Monday, December 7, 2015

Across Guatemala and Back…

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

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

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

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

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

Hasta Luego,


Guatemala: San Miguel Duenas: December 4, 2015

Guatemala: San Miguel Duenas: December 4, 2015

Gallo! Gallo! Gallo!

All were on the bus en route for San Jose Calderas via San Miguel Duenas, with wheels rolling at 8 a.m. We're down one team member today. Rachann will be well rested and hopefully recovered by the time we get back. We missed her energy.

We arrived in Calderas around 9:20 a.m. and reorganized our groups. Donna and Suzanne went with Elizabeth and Teresa to interview the ladies for whom we had installed stoves the previous day. Rick and Scott went with Ventura (aka Ace, the stove detective) and inspected the stoves we had installed so far. It was really awesome to see that all of the stoves they inspected were in use. Super cool! 

Our team had to put out some of the fires in order to inspect the installed eco-stoves. So great to see the immediate change! The rest of the team was divided into two groups: group one was Marianne, Mark P, Sarah, Mike, and Al. Group two was Mark J, Michelle, Brett and Lisa. We reached our goal of installing the last seven eco-stoves from our goal of 39. SUCCESS. Yippee!

We had another incredible authentic lunch at Casa de Angel and then we had some finishing touches to do before we gathered with the ladies and their children for whom we had installed stoves. We exchanged our thoughts, hugs and thank-yous, then took a group photo. A 68-year-old woman spoke on behalf of the group and expressed her heartfelt appreciation for having a stove installed in her home. Her smile, amazing energy, contagious laugh and abundant love said it all. One young boy from the village was happier today than he was yesterday, as he was worried that we were "a bunch of gringos who were there to kidnap him." Now he knows better!

We dropped off Teresa and bought some amazing smelling coffee from Open Windows Foundation. As usual, it was a fun bus ride home! We are off for the last team dinner tonight, before part of the team leaves for much colder temperatures :(

Gallo! Gallo! Gallo! (Gallo is the national beer of Guatemala - and our team mantra!)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Guatemala: San Miguel Duenas: December 1, 2015

Guatemala: San Miguel Duenas: December 1, 2015

As first-time DWC volunteers, starting out this morning was incredibly exciting. Even though we'd been in Antigua for a couple of days and spent some time and bonded with our team members, we still anticipated that heading out into a village where we would be installing stoves would be an experience like no other.

We picked up our sponsor host, Theresa, and a couple of helping hands and made our way up a washed-out dirt road into the village of Calderas. We passed a garbage dump located up in the mountains that was a combination of burning garbage and salvagers looking for anything of value. It was disturbing and heartbreaking at the same time. The trip took about an hour but that was only because the last passage of road was washed out and eroded from the rainy season and a wrong turn would have put us about 1,000 feet down into nowhere.

We were greeted in Calderas by a host from the village, Angel, who was partnering with Open Windows, and the families in whose homes we would be installing stoves. Angel opened his house to us and guided us around the village. Each family for whom we would be installing stoves had the parts already delivered, which made a huge difference (heavy concrete and clay pieces and bags of gravel). We went right to work, splitting into three groups of four and walking to our first homes.

In our specific case, we first met a mother of six who was living in a small space, approx. 20 feet by 20 feet, with three small buildings. One building had the kitchen with a dirt floor, two corn-stalk-walled rooms and an old tin roof that was falling apart. But the woman happily welcomed us in and proudly showed us how carefully she had stored the new eco-stove parts in her bedroom. They were neatly tucked away under her dresser and beside her bed. The dirt floors posed a challenge for us. Levelling the floor for a stable foundation proved incredibly difficult as we only had a machete, tin snips and the parts for the stove. Like the locals, we had to use what was available to complete our installations.

The woman's children were beautiful and bright eyed, spilling with curiosity about what four strangers would be doing in their home. When we ran into a minor setback with a missing stove part, they were happy have our attention and play while we waited for a missing piece to be found. The extra few minutes allowed us to learn more of the family's story, take in more of our surroundings and reflect on how we were making a positive impact.

The second family we met included a young mother with a new baby. She told us she had managed to avoid doing most of the cooking and hadn't spent a lot of time in heavy smoke. Despite those claims, she still tested very poorly - a product of her upbringing and surroundings, we were told. The family makes 40 quetzals a day. When asked how long it takes to collect firewood,t she said they spend four hours, three times a week to collect wood (two hours there and two hours back). We were told that this is because they 'trespass' on properties in another areas or towns so that they are not recognized or not known.

In the third house, we installed two stoves for a gentleman's two daughters in-law. There were three houses in the compound they shared. We were given warmth and genuine thanks from the whole family for the work we did, which warmed our souls. We returned to Angel's house on a high note, feeling we really made a difference in others' lives. It's a feeling that puts you on such a high that all you want to do is keep giving of yourself to help others.

Thank you Rick, Marianne and DWC for allowing us to take this journey with you, the families of Calderas and our extended team here in Guatemala!

Michelle L. Downey
DWC Volunteer