Tag Archives: poverty

Reflections from Trip Leader Katie Wallace

It’s the second to last day of the trip, our last day of work and just hours before our fiesta de despedida (farewell party). I’m sitting here overwhelmed by what we’ve seen, heard and done here in Guatemala in the previous two weeks.

As I prepare to head back to Seattle I begin to imagine what I’ll take home from Guatemala (aside from handmade earrings and hundreds of digital photos). I have memories of the steep, exhausting hill we climbed each day en route to the construction site. I have mental images of the lush hillsides, the cobblestone streets in Antigua and the beautiful smiling faces of the guatemaltecos that we greeted in every passing. I’ll carry with me new relationships, stronger relationships and a greater sense of peace than I had when we left.Above all these images and memories I am leaving with the desire to research. I want to know even more about Guatemalan history and politics. How can the current President of Guatemala be responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people? How was this former General elected by Guatemalans in 2011? This leaves me with feelings of disbelief, frustration, anger and wonder.

Learning is not measured by the number of pages read in a night or by the number of books read in a semester.
Education is not an act of consuming ideas, but of creating and recreating them.
– Paulo Freire

The most valuable and eye-opening experience has been spending time talking with my host brothers, 21 and 18, after dinner. Their wealth of knowledge about Guatemalan history and their passion to raise awareness about politics (of the past and present) are impressive and motivating. My older host brother has led large scale protests in Guatemala City, and my younger host brother won a speech contest while we were there. He spoke in the central park in Antigua about acknowledging Antigua’s true history. I am in awe that there is such little acknowledgement of the genocide and corruption that have taken place in their country. I have never personally known young adults so angry and yet genuinely convinced that change on a large scale is possible and attainable. I look forward to learning more, and I hope that they will continue to inspire youth in Guatemala and from the U.S. to learn and take action in their communities and on a global scale.

From the Ground in Guatemala

Saludos desde Guatemala (Greetings from Guatemala),

After months of the Seattle rain and cold, the blast of heat and sun was a welcome relief as we arrived in Guatemala City and began loading up the chicken bus with our luggage and supply drive boxes. Though we were all exhausted from the trip, it was hard not to be excited that at long last after culture nights and coffee selling and everything we’ve shared until this point we’d reached the day we’d been waiting for, the start of the Spring Trip.

We arrived on Sabado Santo…the Holy Saturday before Easter, so in Guatemala City all the stores were closed and traffic was light, but everywhere there were remnants of the festivities of the week before. Purple banners hung from walls, colored sawdust still littered the street. The bus took us directly to the cemetery which also seemed eerily quiet as we silently made our pilgrimage between the stone mausoleums to the cliff overlooking the largest garbage dump in Guatemala.

Though it was my fourth time visiting the dump, it was no less impactful. The smell hit us immediately and the sky was filled with circling vultures. Due to Semana Santa there were no long lines of yellow trucks, nor were there the hordes of people scavenging for recyclables from each truck, but yes, as we looked over the edge, there were still people and animals foraging through the refuse. A myriad of emotions played on each participant’s face, some were stoic, some near tears.

Checha, one of our GV Guatemala Staff, spoke to us about what we were seeing, not simply the culmination of years of daily dumping, but something even more sinister. He spoke about the systems of oppression present in Guatemala, that have made it so difficult for some indigenous people to find jobs, that they have been forced to move to the city to work in the dump simply to survive.

“Wait, you mean people live here?” One participant asked.

And everyone grew quiet, perhaps realizing this would be a far cry from a typical tourist trip to Antigua. This would be a journey where we would actually have to do some thinking. And there was time to think as we rode through the hilly countryside and finally through the cobblestone streets of Antigua to arrive in San Miguel Escobar, home to the GV Guatemala Office. At the office, after unloading everything, students met their homestay families and went home for dinner and much needed rest.

Easter began with a bang, literally. In addition to singing and bell ringing at 5:00am, we awoke to the sounds of fireworks like cannon shots and of course the local roosters singing along.  And then it was time for breakfast as a group, black beans, bread, and ham omelets. On Sundays we give the Homestay families a rest and eat as a group at the office, so everyone pitched in, setting up tables, and pulling out the plastic bins of plates and cutlery donated by previous groups.

