What goes up must come down. Just like we made the four hour journey up the mountains to Quetzaltenango, this was the day to make the journey back down to Guatemala City for the rest of the trip. A little more aware of what the roads were like, I made sure I had my ginger chews accessible with me when I packed everything up in the morning. However, with a stop part of the way through to break things up at a Mayan ruins site on the schedule, I felt optimistic that this bus ride wouldn’t be as bad as Sunday’s, and thankfully I was correct. After a nice breakfast, we left our lovely little Grand Santa Maria Hotel for the last time.
We saw some gorgeous views on the drive. We even made a stop to take pictures with a huge volcano in the backdrop. There was also a sweet little girl there selling something who loved the doting attention of a group of Americans. As pretty as the pictures may be, they still don’t do any justice to seeing it in person, sprawled out for miles upon miles. I should give a shout out to our superman of a bus driver, Jorge, who obliged to all of our requests and navigated us safely through not only the winding mountain roads but also the narrow cobblestone streets and the busy traffic of the city roads, always with a smile.
We arrived late morning at the Iximche Mayan Ruins. This is a smaller ruin site in Guatemala. The largest and most well known one is Tikal, which takes at least a full day to get through due to the size. But Iximche was on the way, and we loved it! I learned a ton. We broke up into two groups and I can’t speak for the other group, but our tour guide, Melvin, was awesome. He spoke English, which let our translators take a break, and he’s a volunteer, but he was very knowledgable and had a great sense of humor. We got to do a little climbing up and down the steep, skinny steps, journeyed from plaza to plaza, learned about the Mayan families that lived there, their rituals and customs, the Mayan number system, and lots more!
There was also a place for sacrifices which is still actively used for Mayan rituals, and we did see one going on when we arrived. Although I did hear “Gracias Papá Dios!” in their chanting, so maybe they were Mayan Christians?
For a late lunch, we ate at this restaurant called Katok, which seemed to cater to tourists. We actually weren’t the only American group there eating at the time, the menu was in Spanish and English, and they had souvenirs and things you could buy. It was a fun little place to eat and a good meal!
We arrived at the Mercure Hotel, the same place we stayed on Saturday night when arrived, in the early evening. We had just enough time to check in and rest/freshen up a little before our special dinner in the hotel. My room this time was even bigger than the first night, which I didn’t think was possible!
So as much fun as we had this day, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the experience of visiting a Compassion project, after having visited them the past 3 days. There’s really nothing that compares to connecting with the children, families, and staff. That’s why I was really looking forward to dinner, where we were going to get to meet some Leadership Development Program (LDP) students. I knew from following the Compassion bloggers trips each year how powerful LDP students’ testimonies can be, and I couldn’t wait to meet some of them in person and talk with them.
I was one of the first ones to come down to dinner, and I found a seat at an empty table. Soon after I sat down, one of our translators came by and introduced me to Ana, one of the LDP students. They sat down together with me, and we started talking. Soon others joined us at the table. Other tables had other students and translators sitting at them. It was great to get to know some more about her before we officially started. Ana is 24 and she is studying education management. I had to laugh at the “coincidence” that of course she would end up at a table with me, a current teacher, and another sponsor who is a retired teacher. (And a further not-so-coincidence God placement: another LDP student who is studying to become an accountant was at a table with a sponsor who works in finances.) I was impressed with Ana’s heart and her determination. She clearly loves children, and her dream is to open her own school, which would also have education for parents and a daycare where children would have a safe place to be while their parents worked. She has several siblings, and she and one of her brothers were the two that were registered at her project. She giggled as she shared that her child number was #1; the first child registered there. Her mother would help the pastor at the church, which is how she got this spot. Her brother was #2. Ana teared up a little when we asked her about her sponsors. Her first sponsors only sent her one letter. But, she said through tears, she was so grateful to them, because she knew that they loved her and supported her. Then she received a new sponsor, who only sent her one letter, as well. However, she currently has a sponsor through the LDP program who writes her all the time. Her face just lit up whenever she’d talk about this sponsor, and the great relationship that they have. Her sponsor is a teacher, too, so they each share about their experiences with each other. How I wished in that moment that her sponsor could have seen how lovingly Ana talked about her!
Our conversation was interrupted as all three of the LDP students were called up to the front for a panel. We, the sponsors, each had our own headsets, on which we heard simultaneous live translation, provided by a Compassion Guatemala staff member, so it helped by not slowing down the conversation too much with all the pauses for translation. David and Emily, our Guatemalan leaders, had composed a list of questions that they went through and asked the students. I was thoroughly impressed by how eloquent and well spoken each of these young adults were, and how much thought and detail they gave to each of their answers. In addition to Ana, there were two young men, one studying to be an accountant and the other studying to be a physiotherapist.
The boys spoke very candidly about how different their lives would be if they weren’t involved in Compassion, telling us, sadly, how few of their friends from childhood actually remain. Many of the others have succumbed to gangs or drugs or have died. The ones that still remain, and are making great things out of their lives, are the ones that were Compassion kids. Once again, more proof that Compassion saves lives. The first young man, on the left in the picture, told us that one of his tutors at the project told him to apply for the LDP scholarship. He said he didn’t think he’d get it, because his grades weren’t good enough. But thankfully he applied, and he did get it! Want to know why he is becoming an accountant? It’s because that’s what his sponsor was, and he wanted to be like him. He’s also very active in working with the younger boys at his project. I’m sure they love looking up to him as a role model!
The young man in the middle told us a story about his childhood and when he had a significant tumor on the back of his head. Thanks to Compassion’s financial help and prayers, he was able to get medical intervention, find out it was benign, and get laser treatment for it to fall off. Imagine if he didn’t have access to this. But when he started sharing about what he does now, I was truly moved. He started a group of family members and friends that visit family members of patients staying in the hospital, bringing them food and other things and spending time and ministering to them. Well, others heard of this ministry and wanted to be a part of it, and he now has around 200 people helping him! He also shared how his sponsors asked him about his hobbies, and he mentioned that he likes photography. They sent him money for a camera, so he was able to go pick out a nice one. And now he’s able to share the pictures that he takes with them- how cool!
As David said, none of these students said “now I’m done with poverty and I never have to deal with it again.” Each of them want to give back and help others in their community out of poverty like they were helped out. And that’s what’s going to change things in this country for the better- young people like them. We presented gifts to these amazing young people, and then it was time to eat. I got to talk a lot more to Ana during dinner and after. Part of it was because I was sitting right by her at the table, but we also had a lot in common with our love of the field of education. I always love talking to and encouraging young teachers, in general, because I was there not too long ago, and I had some great mentors that encouraged me. So it was my absolute pleasure to talk to Ana, show each other pictures of our students and our families, and make sure she knew how special she was. Even though it was late, I was reluctant to leave when it was time to say goodbye, because I could have easily talked to her for another hour (although I’m sure the translators were exhausted!).
And just one of the many benefits of traveling with lovely Compassion staff members? One of them had the excellent foresight to film the presentation of each of the gifts. And her job allows her the power to look up who the sponsors of these students are and send them the videos. Can you just imagine what an incredible gift that will be to them??