Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 2011: Thank you to the Site 1 Workers

Dear Site 1 workers,

As site 1 team leader I have to say I got lucky. We had a first rate mason in William, excellent translation by Sheila, a hard working family headed by Don Hugo, and best of all for me all a talented team of workers able to pick up the ball and play a game that was new to all of us.

I enjoyed my day off in Antigua, trips to other sites with Teresa, and another trip to town by Chicken Bus with Brian, all thanks you picking up the slack and not making me feel guilty. I could see that the site was well managed if I just stayed out of the way.

We can feel proud of our work and with the benefit of hindsight I think the family will be grateful that William held on to his high standards despite being overwhelmed at first by eager but inexperienced strangers. We were also able to give our family some extras, which included more space inside, a shower and toilet (hopefully finished by now), an additional window, some unexpected furnishings, and a workable plan for the kitchen area.

Thankfully the fence blew over with a little help from our excavation, providing crucial space needed to store materials. The neighbor's generosity in agreeing to the temporary use of his property I think made the whole project more relaxing and enjoyable for everyone.

I look forward to Teresa sending photos of the finished home.

Best wishes to all.

John Vanstone
DWC Participant

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 2011: The last posting from the group.

Day 10

This is the last report from our Guatemalan Project.

What a time we`ve had! The houses at both sites are almost finished. Roof beams are on and sheet metal roofing is being applied. After two weeks of hard work we now have something that looks like houses. We have learned a lot about construction in Guatemala from cutting building blocks with machetes to shaping and setting reinforcing rods in all directions. Our masons have got used to our talents and how they may best be used. We seemed to gravitate naturally to work that was interesting to us and matched our capabilities. We worked closely with the families and after two weeks developed strong personal connections. It was a pleasure to see their excitement as the houses took shape.

After we`re gone the floors will be laid and we will be looking forward to receiving a photograph of the finished houses.

There is so much to reflect on from this experience. Guatemalan life is difficult in some ways common to developing countries. However, there is so much that is attractive in the way the people respond to their situation. When our mason broke the handle of his sledge hammer, he grabbed a piece of pipe and fashioned another. We noticed how skilled workers are in improvising when there is no money for a trip to the hardware store. They have learned to use ingenuity and personal skills when money and technology are not available.

Our experience riding the chicken bus- something everyone should experience once- revealed the communal-social side of life here. People pile into the buses, sitting three to a seat. They help nursing mothers or old women with bundles on or off. They are gracious and courteous with one and another, patient in sometimes trying circumstances. They extend their courtesy to foreigners. When one asks, in rudimentary Spanish, for directions, the response is almost always helpful and charming.

The people one sees are mostly fit and attractive. This must have much to do with the physical nature of their lives, walking most places, carrying loads, and usually without the assistance of electric or engine powered devices.

It was good to build houses in this attractive land.

Brian Metcalfe
DWC Participant

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tikal and the ancient Mayan Temples in the tropical forests in Tikal.

Thirteen of our DWC group arrived 4 days early and headed north touring through Coban and on to Tikal. One major highlight was arriving at our hotel in Tikal to find ourselves in the middle of a tropical rainforest! A huge surprise for all of us was the arrival of the president of Guatemala and his entourage as there was about to be an official groundbreaking of a new research center.

After our arrival and a late lunch we embarked on a guided tour through part of the rainforest to see the massive ancient Mayan temples. As we approached the first one we were blown away with its enormity, rising to a height of over 150 feet. They had been constructed between 200 and 1000 A.D. with some 150 temples and a population of 200,000 Mayan aboriginal people. Their culture was filled with hierarchy, tradition and superstition. The society broke down at the end of 1000 A.D. and the forest took over the structures over the following centuries. They were rediscovered in 1957 and a number of the temples have been uncovered and at least partially restored.

We enjoyed a wonderful hike and learned a great deal from our guide about the life and beliefs of the Mayan people. The tour culminated in watching the sun set from the top of one of the temples. Our guide, being a skilled salesmen, convinced some of us to participate in a 4:15 a.m. tour the following morning to experience the wakening of the tropical forest, sunrise from a temple and further explore more Mayan temples. An unexpected bonus for us was the opportunity to witness a Mayan religious ceremony that was in progress as we approached the temple steps.

