Tuesday, September 15, 2009

August 29: (well really, September 14)

We are all back at home safe and sound, very happy to be on Canadian Soil again! We did more than survive in Guatemala…we thrived. I think its safe to say that we all did a lot of growing in the past three weeks- be it killing bugs and cockroaches (after seeing 2-inch long flying cockroaches, or cleaning biting ants out of our bags nothing really phases us anymore), or learning a new language, or being away from home for the first time we all found new ways to grow and change in Guatemala.
One thing’s for sure, we left a piece of our hearts in the vast and impressive tropical paradise. We were so fortunate to be to have been welcomed into Duenas’ community, and to have such a unique opportunity to knit (Riley), read (Ash, Chris and Nik), play (Shannon), sing (Shawn and Salina), and horse around (Terry, Ryan, Jimmy) with these very special, very loving children. The work we did left our hands and bodies sore, and for some of us the sight of yellow paint is enough to send our eyes into shock---but what an impressive end product and unique opportunity to work with local youth to improve their community! We hope and pray that the children will enjoy their freshly painted classrooms with clean windows for many years to come- and that as they learn about their world they remember the time we spent with them, working side by side. Our hearts swell at the thought that these children now have a clean, bright place to learn.
For the 8 of us that were fortunate enough to spend a week touring the incredible country to take in the sights and sounds of Guatemala, we were left with the feeling that we are one small piece in this large world puzzle. Standing on top of the Mayan Ruins, in the middle of the jungle where there was once a bustling civilization over 2000 years ago, gave us an incredible indication that we are, despite our very anthropocentric view of life, all a part of a worldwide ecosystem. Nature always wins. Jumping off of a swing into a river, diving through caves, laying on hammocks, hiking up mountains and volcanoes, taking jungle tours down rivers, and dipping our hands into the Atlantic/Caribbean oceans has empowered us to always, always, push ourselves as far and as hard as our bodies can take us. There is so much to learn and discover about our world. Oh! And the monkeys were cool too!
Along the way we met beautiful people: the locals who shared what they had with us and who made our time in Guatemala so pleasant. We owe a very large and very heartfelt thank you to the children at the Sierramar Lodge who danced with us and sang with us late into our last evening in Guatemala—we will carry their energy and spirits with us along with the memories of salsa dancing late into the night. We hope they’ll never forget how to play locos ochos (crazy 8s) which Salina so patiently taught them—in Spanish!
The late night chats on hammocks; the 6 hour van rides; playing mafia into the wee hours of the night; sharing meals, stories, life experiences and laughs; helping each other through the rough times and celebrating our mini accomplishments in the good times has bonded us closer together into connections that cross age, schools and provinces. This journey would have been nothing without the company. We learned so much about each other, and from each other. Each one of you brought out a piece of me, a quality I had never noticed before, and for that I am eternally grateful and very fortunate.
We have a newfound appreciation of our families and the gifts given to us by them: we missed our families so much while we were gone, and it goes without saying that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. We also appreciate our homes (and hot showers) and our opportunity to access boundless education to achieve all our hopes and aspirations. Finally, we appreciate our Canadian identity. We did our best to be ambassadors of our nation, representing our country to the children and families we met on our travels. We left behind our Canadian spirit, and over 200 Canadian flag pins that the children proudly wore as we said good-bye.
Life here is very different than in Guatemala, and it will still take time for us to acclimatize. For one thing, the Papayas are much smaller, and there is no Fanta. However, what I have learned is that as Canadians who are blessed with material riches galore, we can still learn so much from the people of Guatemala. The families and children that had so few possessions had so much richness in their faith, generosity and kindness. German (a cobbler who lives in a 1 room shack with three children and no electricity) taught us to value our lives, value the beautiful days and value each other—because that is what German teaches his children. Amidst the poverty there is hope, and with this hope comes happiness. There was no shortage of happiness in Guatemala. Life is sweet, life is beautiful, and life is good—and it took going all the way to Guatemala for us to remember it.
I have attempted to express all the emotions we feel now, as we look at photos and reflect on our amazing journey. However, in this case no words can ever describe how much we have learned and changed- we come back to our lives as more mature youth who have been inspired and motivated to keep working as global citizens. If pictures say a thousand words, I believe we have over 40,000 words between all of us, but nothing will ever, ever come close to the feelings we have when we think about Guatemala, and the memories we will cherish forever.

