Did I mention before that it was supposed to rain the entire week we were in Guatemala? Leading up to the trip, I’d check the weather and every day would have an 80-100% chance of rain. It was something we all went in prepared for. It is, after all, their rainy season. BUT, through the grace of God, we did not get rained on once. Yep, you read that correctly. Not once. The few times it did rain were either overnight or times that we were indoors, and by the time we needed to back out, it had already dissipated. How is that possible? Scientifically, it doesn’t seem so, but we know God was there with us this trip, and through Him, all things are possible!
So, all that being said, we had some fantastic weather the week we were there. Most days were cool, where were very comfortable and not hot, sometimes needing a light jacket but never more than that. We were told early in the week by our tour leader, who had visited the center we were going to visit this day on a past trip, that she remembered it being hot. We were told again, the night before, that since this town was going to be close to the coast and at a lower elevation, the temperature was going to be hotter. Okay, I figured, I’ll be comfortable in a t-shirt and skirt. I just won’t have to worry about bringing my jacket today. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that way after having gotten used to the cooler weather all week. Well, let me tell you, we were very VERY wrong.
For our last full day in Guatemala, we made a 2 hour trip to the town of Escuintla; not exactly on the coast, but much closer to it. As soon as we stepped off the bus when we arrived, the weight of the very hot, humid air immediately hit us. We were also greeted with more firecrackers. We had gotten off a few blocks away from the project, but a whole small marching band of children was there to greet us! While they played and danced for us, we walked behind them, literally parading down the street in Escuintla. People came out of their homes to watch. It was such a fun way to start our visit!
We entered into the small church of this center, GU917, and sat down on the benches. Of course there was no air-conditioning like our churches back home, but they had some fans plugged and blowing. It was simple, but beautifully decorated for us, and clearly well-loved.
We each got to stand up and introduce ourselves and where we were from to the people in the church as they clapped and cheered for each of us. The pastor’s wife, a woman with a heart of gold who is battling a serious illness, thanked us so much for being there. She said that just recently, they had had a lot of valuable equipment stolen from them. It broke our hearts to hear it, but she wasn’t full of anger when sharing this. Instead, she was hopeful, saying that she knows God will provide. We sang some songs and then it was time to go outside.
The main focus of our visit was to see the Complementary Interventions Funds (CIV Funds) in action. I had mentioned the CIV funds in Day 4’s post, as that center had used them for their greenhouses and other vocational programs. This center also had many vocational programs where teenagers could also be certified in the area they were studying upon completion and immediately get a jot (again, SO awesome!!), and we split up into our family groups to see a sort of fair that they had set up to tell us all about them!
Now, while these pictures show a lot of great things, what they don’t show is the heat. At this point, it was beyond hot and beyond humid. We were drenched and dripping. We were trying to fan ourselves with whatever we could find, which was very little. There was no breeze. Our wonderful leaders continually made runs to the bus to get cold bottles of water and gatorade. We were drinking like crazy. And the project staff and kids were just as hot as we were. But we all pushed on. As the day went on, we began losing several people to the air-conditioned bus as they were feeling ill. I have been known to black out in the heat before (just ask my family and they’ll have plenty of stories), so I was nervous it was going to happen. But, thank God, as hot as I was, I never blacked out or got too sick, because I never would have gotten to meet the amazing young people that I did. I think all of the water and especially the electrolytes in the gatorade helped a lot. I found out later it was 105 degrees F without the humidity. It felt every bit of that!
We first got to hear from some teens who were part of the baking program. These girls were so sweet and giggly and they described their process for us on making donuts. The one boy in the group closely manned the stove, where the donuts were being fried. The oven/stove was right there outside. To make the holes in the donuts, they used the caps of plastic water bottles. These kids and their teacher knew how to make the most of what they had. Each of them have dreams of opening up their own bakery one day. Those in the group who could eat the donuts said they were some of the best ones they had ever eaten!
