Co-Authored by Chris Fontana, Executive Director.
Peter Bloomquist, one of our Northwest gems and one man think tank, teaches a course on Global Leadership at Seattle University (among many other exceptional activities that forward the education of global leaders, both young and seasoned. Peter asked me to visit his class as a guest speaker. In preparation for my lecture, he had me read a few of the articles from the curriculum. In one article, I stumbled upon one of the great mistakes that international development organizations make. GV fell right into that bucket. Do you know the expression: “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail?”
Since 2004, GV has built 19 classrooms and planted over 18,000 trees in Guatemala. When GV Guatemalan staff interview community leaders on the needs of the community, they have prefaced their comments with: GV works in reforestation and school construction. What does your community need?
Of course, you know how we were answered (we need reforestation and school rooms). And so it was in 2011 that GV changed its approach to community development and collaboration. Today, GV enters into a longer dialogue and inquiry with community members and committees as well as elected officials to find out what the most pressing needs of the community are.
The community told Aurelio Hernandez, GV’s Country Director, that the classrooms were the most important unfulfilled need at the time. However, the classrooms were built on land that was previously used to accommodate important community gatherings.
In Spring of 2012, GV began working once again with the city of Pastores in the Cerro del Niño area that many hundreds of GV students know so well first hand. GV has worked with the community to build seven classrooms (kindergarten through 6th grade). Previously, there were no school rooms and most children did not attend school because parents did not want them risking crossing the highway to get to the closest school. Many Guatemalan children wished to attend school, and wished to help GV volunteers in any way they could.
“I was surprised how a lot of the kids wanted to help out. Anytime we went up there, there were the same kids asking to help,” said Michelle Pham, summer participant in the construction team. “One day, I was walking to fill up my water bottle, and there was a little 6-7 year old boy who asked to hold my water bottle for me while I filled it up. I was surprised how strongly he wanted to help.”
All year, GV youth leaders, both Guatemalan and U.S. Americans, have been working hard to build the two story community center which sits atop a hill that dwarfs those in our beloved Seattle.
“Working in Guatemala taught me how easy we have it and how people can work every day of their lives and still be happy taking the small things out of life,” reflected summer participant, Jacob Merkle.
In the end, we have all learned an important lesson on what it means to listen and to truly build a global community.