Our visit came to a relaxing finale as we had time to return to the hotel for lunch and lounge around the pool in the beautiful warm sunshine. While relaxing by the pool we continued to be serenaded with the sounds of howling monkeys, parrots and numerous other exotic birds and animals. This is not an excursion I will soon forget.

Jack Alexander
DWC Participant

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 2011: Patience with the Guatemalan way.

The group went on an overnight to Lake Atitlan over the weekend. This lake, surrounded by volcanoes, claims with some justice to be the world`s most beautiful lake. After a boat cruise around the lake we had lunch at Santiago. That night we ate well and watched a spectacular, ever-changing sunset. On the way home next morning we stopped for an hour in Chichicastanengo and shopped in the market for fabrics, jewelry and other treasures, including a carved wooden flute.

Now it is Wednesday. On site one the walls are now above window height and the group believes they will have the roof on by Thursday night. They are now working on the separate walls for the bathroom.

Group two is close to window height with their blocks and will try to have the roof on by Friday. The mason and his helper are relaxed and friendly with us now, especially with the women in our group. Funny how that happens.
Yesterday one of our group was having trouble laying his block, despite the advice he was getting from three other masonry consultants. Henry, our mason, seeing this came over and with a few swipes of his trowel solved he problem. Everybody laughed. We seem to be more patient now than we were at the beginning of the project, more willing to work with the masons in the Guatemalan way.

Brian Metcalfe
DWC Participant

February 2011: Other activities than the volunteer experience.

Building houses in Guatemala is gratifying in so many ways. For example, we’re learning local construction techniques, we’re enjoying working in teams and we’re feeling satisfaction knowing that we’re helping people in need. The Guatemalan people with whom we’ve have had contact have been unfailingly friendly, good natured and ever so tolerant of our limited Spanish-speaking skills. Yes, we’re working hard at the job site, but we’re also making good use of our free time.

Last weekend, we had the enlightening experience of being guided through an Antiguan photo exhibit of the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) by Yolanda Colom, an acquaintance of team member Marci Lipman. Yolanda, a former guerrilla commander, is currently a teacher and well-known Guatemalan author.

Wednesday evening, Mario, the bus driver that had driven 14 members of our group from Guatemala City to Tikal in advance of our work commitment, came to our hotel with his wife and children to describe family life in Guatemala.
Thursday evening, again with the help of Marci, we were invited to dinner at the Antiguan home of Corrine Willock, who several years ago moved to Guatemala and started a non-governmental organization called Choco GuataMaya.
She is also the author of the DVD called “Cacao – Food of the Gods”, which we had the opportunity to view.
The purpose of this NGO is three-fold:
1. Bring awareness of the evidence indicating that the use of cacao originated in Central America, more precisely in the Mayan areas of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
2. To encourage the small subsistent farmers to create co-operatives, and to oversee that the cacao stays organic for it to be desirable as a specialty item in the international market.
3. Ultimately, assist in ensuring that the co-operatives receive fair trade prices for their cacao.

Friday at noon, a couple from the US, who made Guatemala their home twenty-two years ago, invited us to have lunch with them at their house. Their home is very comfortable, but interestingly it's located in a poor neighbourhood and is in the vicinity of one of the houses that we‘re building. Thomas and Elizabeth, who are 2 of only 5 ex-pats living in the town of San Miguel Duenas, shared with us their experiences living in Guatemala and being involved in the local community.

This past weekend, we all travelled by hired bus to Lake Atitlan, sometimes described as the most beautiful lake in the world. And after a tour of the lake, a stop at Santiago and a night at a lakeside hotel, we headed to Chichicastenango in the morning and attended a remarkable, huge local market. Colourful it was, with handicrafts abounding and everyone doing their bit to help the local economy!

So while we’ve learned much about life in Guatemala, there are a couple of questions that perplex the group. Why do the roosters that live down the road insist on announcing their presence at midnight, reporting back in at 2:00 a.m. and then continuing their calls with more and more urgency until well after morning light is bathing our charming hotel? And why are we not really taking notice of the roosters anymore?

Richard Alguire
DWC Participant

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 2011: First volunteer week complete.

Friday February 11 and our first week of constructing two houses in San Miguel Duenas is over.