Next we went to see Keily, who learned to make her own jams. She told us of the process and how simple her list of ingredients were. I was really impressed by how well-spoken and driven she was. She’s going to go far in life, because she has a vision and she’s already following it and accomplishing goals! She was unable to attend school for awhile, due to her family not having money, but then she got this scholarship. What I loved the most was that her jars of jam have her own labels with her name on them. As a Guatemalan teen- she already has her own business starting- which is so rare and so awesome!
After Keily was Carlos, who was studying electrical mechanics. He showed us all of his tools, which his father had bought for him, and some of the things that he had made. His mother and older and younger sisters watched on proudly. When showing us the posters he had made, each time there was a picture of himself, he would be sure to add “this is me in my uniform”. It was adorable how proud he was to have his own uniform with his name embroidered on it, the same one he was wearing that day. In the US we may not think much of something like that, but in Guatemala, where many people, when they can find work, are farmers and day laborers, a shirt embroidered with your name is a big deal. He had found a plain toy car without a motor at a toy store and he built a motor for it. He showed us on the ground how it worked, and it was fast! While we were at the next table, I peeked back at Carlos, who didn’t have any sponsors by him at the moment but did have a crowd of kids eager to learn from him- another great role model!
Finally, we meet teenage girls who were learning to do hair and nails. The girl who was learning to become a hairstylist was working giving her friend highlights there outside in the heat as she talked to us. We later heard her testimony, and it makes me even so much more glad that she has this program. She was abandoned by her mom when she was a girl. She went to live with her dad and grandmother along with some of her siblings. However, just recently, her dad passed away after being hit by a car. Through tears, she told us she had been trying to call him that morning but he had already died. Her grandmother is sick with diabetes and her personality hasn’t been the same, for the worse, since losing her son. In this sweet girl’s words, “there’s not a lot of love left in my house”. How could we not be crying with her? But the people at the project had become a family to her. They had taken her in, especially the pastor’s wife. And through this project, through enormous personal challenges, she is surviving and thriving. She will be a certified hairstylist when she completes the program. One of the sponsors in our group was older, and this girl gravitated right toward her, telling the sponsor she reminded her of her grandmother. She even picked her up at one point, in all the hugs, as she hung on her all day, desperate for grandmotherly love, wishing, she said, that she could go home with the sponsor. I’m praying that she continues to know her worth and how loved she is.
We had a little time while the other groups were finishing up to stand in the heat, chat with the project director, and take a picture of our family group with the translator who was often with our group during the week. Thankfully, we managed to not look disgustingly hot for the picture 😉
The project cooked and served us a delicious lunch. It felt a little wrong to eat such hot food when our bodies were already so hot, but we had plenty of cool water to go with it.
We got a little tour inside and noticed that this is definitely the project that is the simplest and the oldest out of all the ones we visited. The buildings are small, old, and not in the best shape. The classroom is tiny and crammed full of desks, which are used from the youngest to oldest children at different class times. We could barely fit inside the little bathroom stalls- they were so small. But the people of this project were so proud of what they had- so proud to show us. The old walls were covered with beautiful paintings that had been done by another group of sponsors several years ago. This was, without a doubt, a place of hope and a place of God.
And the kids of this center. Oh my goodness, I adored them. This boy, who had been running around with his friend, had the BEST smile.
And just look at these faces.
After all this, it was time for playtime. Out of those of us who were still standing and hadn’t gone to the bus to lay down, our energy was pretty zapped at this point from the heat and humidity. But we wouldn’t dream of not giving these kids the fun experience we were looking forward to. This group was older, overall, than the last one. We all piled into the tiny church, because at least the fans were in there. Tables were brought in to have coloring set up on. Some of the guys tossed discs and balloons with the younger boys, as they narrowly missed some crashes. Bubbles were blown. One of the translators and I found a corner to sit and make more bracelets and then, once the beads were gone, pipe cleaner art. I had plenty of stickers but they each only took one cut line until they made sure everyone got some and I let them know they could have more. We had a steady crowd of kids the entire time in our corner, and for awhile I forgot about how hot I was as I just enjoyed the moment of spending time with them.
