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