Monday, June 28, 2010

June 2010: Paint, Pinata, Flores and Tikal.

Hola all! It is hard to believe we are in our last week of volunteering. As expected, the time has flown by and everyone is eager to accomplish a lot before our time is up on Friday. Last we left off, the girls were busy painting the laminate to be used to replace the roof on the schools. Despite the overdose of paint fumes, we were very happy to be contributing to the functionality of the institution where we bonded with many of the eager pupils in attendance. The boys have also been very hard at work completing repairs on a local home. The reaction of the owners was reportedly one of tearful gratitude, which is just what volunteers like to see! We also celebrated Chloe´s birthday last week with a piñata and a failed attempt to bake a cake when a box of icing was confused for cake mix.

Over the past weekend, our group suffered through a rather long and arduous overnight bus trip to the island city of Flores. The trek proved well worth it as we enjoyed an exploratory weekend in the Peten region. The humidity was absolutely palpable and the sweat was pouring as we all explored the small island on Saturday.

On Sunday our group headed into the jungle to explore the historical site of Tikal. Many dub this a cultural highlight of the trip; the spectacular beauty and feats of architecture displayed throughout the ancient Mayan city was fascinating, but unfortunately our many photographs fail to do the temples justice.

As we begin our last week in Duenas, the rain is hindering some of our progress painting at the school, but the boys are busy replacing the new laminate on the roof. We also anticipate another chance to hang out with the children at Open Windows, and maybe another soccer game! I think I speak for the entire group when I say we are all sad to be leaving so soon.

Hasta Luego,
Katie Klein
DWC Student Volunteer
June 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 2010: Volunteering and "Bro-mance'.

One more week down! We last left off fresh from our weekend trip to Lake Atitlan and since then we have accomplished a lot. Working in Duenas for week number 2 we were fortunate enough to visit the local elementary school to work with the children. Thus far one of my personal favorites; it was unreal witnessing all my friends surrounded by masses of little kids trying to get our undivided attention. Fortunately for me I was put in a class with six year olds right where I belong…in terms of Spanish. I ended up having a classmate grill me on the number system; apparently 4th year finance classes are WAY easier than pronouncing 56 in Espanol.

The boys have been busy being “men”. Doing hard labor such as digging trenches, pulling entire trees out of rivers, making concrete and helping rebuild a house, our boys have developed what they coined the “Bromance”. Although they won’t enjoy me publicizing this to the world, I most definitely witnessed these 5 boys squeeze into a four person (what looked like 3 person) solar hot tub of what I deemed filth.

At the end of the week we began painting panels of a new roof for the local school. Painting will prevent the roof from rusting and hopefully this will mean a long term solution to their current leaky situation. Thursday was Steph’s birthday so we ventured into Antigua and took a salsa dancing lesson. We learned the mambo and rumba steps, worked up quite the sweat, and hopefully upon our arrival in Calgary will not look like the dancing robots we did that first night! Until next time…

Ann Thorlacius
DWC Student Volunteer
June 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 2010: A Volunteer's Perspective

The last few days of our first work week were spent clearing a river with some locals and creating effective solutions that would remove the debris, and not simply create more blockages further downstream. We also had our first opportunity to spend time with the children who go to Open Windows. Most of us got the children to read to us, but there were plenty of other activities as well ranging from soccer to knitting.

Our group was fortunate enough to be able to travel Guatemala a bit over the weekend. We visited San Pedro De Laguna which is located on Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist attraction in Guatemala. The town was small and quaint with spectacular surroundings! We weren’t able to climb the volcano but we got to hike the India Nose Mountain which is adjacent to it. What a workout! The intense two hour hike was well worth the spectacular view once you reached the top. On our way home we were able to stop at Central America’s largest native outdoor market, located in Chichicastenango. The market was enormous and almost all of us were able to get some great souvenirs and try some local food.

It was quite an eventful weekend but we all came back to Antigua refreshed and ready to work. We started out our second week working in local schools and help the children in classrooms. It was almost as tiring running after kids for a morning as it was shoveling gravel in the afternoon! Each day we learn something new and try our best to help where ever we can. We’re all excited to see where the next few weeks take us!


Rosie Singh
DWC Volunteer
Guatemala 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 2010: Student Team

Hola from Guatemala…

Our journey to Guatemala, along with our time in-country thus far, has slightly deviated from our initial expectations on several levels. The eruption of the Pacaya volcano in combination with the devastating affects of Tropical Storm Agatha told us that good ol’ mother nature had slightly different ideas for the people of Guatemela, and accordingly for our group of volunteers. Both natural disasters, occurring within the week before our scheduled departure, caused an extended airport closure and a three day delay of our flight (not to mention slightly increased levels of nerves amongst our group!) Despite these curve balls, after three extremely long days of waiting in Calgary and checking the news compulsively, we made it to Guatemala.

Upon arrival at Teresa’s beautiful colonial style house, our home for the coming weeks, it is fair to say that any existing nerves were immediately washed away. The next couple days of exploring Antigua reaffirmed everyone’s hopes that Guatemala would be nothing short of amazing. Teresa informed us all that our plans for work had been changed quite significantly. The town we were to be working in, San Miguel Dueñas, was in fact hit hard by the storm, and we would be cleaning up the damage and repairing many homes. Fourteen eager and energetic bodies were going to be of much more use than we had initially anticipated.