On both sites the trenching having been completed, we began to lay foundations with the complexities of building in an earthquake zone. This required that we understand how the steel reinforcing rods needed to be placed in the concrete footings and the masonry walls. One of our first jobs was to fashion steel hooks manually to space the rods appropriately. We also cut and shaped the cinder building blocks, with machetes on the first site, with an electric saw on the second. Then we put holes in some of the blocks, with axes, hammers and hatchets to allow the reinforcing bars to pass through the blocks. Instead of building a simple block wall, we reinforced our wall with steel bars embedded in concrete both horizontally and vertically so that the wall would withstand an earthquake. Next, after a brief apprenticeship, some of us began to lay the block under the eyes of the masons. By the end of the week, on site one the walls were three rows above ground level, and on site two, at ground level. We had already laid three invisible rows of blocks below ground.

At site one people were beginning to take pride in their work. People resisted suggestions that they be transferred to the other site. However, we did lose four workers to various complaints on Friday, leaving four to carry the load. Despite this shortage of labour we completed our three rows, and we expect that over the weekend the mason will add three more rows on his own.

One of the interesting developments at site two during the week was a change in our relationship with the Guatemalan mason and his assistant. When we first appeared to help them, they didn’t know what to make of us. They clearly had had little to do with North Americans, especially North American women. We were inexperienced and spoke little Spanish. For the first few days they smiled very little and gave us little direction. But gradually, as we began to learn our tasks, they realized that we were taking over some of the grunt work, freeing them to lay the rows of blocks without interruption. They began to smile and relax, and were able to communicate more.

The morale of the group was high at weekend. We could see the walls rising, were proud of the skills we had learned and the work we had done. We all hoped to see our houses near completion by the end of next week.

Brian Metcalfe
DWC Participant

Participant Marg Alexander volunteers one morning at a medical clinic in San Miguel Duenas.

This past week I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to spend a morning at the local drop-in government sponsored medical clinic in San Miguel Duenas. This clinic is open for local residents, and being an “old” nurse I was of course most interested in seeing how it was run.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned they had no doctor or nurse at the clinic and that it was staffed with two health care aides and an administrative assistant. Occasionally a doctor comes from out of town, but certainly not regularly.

Unfortunately my Spanish is virtually non-existent and the staff did not speak a word of English so there was lots of sign language and non-verbal communication throughout the morning. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, however quickly was impressed with many things, which I will outline below:

-the staff were delightful, positive and caring.

-the local residents have great faith in the clinic staff and share their health concerns willingly.

-patients visiting this clinic come with minor medical issues such as upset digestive systems, colds or coughs, abrasions or wounds requiring dressing etc. It is also a popular clinic for pregnant women and mothers with babies. Immunization and well baby monitoring is an important aspect of the care provided.

-should any young parents be reading this, you will be interested to learn that Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Pablo and Uniqua of the Backyardigans were popular characters in murals and posters in the babies and children’s examining room!

-EVERY patient leaves with pills, ointment or some form of medication. When I questioned this I was told that if a patient leaves a doctor’s office or medical clinic without something to take, they feel they have not received effective treatment!

-there was an impressive and VERY graphic array of pamphlets and posters on AIDS prevention and birth control in the waiting room.

-there appeared to be a plentiful supply of medications for a variety of ailments available for distribution by the staff. These were given without charge.

-even in third world countries government paperwork seems to flourish. Staff were constantly busy recording by hand, every patient’s name etc. along with their complaint and the treatment given for submission to the government.

As with most new experiences there were also a few surprises, such as the fact that there is virtually no hand washing by staff between patients and no disinfecting of equipment such as examining tables, baby scales etc. Needless to say this concerned me a great deal. In between patients I did have time to peruse some of the statistical charts on the wall. It was disturbing to see that high infant mortality remains a serious problem.

My time at the clinic passed quickly and I left feeling that I had gained at least a small insight into this one approach to medical care in Guatemala.

Marg Alexander
DWC Participant

February 2011: Why Open Windows opens doors.

In a conversation with Teresa Quinonez, founder and director of Ventanas Abiertas, or Open Windows, the NGO with which we are partnered in our project, we began to understand the significance of the two houses we are building in her town, San Miguel Duenas.

