Kim Miller, a 1995 Pendleton High School graduate, has been in the Ixil Triangle of Guatemala for more than a year now.
Her Peace Corps assignment is working with youth in the area, organizing them into groups similar to a 4-H club and helping them choose projects to complete, said her father Bill Miller. She has to be careful to help them select a project with technology appropriate for the culture and for which resources are available.
The Ixil Triangle is a fertile region in a remote area 150 miles - or a seven-hour ride on the "chicken bus" - from Guatemala City. It takes two hours for the bus to climb the last 25 miles of steep dirt road to the Ixil Triangle, home to about 200,000 people. Kim lives in Nebaj, a city of 15,000 people and walks to the small resettlement villages of Las Violetas and the more distant La Pista, where most of the youth she works with live.
The youths in both areas decided to build cook stoves for their families, Bill Miller said. However, the $65 it cost for each stove was far more than the families could afford.
The Pendleton Rotary Club donated half the cost for 30 stoves. Greg VanKirk, another Peace Corps volunteer who works with economic development, has helped the Ixil region open and run a restaurant that has been so successful that the restaurant donated one quarter of the cost of the stoves. That left each family that received a stove to pay just a quarter of the cost.
The planning took several months, Miller explained, because some of the women didn't want new stoves at first. The open fire built on three rocks on their dirt floors was traditionally the center of family life. Only after explaining that the stoves would move the fire off the floor so small children would be less likely to fall into it (six of 10 native children die by age 5), and that with the larger cooking surface they could cook more things at a time did some acquiesce. Because the stoves pipe the smoke outdoors, the living conditions in the cement-block houses became healthier, he added.
The youth built the stoves with help from a mason, VanKirk and Kim, Bill Miller said. Building the seven stoves in La Pista required a one-hour walk up the steep terrain four days a week. With school and other chores, the youth had four hours to work each day. It took six weeks to complete the stoves.
Kim's group of youth in Las Violetas built 23 stoves. Now she is teaching the women how to use them. Shealso is teaching youth to make paper and to make greeting cards out of recycled paper. She also plans to help them make jam to sell to some of the few tourists that pass through the area.
Kim Miller graduated from Southern Oregon State University with a degree in Spanish and international studies before joining the Peace Corps in May 2001.
Before being assigned to the Ixil Triangle, she spent three months training in Antigua, the former capital.
She coordinates most of her projects with two other workers in the Ixil Triangle who arrived there about six months before she did. They were the first members of the Corps assigned to the area since the end of the Guatemalan civil wars in 1995.
Bill Miller said she and the other Peace Corps volunteers had noticed that no one read books for pleasure. They decided to start a library where children could read fun books. Peace Lutheran Church and several individuals in Pendleton donated books that Bill and Virginia Miller took to Nebaj. The library has only been in place two months, but it is very popular with the kids, Bill Miller said, and a larger facility is being sought.
Few Ixil adults speak Spanish and those who don't are mostly illiterate, since Ixil became a written language only last year. The Ixil, although descended from the Mayans, speak a language distinct from languages of other groups in the area.
Kim is enjoying the challenges and likes the Ixil Triangle and people so well, her father reported, that she has asked to extend her service there another year.
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