In my six weeks of volunteering for Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom) up to today, I have had a terrific and most interesting time. I have learned quite a lot already about life in Guatemala, about the running of a small business especially under the rather humble conditions prevalent in a developing country and I even got the chance to get to know a couple of other development organizations. As a student of International Development, it has been tremendously useful to me to gain first-hand experience in these areas, and it has afforded me important insights for my future research.

Soluciones Comunitarias aims to provide the greatest possible impact towards improved living conditions and wellbeing of our clients by facilitating access to products that benefit their health and financial situation, such as glasses, improved cook stoves, water purifiers and solar-powered lamps for working or reading at night, when conventional grid power may be unavailable, unreliable or unaffordable. It is very inspiring to be able to directly contribute to this objective, for instance at a sales campaign.

We gladly rise early for our sales campaigns and, after a hot coffee, face the day with much enthusiasm.

The issues around electricity are of great importance to many Guatemalans, especially here in the highlands. I experienced this first-hand at our campaign in Chajul at the end of February, where we witnessed a rally that lasted more than an hour and happened right next to our presentation stands. The protesters criticised that the electricity supply is exclusively in the hands of huge foreign companies and is not available to many citizens, either because it is sold too expensively or because no power lines have been constructed to connect their villages to the power grid. They have no electric light at night and no way of using electrical appliances, much less modern information technology, which further limits their ability to improve their economic competitiveness.

Many speeches were given by women at the rally.

We took cups of purified water and a quickly improvised rice-based beverage called atol to the crowd that had gathered to listen to the rally. At the end of our campaign, we were approached by an elderly customer who had, unfortunately, arrived too late to see and try out our solar lamps for himself. He told us that he does have access to electricity, but that he still wanted to buy SolCom’s solar home system, because it quickly makes up the initial investment and because it would make him less dependent upon the energy companies. Despite his late arrival, we could help him thanks to Philanthropiece, a youth empowerment organization in Chajul, which offers our products out of their office.

Attentive listeners, potential clients.

Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to experience many small details regarding the everyday life in a developing country, which contributed to a greater understanding of the cultural and other challenges and particularities of doing business here. For example, I am fascinated with how shops are usually painted with large pictures of products sold inside, and I have since learned that this is done because many customers have difficulty reading and thus pictures work better as advertisement.

Finally, I was able to witness the local culture, as exemplified by the Mayan New Year’s ceremony, which was celebrated on 20 February. It was a very impressive spectacle and informative to boot. The Mayan calendar consists of three separate calendars, which are used simultaneously. It is a very elaborate and accurate system, of which the people here are justifiably proud. What all Mayan ceremonies seem to have in common are fragrant pine needles on the floor, bonfires and candles, offering and consumption of liquor and cola, ear-shattering fireworks as well as chanting and singing. It made a lasting impression on me and I am thankful and astonished at their hospitality in allowing me – the awkward stranger – to watch a sacred ceremony.

Of course, in the few weeks I have been here, I have only caught a first glimpse of all the country has to offer and I am very much looking forward to what lies ahead and to hopefully further contributing to SolCom’s positive impact here in Quiché.

This fire consumed a whole bottle of cola, several shots of spirit, and handfuls of rice.