Guatemala Reflections 

March 19, 2019

Over the past several years, heartfelt, personal accounts and photographs shared by Bob and Jade Turner and others about Habitat for Humanity, the country and people of Guatemala gradually wormed their way into my heart and mind. I’ve always wanted to participate in a ‘service trip’ and Guatemala Habitat sounded like a positive way to visit places tourists don’t go and meet people where they are – remote communities where some extra hands could really make a difference and add meaning to my life and lives of others. Habitat’s vision, a world where everyone has a decent place to live, also emphasizes empowering families and that housing can help build a stable future.

When I talked with Ken and Jeanette Hagen after their first experience, Jeanette assured me she initially approached the project with trepidation, “I didn’t have any construction skills; I wasn’t sure this was something I could do. But the Habitat team was always there to guide and teach us.” She offered a beacon of hope! It’s true, you don’t have to be handy, although some basic skill with a hammer and saw is useful. More importantly is the willingness to step beyond your comfort zone, muster a bit of courage and know you have the support of other volunteers and the fabulous Habitat team.

“We got to glimpse a very different life from our own, ancient, adapting in ways to a changing world. We helped with improved sanitation. I felt humbled by the challenges many of these people faced in their everyday lives,” said Greg Anacker.

The group, led by Anacker and Susan Dittig, also included Bev De Cook, Jan Fitzpatrick, Jim Gore, Ken and Jeanette Hagen, Doug James, Janice Randall and Ruth Williamson. Our Habitat Field Coordinators Gabriela and Paula walked with us every step of the way, along with our local masons. Together, we built 10 latrines in five days. The families participated too, from oldest to youngest, and the inclusive sense of collaboration was palpable.

“The grace and dignity of the families we worked for, the camaraderie and mutual supportiveness of our team and the raw beauty of the country we saw made for a humbling and unforgettable experience,” said Doug James.

“I loved the teamwork and camaraderie of building with the masons, the Habitat hosts, the families and with our Plymouth teammates,” added Jeanette Hagen. 

They opened their homes to us; we shared lunch together (beautifully prepared, delicious local cuisine). The final day, we celebrated in community with colorful piñatas for the children and a ceremony of gratitude all-round in English, Spanish and Mayan.  

 “To be welcomed into the homes of Mayan families who spoke neither English or Spanish, play with their children and work with them to build needed sanitary latrines was an experience unlike any other. The collaboration between us and the local Habitat staff and the families was a testament to the power of good will and mutual respect between people of vastly different cultures,” shared Ruth Williamson.

Jim Gore added, “That the Maya we served near Lake Atitlán opened their homes to us, with warmth and regard, was humbling...this after the devastating Guatemala Civil War, extreme pressures on their rich culture, economic inequities, etc. They are a people who offered me more than I felt I returned.”

“Guatemala Habitat was a great way to personally connect with other Plymouth members. Everything about the experience exceeded my expectations. The local families were warm, friendly, welcoming and extremely appreciative of our work. I learned a lot about their culture. The work was challenging, yet not too hard, and I was given lots of opportunity to safely learn construction work without a lot of pressure. The food and lodging were comfortable, and we had down time to catch our breath. The Habitat for Humanity staff was very helpful and provided excellent translation services. I highly recommend this experience to anyone who can travel and do moderate construction work,” said Jan Fitzpatrick.

One of many enriching experiences beyond the Habitat project was visiting the San Lucas Toliman Scholars school in San Lucas, where about 400 middle school and high school students arrive at 7 am to attend classes. Since public school is only provided through 6th grade in Guatemala, students who attend SLT are eager to learn. With 60 students crammed in a small classroom, we were amazed at their attentiveness and enthusiasm. Several Plymouth folks met with students they built relationships with over time as financial sponsors. Read more about this program at sltscholars.org.

Wherever we live or travel, building relationships is key to the experience. We heard heartbreaking stories of family and friends who attempted to immigrate to US, stories of local efforts to grow emerging economy and improve education in hopes for a strong, stable future. We found ways every day to communicate, despite our language barriers, the universal language of love, whether playing with the children or digging holes in tandem. Gratitude abounds when walls come down!

“I felt fortunate to be welcomed so warmly into the homes and lives of the Guatemalan Maya families and to work alongside them.  Once again, they taught me so much about the value of family, community, faith, true team work and what's important in life,” said Susan Dittig.

“We’ve touched hundreds of Guatemalan people…All of us from Plymouth who have gone down there have shared community in mission. I think everyone has been challenged to think about our Christian faith, service and action considering the poverty in Guatemala and our own affluence. Perhaps we have all been shaken (certainly I was) by the joy of people with so little in material possessions but such rich community. Perhaps they are more joyful then we are here in our affluence,” added Bob Turner.

Plans are underway for the next Plymouth Habitat Guatemala. If you ever felt the pull, sensed the call, we invite you to hear more about this amazing opportunity to build international relationships (and latrines!) with our Central American neighbors, Sunday, April 14 following worship. In gratitude to Plymouth congregation and CSSA – Janice Randall



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