Learning Adventure

This past week our group was split in two, and we headed separate ways. The first group started off working with MCC (Mennonite Central Committee), while the others headed 8 hours north to Lanquin. Midway through the week the two groups would swap locations.

Group one met up with Sarah from MCC and headed to Santiago Atitlan. There, we explored the city on a tour accompanied by Sarah where we had the opportunity to visit the building where Stanley Rother was shot and killed by government soldiers. Stanley Rother was a Catholic priest in Santiago during the time of the Guatemalan civil war and was a key figure in helping provide relief during this devastating period. At the beginning of the semester, we all read a book retelling the story of his life, making the experience that much more meaningful. Following the tour, we were introduced to the staff of ANADESA, the organization we would be working with for the next few days.

 

MCC partners with ANADESA to provide support, using their resources to help the surrounding communities in the best way possible. ANADESA focuses on providing support to children, youth, and women, offering many different workshops and resources to help the community excel. Examples include their after school programs and language classes. They also provide the opportunity for women to earn extra income, through the use of their traditional skills, by helping to teach and host groups like us.

 

During our learning tour, we were given the opportunity to learn many different traditional activities in order to gain a broader understanding of the culture. One example was staying with host families from the community. Through chatting with Sarah, we learned that in all Mayan languages (23 total in Guatemala), the word for “welcome” is universal. This is very fitting, as hospitality is definitely one of the first words that come to mind when reflecting on our experience there.

We learned how to make a traditional Mayan meal, starting with gathering all the ingredients from the local market. We also learned how to make a simple beaded bracelet (a common traditional craft that many possess here in both Santiago and many parts of Guatemala). Our tour included learning the extensive processes of growing and making organic coffee, and real chocolate from cacao. Though we only stayed with ANADESA for a short period of time, so much was learned. The days were very full, however, we know that we only experienced a portion of what life is like in our short time here.coffee 3

It was such a privilege to partner with MCC and ANADESA this past week. The beautiful culture and traditions that have been preserved will definitely leave a lasting impact on our time here in Guatemala.

On Tuesday afternoon, we had a short reunion over lunch with the other half of our group that was in Lanquin. We then once again parted ways and swapped locations.

For the second half of our week, my group drove up to Lanquin where we spent two days at a beautiful hostel on the water. There, we enjoyed a day in Semuc Champey swimming in natural turquoise pools, caving by candlelight, swinging into a river and jumping off the side of a waterfall. Our time in Lanquin was a wonderful way to end a busy few days before reuniting with the rest of our group on Sunday evening.

Through reflecting on this week, I am very grateful to have had another opportunity to work with MCC, learning more about the meaningful work they are doing in Guatemala. When walking the streets of San Juan La Laguna, after our coffee tour, we had some time to explore the shops. Sarah recommended that a few of us stop in a small store that sells hand-dyed, locally made bags, scarves, etc. Through browsing and reading their brochure my heart was immediately filled with joy seeing what they are striving to do. Made up of 25 women, they have a mission aimed at promoting ecological sustainability, cultural preservation, and equal opportunities for women.

I feel very blessed to be able to support such a meaningful business. Through learning about how ANADESA is working with women in the community and the ways businesses like this in San Juan La Laguna are working to gain equal economic opportunities to contribute to their families’ finances, I have felt empowered. With this, I have been further challenged to look where the clothing I am buying is coming from and how my simple choices can make a powerful impact on who I am supporting.

Feliz Dia

By Bailey Brockman

Hola chicos and chicas!

We are officially one month into our adventures of second semester! Being in a foreign country for this period of time has resulted in various stages of adjusting to culture, a few unwanted stomach bugs (don’t worry moms, I assure you we are being careful and getting looked after), and a whole lot of memories!

We had a full weekend of two volcano hikes and individually meeting with our visitors J. and Andrea.  Following that we eagerly dove into our third week of Spanish classes in hopes of miraculously becoming fluent, and eliminating the somewhat awkward encounters that a language barrier brings when immersed in a foreign culture.

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Monday started the many festivities this week held; the most obvious being the day of love, or as we know it, Valentine’s Day.  We were challenged by our leaders to take some time and possibly a little PMG budget to spread some love. To all of our delight, 3 of our boys decided to surprise everyone on Tuesday morning before class with individually wrapped bouquets of flowers, a smile and simple message of “we love you” as an early Valentine’s Day gift.

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This was only the beginning of a week of celebrations. Not only did Tuesday mark the day before Valentine’s Day, but it was also Carnival day (a tradition in South and Central America, celebrating the beginning of Lent); and to top it off, my host mom’s birthday.

The vibe one gets when it comes to celebrations in Guatemala is “go big or go home,” with a whole lot of confetti and fireworks. To say the least, this week brought a lot of “happy days” filled with hugs, gifts, school carnivals, and more confetti – leaving my host family no other option than to have a party! My new cousin Tana and I (our host moms are sisters) had the incredible opportunity to be part of a birthday party “done right” where we preceded to smash confetti-filled eggs (pica-pica) over each other’s heads for a hour. In addition, the group of us teaching English as our independent service project was able to witness the high school’s extravagant carnival.

To our surprise, the celebrations didn’t end there.  Wednesday (Valentine’s Day) was Ash Wednesday and the day that the Antigua soccer team beat Guatemala City 3 to 2, which our whole group also had the amazing opportunity see. Showing up in green to support our closest city, Antigua, we were welcomed without a question to the full stands of crazy fans.

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Fun fact: The Antigua team is know as Panzas Verdes which translates to Green Bellies.  This name originates solely from the fact that they eat too many avocados, which explains why their mascot is an avocado with a face on it.

