ASB Guatemala

Wow. Where to even begin?

What an incredible week our group had in beautiful Guatemala! Flying over the luscious green mountains of Guatemala was only the beginning to what would be an unforgettable week. When we first arrived in Guatemala City, the Service for Peace staff greeted us with hugs and a warm welcome.  Once we boarded the school bus that would serve as our transportation for the day, our adventure had begun! We drove through the bustling streets of Guatemala City and arrived at the church where we would be eating lunch. And let me tell you, this food was DELICIOUS! After we finished eating, we sat outside and looked over the beautiful landscape. Out of nowhere, the people on the street began to set off fireworks. The staff told us that these fireworks are a tradition in Guatemala and one that the locals have carried on each December, celebrating the month of Christmas. After an eventful first day, we said goodbye to Guatemala City and made our way to San Martin where we would stay for the week.

On the second day, we woke up early and went to breakfast at Tia’s house. Tia owns a restaurant that is connected to her house and is a close friend to all the staff members. Tia made us feel like family and gave us a kind and warm welcome, which was such a lovely way to start our day! After breakfast we went to the local market which was a thrilling moment for our group. Men, women and children were selling food, pottery, clothes and so much more. The market was bustling with locals who obviously had done this many times and knew this lifestyle well. It was such an experience to watch how everyone interacted with each other. Some of us in the group were able to experience our first purchase in Guatemala at the market (which was very exciting!)

Later that night at the hotel, the director of Service for Peace, Juan Pablo, talked to our group about the organization’s mission and the work we would be doing the rest of the week. We would be building a classroom for the children of a community known as El Quimal. At this point, we were ready to work and hopefully change the lives of the people of El Quimal.

On our first official work day, we loaded up in trucks and made our way to the work site. The trucks that we rode in are the customary mode of transportation for locals in Guatemala. After our exciting first ride up the mountain, we had arrived in the town of El Quimal. We were greeted by several children who showed us around the town. This was a moment that opened our eyes to their world, and how they lived. Some cultural things that we noticed about the people: Many of the women and girls wore traditional clothing. We learned that the designs of each piece show the individual personality, the village, the marital, social, wealth, and religious status of a native. The men wore Western-style clothing, such as jeans, big belts, flannel shirts and straw hats.

After observing our work site and the land we would be working on for the rest of the week, we walked up to the local church. The church was beautiful; white walls with a pop of blue on the door. We walked to the top of the church and looked out over the entire town; a truly breath-taking sight.  After we spent some time at the church, we were called down to the school where we were told a surprise was waiting for us! Excitedly we walked down the hill to the school where they opened the gates to let us in. The members of the community had set up a welcome ceremony for us! What a humbling moment this was for our entire group. With beaming smiles, we walked through the line of community members to our seats in front of a small stage that was colorfully decorated. The principal of the school spoke to us, and then one by one we introduced ourselves to the community. After the ceremony they played music for us and we danced with the children, which was so much fun! Another group of us went down to the soccer field and played soccer with some of the children. We definitely learned that Guatemalans are wonderful soccer players! After we played with the children for a while, the staff informed us that it was time to start working.

Before we began, Juan Pablo told us to imagine what we wanted the classroom to look like. If we believed, we could make that image in our heads come to life. And so, we began! We dug the foundation and moved rocks and other material from the ground. We learned quickly that we would most likely become body builders by the end of the week! After much progress, we were finished with our first work day.

Later that night, we went to a local bakery where we got to see how bread was made. I think that I can speak for my group when I say that this was probably one of the coolest things we had ever witnessed. We met the owner of the bakery and watched two men make the bread from scratch. And wow, that bakery smelled SO GOOD! For dinner that night, Tia made us tostadas, a traditional Guatemalan meal which consisted of chicken, black beans, queso and fresh salsa. And just when we thought the night could not get any better, we learned how to make tortillas! And let me tell you, it looks a lot easier than it actually is. Even though some of the ones we made were pretty hideous, we ate every single one! SO YUMMY.

Another night, the staff took us to watch what is called “La Posada.” In many of the towns throughout Guatemala during the nine days before Christmas, small processions are held. These processions usually occur just after dark. They start on December 16th and continue to Christmas Eve evening. The Christmas carols are sung, as the procession walks through the neighborhood carry figures of Mary and Joseph, seeking lodging for the holy family. Seeing these processions was definitely an experience that none of us will ever forget!

