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East Norwalk, CT
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Dedicated to building bright futures for impoverished children, their families, and their communities.

Simply Smiles blog

Follow our blog and read insights from Simply Smiles staff, volunteers and other individuals whose lives are affected by our work!

An Update from Oaxaca

Timothy Nurnberger

Hi, friends! This is Zach in Oaxaca with an update about our projects from the past two weeks. We recently had some Internet issues so were unable to post for a while, but things have been resolved. We just enjoyed a few days of rest before the next group arrives on Saturday, and today we’re heading off to Santa María in order to host a staff-organized community meal in a neighboring village called San Mateo. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s start where our last Oaxaca blog post left off... The students and teachers from St. Luke’s School and Rangitoto College fought through sickness to finish bagging and distributing the 12 tons of food for this summer’s first despensa. Amazingly, the men from Santa María (who were finishing the bamboo walls on our palapa) realized that we were not 100% health-wise and pitched in to unload the majority of the food from our Ford truck. The despensa went smoothly, and our dedicated volunteers--with smiles on their faces--handed out food to over 2,000 people.

In Huatulco, we bid adieu to our friends from New Canaan and New Zealand, and then headed right back to Oaxaca to meet the volunteers from our first mixed group of the summer. Along the way, we picked up Ana Cristina and Mari Cruz, two of our teenage friends from the village, to spend a few days in Oaxaca with us. Their joking and laughter were an excellent addition to an already great group.

In three short work days, our volunteers put a second coat of paint on all of our bunk beds (which will prevent any chance of bedbugs in the future), finished painting the entire back wall to the Center of Operations, bagged 600 servings of sugar for the next food distribution, and helped install hundreds of adoquín pavers. Steve and Peter, Emma’s dad and uncle, also worked furiously to make a brand new display sign for Santa María, which looks great:

We’ll now be able to post signs for upcoming community meals, despensas, and movie nights.

Last week, we were unable to go to Casa Hogar because the kids were all on vacation at the beach, but we did manage to do something equally as rewarding: we took a group of kids from the dump community to the park for an afternoon of food, fun, and games. At first the kids were reticent, but after we opened up the bag of soccer balls, screaming balloons, and bracelet-making supplies, there was nonstop laughter. I made a fool of myself by trying to be a goalie, naturally. I was also able to put my years of experience as a counselor to good use when I taught some of the kids how to make lanyards. (They didn’t lose interest once...NOT.) The trip was such a success that we’ll now incorporate it into our schedule every week. It’s a fantastic way to deepen our relationship with our friends from the dump community, AND it’s so fun!

Our time in Santa María last week consisted of preparing for the community meal Thursday afternoon and night, we helped Lula and a group of other women from town chop a mound of onions and garlic. We did not participate in the killing of the chickens that were used for the chicken soup, but some of us did watch with morbid fascination...only the freshest ingredients for our community meals! I stayed up late on Thursday night because of my immense muscle strength: I helped to carry a tremendously heavy pot of tomatoes down into the center of town, through a river, and up a rocky staircase to Juan’s grandparents’ home, where the only large grinding machine is located. The machine is NOT fast, but I was delighted to sit up with Lula, Elute, Vero, and abuelita to wait for the tomatoes to be ground into a delicious purée for the soup. On Friday we served over 300 people from the community a delicious and hearty meal. After we cleaned up from the meal, we finished the week out with a bang and started hauling heavy bags of river sand up the hill so that the next group will be ready to pour the floor for our new kitchen area!

I say this often during nighttime reflections, but I feel so lucky to be able to go to Santa María Tepexipana as often as I do. I never imagined that my life would lead me to a tiny village in the jungles of Mexico, where I could communicate with others in Spanish and feel totally comfortable among people who were once strangers. Sam and I have talked about how much our relationships have grown with the people of Santa María in the past two years, and it truly is amazing. We now talk to and joke with them as we would with any of our friends.

(The next step is to become fluent in Zapotec; Ana Cristina has been giving me some of her worksheets from elementary school to copy. I can say such helpful sentences as: The tiger is bad [le mbex cap nac], and the gringos are tall [le ngrig naro].)

Sadly, I must leave Mexico on Saturday for a brief stint in the office in Connecticut for a few weeks, but I’ll be heading out to the Reservation on August 11, about which I’m super excited. But Sam and Emma will keep up the blogging from Mexico!

Hasta luego!