Andy and I had a great time leading our team of 12 in Guatemala. We worked hard and made a lasting impact. Waking up at 6am and working hard all day until 8 or 9 at night where we would crash into our beds totally exhausted. We had fun and absolutely loved it, what more could you ask for?
Once we landed in Guatemala city we started out with a ride in an old American style school bus. Except this one was pimped out and had flames and Christmas lights decorating it! Apparently that’s what they use for public transportation. I love it!
We were staying in a small town called Zaragoza. One of the poorest towns in Guatemala. We stayed in a 3 story rented house complete with a flat roof that we could sunbathe on! We were working with a group called Educando Para La Vida (Education for Life). A project started by Guatemalans and that is basically self sustaining. It is great to work with a project like that where it isn’t just a bunch of Westerners coming in telling them how to do things but it is exactly what they need done just how they need it. Educando Para La Vida works with kids who are at risk for dropping out of school. They also do their best to support the families of the kids. They are self sustaining in that they have a water purification system where they sell the water to families in the city. They get the older kids in the program to help with orders and deliveries, giving them a responsibility and sense of ownership.
What does this look like? It looks like a bunch of volunteers showing up every day after school to do a kids club! They provide homework help, singing, dancing, snacks, and games. All things that they don’t get at home. Most of them don’t have dads around (either because they were abusive, they are alcoholics and the moms don’t want them around or they just split when times got hard) and with so much poverty there is often a lot of abuse and the kids are forced to work instead of going to school. Also, with the nature of this lifestyle often times there is not much love or fun coming from home. It can be very rough and hopeless. So Educando Para La Vida tries to give the kids love, affection, support, and encouragement to strive for more. We were able to help with this after school project which was very fun! We brought a lot of art supplies that they cannot afford to buy themselves which was a real treat for both the kids and workers. We planned out each day, did puppet shows, plays, and various other things they hadn’t gotten to do before. It was pretty tiring with all the dancing and translating that we were doing. I cannot believe that the volunteers do that every single day! They also have occasional days out like going to a water park or going into the city. Opportunities many of them wouldn’t have without the center. The center also encourages them to apply for University!!! Almost unheard of for a lot of the children in Zaragoza.
Another aspect of our project was setting up 12 small businesses with families of kids involved in Educando Para La Vida. Before leaving the UK we raised money to put into this project. We were creating a system of interest free loans. This is a vision that the center has to help the families in this community. So we split into teams of 2, met with each family, planned what business they would like to start, wrote out a budget, bought all necessary supplies, and got them set up to start working. There were all sorts of businesses: Making clothes and selling them in the market, raising pigs and selling them for food, setting up a street food stall, or raising chickens to sell the eggs and even more!
Andy and I were in a team working with two different families. The first family was a single mom named Helen and her 4 boys (she called them her 4 little earthquakes, hehe). She had lost her daughter a few years back from a lung condition. She was a uniquely wonderful hardworking mom with so much love for her boys. She wanted to raise chickens and sell them for food. So we bought the supplies, built the coop, and got the chicks and their food for the next 6 months.
The second family we worked with was a mom Yaseña, her two kids and her husband (out of the 12 families this was the only one that had a dad in the picture). She was such an amazing mom! So much love and care for her kids. The most stable family we were involved with. They already had the beginnings of a farm but she wanted to buy a pig to have babies and she would sell the piglets. We bought the pig, and supplies for a pen, and enough food for 6 months. We bought cement, mixed it on the ground with our hands and a hoe, and spread it on the ground with pieces of wood, HARD WORK! The neighbors even came to help us out. She was 9 months pregnant while we were working with her. She actually passed her due date while we were making the pig pen with her and she was working just as hard as we were!!! What an amazing woman! They don’t have any concept of maternity leave there 😉 I was so impressed and how hard working all the families we were working with.
It was amazing to be working with families in Guatemala, being a guest in their home, chatting with them, encouraging them, and making a difference in their life. A once in a lifetime opportunity for every one of these families. But the biggest thing I took away was how welcoming they were of us into their families! Every home we went into we just felt like the most honored guests! They thanked us repeatedly for coming so far just to be with them. I can honestly say I have never felt so welcomed and invited into somebody home. We got other opportunities to be part of the community like attending evening single moms support groups, prayer meetings, youth groups, churches, and small groups. We also got to do a bit of preaching and sharing of our testimonies. From what we heard, we were very encouraging to everybody we came in contact with. I couldn’t believe the welcome we received 🙂