Independent Service Week

By Abby Willms

Hello all!

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This week, our group embarked on independent service week – a week that provided us with an opportunity to stretch and grow as leaders, collaborators, and decision-makers. We were split into four groups, each living and serving alongside a ministry or organization for the duration of the week. Between the four groups, we had the opportunity to work alongside staff and volunteers at schools, hospitals, orphanages and ministry centers throughout Guatemala. The four groups were comprised solely of students – no leaders – thus providing us with a great chance to practice and improve communication both internally within our groups and externally with the various people we interacted with at the organizations.

    For my group, this week gave us plenty opportunity to exercise flexibility and decision making, along with the ability to find humour and joy in times of uncertainty. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original placement didn’t work out – leading us to a wonderful children’s transition home in San Lucas. Our time with this organization was special and quite impactful as we witnessed the dedication of the wonderful staff, the efforts made to create a “home-y” atmosphere for the children, and the openheartenedness of the children and staff as they welcomed us so warmly into their space and their lives. We spent our days playing outdoors with children, assisting the nannies with many large day to day tasks that arise from caring for and living with 30 children. The nannies (or “Tías”, as the children call them) do these tasks, including laundry, dishes, dressing/undressing children, cleaning, and cooking, with a great degree of joy, efficiency, patience, and grace. Seeing the joy with which these women completed seemingly mundane or monotonous tasks was a testament to their dedication and deep love for the children.

   After three days at the ministry, again due to some unexpected circumstances, it was thought best that we switch placements. This was a very difficult decision for our group as we so badly wished to continue on at Amor de Patricia. While disappointment was definitely palpable, we were grateful that, due to the quick thinking of both Outtatown staff and partners in Guatemala, we were able to continue at another organization – teaching at a local school and working to paint a mural for the inside of a Sunday School classroom. While this week shaped up to be different than the original picture we had envisioned, we remain very grateful for the ways our hearts were touched and our minds stretched by the dedication, care, intentionality, and drive of the people and organizations to work towards a more just and loving world.

Laughing and Learning

By Kaley Fehr
This last weekend some of us took the opportunity to climb Central America’s third highest mountain, Volcan Acatenango. It was a strenuous six-hour hike up, the first hour being the hardest. Once we made it to base camp we ate some spaghetti around a fire and watched Volcan Fuego erupt beside us all evening.  After a cold night in our tents, we rose at 4am to hike to the summit and watch the sun rise – the most spectacular panoramic view I’ve ever seen. Some of the group also took on the challenge of climbing part way up Volcan Fuego, the active one. It was an unforgettable journey of us pushing ourselves and being in awe of God’s grandeur displayed in nature. Definitively, a life-giving experience.

 

Afterwards, however, it was very nice to settle back in with our host families, feel a bit more at home, and be able to rest. The rest of the week, spent in San Juan del Obispo, was a fairly regularly scheduled week. Spanish classes, service projects, PMG afternoon, and small groups. In addition we had our very own site talent show, took part in a dance class, had a Knowing Yourself session with Brette, and had an impactful visit to an organization doing justice work in Guatemala City.

The talent show wasn’t entirely prepared nor did it turn out the way it was expected to, but it was lots of fun. Each small group performed an act, along with several individual and group acts. It was more like a comedy show…so collectively our best talent is making each other laugh.

For a cultural activity we went into Antigua for a salsa and merengue dance class. Turns out we all can dance, and I believe everyone enjoyed it.

In the Knowing Yourself, we focused on self-care and spent time thinking about how we can recharge ourselves from our different kinds of tired.
We visited an international Christian organization in Guatemala City that works toward justice and healing in the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation. They have taken the initiative to bring together police, lawyers, the church, and society to start a discussion where there was none in the past. They have fought to implement the first mandatory training for police on the issue of child sexual abuse. We were given a presentation, a tour of the office, and the opportunity to meet the different organizational departments and see how it all works together. Many of us left feeling empowered, believing that there is change happening in the world and that we too can be a part of it. This excursion was the highlight of my week.
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Tradition & A Sense of Belonging

By Elaina Wagenman

Hola friends and family! Site 1 Guatemala is wrapping up yet another extraordinary week spent in San Juan del Obispo! It’s hard to believe that only two weeks remain of Spanish school and living with our host families. It will be a difficult goodbye. Throughout this week two ideas have stuck out to me while our group was going about the semi-usual but never mundane routine of weeks in San Juan.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

First, I have found myself reflecting back on my initial feelings upon arrival in San Juan del Obispo, this small town we knew little about or even what to expect. On my first night with my host family, I was overwhelmed by their incredible hospitality and relentless kindness as they welcomed me, a shy white girl who barely spoke any Spanish, into their home. Despite their hospitality, I still felt out of place. My homestay, although abundantly charming, didn’t feel like my home. So many things were different from my home in Canada.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Looking back, my perspective has definitely changed. As my Spanish progresses, I am interacting more and more with my family and my host sister especially. I have now built relationships that somehow tie me to this small town in Guatemala that no one back home has even heard of. When I think about my house, there is a sense of familiarity about the big red double doors, my pink cinderblock room with its floral curtains, the sight of the cherry red coffee beans growing outside my kitchen window, and even sharing the shower with a couple green slugs every now and then. I’ve grown to see past the differences enough that I feel a sense of belonging here. Now, to me, San Juan del Obispo looks like home.