I was born in the house you see, which is now the Headquarters of Open Windows, she began. I was the fifth of eight children. My parents could afford to educate me; I went to primary school here in San Miguel, and then to secondary school in Antigua. At that point, I decided to go to the United States and try my fortunes. I worked as a nanny and a care-giver to an older lady. I took courses at a beauty school, and in accounting. Eventually, however, I decided that life in the USA was not what I wanted, and I returned to Guatemala. I lived for a while in Antigua and then decided to return to San Miguel Duenas. At that point, having given up on the American dream, I decided to give back to my society and my town. With a friend I raised money for childrens’ toys, and gifts for poor families at Christmas. I soon decided, however, that these efforts were not doing enough for the people we wanted to help.

I realized that lack of education was depriving the poor of the choices and the opportunities that I had had. By that time, my father had left this house to me, and I decided to start a library where children from poor families could read, study and do their homework, things they could not do in their crowded houses. This was the beginning of Open Windows.

San Miguel has a population of twelve thousand. The average family has four children, and among the poor, the average is higher than that. Of the roughly four thousand children in the town, only about half go to school regularly. Of those in school, most complete the sixth grade which is in theory free. Roughly 65% of these continue to grade nine, 25% go on to secondary school in Antigua, and only a tiny per cent enter university.

The reason for this failure to educate the young in San Miguel is clear. The poor have not enough money to educate their children. The first six years of school- in theory free- in fact require the parents to pay for a school uniform and school supplies. The government gives each student only two note books, a pencil, an eraser, a pencil sharpener and a pen. The parents must supply the rest. When you understand that the poor have annual incomes of perhaps $US1,500, the burden of education is clear. The costs after grade six are even more difficult: from grade seven to nine, $500 per year; for secondary school $800 per year; for university $2,000 per year.

What happens to the kids who leave school after grade six? Typically they go to work so that their brothers and sisters can be educated to this basic level. And this is where Open Windows sees its mission. They provide the library, a computer room, and classrooms where children can come and receive support when they are in school. And perhaps most importantly, they find financial support for bright children from poor families that will enable them to continue their studies.

Anna Laetitia’s father was a fireman who supported his three daughters and an invalid wife on a very modest salary which would not afford the school fees for Anna, a bright girl, to continue in school after grade six. Open Windows stepped in and found a sponsor for her. She qualified first as a kindergarten teacher, but then decided that she wanted to become a nurse; nursing required expensive post-secondary education. Again Open Windows found the money for her to continue. She is now in her second year in nursing and doing well. During her holidays she volunteers with the local health department. Open Windows is very proud of her.

Mario came to Open Windows at the age of seventeen in Grade 10. He was working during the day to pay for his evening courses and found that he had no time to study or complete his homework. His ambition was to take post-secondary training either as a chef or in some aspect of the tourist industry, but he had decided that he could not continue, that he would drop out of school. Open Windows heard of his situation and found a sponsor for him. He now works only on weekends and can attend post-secondary classes in Antigua.

These are examples of the bright children Open Windows helps- the scholarship kids. Our project aids in this work. Open Windows gets funding from organizations like Developing World Connections to build housing for families with bright children that will enable the kids to study in a house that has room for them. When we go bed at night with aching muscles and stiff backs, we are comforted by the support we are giving these talented boys and girls.

Brian Metcalfe
DWC Participant


Open Windows aims to improve conditions for the children from in and around the town, by providing access to important educational resources through its services, which the community has come to depend on. These services include: introducing motor skills to teach children dexterity with craft projects using scissors, crayons, and other tools; teaching higher critical thinking skills through educational games and creative problem solving activities; encouraging creativity through art projects; and working with volunteer guests.

I had the enchanting privilege of working with two of the teachers, Monica and Claudia, to put together a Dental Health module for the children`s activity hour on Wednesday.

We had expected 34 children and ended up with over 75! The children were so enthusiastic and excited.

Claudia explained the topic of the day was dental health and that I would do a demonstration of the proper brushing technique. She then explained that I came from Canada and could not speak Spanish. After the children greeted me with a noisy and loud,"Buenas Tardes, Segnora Elisabeth!", I asked if they could help me with my Spanish and correct me if I mispronounced a word. Claudia looked a bit apprehensive and feared we would loose control of the 75 children!