We began our work on Monday in an area outside Dueñas that had been severely affected by the storm. While making our way through the streets the extent of the damage became highly apparent, giving everyone a strong sense of urgency to begin repairs. One family’s home had been blocked with a large build up of mud, making access extremely difficult. Our group began by digging up the mud and transporting it out of the area, and covering the damaged areas with stronger dirt to prevent similar problems from occurring again. Since then we have continued working on similar mini projects – transporting mud, removing blockages from streams, and brainstorming preventative ideas in case the rain returns. Luckily we have managed to squeeze in several hours to play soccer with some locals, which really would be more accurately described as getting completely schooled by the kids of Dueñas. However, when the backdrop of your soccer field involves lush green mountains and a towering volcano, one really cannot complain ;)

Our first few days of volunteering in Guatemala have been eye-opening, exciting and highly eventful. I think I speak for the whole group in saying that we cannot wait to see what the next several weeks will bring! Adios for now…

Carla Bitz
DWC Student Team Leader

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 2010 Student Team: Participant Perspective

A week ago today we broke ground on a new home in San Miguel Duenas. It is currently only a few rows of cinder block, a cement floor, and a sheet metal roof away from completion. By Thursday it should be ready for its family...and you thought your contractor was on the level when he told you your deck would take three weeks. Then again, he probably didn’t have the assistance of nine enthusiastic young DWC volunteers and an expert Guatemalan home-builder named Carlos—who we’ve collectively decided to rename “C-money”, because his measurements are always right on it (the money that is).

Panajachel was our destination for the weekend. We descended into this lakeside town on the slightly treacherous cliff-side road late Saturday morning. Despite the overcast skies; the view of the lake from the windows of our van made Carly’s reasons for booking the excursion obvious. We caught some poolside rays when the clouds permitted, walked up and down the main street to haggle over bracelets or hats or hacky-sacks, and got to know each other a little too well over several boxes of fine wine. The next morning the clouds parted sufficient to gift my legs with a bright red sunburn that one Antigua pharmacist would later describe as “quite severe”...all in all a fantastic weekend.

As I write this I am back in Teresa’s house enjoying some fresh air from the open courtyard behind me. Tomorrow she is taking us to a waterfall in Duenes. Although the morning off work is more than welcomed, we are all looking forward to getting back to the building site in the afternoon to finish off the house we’ve all worked so hard to build. My lower back may be a little sore from mixing cement, my legs may be a lot red from sun exposure, and my eyelids may be pretty heavy from early mornings; but I am pretty sure this has been one of the most impactful weeks of my life, both for myself and the people we are helping. And I am very sure that I have never deserved the icy cold cerveza that sits next to my laptop more than I do right now. If that doesn’t sum up the week, I’m not sure what does.

Rory MacDonald
DWC Participant
Guatemala, May 2010.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 2010 Student Group: Participant Perspective


Today was a beautiful day! In the morning five of us went to a local school to hand out pencils to all the students while the other four went to work on the house. It was really surprising to see how excited they were to receive just a pencil.

After lunch we all went to work on the house. The boys were responsible for transporting all of the cinder blocks from the street to the house. And the girls were responsible for chiseling holes into the cinder blocks so that they could fit onto the rods that will form the structure of the house. We managed to complete eleven today but we need to finish ninety. As we were leaving the site today the mason asked us, in Spanish, how many we had finished. Thankfully, Carly was able to respond back in Spanish and he replied back saying, “Tomorrow,” while smiling and shrugging his shoulders.

The children that live next to the house we are building are starting to get used to us being there every day. We played catch with unripe oranges that fell from their tree and let them pretend play construction. There are a total a five children and they are all very sweet.

For dinner we had spaghetti and everyone’s plates were licked clean because it was so delicious. We’ve all been working very hard and enjoy coming back to Teresa’s to hang out and have a nice meal. Bye for now!


Daniella Quagliara
DWC Participant
Guatemala May 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 2010 Student Experience: Guatemala

Hola from Guatemala! Our group of nine just completed our second day of work at the Open Windows Foundation, and we’re having an amazing time. It’s sunny and hot and everyone in San Miguel Duenas is so friendly. We’ve been working hard the past two days on a few projects.

For the next three weeks we are building a house for a local woman and her children. We are also constructing an eco-friendly fence around the house, made with plastic water bottles stuffed with compact garbage. We have been busy preparing the bottles and digging trenches for the foundation. We also planted a rose garden and played ping-pong with local kids at the library.

We are staying with Teresa, the woman who runs Open Windows Foundation, in her beautiful house just outside of Antigua. Teresa’s sister brings us all our meals every day from her restaurant and everything has been delicious. It’s awesome working hard all day for a good cause, and being able to come home to a safe place, hang out on Teresa’s roof, and enjoy the views of volcanoes that surround Antigua. Hasta luego, more to come from other members in our group!

Carly Smith

DWC Student Team Leader

Guatemala 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

March 19th- 26th: Balmoral Hall students are home.

The last leg of the journey was the hardest…the 5 am wake up call at the hotel in Toronto so we could obtain our boarding passes, hit Tim Hortons and catch our 8 am flight to Winnipeg. Everything went so smooth, although the wake up call was followed by some insistent knocking at a few of the hotel room doors.

As with the rest of the trip, this leg of the journey was flawless and our students were excited, yet sad to be returning home. I think the smiles on the faces of the parents waiting at the bottom of the escalator was a fitting end to an amazing journey!

Mr. Williams and I were honored to chaperon this amazing journey with the greatest group of BH students! As we move on and have only memories, I know that I have just shared an amazing experience with each of my students and I will hold each of these memories close to my heart.

To each of my students….thanks for the journey….thanks for caring and taking the time to show that your few minutes can make a difference to someone else in the world. I am so very proud of each and every one of you!

To the parents….because of you, each of your daughter’s have just had an experience that really can’t be put into words but will be a little piece of who they will become.

Goodbye Guatemala and as the moms in the hills around Duenas said, “You are all angels!”

Lois McGill-Horn

Teacher and Developing World Connections Participant

March 19-26: Day 9: Balmoral Hall students heading home.