Besos, abrazos y muchas gracias (kisses, hugs and many thanks)
Alia Dharamsi
Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

Our Last Day on the Project

Sadly, today was our last day working with DWC. We started the day with our regular group discussion. But this particular time, there was a solemn vibe upon us as Tony started his group goodbye. With nothing but kind words, Tony shared his appreciation and admiration for the team and the amazing journey we had all ventured on together. Then we were off to la escuela Cantonal where we were determined to finish off as much as we could. When it was time to pack up, we DWC volunteers proudly looked at the work we had accomplished at this small school: 5 complete freshly painted classrooms (plus one almost finished classroom), fixed windows and working electrical circuits. But before we could leave, Phil (one of the teachers of the school that had helped us during the two weeks) gave us a very sweet and sentimental thank you speech. On behalf of the teachers and the students of la escuela Cantonal, Phil told us they were truly grateful for the work we had done and what a pleasure it was to work with us. We left the school for the last time and headed back to Open Windows where we admired all the yellow walls we had painted that were once cold and gray and the new and improved gardens.

After lunch, we had a few minutes to play with the kids before the talent show. Just as it was time to go upstairs, the rain came POURING down. Everyone dashed up the stairs and gathered in the large classroom. All 100 or so kids, Open Windows staff and DWC crew huddled into that room with the sound of the heavy rainstorm surrounding us. The show began with a beautiful traditional Guatemalan dance performed by the teachers. Then it was the kids' turn to show us what they got. We got to enjoy 3 dances with the children all dressed in adorable costumes (from tiny rats to cowboys and cowgirls then finally to the best dressed salsa dancers you'll ever see). We added our own little flare to the show with a ground-breaking acoustic performance of the Eagles' "Hotel California" with Shawn on the guitar, Chris and Shannon on percussion and Ryan with the vocals. We also demonstrated our excellent dancing skills with the infamous Hokey Pokey. As the show was winding down, Open Windows presented us with certificates and said their official goodbyes and thank yous. It was a tearful goodbye as we saw all the faces we had come to know and love over the past two weeks, knowing it would be at least a while before we saw them again.

As we drove away from Open Windows, we all felt heavy-hearted. We were saying farewell to the small town of San Miguel Dueñas and to its incredible citizens. We were all in some way touched and changed by this place and I believe we will go home better people because of it. The past two weeks had been filled with so much laughter, life and pure joy it's hard to believe it has come to an end.

From all us DWC volunteers to the country and people of Guatemala (especially to those in San Miguel Dueñas and Antigua), thank you from the bottom of our hearts for an amazing trip and all the wonderful memories. We hope to see you soon!

Guatemala Love...

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts from Day 9 by "Scraper Sensei"

Holas Amigos!

Already day 9 of our 2 week journey with DWC has arrived! Although it´s only been a mere week, I feel I have a true understanding of the Guatemalan culture thanks to the locals who have welcomed us with open arms. The people and children we´ve met are absolutely incredible, and despite the language barriers, they are always here to help. I´ve never met such a warm and accepting culture.

We began this Monday with an early breakfast at Fernando´s (the local cafe just around the corner). We ate the cafe´s delicious selections such as the Americano with eggs, or the Panqueques, and even Nutella crepes. Our bus arrived at 8:30am, driven by Fracisco, unbeknowst to him, the next 20 minutes would be spent listening to the group's (may I add at times off key) singing!

We arrived at the Open Windows Foundation Centre bright and early. Just like any other morning, we were greeted by Herman (the local cobbler who lives adjacent to the centre) and his adorable 3 year-old son Hosuay. Despite my poor Spanish, Herman speaks to me in Spanish which at times can be challenging, but definitely a learning curve! He´s so patient with me, words cannot describe my gratitude!

The ladies headed straight to work by 9:45am. We continued painting the main entrance of the centre, a beautiful lemon marang yellow. The boys, prior to continuing their work at the local school, had the opportunity to roll large barrels down the streets of Saint Miguel Duenas which did attract some local stares (according to Sean) however it did not stop the boys from having a wicked time.

During lunch we were met with a delicious chick pea soup and a portion of home made bread. Then, by 2:00pm, most of the local children arrived. As everyday passes, the number of children seems to exponentially grow. I believe we had just about 100 kids visit the centre. Once again, we were assigned to our activity groups consisting of singing, reading, knitting, games and sports.

For dinner, we dined at the local restaurant 'Frida´s'. The restaurant was a true dediction to the renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Not only were the decorations authentic and flawless, but also the food was excellent. The group especially enjoyed the restaurant´s music; many of the songs that were played we recognized, and therefore, sang along to!

For the later portion of the night, a definite highlight for the group was hearing that Ryan (this is for you Barata) would be joining us during our last week of traveling in Guatemala. He brings such laughter and excitement to the group that his company would have been extremely missed. After some trials and tribulations, I´m ecstatic to officially announce that Ryan will be joining us in Coban, Semuc Champey, Lake Lanquin, Florice, Tikal, Rio Dulce and Livingston. (Ryan verbally listed the cities for me himself)

Thanks to my marvelous group, team leaders, and the beautiful people of Guatemala! I will sincerely miss you all! This experience has been nothing but positive, I´ve learnt more about myself and the kind of life I want to lead, one that will live up to these past 2 weeks.