Earlier, Monica had given me one of their children`s library books, a story about a dad teaching his son how and why brushing teeth is important. She had rehearsed reading it with me!

Now the real test would be if the children were able to understand me and how they would appraise my non existent skill level!

With over 75 children crammed in to the increasingly hot and humid room, a silence fell over the room. I looked around and took a deep breath as I started to read in Spanish for the first time! You could have heard a Spanish pin drop! I got through the first page, two short sentences. I looked up to see over 150 intense eyes looking at me. I decided to test them to see if they were really paying attention…I stumbled on a word.

Well, the response was electrically immediate! The whole room erupted with a chorus of the corrected version of the mispronounced word!

The corrections to my attempts at Spanish came quickly and intensely. The children were not only helpful, but at the same time, they were gentle, respectful and excited to be able to know more than an adult! When I finished and closed the book, the children erupted into a boisterous and enthusiastic round of joyous applause and a few cries of `bravo`from some of the older boys!

The craft project came next. Egg cartons had been cut up into individual `teeth`. Each child received one tooth, some bits of colored play-doh, and markers. The children were asked to create cavities with the markers and with the play-doh, show bits of food stuck on the tooth.

The tooth brushing technique demonstration came next. With a dentodent, a huge toothbrush and fabulous comentary from Claudia, the children shouted out the correct technique for brushing their teeth. Then, with an egg timer, we showed them how long to brush…the two minutes for the children was an eternity. With coaching from Claudia, ``!Mas!` , `brush longer!, the children used their fingers to show they were still brushing!

We explained to our keen audience that toothpaste was not the key to dental health. Brushing technique was most important. Alternate and practical, locally and economically available, solutions were suggested, baking soda and salt water.

With a quick review by Claudia, she asked the noisy children if they would like to have a toothbrush. All the hands went up! We handed out the toothbrushes donated by a friend in Canada.

It was a heartwarmingly wonderful experience to see how eager the children were to learn something new, how curious they were to interact with someone new and very different, how well behaved they were, how respectful they were with me, how very gentle and sweet they were with my very obvious lack of Spanish skills, and how curious they were to see what they looked like on my camera.

A few days ago , I commented that I already loved Guatemala and its people. I was cautioned: It will not take more than a day to loose your heart to Guatemala!

With Love,

Elisabeth Percy
DWC Participant

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February 2011: The First Tuesday.

Day 2 on the worksites started overcast, but was sunny and hot by midmorning. At the first site the team arrived to find that the mason and his assistant had finished the digging of the trenches. The materials for mixing cement, the reinforcing bars and the cinder blocks had not arrived. At the second site, there was still work required to finish the trenches.

At the first site, the team waited for the materials. The sand arrived and the team spent twenty minutes shoveling it. Then we waited and waited and waited. We went for a walk and explored the neighbourhood. We met a local artist who offered to decorate the house with a mural, which delighted the family. We returned to the site to find that no more materials had arrived. We set up our chairs, and waited, exchanging life stories. When no more materials came, we returned to Open Windows for lunch, feeling discouraged. We were assured that materials would be available in the afternoon.

After lunch a number of our group, not confident that the materials would arrive, went to the other site hoping for work. Almost as soon as they left, the materials arrived, cinder blocks, forty kilo bags of cement, gravel, and rebar. Teresa went to the other site and brought the keeners back. All the materials had arrived at once and there was not enough space, so we piled them along the lane leading to the site. There was concern that the materials might be stolen, exposed as they were. Fortunately, the neighbour’s fence, made of corrugated tin like the kind used for roofing, had blown over during the morning. This was the result of our excavation being too close to the fence post. After some discussion, the neighbour allowed material to be piled securely on his land. Time was running out. We recruited a dozen of the neighbourhood kids, ages from six to twelve, to help the chain gang we had formed to move the cinder blocks onto the site. They were enthusiastic, since we had promised to pay them.

The day finished on a high note, with all the materials on site, ready for the mixing of the concrete for the footings in the morning.

Meanwhile the second team arrived to find the mason and his helper had made much progress on the trenches. The team spent the first hour breaking up concrete slabs, removing the cement pieces and the earth from the trenches. We were working with two broken down wheel barrows, so a decision was made to buy two more wheel barrows and an extra shovel from the local hardware store. The arrival of the new equipment was greeted with enthusiasm. Dirt was shoveled with great vigour onto the wheel barrows operating as a chain gang.