Today is a day of mixed emotions…excitement about traveling home but also sadness about leaving this new community we have called home for the last week. The day started just like the others…with cafe con lache, a greeting from Mischa, the cat and the arrival of our two bus drivers. After challenging the drivers to load our luggage for our hour long trip to the airport, we were off for our last ride from Antigua to Guatemala city, through the winding turns and heavy traffic.

After a 9 days of eating Guatemalan food many of the girls hit McDonald’s at the airport for their fill of burgers and fries and with some familiarity with home. It wasn’t long until our boarding call and the first leg of our journey home with a quick flight to San Salvador. The plane sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes which had me worried as the connecting flight was already on a tight schedule. Arriving in San Salvador, we walked into the terminal from one side and immediately entered the next plane on the other side and were headed for Toronto. Flights home always seem so much longer but we arrived on time in Toronto at approximately 10 pm. Customs went smoothly and we caught our shuttle to the hotel for our final night away from home. Although late (midnight) pizza and Chinese food were ordered in as we hadn’t eaten in some time. We loved the size of the room and the amount of hot water and water pressure in the showers. What Mr. Williams and I thought might be a late night wasn’t as many were exhausted.

Off to bed!

Lois McGill-Horn
Developing World Connections Participant

March 19 - 26th - Day 8: Last Day in Antigua

Well our last day in Antigua…it started just like any other…knocking on Mr. William’s and each of the girl’s doors at 7 am and while the girls showered and dressed, Mr. Williams, Julie and I headed next door for our hour of cafe con lache.

A quick trip to the market to pick up the last few items followed breakfast and then off to Open Windows for our last day. We had some last minute donations to sort and some groceries to purchase before lunch. The groceries and a few candies were sorted into four boxes for families we would soon be meeting. After a quick (and delicious) but tiny lunch we left to deliver the boxes to families who lived on the hillside around Duenas. The walk was steep and most of the dwellings we passed were tin walled with sometimes plastic for a roof covering and dirt floors. Teresa accompanied us and after a brief conversation with a woman surrounded by four children, we were invited in to her small yard. This house is along the path that leads up the hill and during the rainy season, the water runs down the hill into their house, often soaking all their belongings. (Teresa and the Opén Windows Foundation are collecting plastic water bottles which will be filled with trash and used to create a retaining wall to help slow the erosion along these steep banks. ) Once the girls had a quick visit inside her house, we left a box of groceries and continued our climb. Soon we came to another yard with a couple of tin dwellings, again with dirt floors. This yard is home to 3 families with a total of 15 children ranging in age from a month old to 14 years. We stopped for a quick visit and left the remaining three boxes of groceries. The mom at this house spoke in spanish and when interpreted said that she is so grateful for people like us who are willing to help and that the students were angels sent to help. When talking with the girls later, this visit had a huge impact on them.

Once back at the center, we spent the next hour in the library reading with the children who attend the center in the afternoon. (approximately 60 children) Activity time follows reading time and today was our last chance to organize the daily activity. Our girls have done a fantastic job all week of organizing fun and new activities for the children and I think today, the hugs received at the end of the activity time was reward enough for our students. While activity time was on, a few of us spent the last remaining time sorting our donations and boxing and labelling them for ease of distribution. Not only does Open Windows distribute supplies to the community and surrounding schools, but they also create 150 gift bags for Mother’s Day gifts and 500 Christmas gifts for children in the area.

By 5:00, the day had finally come to an end and we had to leave the centre for our last time. We were invited to the home of a retired couple from the US, who sit on the board of Open Windows. We met many of the board members and had a wonderful bbq with Teresa, Julie, and the staff of Open Windows.

We arrived late back at the hotel, but Mr. Williams, Julie and I had arranged for dessert night at the restaurant next door this morning before we left, so those who wanted were treated to “raw apple pie” and terra mazu.

Last minute packing is still to be done tonight and we should be travelling much lighter than when we arrived…although we have some shoppers in the crowd!

Off now to pack and up again in the morning for our usual routine and last cafe con lache!

Lois McGill-Horn
Developing World Connections Participant

March 19th- 26th: Reflections

“Take a step back and it won´t hit you in the face”. (anonymous BH student)

Last night after we returned from dinner, we went to the rooftop to reflect on the day. Each of the girls spoke about their experience so far and the quote above was so fitting. Although this student was talking about how she adapted to the crazy shower head in her room, she brought the discussion full circle and related it to how she felt about what she had seen so far. She talked about how things really aren´t so different and how people really are alike regardless of where they are from and if you just take a step back, it is so much easier to see. Mr. Williams and I love this metaphor!

Day 7 -It was amazing how easy it was to get everyone up this morning and to breakfast on time when shopping was first thing on the agenda. Even those who hadn’t been feeling well over the past few days pepped up with the thoughts of shopping. After a quick exchange of money we went to an outdoor market where the girls tried out their best bartering techniques and by the amount of bags accumulated after a couple of hours, I’d say they were successful. I hear that we may be returning in the morning to pick up a few last minute items.

Around noon we left the market and ventured out in tuk-tuks, three wheeled taxis for a short ride to Teresa´s (director/founder of Open Windows)house, where we had been invited for lunch. We felt like we were in the Amazing Race reality show as we raced down the street one after each other in 6 tuk-tuks. We arrived at a typical doorway, much like any other in Antigua, but once through the door, we found the most beautiful house filled with magnificent archways, gardens and artwork. The girls enjoyed homecooked lasagna and were invited to relax until the buses arrived to take us to the centre for the afternoon.

We weren´t at the centre long before we were lacing up the runners in preparation for the “soccer match”. A short walk brought us to a soccer field where we began a quick warm up…only because we thought we should…not because we thought it would help! I know BH is known for some of its sports teams, but I´m afraid the BH Guatemalan soccer representatives won´t go down in history for their incredible game. A great effort ended and we distributed candy to all the children who played against us and all the children who were watching.