Ashley (aka the SCRAPER SENSEI)
Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

August 26: Our last days in San Miguel Duenas

As we reach our last few days in San Miguel Duenas, there is both a sense of progress and sadness. On one hand, the work at the local school is reaching its conclusion with all but two of the six classrooms painted, and almost all of Open Windows completely painted. On the other hand, we are nearly reaching the point where we will have to say goodbye to this place we have called home and the people we now call family.

Some of us will spend a week touring around Guatemala taking in the sights (Mr and Mrs Dharamsi, your daughters are still safe). Others, will be leaving for home upon completion of our work in San Miguel Duenas (including our group leaders Tony and Anita). We will all have to come to terms with saying goodbye to our friend from Alabama, Andrew (who has become an adopted Canadian over the last two weeks). There will be the farewells to the other people who have made this place so special for us, such as Open Windows operator Teresa. Most heart breaking, will be seeing the children of San Miguel Duenas for the final time. It is the children, where our sadness turns to progress. Yes, we may never see them again, but we can be sure that our presence here has made a lasting impression on both them and us.

This trip may have started out with the goal of servicing others in the global community, but I can firmly say that this trip has provided unexpected self realization. Upon returning home, we will not walk through those airport gates the same people that boarded two weeks ago. Instead, we will return with a new found appreciation for what we have, and the opportunities we have been granted merely by living in Canada. Opportunities that many in Guatemala can only dream of. More importantly, the memories of this place will forever be apart of us. Memories that we can use to shape our daily lives back home as we move forward and grow as individuals.

Ryan Barata

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

Post from the Team Leader

I believe I should tell you something about our group.

We range in age from 18 to 29 with the addition of a couple who are eligible to receive CPP cheques.

We have two sets of sisters, 'Master Painter' Ashley and her 'Hey let me do that' sister Nicole, Alia our group organizer and her card sharp sister Salina, then a very determined Shannon and Anita who has taken on a kind of 'Den Mother' role. On the boys side Riley (who doubles as our soccer coach) and Jimmy are our two camera buffs closely followed by Ryan and Terry. Shawn mans our 'Farmacia' and is the trickster. Chris is the quietest (if that is possible) yet still holds his own with the rest.

The group has taken on any and many varied tasks and in addition have shown an tremendous talent for being able to connect with the children at Open Windows so readily. Riley, in his first attempt, did admit to being out 'knitted' by one little girl he called the 'Alpha' knitter of the school.

As raucous as they may be (Anita and I sneak off for 'quiet time' every now and then) these young people have done all that has been asked of them including providing a daily blog.

If young people are to be the future, and I truly believe they are, then I have no doubt that this group of volunteers will feature very prominately. It has been a priviledge to have had the opportunity of being associated with them.

Tony Dufficy
DWC Team Leader

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 24: What to say that has not been said before.

Day 10 from Fuatemala and what to say that has not been said before. From salsa lessons to over 100 kids in one short afternoon or more, enough empty yellow paint cans to build a large wall. The long walks to find where to eat, as tourist guys ensured its Guatemala we see and not miss a block. Soon this will be over and only memories will remain, but friends we have made and will not be forgotten soon. With pictures to remind us of things we have done and seen, what a great experience this has been.

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As I sit here alone in Fernando´s Cafe, soaking in the sunrise as it breaks through the garden plants, my coffee arrives in front of me. The waitress delicately sets it on the table with a sense of local pride; after all, this particular restaurant claims to trump all other brews in Antigua. I relay a graçious in return, and commence to slowly enjoy a small piece of Guatemala; waking up with the city in unison.

That simple moment at breakfast sums up my experience in Guatemala so far; a partnership with, and participation in, a culture that does not require manipulation by Western hands. We are here to serve the needs of those who live in San Miguel Dueñas - through their guidance and direction.

The days have assumed a balanced blend of routine and adventure; each day is shaped in similar fashion, with unique content filling them to capacity. It is difficult to localize the most significant experience I have encountered so far, however the summation of six days definitely has brought a unifying feeling to the trip. We have completed a lot of construction and renovation work for a local school. Another group of us is near completion of painting of the library, our home base, and the progress is definitely visible. The commonality between this work, is that they are loose end jobs that we are tying over for the community. We have a group of motivated volunteers that are oriented to complete these kind of tasks, with little other responsibilities. We do not have to feed a family, attend school, or go to work, so we are here to serve in ways that the locals do not have resources or time for.

Overall, it has been an excellent week of orientation, renovation, and exploration, and all of us from Guatemala are looking forward to the new experiences to come. Adios.

Riley Golby
Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."

Monday, August 24, 2009

August 23rd: Atitlan Lake!

Hola from Mono Loco Internet Cafe in Antigua!