As we worked, the smoke from the family’s cook fire blew over the site. At one point the group leader was found reclining in one of the new wheel barrows, claiming that he was testing it for strength. One of our members, in the heat of the action, threatened to form a union and started to sing a trade union song; he was shouted down. By early afternoon, the trenches had been completed and the materials for construction had finally arrived. We formed a chain gang (again) and transported cinder blocks down the lane, over the path, through the gate and piled them on site. Next we moved the forty kilo cement bags by wheel barrow onto the site in the same chain gang fashion. Last but not least long pieces of rebar were lugged onto the site. The mason gave rebar cutting and bending demos to several of the group.

When we left the site at the end of the work day, all materials were secured for the night, ready for laying the foundations in the morning. Group morale was high with the feeling that much had been accomplished.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 2011: Day 2.

On a gorgeous Monday morning the twenty two Canadians piled into our bus and headed north to the town of San Miguel Duenas. We were greeted by Teresa the director of Open Windows, the local NGO, our partner in our project, to build two houses for two local families. After a review of her work at Open Windows, which concentrates on helping to educate children with ability who need assistance with their education, we were divided into two groups, each group responsible for the construction of a house over the next two weeks. We are to be assisted, at each site, by a local mason and one or two helpers.

The entire group of twenty-two arrived at the first site, led by Teresa, through a narrow walkway to a small yard between two buildings, almost all of which was to be covered by our house. After some discussion Teresa led half the twenty-two away to the second site, and we got down to business.

Sheila Hickok provided excellent translation for our mason William, who had laid out and leveled the lines for us to dig. The trenches were to be thirty centimeters wide and seventy centimeters deep. We were overtaken by our enthusiasm and dug them twice as wide in some places, despite cave-ins. Before we knew it, the trenches were finished and we left for an early lunch. The people at Open Windows had prepared a delicious lunch for us in a cool upper room, away from the sun.

At lunch Teresa gave both groups dimensioned plans for the houses they were to build. The plans for both sites were for identical houses. However, after lunch, upon visiting the second site, we discovered that the mason there was using a plan for a larger house than our plans called for. After some discussion, we decided to increase the size of the house we were building to this larger size. The family was delighted with our offer to increase the size of their house.

They filled in a trench already dug and dug another one, working in the heat of the afternoon. By the end of the day our trenches were finished, our objectives were met and we looked forward to the next day's work, building the foundation with reinforcing rods to help withstand earthquakes,

Meanwhile, Teresa had lead the second group back to the principal street of the town, turning left along a paved road that skirted the mountain that over looked the town, then down a second road, over a culvert, down a lane, to the site, a small yard between two adjacent properties. There had been a previous house on the property, since there was a concrete foundation floor covering half the yard. The mason was busy laying out the lines that defined the walls we were to build. Our first job was to dig the trenches for the walls of the house along the lines the mason laid.

The mason and his helper looked surprised to see us, twelve middle-aged, pale men and women, not obviously in one of the construction trades. They had not finished laying out the lines for us to dig. Teresa had a brief discussion with them and then left us to carry on. Our only means of communication with the mason and his helper, who spoke almost no English, was through Zelia Swan, whose mother tongue is Portuguese, but whose knowledge of Spanish construction terminology was not strong. We looked at them. They looked at us. What to do?

North Americans are not good at waiting patiently to see what unfolds. One of our group grabbed a pick axe and started digging energetically a trench along the one lines that the mason had leveled. Then a second one of us grabbed a shovel and stated digging out the earth the pick had loosened. Unfortunately he came too close to the pickaxe, which shattered the shovel handle with one blow. This was unfortunate, since there was no other shovel at the site. The mason looked horrified. Fortunately Teresa arrived with more tools and the work continued. With another pickaxe a second keen Canadian started to dig a trench opposite, but before the mason had laid his line. When the line was laid and leveled the trench was a foot offline. New trench diggers moved in and corrected the error.

At one point, the trench diggers encountered a huge rock, too large for them to move. The mason and his helper came and after much discussion, began to lever the rock out of the earth. The North Americans gathered round and bombarded the two men with instructions in English, some of it contradictory and none of which, fortunately, the mason and his helper understood. Eventually the two men moved the rock, and the digging continued. By the end of the day, our trenches were mostly finished.