We are now back at the centre after another great dinner at the local Mexican/Guatemalan restaurant just down the street. They are thrilled to have our business and have gone out of their way to make sure we have a great experience and pass on the word to upcoming groups.

The local teens are just arriving for teen drop in night and word on the street is that more are coming to participate tonight after hearing about all the fun had on Tuesday night with the students from Canada. I think tonight´s activities consist of games, some Salsa dancing and maybe a few rounds of Sing Star!

We´ve all made comments today about the fact that tomorrow is our last day at the centre and our last chance to interact with the children, and how sad that is as the local children are really just getting to know us.

Another busy day is planned for tomorrow….off now to see how Teen night is going.

Lois McGill-Horn
Developing World Connections Participant

March 19 - 26th: Day 6 for Balmoral Hall Students

I´ve decided to blog today before leaving the school so I can use a keyboard that actually works and so I don´t have to fight for time on the only computer at the hotel!

After our long day yesterday, we slept in this morning and started our day at 9 again today. Our morning consisted of completing all the jobs that we started yesterday so when we leave today, all is done. The front of the center has a fresh new look with bright yellow paint and all the desks have been repaired and re-painted. We are hoping on Thursday that we can personally take the desks to the school that they are being given to so we can see who will benefit from our work.

Right now all the girls are involved in two craft activities and one music activity in a new room that was just completed with donations such as ours. The students from the center have been divided into three groups and are rotating through each of the stations. The two craft activities are going great and our girls that are running the music center have learned that they never want to be music teachers. They are trying to communicate with 15 students and a language barrier how to play Hot Cross Buns on the recorders! As I sit in the next room, the sound at times is recognizable….only one more group to go.

Tomorrow is our shopping day so you can only imagine how excited the girls are. Because we are staying late tomorrow night again, we are taking the morning off to do some shopping at the market. Teresa the director of Open Windows is hosting us for lunch at her house and then we will be back here at the center. We have been challenged to a soccer game tomorrow afternoon, so I´ll blog tomorrow and let you know how we make out. From what I hear, I think we are in trouble!

The girls are doing great and working hard. Teresa, the director is impressed with the work ethic and dedication of our students and that of course makes Mr. Williams and I feel great as well.

I´m heading off to catch the last round of Hot Cross Buns! And yes…I have found the ‘ on this keyboard.

Lois McGill-Horn


Developing World Connections Participant

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 19-26th: Posts from the Balmoral Hall Group.

If you educate a girl, you educate a family…if you educate a boy, you educate a boy – a quote that had a huge impact on all of us today!

All of the girls concerns that the food was going to be awful turned out to be for not as we have had the most incredible meals at every place we have eaten. Even the meal prepared for us by the local women in Duenas met with the approval of all the students.

Our hotel is great and very comfortable and the couple who own it also own the restaurant next door where we eat breakfast and they also help to arrange all of our cultural tours. They hold a trivial pursuit tournament on certain nights and we have been challenged to a game.

We spent our first day in Duenas today and after a quick tour of Open Windows, we spent the next couple of hours walking through the village. Teresa, the founder of Open Windows accompanied us and as a respected member of the community, we were well received everywhere we went. We were taken to a small yard where a family of five sleeps in a room the size of a large closet and cooks in an outdoor kitchen about the same size. Three families share this small yard and kitchen.

Next we visited a “finca family”, a compound that is provided to the families of the coffee plantation workers. The size of the compound would be about half the size of the our school's gym and during the busy season, 500 people share this yard. I think this was one of the most influential moments of the day today.

The remainder of the first day was spent at Open Windows where the girls read mostly in Spanish to the children. It was interesting watching the interaction between two groups of people who couldn´t communicate but in the end read over 25 books with each other. The children loved teaching our girls some Spanish words and by the end of the day a real bond had been created.

After a very nice meal in the town center, we returned to the hotel and spent some time on the rooftop looking at the lights of Antigua. Each of group shared their favorite moment from the day and as Mr Williams and I had hoped, each of the girls understands why they are here and why what they are doing is so important.

Today was a working day with some girls rebuilding desks, some painting the new desks, some painting the outside of the building and a few preparing craft activities for the afternoon session with the children. The desks are actually not for Open Windows, but are being donated, once repaired to a government school which is badly in need of equipment and supplies. (word was out about the excellent painting and a school from another town called to see if we would come and paint their building as well…we sadly had to decline)

The afternoon was whirlwind of activities with the children that including reading time, craft time and play time. The girls did a great job of working with the local children!

I spent some time in the computer lab on Friday watching a computer lesson and realized that they had a shortage of software and lesson ideas. I spoke with the director of Open Windows and offered to help with some ICT training for the teachers and she loved the ideas. Mr Williams and I spent the better part of the afternoon updating software and downloading some free online programs that will allow the children to work collaboratively and creatively.

Just recently, Open Windows started a teen drop in program that runs a few times a week and we decided it would be great to stay and help out with this program. The older children attend school from 1 pm until 6 pm and after a quick dinner, they have the opportunity to attend the teen drop in program. This program is in place to give the children an alternative to crime or gang participation. Although the attendance tonight was not great, our girls had a wonderful time interacting with the teens who did drop in. After a few ice-breakers, a game of Pictionary was followed by some Dance Dance Revolution on the newly donated Play Station.