After a tiring day climbing Pacaya Volcano, we started our day by waking up at 6am to get to breakfast at 6:30. Then, after a 1 hour bus ride, we arrived at a market near Lake Atitlan where street vendors line the streets to promote their goods. Many of them would come up to you and prompt you to buy their items, which would most likely be met with a ¨non gracias (no thanks in spanish)¨ by our crew. Bartering is the name of the game and after much practice, I have to say I am a bit more familiar with that form of art. Almost no one from our Canadian crew left the market empty handed. A good hour and a half was spent in the market and a two hours bus ride to the infamous Lake Atitlan ensued.

Lake Atitlan was marvelous; a lake of crisp blue water enclosed by towering volcanoes. The scene was surely one to note and remember.We had lunch while enjoying a full view of the lake but let´s just say that time stood still in the restaurant which made it extra long.
After, we walked on the beach for a bit while taking group pics everywhere we go.

After a long stay of outdoor adventures, to pass the three hours ride back to Antigua, the van lit up with team bonding activities, and fun was definitely had by all.

Dinner was great and we all look forward to get back to work and be with the kids once again tomorrow!

Adios from Guatemala!

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

August 22: Our trip to Pacaya Volanco

This is Shannon, I am going to tell you about our trip to Pacaya Volanco.

After a long Van ride to this volcano we had a really long walk UP that was 2,255 meters. Two of us took the horses for an extremely enjoyable ride up (it was scary in parts for these two.) We won't tell you who they were. The walk UP was like hiking up Grouse Mountain X2 except with sharp lava rocks and on lava sand. Watching out for horse poo and trying not to get cuts all over ourselves (which didn't work so well because we got some anyways. Also it was really HOT at the top. After our long walk UP this volcano, we worked up a big appetite. We enjoyed our meal at a Thai Resturant called Cafe Flor with a live pianoist and singing in the background. It was amazing!

I hope you enjoy reading this.
Shannon Barker

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

August 21/22: The much anticipated soccer game.


Yet another beautiful day in sunny Antigua, Guatemala for the DWC contingent. The day started out as usual, at a fabulous little café named Fernando´s just a few steps from our accommodations. The coffee in Guatemala is absolutely amazing, I´m sure that there will be many pounds brought home.

The boys made a lot of headway at the school today, wrapping up the majority of the window installations, and the electrical work. The girls have nearly completed their painting of the new building at open windows, things are really coming along nicely.

We spent the early part of the afternoon playing games, singing songs, and doing crafts with the children at Open Windows; it sure is nice to give the kids a bit of structure, but still be able to make it fun for them. The Canada vs. Guatemala soccer game dominated the later afternoon´s activity, pitting the DWC volunteers against the finest young up and coming soccer players San Miguel Dueñas had to offer. Team Guatemala got an early 2 goal lead on team DWC; we kind of started out a bit slowly, but started to find our legs in the second half. Some late game heroics by "Coach" Golby and "Homer" Barata saw team DWC pull to within a goal of team Guatemala, but a botched penalty by "Clutch" Dufficy enabled the home team to come away with the victory. Fun was had by all involved, and a rematch is slated for next week!

Our evening was spent dining at a quaint little Italian restaurant near the main square, accompanied by our friend Andrew from Alabama. Andrew is here on a volunteer mission with the Open Windows Foundation, and will be celebrating his one month anniversary in a few days. Congratulations Andrew, good luck with the remaining 4 months of your stay!

Terry Chiasson

Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 19/20: Add some Spanish to your life!

Hola from San Miguel Dueñas!

It´s a beautiful día here, and much like yesterday alot is happening here in Guatemala.
The boys have been working really hard at one of the local public schools here in Dueñas. There´s already a recongnizable improvement of la escuela`s condition with much love and effort invested into a variety of labor intensive projects like cementing, electrical work, and the replacing of los ventanas. Windows that aren´t broken are in the process of being cleaned with windex and newspaper.

Here at Ventanj
as Abiertas las chicas have been continuing to paint the exterior of the foundation amarillo y blanco. We´ve been enoying singing songs from home (mostly Disney) while we paint both the walls and eachother. We´re also in the process of planning a group mural that we hope will bring furthur happiness into the lives of the amazing los niños we´ve met here.

In the tarde, we started our first session of structured activities. Us Canadians split into cuatro groups: singing, reading, physical education and soccer. Shawn, Shan, and I led the singing activities and taught the kids "head & shoulders, knees & toes" and el alphabeto song. They in turn taught us both these songs in Spanish.

Hope este blog gives you a glimpse into our lives here. It´s not alot like Canada, but sure has much to offer. Life here is simple and beautiful.

Mucho gracias to Jimmy for the picture, more may be posted in the blogs to come.

