Group travel in Guatemala, Here we Go Again
There are 14 of us on this trip… our largest to date. In addition to having portions of all three families on Guatemala Service Projects’ board (a first for us) we are also joined by Becky and Katie Stone, as well as the Uebelacker family from Oconomowoc.
We flew out of Chicago on the morning of August 3rd, with a long layover in Atlanta. While the adults in the group were patient with our long layover, even they got restless when the long layover was combined with airine delays. A good mix of seven parents and seven kids (granted three of those “kids” are adults, at age 18) some of them entertained themselves nicely on th floor of our gate in Atlanta with a deck of Uno cards, compliments of Julian Scratch. They also decided to ride the airport train “for fun”, staying on for all the terminal stops and then back again to where they started.
By the time we finally got to our hotel in Guatemala City and got checked in, it was almost 2am. We were beyond tired, having awakened at 4am the previous day to head to the airport.
What little sleep we had was peaceful and comfortable. We would be delighted to stay there again any time we had late arrival flights and were going to stay the night in the city.
Hugo, our driver with Highland Tours, arrived on time and, seemingly haven eaten his Wheaties for breakfast, was ready to help us load all the 50-pound suitcases of donations. We headed for the villages of Canton Panimache Quinto Alto and Bajo but not until after he suggested that we have a prayer to start our road trip.
I had never had a bus driver request or suggest this, but knowing how treacherous the roads and other drivers could be, I didn’t think this idea was half bad! I said a prayer, in Spanish to appeal to Hugo’s request, and impressed myself with how the words flowed. My fluency in Spanish is improving all the time, but this was the first time I had ever prayed in Spanish!
Off we went! As Panimache Quinto Alto was more accessibe by road and contained more families, we visited that community first. When we arrived, mothers and fathers, children and siblings hugged the side of the road, patiently waiting for us to all come off of the van where they could giggle and smile at us.
(The fascination is mutual!)
In addition to the donating of shoes and vitamins in this community, we were providing 7 stoves to the community. While the contacts from the Chispa company were busy stacking all the stove equipment in little piles for each recipient family, we organized the bags of shoes and vitamins that we had so lovingly assembled back home in Wisconsin, numerically in order so that they could be distributed to the families in an orderly fashion. Here are some photos of the distribution. There were a lot of happy faces. I would upload dozens more but speeds are slow.
One note as to how we assembled the bags for the families… Inside the bag were all the pairs of shoe sizes that the family had requested, along with a bottle of adult and a bottle of children’s vitamins. Attached to each pair of shoes was a gift tag that was manually labeled with the person’s name. I thought that would add a special and personal touch; several in the community may not have ever received a pesonal gift. Ashleigh Uebelacker made out the tags for each person, and she and her mom worked tirelessly to attach those tags to the shoes. It was very clear that the recipients agree it was a special thought, and Ashleigh delighted in their joy as well. That realization, and also delighting in the colors and patterns of the huipiles (woven blouses) were her two favorite parts of the day.
We were working off a list that Diego Xirum prepared for us. Diego is one of our contacts in Guatemala, someone we met two years ago in Canton Rio Camanbal, where he was hired to be our translator. Able to speak all three languages spoken in the villages we visited on August 4th (the first language of the majority is K’iche’, followed by Spanish and English) Diego made it a lot less difficult for us to start, build and maintain a relationship with the communities of Panimache Quinto Alto and Panimache Quinto Bajo. We plan to continue our support of these neighboring communities going forward, both with the sustainable vitamins program and by eventually providing a stove to each family. Only 6 of 68 families have stoves so far, as the 7th one delivered today went to the school in Panimache Quinto Bajo for their use. Even if it might take a few years to get them for the remaining homes, we will do it! If you would like to help, a $150 donation will provide a stove to a family in need!
Stoves are so important. As I have mentioned before, on this blog, a family without a stove cooks on a fire built on the dirt floor of their home. Soot lines the walls and ceiling, smoke has no way to escape the living quarters, children suffer burns, and families spend a lot of time and money collecting firewood. Respiratory illnesses and cataracts are common problems for women that cook this way. Imagine leaning over a cook fire with a baby strapped to your back.. not only is the mother inhaling those noxious fumes and drying out her eyes, but her baby is affected in similar ways!
Once a family receives a stove, the cook surface is elevated (away fom danger) and the smoke is vented outside the home via a chimney. Moreover, significantly less wood is consumed, saving a family time and money, and general health improves significantly!
We enjoyed meeting the community committees in both villages and look forward to working with them, and Diego, in the years ahead. The committee in Panimache Quinto Alto, pictured with the officers of Guatemala, is shown below.
When we returned to our hotel, tired from the activities of the day, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Panajachel, Guajimbo’s. While waiting for the food we ordered, I took the chance to interview Kallie Uebelacker.
Kallie is the youngest child in her family, the same age as my Sarah, and had never been to Guatemala. When I asked what her favorite part of the day was, she said “the shoes”.
I then asked her how she thought her life might be different if she lived in Guatemala. She was thorough in her answer, describing all the things she would likely not have. She reflected on the lack of transportation and having to hike up very steep hills to get out of the village. She talked about the lack of technology — considering one of the two villages does not even have electricity except for at the school, it was clear to her that she and her siblings could not use phones and tablets.
When I asked her if she was sad by anything she saw today, she first answered “the dogs”. She is a dog over, as are all people in her family, and it pained her to see starving and injured animals roaming rampant in the streets of Panajachel.
But, she quickly followed up that answer with one whose focus is one we all share: Kallie agreed that living in a smoke-filled home would be horrible and that she felt sorry for the people that did not have a stove.
I couldn’t agree more. Standing in the family’s home for just a minute was already making our eyes sore and resulting in coughs.
Our first day of service was a success. We’re looking forward to revisiting Canton Rio Camanibal tomorrow!