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After this very full week of learning, celebrations, and cultural activities, we were more than ready for the weekend where half of the group headed to Lanquin for an adventurous, relaxing weekend and the other half to Santiago Lago Atitlan.

Ultimately, coming out of this week, I have learnt how to celebrate Guatemalan style, that glitter never really comes out of your hair, and that we as an Outtatown group have been so graciously welcomed into this country’s culture.  Regardless of my rudimentary Spanish and the fact that I’m basically a stranger, my host family continues to treat me like part of the family.  I am so grateful to be surrounded by such amazing people on this journey and for the experiences and adventures had and yet to come.

Until next time!

He Guides Our Feet

 

By Sabrina Blank

Coming back to San Juan del Obispo for our second week with our homestays brought feelings of returning home for many of us. Following our week in Panajachel we were all quite exhausted from the past week’s activities and heavily anticipated the rest we knew would come from sleeping in familiar beds.

The first four days of the week were spent in our Spanish classes where the language was finally starting to click for some of us. With the knowledge that we would be having an exam on Thursday motivating us, we all poured ourselves into our studies. Many of us have been using what we learn in our class time to continue to strengthen our relationship with our host families and better our communication with them.IMG_7696

Another one of the amazing things we had going on this past week was our first day of service projects! I have been blessed with the opportunity to volunteer at a cerebral palsy hospital just outside of San Juan del Obispo. In the brief time I spent there it became swiftly apparent that God’s love was everywhere. I saw it in the staff’s compassion, in the residents’s beaming smiles, and in the volunteers’s eagerness to serve others.IMG_7214

Over the weekend we were given the opportunity to climb two volcanoes. On Friday morning our entire group piled into a van and headed from San Juan del Obispo to the base of Volcan de Pacaya. Upon arrival a small group of us (including myself) mounted the horses that we had earlier decided to utilize on our trek. With twenty-seven Outtatowners, our two guests, our two guides, multiple other horse riders, and two dogs trailing behind us our group was a steady force making our way upward. The further along we went in our journey the better we were able to see the vast beauty of Guatemala splayed out in front of us. As we neared the top we reached a brief plateau in the volcano’s ever-sloping frame where a shop was located. Sold at this “Lave Shop” is a variety of hand-made jewellery products that contained repurposed igneous rock, which is cooled and hardened lava. We were also given the opportunity to take advantage of a natural “hotspot” and roast marshmallows over a field of still hot igneous rocks. Once we were finished taking in the panoramic views at the highest point in our hike we were still only half done our adventure. Our trip down was much faster than our walk up, thanks to something called scree running. Scree running is relatively simple. At its root you are just running down a hill, in this case a volcano, as fast as you can. Trusting that the small loose rocks under your feet will cushion your steps, much like running through sand does. It was an exhilarating way to make our descent and left many of us breathless, in the best way.

This week, when we were not studying, volunteering, and/or hiking, we were encouraged to take time to meet with J. and Andrea Janzen. For those of you who regularly read the blog there is a chance that you may remember J. and Andrea from first semester in Canada. For those of you who don’t, we got the opportunity to spend a few days with J. last semester during our church visit experience in Vancouver. It was during this time we got to experience seven churches within three days. J. and Andrea have been coming to Guatemala for a week in second semester for many years now. The purpose behind their visits is to offer outside pastoral support to those of us in the program and remind us of the support we have outside of our Outtatown community. For many of us our meetings were a time of encouragement and reflection on all that we have been learning in these past busy weeks.

 

Building Relationships

By Kaley FehrIMG_7102

Last Friday we traveled to Panajachel, a city on the edge of the beautiful Lake Atitlan. We began the week by getting an awesome landscape view from above the trees on a zip line. The rest of the week was dedicated to working with Solomon’s Porch, building a home for a local Kaqchikel family, but more importantly we were there to build relationships. The family was incredibly welcoming, very grateful to us for coming and showed great hospitality throughout the week.

 

Together we worked hard and got a lot done. We moved bricks, wood, and dirt. We dug a three metre hole, dug trenches, and poured concrete. We even chopped cinder blocks in half with machetes. Nevertheless, we also spent time with the family’s kids. All of them loved to play soccer; even the neighbouring kids came to join for a game during our lunch breaks. They were also eager to help out in any way they could to contribute to the building of their home. The father, Juan, worked hardest of us all, always with a smile on his face. Before leaving, a few friends and I sat down with some of the kids and shared a memorable moment teaching each other words from our native languages. To end our last day of dirty construction work we cleaned off with a water fight. Spending our last moments together in laughter, we dumped buckets of water on anyone who wasn’t fast enough to get away.

 

Leaving was more emotional then I had first anticipated. Words couldn’t express the gratitude each member of the family had, and for us as well, as they had taught us so much about love and thankfulness. With this project we were left feeling like we had made a real impact. It was an honour to be the first group and lay the foundation. Knowing that there are people living in worse living conditions than us and seeing it first hand are always two very different things. Going out with the purpose to serve, we learned how much of an impact even a small action can make. This was made particularly clear when we had the opportunity to go look at a completed house built previously by Solomon’s Porch and compare it to the family’s former house. Porch does their best to help each family they work with to establish a sustainable way for them to support themselves. Their impact is widespread and long-lasting. In total this week of work was a meaningful and memorable experience. After an emotional goodbye, we took photos and now await news of the home’s completion.

 

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The weekend was spent at a ‘hippies paradise’, a hostel called La Iguana Perdida across Lake Atitlan. We enjoyed our free weekend with swimming, hiking, morning yoga, and delicious meals…even salsa dancing for some of us. It was nice being back in community living and having some freedom to explore. It was a refreshing way to enter back into Spanish classes and life in San Juan del Obispo.