After cleaning up, we hopped on the bus to San Antonio Aguas Calientes to the home of Sandra Ordonez, the Program Manager here in Guatemala. You might have met her during our recruiting season when she came to Seattle. Sandra, like many Guatemalans, comes from a Mayan family. So there we were introduced to some traditional Mayan handicrafts and weaving. Jessica and Mitchell were married in a traditional Mayan Ceremony (not sure if that was binding) while Mitchell’s pretend parents Nava and Steve danced in celebration. Afterwards we feasted on Pepian, a spicy brown gravy served with chicken, rice, and homemade tortillas, which many participants got to help make. Throughout the day Lupe, Helen, Ismael, Lindsey, and Janet took turns translating.

After lunch we did a little shopping and then headed to Segunda Cruz where GV built a school in 2007. There we met with the families whose children attend the school and everyone had the opportunity to share a snack of banana bread and horchata and to converse with the families. At the end of our time, one family enjoyed Janet so much that they gifted her with a live baby chicken. Though she would really like to keep it, I am skeptical that we can smuggle it through customs so “el pollito” is going to live with Aurelio, our Country Coordinator, until he finds a better home.

Today was our first day of work. I am working with the Coffee work team this trip. Ilana was our leader of the day and lead an awesome reflection. Everyone worked so hard and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to get the gringos and the chapines to talk, because both parties were ready. It was Don Antonio’s first time working with gringos. He was the farmer in charge of teaching us about café, and by the days end he seemed impressed with what we were able to accomplish; which consisted of marking the coffee fields and beginning to dig holes for new plants. This is a task that requires a lot of patience and measurement, so during the down time, gringos and chapines taught each other games and songs.

The following are some excerpts from the leader of the day journals, so you can hear from the participants themselves. We will try to load some pictures and video on the blog, but not until tomorrow. Take care, Reagan.

“After I got on the bus I was so excited! The heat was killer. The music on the bus was great. Guadalupe was singing along and that was funny. I was feeling sick all day but all the people around me made me feel so much better! Meeting my family was awkward. They are the kindest people ever, but I don’t understand any Spanish, so my roommate did all the talking. I’m excited for the next few days though!”

“In Guatemala, I’ve found the people to be more friendly and though I don’t speak Spanish very well, not complaining, just grateful and happy for what they have and don’t have. I wish I was more like that…The most challenging thing I faced today was stepping outside of my comfort zone, I wish I was more brave and that this wasn’t an issue for me, but tis something I’m working on.”

“Whew, what a day! The trip finally feels real, after all our anticipation and preparation. Today we arrived in Guatemala, visited the dump of Guate City, and met our host families. Seeing the dump was a really powerful, moving experience. When I saw a person actually sorting through the trash, I really hated myself for just standing and watching him work from above. I felt a deep, human connection to this stranger.”

“When we drove down the streets of Guatemala City with supplies overhead, we drove fast through the colorful streets with bright white lettering against the reds, blues, and yellows of the small buildings’ walls. People on motorcycles, buses, foot were everywhere and I felt keenly aware of being watched just as any traveler is, and I understood the dress code and hearing cultural explanations: we are the front for a country, a culture, a program, and whatever we do, wrong or right is observed. The further we drove, the more the buildings morphed into small unit shacks with crosses on the doorways, crumbling stone and garbage outlining the graves. We had reached the dump. I was struck by the heavy contrast between the quiet and beauty of the grave sights and the putrid smell and the garbage strewn around. We walked through the graves, some took pictures, some just walked and all of us were silent. We reached the overhang of land jutting over the ravine toward the wasteland. Birds with giant wing spans flocked overhead, diving to feed, hundreds of them. People below us walked, bending down every now and then to pck up a piece of garbage and death seemed endless. “If you are born poor, you die poor,” is the Guatemalan saying.

Families Experience Guatemala with Rick Steves Tour Guide

Experience Guatemala is not your average tourist excursion.

On November 19 through November 27, 2011, 17 people travelled to Guatemala guided by Jennifer Gouge from Rick Steves tours. Experience Guatemala is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the work of Global Visionaries in the communities of Guatemala as well as contribute to GV’s mission of empowering young people to become global leaders in creating a just and sustainable future.

