As a group we had the opportunity to venture out to the Coban, a region in northern Guatemala, and we partnered with Rob & Tara Caihil, an American couple who have started an organization called Community Cloud Forest Conservation. We were with Rob and Tara for a week and in that time we were going to help out around their farm, and get the opportunity for a Mayan homestay. To introduce Rob and Tara a bit more, they are a part of CCFC, and the mission of their organization is to educate the residents of over 30 surrounding villages on subsistence farming and teaching how to add more nutrition and balance to their diets by growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. In addition to that, every November they have a leadership program for young Mayan girls where they can come to the farm for 25 days and learn about agriculture, healthy meal preparation and leadership. They are also eligible to receive a Q1000 scholarship that can be put towards furthering their education. Within these Mayan villages it is not common for girls to continue their education past grade 6 mainly because education is expensive, therefore boys get priority in the family. So Rob and Tara’s program is very much geared to promote education among these girls, but more importantly they put a huge emphasis on showing these girls that they are worth it, and they deserve education just as much as anybody else.
We spent the majority of our time in Coban in the dark. Literally. We started off with a spiritual retreat lead by Rob where we were able to dive into the Bible and listen to what God had to say to us. Rob led us in a great reflection of what it means to step out from the margins to come before Jesus. Monday morning came a long and our week of service began. There were various work projects waiting for us such as: sifting rocks, moving trees, cutting branches with machetes, agriculture projects and helping out with a class of 21 kids, ages 10-14 from a small, remote Mayan village in the Mountains, the same village we would be having our homestays.
I ended up in the class with the kids for the week, and it was an unforgettable experience. The kids spoke a Mayan language called Kekchi as well as various levels of Spanish. I found it a challenge communicating with the kids, but it was also fun too! Communication looked different for each person. I connected with the kids by pointing at random objects, learning the word in Kekchi and teaching them the same word in English. I found it especially funny when I learned the word for bread (Cash-lan-guoi), the kids kept saying it to me for the entire week. I literally felt like a celebrity, as they would follow me around everywhere, constantly yelling my name. Occasionally they would attack me with leaves, or with tickles (the worst!). However it was nice to see kids fight over who would hold my hand. When Thursday came, we were put into partners and matched with one of the kids from the village we were going to be staying. The homestay was such a unique and eye opening experience for me. I was partnered with Raelene and we stayed with a little girl named Ana and her family. I love all the kids, but Ana has a special place in my heart. Her parents died three years ago when she was at the age of 9 and her little sister was 3. Since then she has lived with her grandparents, aunt and uncle and her five boy cousins. I saw a huge overwhelming sense of courage in Ana. My heart was breaking when I had to say goodbye at the end of the homestay. However, I have great memories of laughing, making tortillas, playing cards and playing “snap”. Watching the kids play brought so much joy to my heart. While watching them I noticed how happy they were. The houses are nothing spectacular and families struggle to get by, yet they are still happy and are willing and ready to open up their homes and share what little they had with us. I realized how small of a priority material things are in their lives. For me it was such a privilege to partake in this humbling and eye opening experience. Every single one of the kids is extremely special to me and my week with them was life changing. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the week, but I got more that I could have ever imagined from the entire experience. I want to show as much joy within my own life as these kids have shown me.