After 6 full days and night in Panajachel we are off to Antigua for a little relaxation. We arrived in time for lunch so most of us went to Frida's for the best Margarita's and nachos and Jim, Laurin, Grace and Michelle along with another friend of ours, Erin, who is in Antigua taking Spanish lessons took a Chocolate cooking class. I am definitely going to do this before I leave Guatemala. All but three will be leaving Sun. morning and Ann, Janet and Judy and myself will be spending another night. They will leave Mon. morning and I will head back up to Pana for another month of relaxation and winter avoidance.
It's friday February 14!!! To celebrate Valentines Day we got to help put together Valentine food baskets. MF has a holiday food basket program. For special holidays they make food basket you can purchase for your sponsored families or for general donation. For specific holidays there are special foods that are traditional to that holiday and for others it is just a chance to give a gift of food. We got a production line set up and banged out 100 baskets. Everyones starting to wear down from the pace we have kept all week so by the time we got that done and went for lunch we were ready for some down time…especially since our free day turned out to be pretty full. I for one went home and took a nap. We were then invited to the MF offices for a farewell dinner and video of our trip. Time now to pack for our trip to Antigua and then the group will be heading home to the snow and cold. Glad I get to stay another 6 weeks.
We always have a free day during the week so everyone can do their own thing, be it shopping or relaxing by the pool or doing more volunteering. Today was not so free…we once again jumped in the back of a MF pickup and headed to San Jorge to help serve lunch to the ancianos (elderly). We went early because a few people have ancianos they sponsor so they went and did home visits while the rest of us visited the San Jorge preschool. This was the first preschool MF started and over a couple of years donations came in to build a three story building that now holds to classes of preschoolers and a computer lab for older students. Four others joined our group and they had brought lollipops and stickers to hand out so everyone participated in bringing lots of smiles to the kids. Then it was time for the 4 girls who had joined our group to San Jorge to go visit their sponsored child. The rest of us relaxed on the church steps for a little down time. When the others returned from their visits we headed to the building where the elderly feeding program is held. Children are considered orphans if their mother is dead because even though they may still have a father he is so busy trying to make a living he can't spend much time with them so they also eat with the elderly. It is such a sweet combination. The very young and the elderly are most at risk for malnutrition so that is why the preschools and the elderly feeding programs are so important. And beyond that it is a wonderful time to socialize and have a sense of community. Before it was time to serve I had the opportunity to go visit one of my students who lives in San Jorge. This year for Christmas instead of buying a small gift for each member of the family I am buying the new 10 yr. water filters so I made a small bag of art supplies for the whole family to enjoy. And yes you are correct I deliver Christmas when I go in Feb. They don't seem t mind. Sulmi, my student, has grown so much since I first met her and she is now in their equivalent of our junior high. All the sponsors who send regular food donations to their students families always see a big difference in the overall health of the family and especially in the young ones. Food is the most important gift you can give to the impoverished. Then it was off to serve food to the elderly. They are the sweetest people. They receive a very nutritious meal 5 days a week and are sent home with emergency rations since this is likely to be the only meal they receive all day. Then it was time to return to Pana to grab some lunch for ourselves. We went to San Jorge in two trucks because we had beds and water filters to deliver but on the return trip we only had one truck so five were inside and 14 were in the back of the truck. I tried to photograph this from the truck bed but I couldn't get everyone in the photo!!! Since it was technically the free day once we returned to the hotel everyone scattered to do other things they had planned. During the week some of the sponsors planned lunch out for the families of their sponsored students. This is such a treat because usually even the parents have never eaten in a restaurant. Brian took both his families out during the week and Laurin, Jim, Grace and Michelle also treated their families to lunch and even a birthday party for one with a cake and pinnate. In the evening we had reservation at Pinguinos' for a traditional Guatemalan meal called pepion. The owner, Miguel, entertains everyone with the history of his people and his daughters play the marimba. It is a fun filled evening especial when everyone tries to make a tortilla for which their is a prize for the best one. Beth won !!! Tired and full we all headed home. Another great day.
