in Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus. In February 2012, Kurtz spent the month in San Pedro Las Huertas, Guatemala. This small town just outside of Antigua is the site for Rising Villages, a project founded and run by Little Falls residents Dave and Bina Huebsch. It is a volunteer operation which has supported the people of Guatemala with educational, electrical, water, medical and community building endeavors over a 40-year period.
Kurtz will present information on the village and her time working at the Alabare Elementary school. She worked with three teachers and 35 students in the school. She wrote about the experience for the Winter Edition of Her Voice magazine in the article titled “Teaching Under the Shadow of the Volcano.”
“My time was spent doling out glue for their myriad cut-and-paste projects, reading stories, organizing clothing distributions, art lessons, filling notebooks with copy work, and giving talks on Spanish-speaking countries,” she wrote. When she described Cuba, an island nation, her young audience need “island” explained.
In the hours at the end of the school day that started at 6 a.m., Kurtz and the other volunteers visited students’ families and local sites.
Kurtz said dwellings where the families live consist of one to three rooms, with masonry block walls, dirt or cement floors, an open cook fire or small gas stove, and clothing is washed in a scrub sink. One hundred-pound bags of corn may share space with firewood against one wall. Corn tortillas are a staple in the Guatemalan diet.
“The emphasis will be on travel and work options that go beyond the tour groups and photo ops,” she said, noting that one young female in a host family worked an afternoon on the coffee plantation so that she could offer cake to her guests.
“How do we, as the guests in other countries, respond to our new surroundings?” Kurtz asked.
“As volunteers passing through, what do we do that is really helpful? We are the guests. What do THEY want from us, not what do WE want to do?”
Kurtz said there are many ways to travel and experience other countries. Many from Brainerd have done multiple volunteer journeys into a multitude of countries. “What do we bring back? What do we leave there?” she asked.
Cultural Thursdays are 50-minute events held the first Thursday of each month during the academic year at CLC, sponsored by the Resource Center for Cultures and Languages of America (RCCLA). Kurtz is the coordinator and may be reached for information at (218) 855-8183.