I met so many wonderful children, but I met 3 girls who made a very significant, lasting impression on my heart. First was this little sweetheart. While the older girls were all crowded around us as we played with pipe cleaners, she flitted timidly on the outskirts. I handed her stickers. Then she came back and asked for a pipe cleaner figure. After we had gotten up, she was still by her spot in the doorway to the church, wanting to join in further and soak in attention, but still unsure about jumping all the way in. I called her over as I reached into my backpack and pulled out a plastic, sparkly princess wand with a star on the end. Her eyes lit up and she hugged me. Her mom thanked me. Later as we were leaving, I was happy to find her on the steps of the church with her mom. I squatted down to give one last hug and got a big one and a kiss on the cheek in return. I asked her mom if I could take this picture. I don’t know how many others noticed this little girl in the outskirts, but I’m so thankful she caught my attention. She absolutely melted my heart.
Near the end of our playtime, a beautiful girl in pink, sat down in a plastic chair that had been placed nearby and joined us. She was on the quiet side. When we were done with playing, we all sat together, among the kids, in the benches while we said our goodbyes, gave our gift, received a gift, and prayed together. I sat by her. She couldn’t stop smiling at me. I found out that her name is Marilyn. She asked me how old I am. She’s 11. We took a picture together as she rested her head on my shoulder. I sensed Marilyn drinking in every ounce of attention I was giving her. I gave her an extra bangle bracelet I had in my backpack. She loved it. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted to make sure she knew how special and amazing she was. After giving hugs to the project staff, she found me for one last hug as I was exiting the church. I pray that Marilyn has a sponsor that writes to her often and shows her the love that she craves. Out of all the children I met the entire week, she was one of the hardest to walk away from.
During the entire playtime, I had another little girl, probably also around 11, right next to me in the corner (you can see her next to me in the pictures above). I wondered at some point if she had wanted to get up but wouldn’t have been able to get through, although she seemed perfectly content. She told me her name, but I didn’t catch it. We talked a little during that time, as far as my limited Spanish conversational skills took me, but I made sure to give her plenty of smiles: a universal language. During goodbye and hugs time, I spotted her, so I made sure to go over and give her hugs and say goodbye. We also took a picture together. She just oozed sweetness and a big heart. When we had just gotten on the bus, and some were still getting settled, I heard a knock on my bus window. This girl had run out to the bus to give me a crocheted coin purse, one that definitely looks handmade. I couldn’t figure out how to open that window fast enough. I graciously accepted her gift and thanked her so much. I was unbelievably touched that this young girl, who had so little, wanted to give me something of hers. I don’t know if I would have done the same at that age. The more we have, it seems, the more possessive we can be, but when we have less, we give more freely. I will treasure this little purse from her, just as I will treasure Heidy’s drawing from three days earlier, because they were acts of love in the purest form.
The staff gave us buttons with their project name on it as a gift before we left, pinning them on each of us. Saying our goodbyes, there were hugs everywhere. Normally, I’d be self-conscious hugging people when I was so hot and dripping, but I gave and received more hugs this day than I did any other day of the trip. There was something really special about GU917 in Escuintla, and I feel like I experienced a change for the better just by meeting and spending the day with them.
Here they are waving goodbye to our bus:
On the way back to the hotel, we saw another very cool volcano and got the full Guatemalan traffic experience. It took us much longer to get back than it did to get there in the morning, thanks to the gridlocked traffic of Guatemala City which was at its worst on a Friday. When we got back, we just enough time to change and freshen up or for one of the translators to take a much needed nap in my room (she couldn’t believe the size of it either!).
That evening was our farewell dinner. It was very bittersweet. I had nothing but love and respect for these wonderful people I got to know throughout the week. I truly don’t think we could have created a better group if we tried. I am blessed to know some amazing sponsors, many of them also Compassion employees. Our Guatemalan leaders and translators were as fun as they were kind, and their country is very lucky to have such great people representing them through Compassion. It was very sad going to bed knowing that it was my last night in Guatemala, but if I have anything to do with it, I’ll be back one day to this country I now adore.