This year all of the families that participated in Experience Guatemala were families that have adopted a kid from Guatemala.

Upon arriving in Guatemala City, the group went directly to Antigua.

While in Guatemala, the participants had the opportunity to learn about other organizations like GV that are partnering with local communities.

The group later returned to Guatemala City to visit the dump which like many developing countries is a place where hundreds of people live. According to Gouge, scavenging and living at the dump is dangerous and affects the lives of thousands of people. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, this dump is one of the largest in Central America.

Safe Passage is an organization that GV partners with whose mission is to solve the problem of the dump through educating the children who live there.

According to Gouge, guiding is more than just directing. The philosophy of Rick Steves tours is to help the participants engage with the culture and prepare them to interact with the local people.  During free time, Gouge would help the families by giving them ideas of activities they could do as well as giving them background information.

Experience Guatemala participants had several opportunities to interact with villagers. The group visited several of the GV work sites.

Picking coffee beans gave the Experience Guatemala participants the opportunity to interact with villagers while learning about the importance of coffee. Growing coffee is hard, physical work and is not like going to an office, Gouge said. Even when the price of coffee rises, the coffee growers do not make very much money. The coffee industry has a large impact on Guatemalan’s economy.

Before visiting the coffee farm, the participants discussed the purpose of the visit. According to Gouge, these discussions show a greater dimension of Guatemala. Jennifer said that she always explained why they were doing what they were doing and why they were going to the various places that they went. The goal of the trip was to educate the participants about the culture of Guatemala.

Planting trees gave the Experience Guatemala participants the opportunity to learn about how deforestation affects farms and the local people. A large percentage of the land mass is being deforested, Gouge said. Planting trees prevents mudslides and protects the land.

The Experience Guatemala group spent Thanksgiving at Lake Atitlán which is a lake surrounded by volcanoes. Thanksgiving dinner was spent at a restaurant with another organization. That day the group visited a women’s weaving cooperative.

Before returning to Guatemala City, the group visited Tikal, the center of the Mayan people. While it was still dark, the group walked to the edge of the jungle to watch the sunrise and listen to the jungle wakeup. The first animal in the jungle to wake up is the howler monkey. Gouge said that she could hear clans of howler monkeys screeching back and forth.

Participants told Gouge that Experience Guatemala was a “unique experience they will treasure forever.”

Before these families took part in Experience Guatemala, they already knew that they liked Guatemala but now they know that they love Guatemala, Gouge said.

View Pictures here.

Cool Aid: Shoes versus Sanitation

Written by Valerie Lopez

In a recent editorial in The Seattle Times, Marla Smith-Nilson, executive director of Seattle-based Water 1st International, praised Melinda Gates and her approach in solving sanitation-based mortality in developing countries:

“Congratulations to Melinda for being smarter than Bill. I agree with her that diarrhea in children is best prevented by increased access to safe water and toilets and not vaccines… many people including myself, have been critical of the foundation’s emphasis on technology and innovation as primary criteria for funding water and sanitation projects.”

Bill and Melinda Gates, two incredibly influential philanthropists, demonstrate the different approaches in solving the one of the developing world’s crises: mortalities arising from sanitation related diseases, such as diarrhea. On one hand, Bill Gates, a technological emissary, embarks on a scientifically advanced approach of inventing a vaccine. Conversely, Melinda’s approach is more rudimentary; focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene which she believes would be more productive than inventing and disseminating expensive vaccines.

Photo Credit: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Then, on July 19, 2011, The Seattle Times headlines read: “Gates money, best minds put to work by ‘reinventing’ toilet: Bill Gates is turning his penchant for cutting-edge invention on the most unglamorous of devices: the toilet.”

Admittedly, vaccines do have more of a cool factor than the toilet, especially for the scientifically-inclined. But when it comes to foreign aid, are glitzy gadgets sufficient to solve the many-pronged crises plaguing developing nations? Or are they at worst, obfuscating the real issues at hand and overlook constructive solutions?

Let this question be a springboard for a different, yet related set of conundrums. It is unquestionable that Seattlites ooze coolness—it is hip and trendy to be seen traipsing around the city, sunshine or not, clad in shoes du jour: TOMS.