Today we return to El Barranco to build three stoves and visit sponsored students. But first we stopped by the women's co-op in Solola where they use only bamboo to weave with. Their dyes are not natural dye as they are in San Juan but the colors are beautiful. They use two weights of spun bamboo, the rustic is spun by hand and the fine is machine spun and imported but the softness in incredible. After the demonstration we were able to purchase their beautiful wears. Then off to build stoves. I have participated in building several stoves and they are often long treks through fields or up rocky inclines carrying all the concrete parts. These three stoves were were all by the road..YIPPEE…. and the parts had already been delivered. This made the heavy toting much easier. We split up into two teams since it doesn't take 10 people to build a stove this made it all happen a lot faster too. An added bonus to the stove building was that one of the homes had San Simon the Mayan god in their home. I am not sure what the process is to have the honor of having him in your home for the year but each year he is moved to another home. So it was a treat to see this while we were there.Then after lunch we first visited Ann's sponsored little girl. It had been two years since Ann's last visit when she first sponsored Blanca and she was really looking forward to her visit. Blanca was so happy to see Ann, I can't begin to tell you how happy it makes the children to meet their sponsors. Ann had brought each family member gifts, sweater,jackets,dolls,shampoo and toys, which they so appreciated. Ann has been helping the family with food donations for the past two years. You often can tell a difference in growth and skin tone when families are given that boost in fresh fruits, vegetable and protein. While we were still at the preschool to have our lunch the two boys Steve has sponsored were at the school and he got to meet them for the first time. He had a smile as broad as Kansas. Steve sponsored Jose Domingo before he had come to Guate and after being here decided he wanted to sponsor a second and since I had 6 boys who lost their sponsors I of course was pushing them!!! So he decided to sponsor Walter too the night before we went for the visits. I have known both of these boys since 2010 and think very highly of them. So after Ann's visit we went first to Walters home where they could get to know each other. They presented Steve with a beautiful hand made scarf. Then Steve asked Walter what he would most like to have and his answer was if Steve could help with food for his family. Between the scarf and the humble request there wasn't a dry eye. Next we went to Jose Domingo's home and Jose was so excited to meet his new sponsor. They really like to put a face to the person who helps them get an education. His family had taken out a loan from a relative to build their home. They were previously living with the grandparents. The father now works in Guatemala City for this relative to pay off the debt so they are not seeing him much. They are in need of help to pay off the debt so by buying food for the family this will help them pay the debt off sooner. Food is always the number one priority with helping these families. Again the day was made possible by the help of the MF staff, drivers, stove building experts, photographers and most of all Elizabeth and Sergio who interpret for us. We so appreciate them all. The night was finish off with dinner at El Bistro along with friends we have met in Pana.
Tuesday Feb. 11….we like to mix fun with the work so we hopped on a boat to San Juan to visit the women's textile co-ops. They make all their own dye from natural resources. The lake was beautiful ( it usually is since it is considered one of the top ten most beautiful lakes in the world ) so it is always a photo op from the front of the boat with the volcanoes behind you. When we arrived Francisca was waiting for us. Francisca heads up one of the larger co-ops and shows us the entire process of creating beautiful textiles. After the demonstration I presented Francisca with a gift from my niece,Kara, who has been twice to Guatemala with me. Kara has a heart for giving to good causes. She is a creative women herself and create lovely jewelry. She has started a small business of not only selling her own creations but those of others. She does both online and in home parties where the hostess can choose a charity to have a portion of the profits go to. Over the holidays she had an online party to sell Guatemala creations and have a percentage of sales go to the coop that Francisca runs. I was able to hand over Q550 ( Guatemalan Quetzels) and Francisca was thrilled by Kara's kindness. We then proceeded to shop until we dropped. We had two MF staff with us, Elizabeth and Sergio, to help interpret and four ladies who were here visiting MF and also on a buying trip for a group of retails stores in California so Sergio not only interpreted but also became a very sweet Sherpa carrying the large bags. Not a single person went home empty handed. We then had a lovely lunch with a view of the lake. After returning to Pana we did a bit more shopping for jewelry then it was time to rest a bit and clean up for a dinner party at my place with the magnificent Chef Mathilda preparing a fabulous meal for us. I do believe a good time was had by all. And again all the photos can be viewed at the Picasa link on the right of the blog.