With a Guatemalan abrazo,

Salina Dharamsi
Developing World Connetions
Volunteer Participant

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August 18/19:Repairing, Reading and Readying ourselves for the soccer game

Hey everyone,
Jimmy here and I'd like to fire a few updates along your way.
Today was the first day that everyone started to get down to business in terms of our own work projects. What this consisted of included groups working on electrical repairs and replacements, a team working on fixing and replacing windows, and painting up the education centre. These projects kept us all quite occupied during the beginning of the day, while the afternoon consisted of reading, playing, and learning arts and crafts with the children. Salina and Alia also revealed our team's donations to the Open Windows Foundation today, and they were very delighted with all the items that were there. We also had some time to hone our soccer skills as a group, as the big soccer game is only two days away. We've been hyped up (mostly due to Tony's tall tales), but I'm confident that we're going to be representing Canada pretty well, especially with Coach Riley Golby on our squad.

Today our group spent our time exploring the local market places and seeing what local treasures we could acquire. There was such a wide variety of colourful vendor stalls, each full of coloured beads, textiles, clothing, and other baubles. For those people in the audience who love a good negotiation, you should definitely give the markets here a go.
Speaking about going, I think it's about time for me to head on out. We just had some dinner at this delightful Caribbean restaurant called Los Palmos, a definite recommendation for that place is the tropical chicken skewers. Well that's it for me, take care everyone!

Jimmy Yan

Developing World Connections Participant

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aug 16/17: We arrive!

Aug 16/17: We, the midnight flyers, have finally arrived in Antigua. Our "hotel" is small but beautiful. The view from the roof looks out over the rest of the city which is built in typical colonial style Spanish architecture. From the streets, the neighborhood looks poor due the cement walls which close in on the narrow cobble stone paths. On the inside however, there are beautiful courtyards that overflow with vegetation.

We visited the Open Windows Foundation and have prepared a work plan for the next few days. Meeting the kids was fun. Some of the 12-16 year olds wanted to challenge us to soccer. Our Team Leader, Tony Dufficy, in joking around told them that we are Canadian champs and now they are intimidated to play us. The younger ones really enjoy watching us play guitar and reading with us.

After the all night flying yesterday, we are all still very tired, the bed will feel amazing tonight...

Developing World Connections
Volunteer Participant
Shawn Crockett

AUGUST 2009: Mixed Group of Students travel for 2 weeks to San Miguel Duenas

The group left on Saturday, August 15 with promises to blog while they are working on a project with Host Partner - Open Windows Foundation.

Keep visiting to follow their time and work on the project.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In closing…

Of all the things I could say about our trip and my experience, it was that it was one of the best times of my life. It was the most empowering, rewarding, eye-opening and exciting experience. And, I wish everyone could take the time to step out of their normal life for awhile to do something similar.

In closing to all of these blogs, I thought I would simply share some words that were given to me in Guatemala…

“Service is the rent we pay for life.”

Having done some, I now truly believe in it. And, I truly believe that giving to others is a guaranteed way of finding happiness, love, fulfillment and peace in life. To those of you who are considering it, I hope you have an amazing time as well.

Be well,


Across Guatemala and Back…

During our one week of travelling around Guatemala, I felt like I watched the whole world whiz by my bus window. As I’ve mentioned in other blog entries, I love car rides. I just love watching. I love the moments when you catch a kid laughing on the side of the street, or a couple embracing, or the beautiful views that suddenly appear when you turn a corner. I loved being stuck in traffic, but not the 401-kind of traffic in Toronto…I’m talking about hundreds of cows being herded down the street and just not being able to go anywhere until they’ve crossed.

Despite sometimes being too hot and a little bit claustrophobic, I loved seeing Guatemala the way we did. We covered so much distance in so little time, yet I still feel like I truly saw as much as possible. I even felt that because we saw so much, and we were in such diverse places that it was like being in multiple countries. After a month of living in Antigua, which by the way I am convinced has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it was exciting to get into the bus every morning and drive to a new and unknown area of Guatemala.

It felt like one minute I was driving in the highlands and winding through beautiful mountains, and then the next I was in the jungle ziplining and visiting Mayan ruins… only to end up suddenly back on the coast, enjoying the beach and the sound of salsa music drifting through the air.

I swam in limestone pools and tanned on the rocks like the hundreds of lizards in the jungle. I spent a beautiful and lazy afternoon tubing down a river with girls on my team who became the closest of friends. I met amazing backpackers at a great hotel in Coban called El Retiro. I saw monkeys. I stood at the very top of a Mayan Temple and felt like I was on top of the world, in every sense. I found a little known waterfall and jumped off with almost no hesitation, almost.

I could go on forever about the last week, but I think you get the point. I did so much in such a short period of time I left Guatemala with the feeling that I could do anything. And, I think I probably will.

Hasta Luego,


The Last Day of Work!