Purporting to combine consumption habits with social responsibility, TOMS will provide a pair of shoes to a needy individual halfway across the world with your simple purchase of its own stylish pair. And with a video this compelling, how could anyone pass up the opportunity to be a socially conscious consumer?

Blake Mycoskie’s intentions no doubt come from a good place. But what he says in the beginning of the video is particularly striking: “As long as I continue selling shoes, these kids will have shoes for the rest of their lives.” Cynical or ingenious? He has aligned his business model with the welfare of the shoe-needy.

Is TOMS another example of a “cool aid?” Is it another form of aid that obfuscates real issues and overlooks more productive and sustainable solutions?

Mycoskie’s company’s primary motivations for creating a shoe company based on this charitable business model isn’t actually that far from the sanitation issues Melinda and Bill are interested in solving. According to the TOMS website, “a leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.”

The shoes supplied by TOMS protect children from soil-borne diseases in addition to functioning as part of their mandatory uniforms for attending school.

However, pressing the issues further can reveal more substantive, underlying problems at hand. Why are there soil-borne diseases? Why are the families unable to provide school uniforms for their children?

Can “cool aid” address these issues? Yes, shoes protect feet. Yes, shoes let children go to school. But the fact of the matter is sanitation problems will still exist. Socio-economic problems that dissuade poor families from buying school materials will still persist.

Members of the development community argue that the TOMS model of donating materials rather than creating opportunities is not sustainable, undermines local economies, and obscures the real issues plaguing the communities it claims to help.

Foreign aid has been controversial from time immemorial. Some critics, such as Peter Bauer, author of “Development Aid: End It Or Mend It,” even rail against the word “aid,” because it “promotes unquestioning attitude. It disarms criticism, obscures realities, and prejudges results. Who could be against aid to the less fortunate? The term has enabled aid supporters to claim a monopoly of compassion and to dismiss critics as lacking in understanding and sympathy.” Historically, failed aid has plenty of examples but what they all have in common is that they come in forms of materials or cash. Communities receiving this aid might not have the available social infrastructure to properly and equitably disseminate these goods. Or, they simply run out.

Marla Smith-Nilson advances a different and now  popular approach in development aid. It moves away from donating material goods which are not sustainable, can promote dependency, and at worst skates around real solutions.

Marla Smith-Nilson, Director of Water 1st International

She acknowledges that constructive solutions are ones that empower local community members to build self-sustaining opportunities for themselves, letting them take charge of their own existential destinies.

Speaking to the successes of Water 1st,  Smith-Nilson explains that “because of our comprehensive project monitoring, we know that all systems we have funded are still in operation. They are successful because they are independently owned and operated by community members themselves, place women in key leadership roles, and involve solutions adapted to local priorities and conditions.”

TOMS does seem to be involved in creating partnerships that emphasize community development projects but its business/charity model is the issue at hand. While there are no silver bullets, panacea, or utopian blue prints that can address the socio-economic and health related issues plaguing developing countries, easy or “cool aid” should be subject to a constructive dialogue, especially involving the beneficiaries of such aid.

It can be very powerful to combine consumptive habits and charitable giving. After all, our choices as consumers have ripple effects across the globe, especially since we live in such a globalized age. However, it is still necessary to make educated approaches towards development aid. Cool aid such as vaccines, fancy filtrating straws, and shoes can sometimes obfuscate more productive solutions, however unglamorous they may be.

In response to TOM’s Day without Shoes, Good Intentions Is Not Enough released the following video.

Feel free to share your comments about this topic below. We’d love to hear your opinion.

Landlessness, Hunger and Social Change in Guatemala

Maya Q'eqchi elder evicted from his home. Photo credit to: Tum Tul

Written by Camron McDonald

On March 15, 2011 more than 1,000 police and soldiers showed up in the Polochic Valley of Northern Guatemala.

They were there to evict more than 3,000 Q’eqchi Maya Indians living on land claimed by a Guatemalan agribusiness firm.  Many of these families have been living on and tending to this land for thirty years.

