Meet Hannah Sklar: yoga teacher, marathon runner, social service worker… this spirit sister is a powerhouse and is directing the majority of her energy towards helping women in Guatemla. Originally from New York, Hannah has put some strong roots down in Guatemala, namely by starting Creamos Voces, a branch of the Creamos NGO that works to provide emotional support for the women living around the Guatemala City Garbage Dump . Read on to hear about Hannah’s life in Guatemala and the inspiring and necessary work she’s doing with Creamos Voces.
Full Name & Hometown:
Hannah Joy Sklar; Massapequa, NY
What brought you to Guatemala?
I first came in 2008 for a short-term volunteer gig. My mom was the person who convinced me to come. She has the best travel instinct of anyone I know. After my first trip I came back for a few short-term volunteer stints. Once I learned about Safe Passage, I knew I wanted to stay for a longer period of time.
What inspired you to start Creamos Voces?
The women of the community – I’ll explain. Creamos is a Guatemalan NGO that aims to provide opportunities for women living in the communities surrounding the Guatemala City Garbage Dump through various income-generating and welfare initiatives. Creamos Voces is the name of the emotional support component. It aims to improve the emotional and social well-being of the women living in the community by fostering leadership through a variety of wellness programs.
When I was working with Creamos from 2010-2013 I was focused on the entrepreneurial aspect of the program. Working so closely with our participants, I learned the diverse and distinct challenges women living in their community face. At the time, we didn’t have the personnel to formally address these barriers nor was there an organization in the community we could refer our women to.
That being said, none of this made a difference if the women of the community did not feel an emotional-support program was necessary/would be utilized. Throughout my two years in the states I returned to Guatemala four times to conduct a variety of qualitative interviews, focus groups and community surveys to measure the need/desire amongst women in the community. Ultimately it was the women’s support and enthusiasm towards the prospect of the program which solidified that we should give Creamos Voces a try. Without their involvement there is no program.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
As I mentioned earlier, given the unstable community and homes many women live in, we try our best to make our work environment as consistent and welcoming as possible. We begin everyday with a 45-minute aerobics class, which is a blast. We offer 1-2 groups on a daily basis (trauma based yoga, psyco-educational groups, intimate partner violence support groups, self worth groups, and financial literacy training), I’ll typically have individual appointments everyday and as a team we always make time to touch base. Of course, there are frequently unexpected crisis and circumstances, but our team really does the best we can to provide as much stability as possible for our participants.
How many women do you work with? What is the age range?
Right now we have 33 women in our income generating programs and 82 women in Creamos Voces. Our youngest member is 17 and our oldest is 65.
Who is someone you are most inspired by?
I have three.
1) Petronila: Petro is a Creamos participant who has been rapidly losing her sight in the past five years due to Retnisis Pigmentosa. Despite losing her vision, she comes to aerobics class everyday and participants in everything from jumping rope to running races with her daughter by her side, from burpees to being our star goalie when we play soccer. She does all of these activities with an incredible sense of humor, positivity and determination.
2) Nathaly Rubio Torio: She founded and is currently the Executive Director of Voces Latinas – a remarkable, grass roots organization aiming to reduce the rate of HIV and violence amongst Latina immigrants in Queens. I had the honor of working at Voces Latinas, and saw how she handled her job with tremendous grace, has such a vision for Voces Latinas and played a significant role in encouraging me to come back to Guatemala and start Creamos Voces.
3) My mom: For being my favorite person on the planet for too many reasons to list.
What’s one of your favorite Guatemalan past times?
I love going to the flower section in the market, buying flowers, listening to good music and then arranging them in whatever strange jars/bottles I have around the house. It really is one of my favorite parts of my week.
Anything still on your Guatemala bucket list?
I want to see Las Poderosas perform.
What do you when you’re not working at Creamos Voces?
Yoga and running play huge roles into my sanity. Before I go to work or integrate back into society after work, I typically need to do one of the two to be a normal human. I have a beautiful group of friends here and I try to surround myself around them as much as possible and stay connected to everyone I love at home. I also love reading and nature, and try to surround myself with as much greenery as possible.
Favorite yoga pose?
That changes so much. Today I would say chin stand but it could change any minute.
Favorite Guatemalan slang word?
Thanks Hannah for the work you do and for sharing your story with us!