Our last day was the perfect end to our month of volunteering. In the morning, Teresa and the Board of Directors hosted an inauguration for the building that the previous Developing World Connections trip built, which we were able to finish painting and use for our programming. I was almost brought to tears with pride and joy when Teresa handed me a pair of scissors and we cut the ribbon together to officially “open” that part of the library. To be part of something like this truly touches your heart every day and on our last day I know we all felt overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions. It was also an amazing morning because we were also able to be part of the graduation ceremony that Open Windows had for the computer class students. After interacting with some of these kids for a month, it nice to be able to acknowledge how hard they have worked and how much credit they deserve for being such good students in the face of many obstacles.

Then, of course, in the afternoon we threw a party! Teresa told us one night at home that her dream was to buy 100 kids McDonald’s and that if she had the money to do it she would. When she said that, we all looked at each other and immediately said we would do it. It may sound unimportant, but I share in her way of thinking and understood immediately why she would want to do so. I remember being very little and having my Dad take me to McDonald’s to get an ice cream cone after scoring my first soccer goal of the season. Or, coming home for lunch in grade one and my Mom surprising me with a happy meal. Yes, I know it isn’t the healthiest option and there is a lot to say about the corporation, but the joy that it brought to the kids… well let’s just say it was more than worth it when we did it. It may have been my favourite part of the trip actually.

I was surprised when we handed out the burgers because a lot of the kids looked so excited and so thrilled, yet they wouldn’t dare open it up or take a bite. I asked Teresa what was wrong and she said that the kids were saving it because they wanted to share it with their whole family, or their brothers, or their friends, or anyone special to them. Hearing that was heartbreaking and a huge learning moment for me. Would I have done the same as a child? Many of these kids had never had a burger before, let alone McDonald’s. There certainly isn’t one in their small town, and even if there was, they probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.

All in all, I’m just thrilled that something so simple and affordable to us was so exciting for these kids and that we had the opportunity to share in one of Teresa’s well founded dreams.

Hasta Luego,


The Last Week of Work!

Our time in Antigua just flew by. I don’t think any of us can believe that we have completed our work here and are packing up to tour around the country for one more week. It’s an exciting feeling to be done, but at the same time I don’t think I’m ready to part with this place or the people. Somehow, I feel like Open Windows has become sort of like a family for me in Guatemala, and it will seem odd when our bus driver doesn’t pick us up for work in the morning or my few favourite kids at the library don’t ask me how I am doing or when we are going to go play soccer.

In the end, I’m proud to say that our project was a success. After weeks of painting, cleaning, helping to build and teaching, I can say that every one of us poured our heart into the experience because of the thought of making the lives of those kids better.

The library looks amazing after we attacked every wall we could find with paint. When you come down the street, you can’t help but notice the library first now after we painted it the happiest and brightest yellow you can find. I swear, I may go crazy if I’m in another yellow room though (it was the colour Teresa wanted for almost all of the library). Anyway, I’m happy that the kids have a bright, clean and safe place to learn and play.

I know that the kids were sad to see us leave and not have us around for soccer practice, music lessons and all of the other activities we participated in, but my hope is that our efforts were sustainable. I hope that the older students and even some future volunteers will be able to pick up where we left off and keep these kids active and having fun.

Hasta Luego,


Roasting Marshmallows on a Volcano

So, this has officially been an exciting and unpredictable trip. To date, there have been three earthquakes since I’ve been here (which is a weekly thing in Guatemala) and this past weekend we successfully climbed Pacaya volcano. I won’t lie, during that intense 2 hour hike I just kept thinking over and over again that we actually better be able to see real lava. I mean the oozing, red lava that you can imagine gushing over the side of a volcano, and especially because Mary packed a big bag of marshmallows to roast up at the top. Well, we did see lava, and it was completely worth the effort. The marshmallow was absolutely delicious and hilarious at the time. This past weekend would have been May 24 weekend at home, so as I took fun pictures with Joelle and our mallows, I thought of all my friends gathered around a campfire at a cottage doing the same thing. I think it’s fair to say that my experience was a little more unique. One for the memories, that’s for sure. The only bad part, it was actually so hot that my new running shoes melted while we were up there! I guess picturing that can give you a great idea of just how hot it was.

After that we headed on to the black sand beach at Monterrico and stayed at the best little spot, Café de Sol. It was like having our own private hotel and beach to lounge at for the weekend. After a week of hard work and more physical labour at Open Windows, it felt amazing to jump into a pool and just relax.

I think my team could agree that so far this trip has been the perfect amount of work and play.

