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