Global Visionaries Program Manager, Reagan Jackson, Sends Another Update from Guatemala
Buenas Tardes Parents and GV Supporters:
It is another gorgeous day in Guatemala, warm with a nice breeze. Today I woke up at 6:00am just as the sun was cresting the hills. Hot coffee and a plate of spicy black beans and eggs scrambled with tomatoes awaited me, along with a smile and a kiss on the cheek from my homestay mom Dona Carmonia.
My home is a modest, but lovely collection of rooms centered around a large open air courtyard filled with trees, flowers, and large statues of the Virgin Mary. Dona Carmonia is the mother of seven grown children and the grandmother of thirteen. Three of her children still live in the community and are host families to some of the students. The other four live in the United States, so she understands English perfectly, but we speak in Spanish. She tells me about life in Guatemala, her family, and of course about whatever we are eating, which so far has been consistently delicious, from the homemade tortillas to the fresh limeade.
After breakfast, I get dressed in my work clothes and make the rounds to collect my half of the construction work team. The group has now mastered greetings in Spanish, so as I stop by each house, we greet one another. Next, it’s a quick walk down the cobblestone roads, past the church (which like so many churches is filled with people celebrating Holy Week) to the GV office. Even though we’re early, by the time we arrive many of the Chapines (Guatemalans) are already there and seated on the steps in front of the office. While I meet with the Chapin leaders, the students greet their friends.
Morning is one of my favorite times of the day because we are all together and I get to eavesdrop on all the gossip. There are some of us who are tired and crabby and others who are super excited and ready to get going.
Last night, after language lessons, we had our first salsa and merengue class with Carmen so many kids started their day by practicing their moves, while others were learning new words in Spanish and trying to translate games to their Chapin friends. After this brief introduction, we split into work teams and loaded up the bus.
The Construction team is building a school in San Antonio, a small town in the hills just outside of Antigua. It’s a beautiful, but bumpy ride out of San Miguel Escobar and through the streets of Antigua which are decked out with purple flags heralding Semana Santa. It’s All Saint’s Week (Holy Week) in Guatemala. Since the country is primarily Catholic, you can smell the incense wafting from open chapels and sometimes you can hear bands playing for the Velation. Everywhere, there are re-enactments of the Passion of Christ, complete with music and beautiful rugs made from plants and flowers or colored sand and saw dust.
On the ride to our work site, I try to soak it all in, while Cesar and Billy (part of our GV Guatemala staff) lead games or ask questions to spark conversation between the Chapines and the “gringos”. When we arrive at the work site, everyone files out of the bus, sharing the burden of carrying out jugs of clean water and snacks. Then we circle up for icebreakers and to talk about the work of the day. We are building a new school.
Although most Guatemalans are on vacation this week, we have been joined by many members of the San Antonio community, who have graciously offered their help. Some are teachers. Some are young people whose younger siblings might attend the school. Yesterday we were joined by a woman and her two children who will attend the school once it’s constructed. Today the principal came and worked with us.
It’s hard work. Some of us, like Cora and Clint, spent the morning pounding holes into concrete, while other like Diaba and Taylor worked hard to haul dirt and rubble. I spent my morning harassing kids to drink more water and cutting 130 strips of re-bar to be shaped into squares and fitted around the steel beams that will be the foundation of the school. By break time we were all dirty and sweaty, but despite broken nails and sore muscles, everyone was laughing and joking.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to Don Ambroso, one of the men teaching us how to work. He shared a bit of his story with me and gave me a much clearer perspective. “Alli hay mucha tierra, pero pertenece a la Finca,” he said in Spanish. “Over there,” he pointed to the flat lush land just below San Antonio, “there is a lot of land, but it belongs to the Finca [the coffee plantation]. Much of the flat land that is easy to build on is used to grow coffee. So the land where many would build houses is expensive and unavailable which means a lot of people have had to move into the hills.”
The problem is that the population has outgrown its resources. The children must travel pretty far to attend school. That is why it is so vital that we help build this school. Already there are more than enough children to fill it, some of whom make the long trek to Antigua, and others who simple don’t go.
Don Ambroso was only able to finish the 3rd grade before having to leave school to help support his family.
I have been around the world. I’ve lived and worked abroad for several years, but here I am surprised to realize there is still so much I have left to learn, still so much work left to be done. And though I am tired and sore, I’m also energized, not only by the work we are doing, but by watching our kids form community. Not only are they working super hard on the physical stuff, but they are diligent about speaking Spanish and really making an effort to get to know their families and their Chapin counterparts.
What I am experiencing is the reason I so desperately wanted this job to begin with…I get to watch kids make those connections, to have those break through moments. Yes, there have been some upset stomachs, some brief moments of homesickness, or more general irritation from being tired or not having much alone time, but all of that seems insignificant when we come together for reflections and kids start talking about what they are learning and how they are changing.
Don’t take my word for it. Here are some of the things the kids have written in the group journal over the past few days:
“Today was an amazing cultural enlightenment experience for me, and I think everyone on the trip. I was really proud of everyone’s respect and kindness towards all the Guatemalan people. I was glad, as a leader, I never had to think about encouraging someone to be more compassionate, courteous, or respectful. Being leader of the day was fun and I felt a lot of support from my fellow leaders. I stepped completely out of my comfort zone during the time when we met the families of the village Segunda Cruz.”
“For all of my life, up until the most recent years I have always found myself fitting into a leadership role. For some reason over the past two years or so, I have become more introverted. Today definitely helped me get over that more and helped to build more self-confidence. My favorite part of the day was the reflection at the end because I felt as though I succeeded with all the important points I wanted to hit as a leader, the most important one being to treat everyone the same despite the added authority and responsibility of being a leader of the day.”
“Experiencing the Hospital for the first time was really challenging, but rewarding at the same time. In a sense, simply visiting the hospital and working with the patients was taking a step out of my comfort zone. I had never experienced anything like it before and it was a shock at first. I was initially overwhelmed by seeing the things we were seeing, and I was bombarded with emotion: shock, sadness, sympathy, and even anger at the injustice of it all. But as we continued through our work and spent more time with the patients, I started to see another side. Some of the patients were clearly and outwardly happy, despite their disabilities and their somewhat lonely lives. It was especially rewarding when I was able to make patients happy by simply spending time with them.”
Please continue to check the GV Blog for more updates and photos. Also, I will be attempting to check my email at least once a day, so feel free to send me a message if you have any questions or concerns. Que les vayan bien.