Hasta Luego,


Monday, June 1, 2009

My Soundtrack to Guatemala.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. When I gave my team five questions to answer on the day that we arrived to help them reflect on who they are and what they find important in and essential to their life, my answer to the question, “what is one thing that you packed that you think you can’t live without” was iPod. If you ever catch me on the street in Toronto I definitely have my iPod on. Same thing when I am working out at the gym, grocery shopping or reading at a coffee shop. I have songs that remind me of certain days in my life, of friends, of family and especially of my best travel memories. The word memories doesn’t even really describe it though. It’s more like moments.

We went to Lake Atitlan this weekend and after a long and amazing bus ride winding through the mountains and volcanoes, I turned to Lisa and said, “Have you ever had one of those moments that are just perfect, and then the perfect song comes on your iPod at the same time too and it is just that much better.” She burst into a big smile and said “Yes! I love that!” Lisa and I went to high school together and have been close for years now, so I actually knew that she would get exactly what I meant.

We spent hours driving around the Guatemalan highlands this weekend and I love every minute of it. I’m also a huge car-ride-loving person. So, I thought maybe it would be fun to share my soundtrack, instead of just writing about my experience. Each one has atleast one line that I love. And, some I just love… because they came on at the right time, when I was in the right place..

‘Better People’ – Xavier Rudd

“Giving food to the hungry or to the needy, giving life to a baby, giving care for free. There is freedom around us. We have everything we need, and I will care for you because you’ll care for me… There’s good people around with more good to do…”

‘Ain’t No Reason’ – Brett Denen

“Keep on building prisons, going fill them all. Keep on building bombs, going drop them all.”

‘All About You’ - Classified

“Life… its all about you. So, every morning when you wake, before the first step that you take just thinks its all what you make it and you’ll make it through. ...life is all about the things you’ll never figure out… it’s all about the people you allow and the memories you keep.”

‘Running’ – Danny Michel

“Run. I’m running all the time. I’m running to the future… with you right by my side.”

‘Chocolate’ – Snow patrol

“This could be the very minute I’m aware I’m alive. All these places feel like home”

‘360’ – Asa
(the song I do yoga to on the roof… when the sunsets over the volcanoes)

“All you are looking for is with you. Open your eyes. Soften your mind, ears and mouth…as I song my song… as you hear my words. ”

And, ‘Square One’ – Coldplay

“My song is love…”

Love from Guatemala,


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Best Things About Guatemala…

Here is our list of the best things about Guatemala.
By Joelle Tomlinson and Heather Farragher

15. Teresa (Open Windows - Project host)
14. Getting high fives from kids
13. Being disconnected from the technology that fills our life at home – constant text messages and blackberries
12. Being free from the distractions of home
11. Getting to play soccer anytime and anywhere with tons of kids
10. Living between two active volcanoes
9. Guatemalan people being so friendly that you absolutely cannot walk past someone without them saying
“Buenos dias!”
8. Guatemalan breakfast - eggs with tomato sauce, quesadillas and black beans
7. Learning Spanish
6. Seeing how happy children are to have the simplest things
5. Hot weather and plenty of sunshine
4. The juiciest fruit you can ever eat
3. Salsa dancing
2. Cold cervezas after a long hard day of work
1. Meeting new people

The few challenges we’ve dealt with in Guatemala…

1. Not being able to speak Spanish
2. Cultural differences
3. Sticking out like a sore thumb in a crowd
4. Brutal cell phone reception so you can never call home
5. Handwashing your clothes (takes forever)
6. Dealing with drastic and constant changes in the weather
7. Killing huge bugs in your bedroom before you go to sleep
8. Team members dealing with that special kind of travel sickness
9. Getting bus drivers to let us off at the right stop
10. Sunburns

May 17: Teaching English, playing Soccer: these activites are beneficial too!

When we arrived here Teresa had originally wanted us to focus on fixing up the centre or teaching English. The first part has been no problem and we are actually running out of paint before they can get it to us. The second part you would think would also be no problem. But, when the kids know nothing but the numbers 1-10 and their colours, and we are all deers caught in headlights, mumbling phrases that we learned in class… lets just say it doesn’t work. So, we’ve all come up with a different plan and today finally put it into full swing. We are such a diverse team with different areas of expertise and interest, so we decided to just roll with it and see what activities we could pull off with the kids.

I worked with three of the girls on the team to come up with some plans for soccer practices and a schedule for the local kids to play organized games. If you know me, that shouldn’t be at all surprising! Last week we played two pick up games of soccer and they ran the pants off us, but we held our own. We decided it needed to be more organized though because we only had one girl out to play and we clearly want more! I brought old jerseys and balls that my team at home donated to the cause and it was great to see the kids enjoy more resources like this.