Lois McGill-Horn
Developing World Connections Participant

March 19-26th: Procession and Parade Day

On Sunday, we drove for about an hour and a half to get to the town at the bottom of the Volcano that we were going to climb. As soon as we stepped out of the bus, we were crowded by little boys selling us sticks to help us walk up the Volcano. In the end, everyone who had bought the sticks said it was probably the best $1.00 purchase they made on the whole trip. What looked like an easy walk at first, ended up taking about 3 hours. Our tour guide Roberto was making his first of a few trips up the Volcano that day. He was older than everyone of us and managed to stay in the lead of the pack with very little effort. When we finally made it to the top, it was boiling! Some of us ended up walking down to actually see the lava that had started flowing the day before. When we roasted marshmallows in a cooler spot, most of us had red legs from the heat. When we finished on the lava, we started the walk down to the bottom. By the end of the trip we walked into the bus dusty, tired, hot, and sunburnt.

After cleaning up, and eating a big dinner, it took us about half an hour to make it back down the busy street to the hotel. The practice round of the procession was on that night and we were asked to make one of the carpets out of flowers and grass for the outside of the hotel. We finished our design and watched from the balcony of the hotel as the parade walked over our carpet of flowers. It was amazing to see the amount of people that came out to watch the practice celebration, and to know that there would be way more watching the actual thing.After the parade, our day was finally over and we emailed and skyped our families then went to bed.

Developing World Connections Participant
Balmoral Hall Student

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 19th & 20th: The first days for the Balmoral Hall Students.

Today was more of a learning experience than anything else, the girls and I were very surprised with what we saw. It made us happy, yet it made us feel that we can not take what we have for granted. Everyone here is so polite and courteous.

March 19th:
Today we went to the village, San Miguel Duenas, where Open Windows Foundation is, we went for a walk around the village for about 2 and a half hours, it was really pretty, we learned alot about how people live here.
After we finished our walk we went to the Open Windows Library/School, and ate lunch. Then the children started to arrive. We started to read with them. It was difficult at first, then everyone relaxed, and the children started to teach us some Spanish. Then we came back to the hotel, and had a very good meal. Things have been going great!

March 20th:
Today we went zip lining, it was so much fun! We hiked up a huge hill, it was exciting and adventurous, yet a little bit tiring. We had the time of our life going down 8 fast zip lines. It took us about an hour and a half to finish everything, then we went to eat. After lunch we took our bus to another village, and we went for a boat ride on a beautiful lake called Lake Atitlan. We went across the lake to a small town where many people bought gifts for family and friends from the women's Cooperative . When we were finished our boat ride we wondered around the town some more, and then got back on the bus and back to the hotel it was a long day and a long ride, but most definitely worth it!

so far it´s been an awesome Experience, totally worth it.

Developing World Connections Participant
Balmoral Hall Student 2010

March18 - 26th, 2010: Balmoral Hall High School Students head to Guatemala

Monday, March 15, 2010

Last Day for Kamloops High School Students in Guatemala:

Today was our last day in Antigua. We woke up and went for breakfast at Fernando's as per usual. Then some of us hit the daily market, the one we went to on our first day here. It was so funny to see the newbies trying to talk and barter and work their way around the crazy Guatemalan traffic. We felt like seasoned pros at this time. After this we went to McDonald's. The service is so fast, it's like they know what you are going to order. We sat in the beautiful courtyard to eat. We have been told that people have their weddings in the McDonald's courtyard haha.. Sort of hard to believe until you see it.

We came back to the hotel and went on the roof to suntan (or for me, lay in the sun with SPF 60..). It was so nice out! Sara and Riley got TORCHED. They are so burnt. We met the rest of the Canadian group that we had met last night.. It's so fun to compare their experiences in Guatemala and in Canada. We went out for dinner at Subway. Spanish Hannah Montana was playing! First TV I have seen in ten days :). After that we walked back down to the market because we all have so many quetzals left that we needed to blow. After that we walked back to the hotel for a team meeting.

ANOTHER procession was going on. This time they all wore red robes. People would pay to carry this thousand pound statue. The music was very loud and very heavy. We all met on the roof and reflected on this past week. We talked about not forgetting about the things we saw and learnt because it is so easy to slip back into old patterns.

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 13th: Lake Atilan

Hola! Sorry for the long delay.. Today was Riley's 17th birthday! We went to Lake Atitlan. It was crazy! It was about a two and a half hour drive on the WINDIEST roads. We travelled through some pretty poor towns. The first thing we did once we got to "the most beautiful lake in the world" as it's dubbed, we went ziplining! It was so crazy! We got strapped up and climbed about twenty minutes up a mountain and went down eight different ziplines. It was SO much fun! The lake was so beautiful and it was huge. Most of the water is filled with parasites so you can't swim, but some parts are fine. We ate out for lunch at the Sunset Cafe. There was an Iron Man going on. Lots of runners dying in the heat! We took a boat to two different islands. One was crazy -- it was literally built on the side of mountain. All the streets were cobble stone and burned your calves as you CLIMBED up to the shops. We saw lots of women weaving scarves etc. The second island we stopped at was fun. We went into a cafe and got ice cream. All these little boys were asking Shane to buy them ice creams. So he did..all like six of them. Women and their children would hassle you like crazy because they wanted you to buy their goods. They would follow you up the street and back down to the docks where the boat was. We travelled back to the mainland and took the bus home. Everyone fell asleep; we were so exhausted. We came back to Fernando's for dinner and had potato and leek soup, salad and an enchilada. The enchilada kind of looked like a really big pizza pop. For dessert everyone had tiramisu and we sang Happy Birthday to Riley. Fernando and Gerlinde (his wife..they own our hotel next door too..) made me a chocolate cake without eggs. It was soo nice of them. We went up on the roof at night and hung out on the swings. We met a Canadian group from Toronto that was staying here after they had just built two houses this week.

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 12th:

Today we woke up at 7:30 AM and realized it was the last day with the kids :(So sad!) We came to Open Windows and started putting together the desks and then painting them. Ali and Riche sorted through the eight suitcases we brought. They are both feeling A LOT better, by the way.