The last two days of our trip were spent in the city of Antigua. Spanish Baroque influenced architecture surrounds the city as well as a number of spectacular churches and fountains. In the background of the city sits the Volcán de Agua, a majestic volcano that towers more than 11,500 ft above the Pacific coastal plain. This city’s beauty was overwhelming with its old cobblestone streets and ruins.

The first day we went to one of the markets down the road from our hotel. Local Markets are the main economic focus of the towns in the highlands of Guatemala.

Christmas presents: check!

We also did some site seeing and got to see La Merced Church, The Santa Catalina Arc, Palacio de los Capitanes at the Plaza Central, and the gorgeous City Square Fountain.  Visiting Antigua was a wonderful way to end our busy and tiring week in Guatemala. After some rest and recuperation, we made our way back home to the U.S.!

After an exhausting work week, our group was physically worn out, but what we all received out of our service was far greater than any pain we felt.  Being able to not only come to know the Guatemalan people, but also their culture was an amazing learning experience for each of us, and will never be forgotten.  I know that each person in our group took something personal out of these experiences, maybe without even realizing it. The people we met and the lives that touched our hearts are memories we will all cherish for the rest of our lives.

Image

Advertisements
ASB Guatemala

Definitely can’t be the same

DAY 6 – Dominican Republic

child1

            Our last full day here 😦  although we were all sad that our trip is coming to a close, we still had a great time at the 27 waterfalls attraction. After a 45 minute hike, we each proceeded to slide and jump down each of 27 natural waterfalls, spitting icy cold water. Good thing our showers helped up build up a bit of a tolerance…we were able to numb up fairly quickly and enjoy the beautiful coves all afternoon! A good way to end a week of hard work. We will all be happy to be home; however, as I said before, leaving is definitely bittersweet. However, I know that each person on this trip took much more out of these experiences than they even thought possible, and we will sincerely cherish these memories for the rest of our lives.

Definitely can’t be the same

Seriously disturbed….in a good way

DAY 5 – Dominican Republic

This morning we returned to the orphanage, got a lot of painting done, and gave the girls a brand new rose colored room with hot pink dressers. After saying our last goodbyes, we returned to the house, ate lunch, and packed up the hygiene packets we assembled for patients at the local hospital. Each packet contained a variety of soaps, hotel shampoos, toothbrushes, etc…a special treat for the patients, seeing as the hospital is only obligated to provide them with a bed and an IV.

The hospital visit truly was mentally draining for many of us. The atmosphere was unlike any hospital I have ever entered. Honestly, the humane shelter in my home town seems more luxurious than the patients’ rooms we entered; and I don’t mean for that comparison to sound facetious…unfortunately, the conditions there were truly unreal. Upon our arrival, the boys and girls were separated, due to the fact that no males, even family, are allowed in the maternity ward. Thus, I am unable to attest for what the boys saw, but from what they say many of the injuries and treatment methods they encountered were fairly hard to stomach. They described devices made of string and milk jugs being used to support broken limbs until patients could afford more advanced healing accommodations.

We girls, however, remained in the maternity area throughout our entire visit, distributing the hygiene packets and snapping Polaroid pictures of the newborns for their mothers. It truly was a blessing being able to encourage the mothers and offer them a nice treat for the day. After making our rounds through the nursing rooms, Carie turned to me, knowing I am a pre-med student, and asked if I would be willing to accompany her into the neonatal unit to take pictures of the babies. As heartbreaking as it is to say this, I honestly felt as if I was possibly taking the last photographs of these babies’ lives…I tried my hardest to find a good angle with the polaroid, as ridiculous as that sounds, because I figured that one instant-print photograph could possibly be the last tangible memory a mother will have of her child. The babies were so tiny, so helpless…and the final picture I took was of the smallest one, probably seven inches from head to toes, inside an incubator located at the front of the room. A true fighter. I have never seen anything like it. At that very moment I couldn’t help but think of Santo…almost equally as weak and helpless, yet hopeful and thankful just to be alive. It was, to say the very, very least, a humbling experience I will never forget.

