by Kelly Cannon, International Program Intern
So I thought I would attempt to share a little glimpse into my life-changing summer experience. I’ll start with a bit of background. My name is Kelly Cannon. I’m a Global Studies and Spanish major with a Business minor currently studying at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I landed a position as the International Programs Intern with the non-profit organization Trees, Water & People (TWP) this summer. I was enthused. The internship seemed to combine all of my passions – community development, travel, Latin America, Spanish, people, and adventure. I could not wait for the incredible learning opportunity ahead.
So just like that I found myself spending six weeks exploring every corner of Honduras and Guatemala generating market data for a clean energy distribution enterprise. I conducted household interviews, held focus groups, taught communities about solar energy, while also exploring the competitive landscape, supply chain opportunities and developing a marketing plan for solar energy distribution in energy-poor regions of Guatemala.
I visited dozens of communities throughout these regions, but I want to share about my experience in one place in particular. La Bendición, Guatemala is surrounded by breathtaking views of lush, green landscape and three volcanoes. The best part about staying in La Bendición was just living life with the people there. I stayed with a host family for four days. I spent a large amount of time with my host mom and her daughter, Silsy. We woke up at 6:00am and brought a bucket of corn to the molino. We waited in line with all the other women, poured the corn through some complicated machinery, and watched it transform into flour used to make tortillas. I’m pretty sure I became a professional tortilla-maker by the time I left the community.
Another morning my mom and Silsy took me on a long walk to a cornfield where their cows graze. We visited the animals and then picked a big bundle of leaves off the corn. When we returned home, they taught me how to fold the leaves around flour to make tamales. Later that afternoon, they called me out to the backyard for another lesson. They snatched up one of the chickens running around the yard and held it over the pila (the outdoor sink). My mom and Silsy broke its’ neck right in front of me, poured out the guts and blood, and plucked the feathers off the body before putting it in a bucket of hot water. One hour later we were all sitting around the table eating the tamales and the chicken. I treasure my time in La Bendición experiencing a new way of life with my host mom and Silsy. I learned so much about their daily tasks while sharing in wonderful conversation. I fell in love with moments during my time there that I will always cherish.
In addition to living life with the people in La Bendición, I was of course also working on the solar energy project for TWP. I held a meeting with the women in La Bendición the day I arrived to teach them about the solar energy products that TWP distributes and let them know I would be visiting households and conducting interviews. I wanted to ask families about how they illuminated their houses at night with no access to electricity, calculate their current energy expenditures, demonstrate the products, and gauge their interest in this alternate form of clean energy. The women expressed gratitude and excitement at the meeting and many volunteered to be interviewed first. Over the next few days Silsy and I talked to seventeen different families in La Bendición. The community, as a whole, showed great interest in the solar energy products. The people told me about the extreme need for this project in their community and the obstacles they face on a daily basis due to the absence of light. Many families wanted to purchase the lights from me on the spot. Sadly, I had to explain I was not selling the products just doing a preliminary investigation in order to bring the products to the community in the future.
The experience in La Bendición was eye-opening and encouraging. I felt at home there. The interviews allowed me to learn a lot about the current energy situation in this community and in Guatemala as a whole. The people were supportive and welcoming, especially once they learned my purpose for visiting. When I left on a chicken bus that Friday morning to head to a new community, some of the women came out, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I was sad to leave but also even more excited and passionate about bringing solar energy to families in hard-to-reach communities.