Dave taught some of the kids how to play the guitar and some caught on so fast it was great. One even managed to learn enough to teach me a few things, although he was better than me. And, the rest of the team worked on arts and crafts with the kids and taught them how to knit wash cloths. Although these activities may not seem as important as building houses, libraries or wells, it was amazing for the kids. I came home with a huge smile on my face because of it all. I think my team is slowly starting to understand that all the activities, conversations and teaching opportunities that they are creating and leading are so beneficial to these kids and this small community too. It’s easy for us to take for granted the years of our childhood when we were able to go to soccer practices or after school piano lessons. There are no girl guides or boy scouts here, and from conversations with Teresa about the way people spend time here, it seems that many kids don’t have the same opportunities for interaction. Sure, a lot of the boys play soccer, but they don’t have their parents on the sidelines cheering. So, tomorrow we are going to be their fans and I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Hasta luego!

May 17: Learning Spanish

One week down – four to go!

I had my first “Spanish” conversation today! It may not seem like a huge deal, especially considering the fact that it was with a 9 year old boy, but for me it was a breakthrough. It was as basic as basic gets, but it was something and it made both of us smile. It even ended with a high five! Good sign right?

After a week of being here, I can say that language is the biggest challenge that I’m dealing with. Very few people I meet speak English here, and I’m definitely not fluent in Spanish. My team really isn’t any better either actually. Out of the nine of us, one speaks Spanish fluently and I think we are overwhelming her already by asking how to say things and asking her what words mean every five seconds. That being said, it hasn’t been impossible though. Actually, I couldn’t be more impressed and proud of my team so far. I knew that I was taking on a huge challenge by leading a development project here while I don’t speak Spanish, but everyday I’m more and more confident that we will find a way and that we will all pick up the basics by the end.

I knew from the first day of work that my team was hard working. I’m sure you would agree if you saw us sitting at the dinner table every night plowing through our meal, with dirt smeared on our faces and paint all over our clothes, just absolutely exhausted. Today I realized though that they are even more courageous and amazing for coming to do work here knowing that they would deal with a language barrier. It’s been hard, but they have already put themselves out there and are figuring out how to communicate. A few of them also had their own breakthroughs in our morning Spanish class. Some don’t know that I heard or saw, but I caught them stumbling through conversations and actually successfully getting their point across to the kids one way or another. Somehow you aren’t as intimidated to try to talk to a nine year old and make mistakes in every sentence, or to make ridiculous gestures and try to speak with half words and half charades. Maybe by the end of week two I’ll even manage to speak to an adult in full sentences!

Hasta luego!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Arrival in Guatemala: The wonder of it all.

Buenos Dias!

Finally! After months of preparation and anticipation we have arrived in Guatemala. The beauty of the country and the people left me speechless when we first arrived two days ago, so I am only getting to my first entry now. Now that I sit down and try to find the right words, I realize that it is much more difficult than I had anticipated to blog. How do I put into words what I feel, what I see and speak of my team so that you, wherever you are, can get a true taste of Guatemala? I hope that the pictures speak for themselves in many cases and that I can bring Guatemala alive in your imagination.

I suppose the best way to explain the past 48 hours is to say that I can’t close my eyes. I’m on sensory overload. I am constantly watching, listening, feeling, smelling and tasting new things. I love it. There is nothing that I would rather be doing right now. There is nothing like the feelings you experience when you are travelling. I’m especially thrilled to be here as I just graduated from Ryerson University and to be having a “grad trip” like this. In fact, I can’t imagine being in Toronto right now and working a “regular” job. I feel like this trip found me at the perfect time, that I found the best team, an amazing host (Open Windows Foundation) and the most gorgeous country.

First of all, I should tell you why we are here. My team is here to work with Open Windows Foundation, to experience and live life in a different culture, and begin to learn Spanish. Open Windows Foundation started out as the only library in San Miguel Duenas and has now grown to be a library, school, computer lab and community centre all in one. As illiteracy is such a large problem in Guatemala, it is clear that OW is absolutely essential to improving the well being of the children and families in the community. The opportunities that OW offers are priceless.

We have been so excited and inspired by the work that OW does, that we also haven’t wasted any time in getting to work. As you can see in the pictures, we’ve started painting the second floor of OW, which is the new edition that the previous Developing World Connections team built in November. Already we can see the difference that a bright yellow can of paint can do for the atmosphere and how excited the kids get when they see that their “biblioteca” is improving. We’ve also helped to plan and prepare for the Mother’s Day celebration that OW is hosting this week for all of the local mothers. In addition to improving OW physically, it has been amazing to be connected to and welcomed by the community already. We have a busy schedule lined up that includes playing soccer with the local kids, taking Spanish lessons, plastering and repairing the walls at OW, painting and teaching English. In addition to our “team” activities, members of my group have also decided to take on individual projects and initiatives. For example, two of my team members who are studying Journalism and Radio and Television Arts are making a documentary and a team member who studies nursing has been presented with the opportunity to shadow a local nurse. I’m sure that they will give me tons of exciting and interesting things to write about next time and maybe even post some entries themselves.

Hasta Luego!