After the hospital, we returned to the house and finished painting the Bernard’s’ fence…and each other. I think the dog even got paint on itself at one point. Ultimately, it was nice being able to do something for Rick and Carie…they have been beyond wonderful hosts, and it was the least we could do to reciprocate all of their help.

hospital1

Seriously disturbed….in a good way

Shaken by pure joy

DAY 4 – Dominican Republic

wednesday1

            We began the morning with pancakes, which obviously meant it was going to be a good day. On our way to the orphanage we stopped and visited an elderly friend of Rick and Carie’s named Santo. At the age of 15, Santo fractured some section of his spine when falling from a tree and has been a completely immobile paraplegic for over 55 years. Before we left, Carie described Santo as one of the most joyful people she knows…one of those people whose spirit is so contagious you can’t help but feel it to at least some extent. The minute we stepped into Santo’s room I completely understood what she meant. Lying in front of me was a bed ridden man, maybe 50 pounds, complete skin and bones, literally a walking skeleton…yet for some reason I found myself grinning from ear to ear as he welcomed our group so warmly, excited just to have guests for a few minutes. I still cannot wrap my head around the miracle of his condition…it truly is a medical marvel that this man has lived to see over 70 years of age. However, his survival is no longer a physical matter, but it is one reliant upon a seemingly invincible hope. There is no doubt in my mind that Santo’s hope helps keep him alive, and Rick and Carie’s work has definitely played a prime role in his determination.

Once we arrived at the orphanage I saw a few children I recognized, and they recognized me as well. Many of us also bought “expression dolls” made by the girls for monetary profit. We then took five girls with us to the local beach, which was an extremely special treat for them, seeing as they probably have only been there once or twice, despite the fact that the beach is only 30 minutes away from the orphanage. After we dropped them back off, we returned to the house and began to paint the fence out front…at least until we ran out of paint. Regardless, we all still had a great time being outside together all day…it’s awesome to see how close we’ve all become in just a few days, especially considering how awkward our first meetings were back in Auburn. Wow…back in Auburn…that was honestly a little weird to say. I haven’t even thought of that place much recently. We only have a couple of days left here, and I will be happy to be home, however departure truly is bittersweet.

Shaken by pure joy

Reality check

DAY 2 – Dominican Republic

orphanage1

            This morning we visited a girls’ orphanage sponsored by the Bernards. The children’s’ stories are dumbfounding. One little girl, I think about the age of 4, continued to hang around me for a good part of the morning. I could sense her sweet spirit…she had intelligent eyes, and although she never said a word, she didn’t come off as shy at all. I honestly didn’t even notice she wasn’t talking until Carie approached me, saying that the girl was completely unable to talk. Later tonight she shared with me the little girl’s story: her parents were both witch doctors who were murdered because of their practices, and although she is physically able to speak, she has, as the people here say, a spirit hanging over her, preventing her from speaking. Carie told me she has been trying to enroll the girl in a school for deaf students, seeing as she currently has no schooling whatsoever; however such establishments refuse to accept her because she technically is neither deaf nor mute. Carie says she’s heard her make a moaning sound once, but that’s it. Every girl in the orphanage has some sort of story, and most all of them have gone through more in their short lives than I probably ever will in mine.

The orphanage itself was simple; it even had goats in the backyard along with a single swing set and trampoline. It was truly refreshing to see children playing with one another outside rather than being glued to a TV screen all day. They were all so happy with each other, and even the smallest things brought them joy. My Spanish is terrible and they still stuck to me like flies…I’m not one to be all over all the kids all of the time, it’s not something that comes as naturally to me, but the look in their eyes today will never leave my memory. That’s a reward in itself.

After lunch we rode the bus to an area the family calls the “refugee camp,” which is really a slum housing victims of Hurricane George. I honestly cannot begin to describe the living conditions I saw. Literally shacks. Just like the places I see in documentaries and movies…but in reality, it’s so much more impactful. I didn’t necessarily feel sympathy or guilt, maybe because it was too surreal, but I tried to take it all in and observe as much as possible. However, all I did was take a short walk…all I’m participating in now is a short week of service. I’ll never even begin to wrap my mind around those peoples’ lives. Can they have any hopes or dreams? It seems their only objective in life is survival. I’ve always had my entire world handed to me on a platter, full of opportunity and promise. I feel like I’ve already taken more out of this trip in two days than I would from the entire week. And for that, I am truly, truly grateful.

After walking through the refugee area, we proceeded to set up four folding tables in the middle of the street and unload our medical supplies. The most advanced treatments we had were antibiotics, and most of us were primarily in charge of distributing gummy vitamins, hydrocortisone cream, and other OTC drugs as if we were trained to do so. Mothers were bringing their sick children to us, waiting for a diagnosis and treatment that could be picked up in a local CVS. But to them this was care, which really got me thinking. Medical care in these places isn’t even an economical issue. It’s a means for survival. Honestly, a means for hope. I believe we all did our best today, and I know the experience touched the hearts and minds of each person in our group.

slums1

Reality check

Good morning, San Cristobal and ice water!