At 10:30, Teresa wanted to take us to see the finkas. They live on the side of a mountain in San Miguel. It was so sad! They literally have nothing. Once we reached the top of the hill, around thirty kids came to see us. We brought them mints and they were so excited. They were all really dirty and none of them were wearing shoes.. We also brought some soccers balls. Every day they have to walk down the mountain to wash their clothes or attend church or just do daily things that we take for granted. Their houses are made of tin with tarps as roofs. Lots of people in Guatemala have pets that they cannot probably take care of. We have seen hundreds of dogs and horses that are starving! They are all so skinny. So skinny that you can see their rib cages.. When it rains, the kids can hardly walk up the hill because the water is higher than their knees. Their mayor built a cement playground when the majority of the village wanted a place where they could wash their clothes. Teresa said if the mayor was female, he probably would have taken a more maternal approach and would have given the village what they needed. She said that most men don't even think about washing clothes because down here it is considered women's work. I agreed 100%. The kids did not even use the playground, they still just play in the streets.

We returned back to Open Windows and worked on the desks some more. The Doctor was in today.. One comes a couple times a year.. A group from Winnipeg is coming next week is going to finish the rest. In the afternoon, we helped the kids in the library. At 3 pm, we were all divided up into groups of ten kids and two members of our group. We had to teach them a game.. My group taught jump rope and hopscotch. Some taught soccer baseball, sewing and hand clapping games. When it was time to leave all the kids sat down in the courtyard and gave us cards and certificates. I, once again, cried!

We left the kids:( at OW and walked to Liz and Tom's house for a bbq. Their stories were so cool. Tom just came down here for a trip similar to ours and then he ended up staying forever. Doesn't sound like a bad plan to me... :) We left there at 7:15 PM. It was hard saying bye to Teresa and the others! We drove home and went to Fernando's to see how he made chocolate and coffee. So cool!

I hope that the snow melts before I get home because the weather is SO nice down here. All my love to my fam-jam and friends and thank you so much for taking the time to read the blog:)

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11th:

I do not want to come home.

At all.
Ali and I woke up early today (we have the morning off.) and went to Fernando's for breakfast. We came back to the hotel to get Riche, but she couldn't come with us because she had been throwing up :(. Not to worry, it's nothing serious. Probably just dehydration.. But Ali and I went out shopping. We dropped our dirty laundry off at this cute little laundry mat and we will pick it up when we return. We went down to the market and to some of the stores by our hotel. It is still strange that when we walk by McDonald's there is a security guard holding a rifle. It's like that at the bank too and lots of fast food restaurants.

We left for Open Windows at about 11:45 AM, but first we stopped at Teresa's (founder of OW) house for lunch. It was NUTS. She has fourteen bedrooms, three floors and this crazy backyard. She showed us some of her coffee plants (she makes her own coffee..). She has a chef and a maid and her roof is huge and flat so you can sun tan on it. She has a beautiful courtyard in the middle of the house. That's another "I like" about Guatemala - most of the hotels, houses and restaurants are part indoors and outdoors. The buses picked us up and we went to OW to play with the kids. We read in the library for a bit and then it was time for the big soccer game.

We walked about fifteen minutes to one of the local soccer fields in San Miguel. Kids had received special permission to get out of school to play. Two girls from OW came with us as well. We showed up to the barb wire encased field to see about fifteen boys (all way younger than us) wearing Kamloops Blaze jerseys! A previous team must have donated them and that's what the team wears. Lots of locals came to watch the game and we got murdered 8-0. One of the girls and I listened to my iPod on the sidelines; she also ate my lunch because I was allergic to it hahah.. Ali and I played pass with two little boys on the side. They were so cute! After the game, we got a huge picture of all of us and I promise I will upload it when I get a chance! We left for the hotel at 5 PM and we were all way to tired for salsa dance lessons.

At 6:30 PM we went for dinner at La Punta, an Italian restaurant. Our pops (Pepsi, Coke, Fanta..) come in glass bottles! Ali and Riche weren't feeling well so they stayed home. We walked back to the hotel and hung out. We were all exhausted!


Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March 10th:

Buenas tardes! Our Group is at Open Windows right now on our lunch break! We woke up this morning at 8 and went to breakfast at Fernando's. I got my usual toast and a plate of fruit. The fruit is so fresh. This trip was the first time I've had papaya. We came to San Miguel at 9 am and started working on the desks. The boys put the pieces together and all the girls painted them navy blue. I was COVERED head to toe, in paint.

We read with the kids in the library part of OW. Marta was not there :(.. Later in the afternoon we were paired up with a child and got to paint pictures for our art show we are going to have when we get home. I was paired with Herenzo (age 11) and we painted a picture filled with arboles (trees), montañas (mountains), a lago (lake), a barco (boat), nuves (clouds), a sol (sun) with a bright cielo azul (blue sky).

Later Katerine took me to do a craft. We made pictures of Spanish women. She wanted to keep mine. I have no idea why though! Mine was so feo (ugly). After that three girls took me over to play chess (I've never played before and it was even harder to learn in Spanish) and this princess dress up game. They dressed me up in all of the princess jewelry including a crown, necklaces and bracelets. THEN they insisted that each one of them would take a thousand pictures of me haha. It was 4:30 PM, time to go home (although none of us wanted to..). We came back, showered and then went out to dinner. Dinner was all right; the place was tiny and the only lights were candles. After that we walked to an old building where a blues band was playing. The building looked SO beautiful with all of the lights. I promise I'll post pictures tonight! :) All night people were lighting fireworks. They were SO loud; they sounded like gun shots. That freaked all of us (even thought it was only 8 PM) out so we walked home. All of us were so tired, we all just kind of fell asleep together.