This past week we also had the opportunity to be involved in some unique cultural activities. On Wednesday afternoon, our entire group had the pleasure of visiting a women’s cooperative in San Antonio, where we were taught about several Mayan traditions including a typical wedding ceremony. The women first showed us some weaving techniques and we learned about the very complex and intricate process of making traditional blouses, shawls, and other clothing. The artistry of their weaving and the knowledge of the years of experience and hours of work that go into each piece left us all appreciating their work even more. Next we participated in the wedding ceremony. Linnea and Simon, the happy volunteer couple, and the wedding party were dressed in traditional wedding attire. The women facilitated the wedding, explaining the whole ceremony step by step. Afterwards the couple was showered with flower petals and the whole group danced to marimba music. We even prepared a traditional wedding soup and tried our best at making tortillas.

On Sunday, our group had the opportunity to make an “alfombra”, a carpet made from colourfully dyed sawdust, pine needles, and flowers, adorning the street where the Lenten procession occurs. The alfombra took almost 7 hours to complete and turned out beautifully. It was delightful to see the people walking by stop to take photos or congratulate us for our hard work. Freddie from Mundo Spanish School said that many tourists don’t understand the point of these time consuming creations because they are destroyed in less than 2 minutes when the procession walks over and ruins it. I really enjoyed this opportunity to take part in a tradition that is so central to the celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week), and to learn through this experience more about the culture of Guatemala.

I think that through experiencing and being a part of local traditions we can learn so much more about a place and a people. I was honoured that the women from the cooperative, as well as Mundo Spanish School, took the time to share such important and sacred traditions with us. I came out of this week with a deeper appreciation for the insight and learning that result from observing and experiencing these celebrations. This made me think about how our traditions as an Outtatown community, and even as Canadians, can allow people to better understand us as they reflect our history, values, and goals.

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Not Easy, But Together

By Rachel Herold

This past week marked not only the halfway point of our semester in Guatemala but also the reunion of our (almost) full group after a week of travelling in two separate groups. Although we regretfully left three members of our family behind to rest and get healthy in Antigua, it felt good to be back together as we travelled north to Lake Izabal, Flores, and Tikal.

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Lake Izabel

The timing of this travel week, combined with structured “Knowing Yourself” sessions and ample time for thought during 8hr drive days, created an excellent context for reflection. I found myself reflecting predominantly on our community — on relationships built, on lessons learned, and on how far we have come since September. So, given the opportunity to share my reflections with you all this week, that is what I choose to celebrate — our community.

We may not be a community that always exists in harmony, but we are a community that feels it when one of us is hurting or absent. Despite the excitement of travelling, beach resorts, and farm hostels this week we could not help but feel something was missing and remember our friends we had had to leave behind. Feeling their absence was sad, but it was also a reminder that each and every one of us fills an indispensable spot in our Outtatown community. Our community is made up of 27 different personalities, and yet we have somehow found a rhythm where each of those personalities plays an essential role.

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Exploring the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

We are not a community that has it all figured out. Rather we are a community where leaders and students alike can sit down and have honest dialogue about topics that matter, such as family and self-esteem. We are not a community that has all the answers, but we are learning to sit in the discomfort of just listening and accepting where each other are at. One of the highlights of my week was, after leading a session on Self Love, seeing students sitting in conversation with one another, sharing their personal thoughts, and just being able to laugh with and love one another, even in the face of the “hard stuff”.

We are not a community that always agrees with each other. Rather we are a community that sits around the table on a free afternoon and has hard conversations about social issues and theological beliefs. We are also a community that is willing to pursue reconciliation and forgiveness when heated debates lead to hurt feelings.

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Volleyball at Denny’s Beach, Lake Izabel.

During the last week, I also found myself reflecting on what we were learning and getting out of our time in Guatemala. Of course natural, hot spring waterfalls are breathtaking and hammocks under palm trees are hard to pass up, and these are memories we will take with us and stories we will retell. However, it seems to me that flying thousands of kilometers away from home, sleeping in strange beds, and dealing with strange bugs oddly creates the best environment to look back at ourselves. In the context of the unfamiliar we discover the things we definitely cannot live without (hugs and communal meals), and the things that we definitely can live without (warm showers and Netflix binges).

In the unfamiliar, we also get to practice resilience and trust, as we see just how much we can handle and we find those we can rely on when we’ve reached our limits. And I am proud and grateful and overjoyed to look around me at 26 once-strangers who are now friends, who know each other personally and support one another unconditionally. For me, the best part of this past week wasn’t the incredible sites or fun adventure, it was getting to see our community lifting one another up in the midst of it. Of course, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal was magnificent, but what truly warmed my heart was to hear students finding joy simply in seeing one particular friend giddy in her passion for Tikal’s history. Similarly, jumping off a hot waterfall was exhilarating, but the most encouraging experience was to see students overcoming their fear of heights once again, to the encouraging cheers of their friends, and to see everyone moving over and making space for each other under the falls.

 

But, these were not easy relationships to build. When we are struggling with culture shock, when we are tired and uncomfortable and hot and sweaty, patience and empathy do not come naturally. Patience and empathy only come because we have chosen not just to live together but to love one another, and we are learning what it takes to truly love in community.

So, as I am sure you have noticed if you’ve been following us throughout the year, Outtatown is far from being about easy experiences. Outtatown is about sitting in the back of bus with your knees cramped up to your chest for 8hrs, but giving up the seat with leg room to the girl who gets car sick. Outtatown is about getting soaking wet because you took the worst seat on the boat but choosing to laugh instead of complain and making everyone’s day a little brighter. Outtatown is about dealing with sun burns and stomach bugs and bug bites but happily sharing your first aid supplies with anyone who asks. Thank you to all my students who, in each of these instances, inspire me with your self-sacrificing love for one another. No, Outtatown is not about Easy, but it is about Together.