DAY 1 – Dominican Republic

park1children1francia1

Good morning, ice water. Upon our arrival yesterday evening, our hosts this week, Rick and Carie Bernard, stressed the importance of continuous hydration, assuring us that they will provide a plentiful supply of cool water throughout the week. Little did I realize this term applied not only to the drinking water, but to the shower water, as well. However, regardless of this small inconvenience, the home in which we are staying is very nice, filled with welcoming people and delicious food. After a delectable pancake breakfast, our group of 11 (Brianne, Nic, Tim, Sarah 1, Sarah 2, Callie, Ashton, Brantley, Patty, Peter, and myself) ventured an entire 20 feet across the street to a park previously refurbished by the ASB group of 2012. We spent the morning weeding (not that we really knew what we were doing at all), planting flowers, painting benches, and conversing (or at least trying to) with the local residents. It’s so interesting how a difference as small as the languages we speak can produce such an enormous barrier.

The park ended up looking great. I was genuinely proud to know that I was a part of the work that re-shined a community gem, giving the residents a nice place to relax and spend time in a generally neglected environment. Who would’ve though a simple park could make such a difference in an area? Even basic backyards in the United States have nicer adornments than the concrete benches and flower beds we fixed up today. It truly is beautiful the incredible joy and gratitude that can come from something so simple.

After lunch we rode a van to the home of one of the house employees, Francia. According to Carie, she is one of the most amazing, golden-hearted individuals you will ever meet. She lives in a half-rotten, wooden home about the size of my parents’ kitchen with her husband and three children. The sleeping areas are separated by bed sheet curtains hanging on a clothesline, and the main living area consists of a few seats, speakers, a table, and what looked like a small cooking area. I don’t remember seeing a bathroom anywhere inside. Yet, despite the residence’s shack-like appearance, it honestly had one of the homiest feelings I’ve experienced since we’ve been here. The family was just so excited about the fresh coat of pink paint we were about to put on the outside of their home, and I really can’t think of any words to explain the radiance of their joy. Again, the delight brought on from an act so simple is beyond refreshing.

Good morning, San Cristobal and ice water!

Costa Rica Days 6-7: La Fortuna Orphanage

Day 7: Return of the Wifi!

Our last hotel didn’t have Internet so unfortunately this post is a little delayed, but here’s an update. We spent most of Wednesday traveling northward from San José through the mountains to the beautiful city of La Fortuna. Our tour guide Tano is an avid bird watcher, so on Thursday morning some of us braved the early wake-up call and got up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise and go on a bird walk with him. Afterwards we headed to work at the orphanage in La Fortuna, which houses 16 kids from ages 0-10. Our projects there included painting one of the little girls’ rooms, weeding the garden, and cleaning and repainting the roof and gutters. On Thursday afternoon we had lunch at Don Juan’s, which had its own organic farm. We took a short tour of the farm and got to help extract juice from sugar cane. After lunch we finally got to experience one of the most anticipated activities of the trip: the Ecoglide zip line through the rainforest. It was exhilarating to fly down the 13 different zip lines and jump off the Tarzan swing while enjoying the breathtaking views of the mountains!

This morning we went back to the orphanage to finish the projects we started. Unfortunately it rained some of the time today so we couldn’t finish painting the roof, but we got almost all of the inside painting done. The girls love Disney Princesses so we painted Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty on the walls (check out the pictures below!). We all had a blast being around the kids and seeing their smiling faces, so it was really difficult to leave today, but we eventually said our goodbyes and headed back to San José. After one last dinner together we all discussed our last set of highs and lows before packing up for the airport. Costa Rica has sort of a slogan, “Pura Vida,” that literally means pure life. We all experienced Pura Vida this week through the humbling projects we did, the new friendships and bonds we made, the gorgeous views of the country, and the lives we improved. While many of us are sad to leave this beautiful country, we throroughly enjoyed the week and look forward to continuing to serve others back in the United States! Pura Vida!

20130315-220731.jpg
Brianne, Anna Rose, Nathaniel, Kristen, and Jasmine enjoying some sugar cane extract at Don Juan’s

20130315-220932.jpg
Andrea and Kate holding Jennifer and Wilmer!

20130315-221254.jpg
Tyler, Rohith, and Nathaniel working hard on the roof

20130315-221704.jpg
Anna Rose, Brianne, Jasmine, and Kendall painting (see the finished product below!)

20130315-222046.jpg
Julie, Nathaniel, Emily and Rohith with some of our new friends!

20130315-222747.jpg
Our whole group at the orphanage!

20130316-073718.jpg

20130316-012040.jpg

20130315-222514.jpg

Costa Rica Days 6-7: La Fortuna Orphanage