According to Danilo Valladares, writer for the Inter Press Service, security forces burnt or bulldozed the peasants’ shacks and destroyed their subsistence crops with machetes and tractors. One young man was killed in the scuffle and many others were injured.

Now, close to 800 families have been left homeless and without access to the land they need to grow food to eat. Continue reading Landlessness, Hunger and Social Change in Guatemala

Innovation Is Not as Important as You Think in Solving Today’s Social Problems

We live in the 21st century. So why does the Guatemala City Garbage Dump still exist?

Written by Tim Takechi

What exactly does the word “innovation” mean?

Think about how often you’ve heard the words “innovative solution” in regards to solving the world’s problems.

Information technology (IT) companies promise innovative thinking when fixing your computers. Environmental engineering firms say they’re developing products that will pioneer the 21st century green movement. The latest government official in charge of education has some great new plan to boost test scores. Each new smart phone is smarter than the previous model.

You get the idea.

But what does it all mean? Humankind has walked on this earth for centuries. The historical roots of technology, society, and politics are not far behind. Hasn’t every good idea been thought up yet?

In a word: maybe. In two words: maybe not.

It seems “innovation” is a commonly misunderstood concept. Truly original ideas are very hard to come by. Just look at every movie you’ve ever seen. Isn’t everything just a rehash of something that came before it? Think about it.

Global Visionaries prides itself on developing young people to become future leaders of our planet. The Global Leadership Class instills in high school kids an ethic of philanthropy and thinking on a global scale.

One important aspect of our leadership training is encouraging young people to think about “innovative” ways to solve society’s challenges. See? There’s that word again. So what do we mean by this?

“Innovation” doesn’t mean coming up with new ideas. It means finding a new spin on old ideas.

Look at the social media-inspired political revolution that just happened in Egypt. At a grassroots level, young people were able to organize demonstrations to protest President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. He resigned two weeks ago.

Some political analysts have called this event a turning point in global politics. Though Facebook and Twitter did not singlehandedly bring down Mubarak, it marks one of the first times in history that web communication played a significant role in creating large-scale political change.

But when you look at it, how is this any different from anti-war pamphlets that circulate during every major conflict? Or media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer rousing pro-war sentiments during the Spanish-American War? Or the Washington Post exposing Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate cover-up? Or Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on a church door to protest the Catholic Church? The list goes on.

For good and bad, history has shown that what happened in Egypt has happened before. “New” forms of political activism aren’t really new. They’re just a revised version of what’s been done in the past with obvious technological improvements.

There’s an old saying that “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But that famous quote ignores the other side of history: learning about its successes.

Not all history is doom and gloom. Some of the greatest ideas ever conceived were thought up by people who have been dead for hundreds of years. Just read the writings of Henry David Thoreau to see how much he influenced great modern historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

So if you’re depressed about the present (and dreading the future) and don’t see anyway that mankind will survive, don’t freak out if that great “innovative” idea doesn’t come to you.

Odds are, that idea has already been written down somewhere. It’s your job to find it.

Growing Up in Ethiopia Gives GV Student a Genuine Perspective on Life’s Ups and Downs

A group of children in Ethiopia pose for a picture. Photo by LightStalkers.org.

Written by Samrawit Zeinu

Life in Ethiopia had its ups and downs. When I was living there as a kid, I was pretty happy.

Ethiopia is a great place to live your childhood. When you are very young you don’t have anything to worry about. An average day for me was to wake up, eat breakfast, and play with my sisters and friends.

I started school when I was four years old, which took away from the time I had with my friends. When my sisters and I went to school, usually a taxi came by in the morning and dropped us off at school. On the days we didn’t have a ride to school, my mom would walk with us all the way (which was a very long walk).

I was pretty young when I lived in Ethiopia, but even at that age I could still see all the people that struggled each and every day. Every time I went to visit my grandmother I would always see these tents made from plastic bags on the side of the roads where people lived.

It always saddened me to see so many people who did not have a house like I did or kids who were not able to go to school like me. I used to think it was because their parents just didn’t care or they didn’t have jobs that could pay for it. Now I have a better understanding of why so many people struggle, not just in Ethiopia but all around the world.

In 2008 I went back to Ethiopia to visit my family.