Gradually, for both groups, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the savvy of the masons and their helpers began to connect. By the end of the first day we began to feel satisfaction that the work had progressed according to plan. We understood that the masons had no access to the kind of tools that were used in North American construction and with that, that we needed to find the patience that would allow us to work in the Guatemalan way. We felt that work in our sore muscles and tired bodies.

We felt also that we had exceeded our original expectations by increasing the size of the houses on both sites to the delight of the families. We were all looking forward to the walls rising in the trenches we had dug.

Preston Thom

DWC Team Leader

February 2011: Day 1.

We are finally here. It seems like we have been traveling for ages to get here but that’s because we took the long route from Guatemala City to Coban, on to Tikal and then back to Guatemala City and finally to our destination in Antigua. Leaving Guatemala City on the direct route to Antigua was delightful as about half of the group decided to see much of the country. We were blessed with an excellent diver,Mario, who carefully guided us through the mountains to Coban and then on to Tikal where we were amazed by the Mayan ruins. A short flight back to Guatemala City through traffic jams to Antigua and we were off to Fernando’s to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner. It was this wonderful group who has decided that they were ready to help the people of San Miguel Duenas by building a couple of houses for those less fortunate than ourselves through Developing World Connections with Team Leader Preston Thom.

The group is a diverse and eclectic bunch all with big hearts and willing hands. We are settling in to our new home for the next two weeks, the Hotel Casa de la Fuentes. It is a beautiful inn in the heart of Antigua.

On Sunday morning it was warm and sunny. Everybody was in a great mood after a breakfast and Marcy had arranged through a friend and Guatemalan activist to meet us and help us all understand the history at a local museum. Later we strolled through the streets and all met for lunch at Hectors – Outstanding meal! We will definitely go back next week.

Cocktails and the Superbowl in the afternoon.

So far off to a great start Day 1.

Preston Thom

DWC Team Leader

February 2011: The group has arrived!

The entire group arrived in Antigua on Saturday, Feb. 5th. Antigua is known for its boutique hotels. These hotels/BB's are converted mansions and homes that typically have 6-8 rooms and a little courtyard.

By Sunday night the 22 volunteers had settled in, ready to begin building on Monday. After a short visit to Open Windows library the Team divided into two groups and headed off to the sites of the new homes on the outskirts of San Miguel Duenas.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 2011: 1000 Pairs of Shoes!

There are over 1000 pairs of children's shoes headed down to Guatemala this week! Packed in 50 pound bags and distributed amongst the 22 volunteers, Team Leader Preston Thom was hoping that the airlines would consider the extra baggage as a charitable act.

Thank you to everyone who responded to the request for shoes for children ages 6 - 14 by Developing World Connections Host Partner, Open Windows Foundation. Your generosity is inspiring!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2011: 22 Volunteers, 2 Homes, 2 weeks.

The first Team of 2011 is headed down to the village of San Miguel Duenas. 22 volunteers and a volunteer Team Leader intend to build 2 homes for 2 families in 2 weeks. The 22 volunteers will be getting their hands dirty,working alongside our Host Partner, Open Windows Foundation and the families.

The village of San Miguel Duenas purchased a piece of land adjacent to the small town. Intended to solve some of the housing crisis in the town very few of the townspeople could purchase small parcels of land and afford to build a home on it. Many couldn't afford the land title but could build a home. And still others couldn't afford either. A committee, comprised of council members and community stakeholders including members from Open Windows Foundation, was formed to figure out a fair selection process of who would receive what.

When our Team of volunteers were set to come down for 2 weeks in February the committee selected 2 families. The first is a family of ten. 2 women and the rest children. and the second is a family of 6, a mother with 5 children ranging in age from 16 - 3months old (as of August 2010).
Often families who rent a parcel of land to live on have homes made from wooden. Both of these families also rented their homes which are currently made out of corrugated sheet metal. Their new homes will made from cement blocks with proper facilities to cook and use the washroom.

We wish our volunteers all the best as they arrive in Guatemala and create safe, clean and sturdy homes for deserving families. Keep visiting for updates.