Welcome to Part II of my Guatemala Global Village Trip recap!
I mentioned in my last recap that in addition to all the building work we did, there was a lot more than mixing concrete to fill our days. While working on the houses was the primary purpose of this trip, what is so innovative about the Global Village experience is how comprehensive it is. You work, but you also immerse yourself in the culture in a way that you can’t really do as a vacationing tourist. Our Habitat hosts skillfully wove cultural enrichment activities into our trip that gave us a hands-on view of the Guatemalan culture and the housing issues that face this country.
On our first day of work, we all took a walk during our snack break to see a nearby Habitat colony that had been completed for years, so that we could get a sense of what these neighborhoods look like when the families are actually living there.
One of the homeowners invited us inside so we could see what one of these big concrete blocks looks like when it’s finally an actual home. I’m sure it wouldn’t be so bad waking up to this view every day:
One of the cool things we saw was this house:
It doesn’t look like much until we learned this interesting fast: it was built in 24 hours! After all the work we did during the week and how there was still so much more work to go and so much already done before us, the idea that one of these bad boys can be built in 24 hours seriously blows my mind. This is Habitat Guatemala’s 50,001 housing solution.
On Tuesday’s snack break, we were invited to visit the local elementary school in Usumatlan (the village we were building in). Claudia, one of the soon-to-be homeowners we worked with that week, was doing a presentation for the kids during their recess time. We got to sing and play a game with them and then the principal took us on a tour. We saw a classroom and she showed us the community garden that the school cultivates.
After work on Tuesday, we visited a local family in Rio Hondo who run a small cafe and we learned how to make tortillas and empanadas. It’s amazing that these things are basically made entirely of corn!
Worldwide, Habitat for Humanity is synonymous with “houses”. While home building is Habitat’s bread and butter and the biggest initiative for most of its affiliates, most of them also have other programs to help further Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing in other ways. In addition to building homes, Habitat Guatemala offers unique housing solutions to reach those living in extreme poverty who don’t qualify for Habitat homes or live in areas where it is not safe to build homes. The housing solutions are three initiatives that contribute to safer and healthier homes and living environments: smokeless stoves, latrines, and water purifiers.
On Wednesday, we left work early for a long drive out to a tiny rural village called La Plancha so we could see a couple of the smokeless stoves in action. We learned that the families who qualify are given the iron part of the stove and have to build the rest, which they can learn how to do in workshops with other families. The main advantage of the smokeless stoves is that by making more efficient use of hot air, they require much less fire wood.
Right next to the second house we visited was a little church, and the pastor of the church warmly introduced himself and invited us inside to see.
He was all smiles and seemed so excited that we were there. He told us that he has been a pastor for the past 52 years!
The families we met here lived in serious poverty. It was probably the most poverty that I have ever witnessed up front, firsthand. But right there with that poverty was this pastor who was so happy, so proud of his church. It struck me how we tend to view people through the lens of their poverty, to see them as the sum of all their hardship. But today it really hit me how life goes on in spite of poverty, how people find ways to laugh and smile and live no matter their circumstances.
On Thursday, temperatures were down and it was time for a little fun and games: FUTBOL!! We left work and headed to a futbol field quietly tucked into the streets of Usumatlan. A rickety gate led into to a field surrounded by battered billboards that opened up to a splendid view of the Guatemalan mountains.
The game involved a big crew of our volunteers, some of the masons and families and some locals. I let my more talented teammates take the field and enjoyed the view from the stadium seats.
Friday was our last day of work. After a dramatic bucket brigade to finish out the work day, all the families, masons and volunteers gathered for our closing ceremony. The partner families said a few words and then we all went to the respective houses we worked on to say goodbye to our masons and the families.
Lucy told Tyler, Courtney and I how much this meant to her family and how she would never forget it. It was so hard not to get choked up as she talked about what a big deal this was to her, and how these trips that are just week long volunteer experiences to us really do change people’s lives.
Herman told us that we did a good job and he would always remember us. Herman was a great mason. Young and soft-spoken, patient and diligent; I wish the language barrier didn’t prevent us from getting to know each other better. Courtney got to talk to him and learn a lot more about him, and I’ll never forget one thing she told me from one of their conversations: at the end of the day, she said “we’ll be back tomorrow!” and Herman said “we will be here tomorrow, because we are alive and well.” It’s one of those things that will always stick with me. Because we are alive and well. I wish that I could have that grateful attitude more naturally. I wish we all could. It’s amazing how much we take for granted living in a culture of abundance, how often we forget whenever we complain – there are people out there who wish they could go to work every day; there are people out there who wish they could run; there are people who would be grateful for the challenges that come with homeownership.
Our work and our mission for the week had come to an end. Just as quickly as we had picked up our shovels and and put our work gloves on for the first time, now it was all over. But while our time as volunteers was wrapping up, we still had one last Guatemalan hurrah before it was time to say goodbye. Stay tuned for the last part of this recap, when I’ll share highlights from our last day in country and wrap up with some lasting thoughts about this experience.