That's it for now. Hasta luego!

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 9th:

Hola! Today we got to San Miguel at 9:30 AM. We immediately started working on the desks. Some of us drilled the pieces together, some of us sanded the pieces and some of us sanded the old paint of the chair frames. We ate lunch and then headed down to the library. I met Marta who is actually the coolest little girl I've ever met. She taught me so much Spanish and I kept the pictures we drew together. Her mom and dad work in the coffee plantations (a very common job in San Miguel) and her mother washes laundry on top of that (also very common). Next we went into the Community Room at Open Windows and watched a presentation on eye care, eye examinations and injuries. All of the kids paid attention the whole time and at the end they asked a billion questions and this wasn't even at school! It was after. It was totally different from a Canadian class. After this it was play time. I played some more games in the courtyard with the girls. They are hilarious. A couple of them are really good at explaining the rules, thank gosh! We played until 4:30 PM when we had to go back to Antigua. All of them give us big hugs when we leave. I will hopefully get to see Marta tomorrow. We got home and OG (minus the chaperones) went out on the town! We went to the Mediterranean restaurant that we went to for dinner a couple nights ago. We hookah-ed mint and mango shisha. After that, we went to the McDonald's that is crazy nice! There were candles on most of the tables and the courtyard was lit up with lights. We walked back to the hotel at 7 PM to eat dinner at Fernando's. We had a broth filled with salantro that had to chunks of squash and a piece of chicken. On the side was rice and carrots. We drank juice as well. Guatemala's juice is definitely different than North America's.. It is usually pretty thick because it is fresh. And so good! The rest of Our Group (because I was allerica) ate brownies for dessert. Tonight we are going on the roof again! I knew it would become a regular spot to hang out.. but the view is so pretty because the balcony just shows the beautiful skyline and volcanoes. Anyways, tomorrow we are going to OW to paint the desks! Buenas noches!

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March 9th: Busy already.

More thoughts from yesterday:
We worked on desks and prepped them to replace the old wood for new wood and then paint them. At 4 PM the kids could play because school and homework time was over. We read them stories (in Spanish) and asked them basic questions like how old are you, how many brothers and sisters do you have? etc etc. Some of the eleven and twelve year olds could not read.. :( We coloured with them. Ah, they were so cute. I met three kids I liked in particular -- Delmay, Franklin and Daniel. Daniel was so good at art! The girls really liked my nose ring, but did not like my rook piercing at all! They openly laugh at our bad pronunciation too. Some of us played soccer in the Open Windows Foundation courtyard and I played games with the girls. I had to do the KitKat bar hand shake/game with so many girls! We played games that were kind of like Ring Around the Rosie and other elementary school games, but in Spanish. It was so, so much fun. At 5 PM, all the kids go home for dinner.

We walked down to another house where two girls and their mother and their father lived. Their dad was an alcoholic and didn't support them. The mother's father died suddenly and he had not written a will yet. So the government took hold of the property. The family can still live there, but the house needs to be able to be taken down if or when the government says so. This means it is made out of bamboo with a tarp as a roof. It gets really windy and rains, and their "backyard" (a dirt path with chickens and laundry hanging up to dry) will get wiped out. I think the saddest part that got to me was that the older daughter is handicapped. They don't even know what mental illness she has and her family cannot afford a wheelchair so she sits in the room that is their house in the dark everyday. That was hard for me because last year I was a Teacher's Assistant in the Resource Room at school. Here, the government does not provide funding for her to go to school in a special classroom with an aid. When our group gets home we are going to start a fund-raiser to build her a house and provide her with a wheelchair. We also went out for dinner in San Miguel's ONLY restaurant. It was Mexican/Guatemalan food. After that we went back to Open Windows and participated in a youth group that happens every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It was International Women's Day so we learnt about famous women around the world (Hillary Clinton, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller etc..) We played some "ice breaker" games as well. We left at 9 PM and we went on the roof. It was clouded over tonight. We haven't been able to see the moon yet.

Today we got to San Miguel Duenas at 9:30 AM. We immediately started working on the desks. Some of us drilled the pieces together, some of us sanded the pieces and some of us sanded the old paint of the chair frames. We just ate lunch and now we are going to go to the library portion of OW (Open Windows) and play with the kids.

Adios amigos! ;)
Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8th: First Day of Volunteer Work.

Today is our first day of volunteer work. We left at Antigua at 8:00 AM and drove in two vans (and our eight suitcases) to San Miguel Duenas. It was about a fifteen minute drive. Even though it was so close, Antigua is very different from San Miguel. It is not cobble stone and it is very, very poor. Teresa (the leader of Open Windows Foundation) gave us a tour of the village. First we went to the Fire Hall. It was tiny! We all slid down the fireman's pole though. Riche was so scared! But we finally convinced her to come down. Shane, Riley and Miles climbed back up the pole. Show offs.

It's funny because on some houses you will see North American references like a poster of High School Musical or Shrek. We went do the City Hall next. The government is really corrupt. Teresa says that they encourage all children to go to school, but they turn a blind eye when they need money for school supplies. This prevents them from being able to have enough for everybody. Small children go to school in the morning while their parents and older siblings work. Then they come to the library (which is the Open Windows building) or take a siesta while the teenagers go to school.

We stopped at a "house" that four families lived in. It was so dirty. The father was making bread that he could sell. All of the families sleep in one room with two mattresses. They have a lime and an apple tree. They wash all their clothes by hand and hang them to dry. They had rabbits, a dog and chickens. Their sinks were filthy and they didn't have any electricity. The oldest son had to work night and day to pay for his little sister's education. It made me cry. That was definitely the moment that everybody has been talking about -- that minute that changes your life, that minute that makes you feel so bad and feel so grateful for what you have. It was unbelievable. Poverty now has a face and a name and it makes it that much more real.

