Hola from Antigua!
So I have been in Guatemala now for 8 days, and we have officially finished our first week of work on the house.
I am in my element here. I knew I would be. Having been to Antigua once before, I knew what this place was like and it's even better than I remembered.
I was super excited to 'live' here for two weeks, and it has totally filled my expectations and more. I was here five years ago and it has drastically changed, but so far not in ways that have harmed the culture.
There are more shops, laundries, restaurants, cafes, and expats, but one of my favorite things about this place before, and that has remained the same, is that you don't teach them English, you learn Spanish. They have full blown conversations with you, and you just have to sign language your way through, or they realize and speak slower. The people are happy and welcoming, smile and look you in the eye. It's warm here. Like a great big hug.
The weather has been amazing! Like mid-twenties and dry, with a cool breeze daily. Evenings are cool enough for jeans or dresses, and you sleep well without a fan or AC. The sun has been shining since we got here; with the group, of course, arriving on the first day (and last) it rained for an extended period. The weather systems move so fast being between two volcanoes (one active, one not... not too worry, has erupted in like 50 yrs I think, maybe more) that you can be in one place driving, which happened to us, and the streets were flooded, and drive two minutes more and be in pure sun and warmth.
We start each day at 7am (9am Ottawa time) with Yoga. It's been such a pleasure to teach the same people daily, getting to know their bodies well, and attitudes (minds) and getting to tailor classes to the groups needs on how we feel on both levels.
Our partner here is Open Windows founded and run by a woman who is from San Miguel. She opened the school/library/daycare/etc.as a way to support her community and their immediate needs at the time. She is like the Guatemalan Mother Teresa. We walk the streets on San Miguel and everyone knows her, says hi, and respects her greatly.... except her cousin, who is Mayor, and tries to shut down her ideas and opportunities. She's been threatened and even her nephew ( I believe) was assassinated right before the last group came in hopes of taking her off the running of becoming Mayor (which she was trying to do) and stop her progress in helping to reform the small, fairly impoverished town. She still walks tall, stands strong in her faith and beliefs, and is proud. She says to us "I just know I was meant to do this. This is what I am here for." :)
Our project is to build a home for a family in the community. The family we are building for has a mother, father, four kids, and a grandchild on the way. The seventeen year old daughter is pregnant. In order to build homes for people here, they must own the land. Our family has been given it by family.
The plot is about one kilometer (maybe more) from the main road to the site. Our first day consisted of hauling cinderblocks and bags of cement, using three wheelbarrows, from one end to the other and then stacking them at the back of the plot. We calculated that we moved 18,000 pounds of cinderblocks and took us 128 trips back and forth. Needless to say... a lot more work than we all thought.
We are a determined group though, and did it in less than four hours, and we’re on track. That was a part that could thrown us back and off track if it wasn't done. Thanks to the community to. The families around us came out and we managed to get three more wheelbarrows to work with.
Throughout the week we have lugged, chiseled (small holes by hand into 60 cinderblocks), hooked (wrapped wire around the rebar by hand to secure it), shoveled, and dug (three 3-4 foot trenches). By Friday, we managed to have four tiers of the house built, foundation done, and trenches filled.
We are apparently on track :)
On the every first day, we got to sit around Open Windows library with the kids. They would read to us in Spanish, or like my little partner, made me read to them... glad not too many people were around for that!
One little girl was instantly attracted to Maxime. She snuggled up to her, read to her, played with her glasses, and all of us around were drawn right back to her. Not long after, Teresa mentioned her situation and asked if we would be willing to help.
Her mother left her and her three other sisters and wants nothing to do with them. Thankfully, their father took on their responsibility on himself. Problem is he works overnight in a bakery in another town so the twelve year old acts as mother. The other problem they don't have a door or anyway to keep them safe at night.
We got to visit the girls at their 'home'... a tin shack with a sheet for a door and one queen size bed. They have no stove to cook, no electricity, and eat very badly, as the dad just brings home leftovers from the bakery.
They rent the land, and because of that we cannot build them a home, but have gotten the funds together to build them a second tin 'home', which Teresa says is great because if they move they can bring the materials with them. We will put a door with a lock on it.
We have decided though we would like to do more. We would like to buy them another bed for the girls to sleep in, so not with the father when he is home, and also a stove. Both items would cost a total of $200.
This trip has literally filled my soul. I have never experience such immense moments of gratitude, love, community, and to serve as best as we can while we are here is making me feel complete.
Often we come in to these areas hoping to change things, or fix them, not understanding that one way is not every way. You don't have to change the world, but you can change a life. Maybe, hopefully, eventually even save some.
I know I can't protect every girl here, but I do know I can help create safety for four, who are no more deserving than others, but who we were meant to help.
I have some great ideas for my next volunteer trip to Nepal in 2013, and will continue to try and offer this experience for everyone. I am so grateful to the Universe for conspiring with me to make this happen, to see everyone on the trip blossom and grow, and be able to serve from a place within that isn't triggered but of better understanding, love, and true empathy... it could have been or very easily be me.
Namaste for the week!
Guatemala, July 2012