Last week I traveled to Guatemala for 7 days with Medical Teams International. Yes, I was going with my organization but I was going as a volunteer on a layworker team to build stoves in a small Guatemalan village called Saqib. It was an amazing trip with an incredible group of people whom I didn't know but got to know pretty well throughout the week. I kept a blog on the MTI website, so here are some clips that hopefully capture the trip...
Our diverse team included Judy, Amy, Evan, Howard, Cassie, Becca, Megan, Greta, Charley, West, Ryan and me
We have yet to interact much with the local people, the Guatemaltecos. Today has been a day to take in our surroundings: the culture, the terrain, the weather, the food, the sights. Our team is ready to serve. We want to be active and get our hands dirty. We want to interact with these people that we traveled so far to meet and begin the project that we've been anticipating for so long. But I think we are going through the necessary process for serving in a foreign country. It is so important to understand the people and the country before you can serve them. What's their culture? What do they do? How do they do it? What's important the them? What are their real needs? How can we best serve them? Where can we be most helpful? Where would we get in the way?
One of the things I admire most about Medical Teams International is their commitment to working in solidarity with the community; as partners. This evening, a few of our Guatemalan staff lead us through an orientation and presentation of the stove project including health statistics on why this work is important in the specific area of San Juan Chamelco. I think our team has gained a deeper perspective of why we are here. We knew that we were coming to build stoves. But we are realizing that we are here to participate in tranformational development. Rather than coming, giving a handout, and leaving, we are building relationships and participating in building up a community. Hopefully in the process we will transform this community through improved stoves, better health, and a sense of value and worth. While at the same time we will be transformed in our understanding and posture towards this new country and our ability to relate to and learn from our friends in a whole other part of the world.
Day 2:Today we finally traveled to the village of Saqib to start the stove project. We drove about 45 minutes outside of Coban up a windy road to this secluded village of about 370 people. When we arrived, the people of Saqib were standing outside to greet us. We all gathered into their community center, a cozy concrete building in the center of the village, for a welcoming ceremony. The children sang the Guatemalan national anthem for us and many of the community leaders greeted us.
Our group split into three teams of four, making sure each had a Spanish speaker and a Q'eqchi speaker who could help translate. The Q'eqchi speakers were men who work for Lola, the Guatemalan company who designed the stoves we were building. Over the course of the day (which we really only worked a little over half of due to the welcoming ceremony), we were able to install 10 new stoves in the village of Saqib. That means 10 families were able to cook dinner in a smoke-free home tonight; 10 families will go to sleep breathing in cleaner air; dozens of kids have less risk of developing respiratory illnesses.
Today when we arrived in the community of Saqib, we went straight to work on building stoves. The best thing about this stove project (besides improving health, of course) is that we are able to enter people's homes and really get to know the families in the community. These people are gracious beyond belief. They embody the meaning of hospitality. The gifts and kind words were overwhelming. All we could do was smile and say "bantiosh" - thank you.
And then there was Aldofo. A child who only spoke to me with his eyes. I would call his name and he would simply raise his eyebrows and giggle. He somehow reminded me of my nephew who, although is blond-haired and blue-eyed, has the same expressions. It reminded me that children all over the world have that same joyful spirit.
Wow, what a week of working on the stoves in Saqib and getting to know the people in the village. Our team successfully built 40 stoves in 3 days. I had heard about the problems the old open-fire stoves were causing in the homes and I had read reports on how Medical Teams International is working to improve health by building new stoves; but I had no idea what a problem this was until I saw it firsthand.
As much as I enjoyed visiting these people’s homes, it was difficult to be in the house for more than a few minutes at a time. The smoke made it hard to simply breathe. My eyes would start to burn and I would start coughing. These Guatemalans were using the open-fire stoves to fill a basic need of eating. But in exchange, they were compromising the basic need of breathing clean air. No one should have to live that way. We all deserve a good meal and fresh air under the shelter of our own roofs. I realized that this is a problem that can’t be ignored. What a blessing to be able to offer our friends in Saqib a healthy way to live their everyday life.
Today, we celebrated with the people of Saqiib. These people are simply beautiful. They have impacted my life and I am forever grateful to have met them and shared a short time in our lives together. They have given me a renewed perspective on the meaningful things in life. And for that I say thank you: “Bantiosh.”
me and little Marvin