Next we went to a private school where all of the students were considered "upper class". It was recess time and it was pandemonium! All of the kids would ambush you for pictures! They all wore red school uniforms and ate lots of junk food. They would laugh at how tall Shane was! They were all so friendly. They would ask me questions in Spanish and I would have NO idea what they meant. After this, we went back to the Open Windows building and starting fixing up desks. We have to take them all apart, put them back together with new wood and then later we will paint them. We ate lunch here and now it's our break before we will get back to work. Tonight we are going to a youth group. I'll keep you posted. Husta luego!

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 7th: Saw a Volcano Blow!

OMG!! Today was the craziest day of my life. We woke up at 6:30 and went for breakfast at Fernando's at 7:15. Then we took a two hour bus ride to the Pacaya volcano. While we were driving we saw another volcano steam (Guatemala has four active volcanoes). I'll post pictures when I can! But yeah, we went through two very poor towns. At the bottom of the volcano (it's 8,000 meters high) we buy walking sticks made of bamboo for Q5. Right when the bus pulls up, men and younger boys flock to the door so we buy the stick from them. We drove some more through a village at the base of the volcano. We took some pictures with some little boys. There was one Caucasian boy! It was weird.. Like how did he get there? We then started hiking and about ten locals would follow us with horses. They wanted us to pay to ride them up to the top (they finally left when we were half way up). It was so steep! We were ALL dying (especially Riche and I). I looked angry in every picture hah. You could feel the altitude increase considerably. It was about a 6 km hike to the top. There were tons of metamorphic rock! We had to then climb on the metamorphic rock and shale. Once we got pretty close to the top it instantly got so hot! We could see red lava spewing out of openings and every couple minutes the volcano would "burp". Mary had brought marshmallows and our guide roasted them over the lava. Yum :). Right now, locals are putting on a parade for Lent. It's very bright and colourful and there is loud music.

We went for dinner at a Mediterranean dinner last night! Ah it was so good! It was also a hookah bar. They had the most beautiful decorations. One thing I noticed was the pop tastes way different here. I drink Diet Pepsi (called Pepsi Light here) and it is way sweeter than in North America. It tastes like it has been sweetened with cane juice.

We walked back to our hotel and the parade came by again. Everyone was wearing bright purple robes and carrying huge statues! All of us got burnt so we had to pick up aloe vera from the pharmacy! Riche is sooo burnt! Surprisingly, mine is not bad. OG hung out on top of our hotel´s rooftop again which I think will become a regular spot to chill. We brought up an iPod dock and we could see all of the stars so clearly. We found Orian's belt and the Big Dipper etc :). At about 12:30 AM we saw a volcano blow! The red lava went everywhere. It was crazy!

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 6th: Dinner, and Dancing

We woke up and it was SO nice out! We went to Fernando's (a cafe next door that has very good English) for breakfast. We walked to the local market a couple blocks away from our hotel. Their driving is pretty crazy.. The sidewalks are about a foot tall and there are lots of locals trying to sell you things. It is so hot out! I have been applying sunscreen like crazy. Everything is also so cheap. They sold machettis and lots of different kinds of knives! It was different hah.. I have improved my Spanish so much! Zander, Ali, Riche and I saw a truck of coffins drive by. Locals just sit in the bed of trucks and people NEVER stop at stop signs. There are beautiful buildings everywhere! Ah, Mom you would die at how beautiful the flowers at the market are.

We went for lunch at a place down by the market, I had a cheeseburger. :) After lunch, Ali, Riche and I went to McDonald's.. hands down nicest McDon's I have ever seen. There was a courtyard with a fountain and tables where you could eat. Three sixteen year old locals tried to pick us up! It was a good attempt, no dice. :)

We hung out at the hotel for a bit while Teresa, Ali, Riley, Shane and Sara went to a church service. We then went out for dinner at a nice restaurant a couple blocks away from our hotel. There was live music -- xylophone type instruments. While we were waiting for our food, the lights dimmed and about ten dancers came out and danced to a few songs. They then took people who were dining.. Mary and Teresa were selected first. I totally thought I was in the clear, but I was wrong! They picked Shane and I next. It was hilarious! We danced in a big circle with the rest of the dancers and some people out for dinner. They gave us maracas as well. Of course OG took a thousand pictures! Those I will not be posting! Miles and I shared spaghetti. It got a little messy.. ;) Around 10 PM some of us went to the roof were there is a patio with swings and met around ten Americans (they were from South Dakota) joined us.. Ugh they didn't know ANY of the provinces. They had heard of BC because of the Olympics, but knew no others. One asked if we boarded AlbertO. Ah, not quite boys.

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

March 5th: Heading to Guatemala

Ah! It has been quite the day. We woke up this morning at 3:45 AM to drive to the Vancouver airport for our 7:40 AM flight. The flight was not bad at all -- a little bit of turbulance that was scary though. I am currently writing from the George W Bush Intercontential Airport in Houston, Texas. It is very cloudy and not that warm :(. We will arrive in Guatemala city around 10 PM and drive about forty five minutes to Antigua, where we are staying. (Pictures will be posted later on..) The trees in Kamloops better not be blooming without me!

Torry Harris
Developing World Connections Participant

Guatemala 2010

Read about a group of high school students (and three chaperones) from Kamloops who are volunteering in village of San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala. Along with refurbishing buildings, the group will be helping the host partner provide children with a basic foundation of literacy and life skills.

Most of the posts will be excerpts from Operation Guatemala, written by Torry Harris. She has been blogging about Operation Guatemala since she first signed up to volunteer with Developing World Connections in June 2009. For full posts visit: