Guatemala 2016 Update – A Change Of Scenery
(Thursday, July 14, 2016)
Today has been different from our other days in Guatemala so far.
After breakfast, we traveled outside of Xenacoj to a small village of Ayapan. The village is one of the poorest areas I’ve seen in all of my visits to Guatemala. The village can only be accessed by dirt road. It’s about 1.25 miles from the nearest paved (or concrete) road. And the road to the village is windy with scenic views of the surrounding mountainous country side.
When we arrived, we walked up to a school building located in front of an old church. (The church was build based on a photo of a European church. Up until recently, there had never been an American missionary presence in this village.) There are actually two school buildings in the village – one for upper elementary students and one for lower elementary students. I’m not sure, but the older students in the village may go in the afternoon to the same buildings. (This is how it is in Xenacoj.)
We peaked into the classrooms just before students were released for one of their 15 minute recess periods. When the came out for recess, they were “treated” to a meal of rice and beans along with a hot cup of otool (I’ll have to check the spelling of this). This meal is a big deal as they often don’t have enough food at home to provide nourishment.
After the meal, we played with the kids for a while in the dirt play yard. We played tag. We played ball. And we simply interacted with them. There is so much to be done in these types of villages. There is clearly not enough money to support the schools, the nutrition, and the sanitary systems of these communities. Up until recently, the poorest members of this community got their water from a well that was located 30 feet down hill from the school bathrooms. These bathrooms made the worst outhouses in the United States seem like deluxe spas.
This community is facing a lot of other issues as the Guatemalan governement is taking over some of the properties to build a highway system around the capital city of Guatemala City. This construction project has led to protests and even a few deaths as the native Mayan population is trying to protect the land that has been in their families for many, many years.
At one point during our visit, I noticed several armed Guatemalan guards. Apparently, they had been sent there to protect the highway construction workers. Meanwhile, the local workers have been impacted by the concrete and construction dust that fills the air often filling their lungs and compromising their crops which provide their source of living.
While the highway system will most likely have an overall positive impact on the mobility in Guatemala, it is perhaps having an irreversible impact on those who were in Guatemala first – the Mayan people.
After our visit to Ayapan, we took our team to Hope Haven Guatemala, an organization on the outskirts of Xenacoj that builds wheelchairs for the disabled all over the world. We played wheelchair basketball with several of their employees during their lunch break. It was fun to laugh with them. I quickly gained the nickname Amarillo after I made a few baskets and they noticed my yellow (Amarillo) shirt.
After a fun time of basketball, we ate lunch as a team under the shade of an avocado tree next to the basketball court. Then we went inside to help in the factory for a couple of hours. We sorted parts and pieces for future wheelchairs. The impact of these chairs may never be known, but it was cool to know we were providing hope to disabled individuals around the world with our simple efforts.
Even though this is my fourth trip to Xenacoj, I feel like I have so much to learn. I don’t understand all the local politics, and I certainly don’t understand all the culture and tradition that happens in this village I have come to love.
When I first dreamed of building 100 houses for widows in Guatemala, I thought the construction would be the challenging part. In reality, there is so much more complexity to it than I ever imagined. There is jealousy among other widows not getting the houses. There is even some sense that certain people in Xenacoj don’t want us around. I don’t think they understand us either. (For the most part, we are welcomed, but there are definitely a few people who are not thrilled with our presence.)
I may have an audience with the mayor while I’m here, and I think this could be helpful in discussing the state of affairs in Xenacoj and determining how we can best help in the future. I believe we can build a better house for these widows even though it may cost a few more dollars. I have to believe we can develop a better application process for determining who gets the houses in the future. I want to see if we can setup some kind of system for following up with each of the house recipients. They need some type of maintenance program for future repairs, but they also need some type of spiritual follow-up.
These are things I’ll continue to wrestle with as I move ahead with plans to build 100 houses.