Today started out with a trip from the hotel to Mayan Families (MF) in the back of a pickup piled not only with people but all the tubs of donations everyone brought to donate. It's the Guatemalan way!! After sorting and reloading the trucks with donations, food and people we were on our way to El Barranco. El Barranco is a farming community where many impoverished Mayan live and work. They struggle to feed their families let alone cloth and educate them. MF started a preschool there a couple years ago to help feed and educate the children at risk for malnutrition. Guatemala is fourth in the world for chronic malnutrition so at the preschools the children are feed a hot nutritious breakfast, given a snack, get their teeth bruised and given a vitamin everyday, 5 days a week, 12 month a year. This program has saved children's lives. In the preschool they are not only given nourishment but are taught Spanish. The people of this village speak a Mayan dialect but when the children go to public school it is only in Spanish so they struggle to make it in school. There are at least 6 of these preschools that MF has started and the impact they have made in these communities is immeasurable. In El Barranco (EB) some of the parents have worked at keeping their traditions alive by teaching the children the folkloric dances of their Mayan ancestors. It is always so much fun to watch the chidden perform them. While we were waiting for the children to all arrives along with their families we went to do some of the home visits since most of the people of this group already sponsor children in school. Student sponsorship is our main focus but not a requirement of the trip. The children love to have their sponsors come visit and the sponsors are always so moved by the visit also. It can be very emotional especially when you see up close and personal the real poverty these children live in and yet they are most always smiling and happy. I used to be able to go to all the home visit but now so many not only sponsor one child they sponsor more than one child so we always have lots of visits and multiple teams doing it so I try to go to the homes I haven't been too or the ones that it has been a long time since I have been there. After lunch the chidden performed their dances and then we handed out the donations we brought. It is always so hard when there are not enough shoes for all those who need them to find a pair. Along with clothes and shoes they received tooth paste and brushes and soap and shampoo. Then off to more home visit and back to Pana to freshen up and go to MF for a talk by Julio Cochoy who speaks about his experience as a boy living through the revolution in Guatemala and the effect it had on him and others. Then off to dinner and to bed. A long and exhausting but rewarding day. As usual all the pictures from each day can be found on the Picasa link to the right of this page.
I had a lovey ride to the city today to pick up the new group who have come to generously donate there time and money to help the wonderful people of Guatemala. Jeaneth from Mayan Families needed a ride to the city for some appointments so she rode with me and we had a wonderful visit. It is about 3 hrs. to the city so it was nice to have entertainment!!! Brian was the first to arrive…...well not really the first….Ann,Janet and Judy arrived in the city a couple of days ago to do their donation shopping instead of lugging it all down with them on the plane. Smart ladies. They also had a fun city tour and found a couple of restaurants they really liked. Then there was the Chicago delegation…Jim, Laurin, Grace and Michelle who also arrived a couple days early and spent their time in Antigua touring a coffee finca and taking a cooking class where they made a four course typical Guatemalan meal.They used one of my drivers in Antigua to get to Panajachel (Pana) and met us at the hotel. So after Brian, came Steve and then we picked the ladies up from the hotel then returned to the airpot for Beth and her mother Terry. Since most of them came from the frozen tundra of the USA I was glad they all made it unscathed. We then made the 3 hour trip back up to the highlands and just before arriving in Pana we stopped at the Miradora ( a place on the road with a spectacular view over looking the lake and Pana below) where nature showed it's splendor. The sun was setting and because we have had some slightly windy days it was a very clear view where most times by afternoon with all the open cooking fires it is hazy. We were blessed with a double rainbow and a beautiful play of light off the surrounding mountains. After arriving at the hotel and unloading all the luggage and donations everyone freshened up and then we left for our Mayan Families welcome dinner at Sharon and Dwight's home. Wonderful dinner, wonderful people, wonderful day. Tomorrow we hit the ground running.