I was happy to see all of my friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was saddened to see that the same tents were still there (if not more) by my grandmother’s house. My dad use to have a lot of employees at his mechanic shop, but when I went there I only found three people who worked for him. He had to let go of most of his employees because business was bad.

I hope that one day I will be able to help my family and friends back home.

Samrawit will continue sharing her personal story right here on the GV blog. Look for her next entry in April.

Poem by Eric Menter

July 2, 2010

The valley fills with trash
Plastic just continues to be piled up
The mound grows day by day
In the dump the children play
As the families gather trash
The hunting vultures swirl about
Perched on tombstones above the ditch
They watch as humans dump their shit
Truck after truck rolls down the path
Leaving behind the poisonous trash
The land rots beneath our feet.
The landscape ruined by our mindless needs
What will it take to turn it back
To turn our cities with luscious grass
Is our future damned to trash
Is beauty simply a thing of the past
Only time will tell
The trash must stop if we want our human race to excel

Eric Menter, after visiting the Guatemala City Dump

Book Review: A Hope in the Unseen

June 29, 2010

A Hope in the Unseen, written by Ron Suskind, is the amazing story of Cedric, a teenager who grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s and his determination to leave and attend an Ivy League school.

It is a true success story among too many unsuccessful ones. His force of character, his faith and the unfailing support of his mother helped him beat the odds and continue on his chosen path.  Rarely can someone face so many challenges and still persevere.

Through Cedric’s personal story, Suskind dives deep into the issues of race and acceptance of differences during his time at Brown University. Cedric had to face the daily struggles of being a poor African-American boy exposed to the incomprehension and rejection of his peers in his neighborhood while struggling to fit in and understand the life of those he has chosen to emulate at a highly competitive school.

The reader not only hears from the voice of Cedric, but also from his high school and college classmates. Suskind recounts their fears, insecurities, tense moments, and the difficulties at understanding and accepting true diversity from all sides of the spectrum.

One of the most important lessons taken from A Hope in the Unseen is not losing one’s identity in the desperate need to integrate. Cedric’s story is about leaving anger on the side and choosing instead to understand and accept others while keeping one’s sense of self.

At the end of his freshmen year at Brown, Cedric came to the conclusion that  “being here doesn’t alter who he is, that he’s becoming sure enough of himself that he can get right up close, feel the pulse, smell the air, see what there is to see, and not lose himself.  He can stay or leave.  He can decide, because now he knows what’s here.  The choices are all his.”

Youth Venture Presentations 2010

May 19, 2010

This past February, 17 students from Global Visionaries presented seven different proposals of service projects they would like to launch to benefit social justice causes in Seattle and abroad.

These student-led initiatives are part of a pilot partnership program between Global Visionaries and Youth Venture, an international social entrepreneurship organization that specializes in providing youth with the resources to launch their own self-sustaining service projects. After the presentations, the groups were awarded $6,200 to launch their ventures.

Project proposals include Bridges of Hope, a program aspiring to put a face to the problems of homelessness, Ping Pong for Nompondo, which aims to give resources to a small school in Nompondo, South Africa, and Youth Campaign for Political Action, dedicated to fighting youth apathy in Seattle/Bellevue, among many others.

One of the presenters was AJ Winkelman, a junior at Mercer Island High School. Winkelman, along with Gabe Tse, introduced EducAid, an after-school tutoring program where high school students tutor elementary school students for at least one hour per week.

“When I went to Guatemala, we learned about how important education is, and we saw how excited the kids were when they saw a school being built,” Winkelman said. “Education is the most important way we can help them help themselves.”

A relationship between Global Visionaries and Youth Venture seems like a perfect match, as both organizations share similar values. As Global Visionaries offers students with the resources to make a positive change in their communities, Youth Venture provides them with the training and knowledge necessary to make those changes effective and sustainable.

The students involved in this pilot program began working with Youth Venture team members in mid November. Youth Venture sponsored ten workshop activities for GV students to participate in, with their tenth workshop culminating in the panel presentations. Previous workshops focused on teaching students the business skills needed to become successful social entrepreneurs; such as budgeting, making time lines, brainstorming ideas, implementing ideas into action, fund-raising, creating goals, assigning duties and planning for the future.