Although we had a project lined up in Xela, Guatemala before departing the US, we changed the location to Antigua where the Asturias Family – father, uncles and cousins of my good friend Shandy from ERAU – not only had great connections to help on community project there, but graciously offered their beautiful country home (view a quick video here if you’d like more info on how to rent the place!) to us for the entire duration of our stay. Our one project in Xela quickly became working with three different communities/organizations two of which were in Antigua and the third in Guatemala City, about 40 minutes away:
Cocode de Vuelta Grande y La Colorada
Antigua is divided into about 16 districts each represented before the central mayor’s office through their “cocodes” that are basically groups of locals with a leader who meet to discuss issues and make decisions for their respective communities. The cocode of Vuelta Grande and La Colorada (the two districts further from downtown Antigua) had not had running water for 10 years during which time they had been making constant pleas and official requests to change the situation to no avail. In short, we helped this community in their battle during the time we were there.
This incredibly well-run and volunteer-intensive NGO based in Guatemala City works with the children of “guajeros” who scavenge the municipal dump in search of recyclable material that they then hope to sell often at the low prices intermediaries or recyclers themselves are willing to pay. Needless to say, conditions are grim and Camino Seguro tries to provide a safe haven, education, and nutrition to their children along with health-care and self-improvement programs and services for their families. For a description that will do Camiino Seguro more justice and much more information, please visit their website.
Corazon de los Niños
Also extremely well run and with a director that has energy and positive attitude to spare, Corazon de los Niños provides nutrition, education, health-care, and a wealth of other community developmental programs (such as micr0-credit lending programs) for children and their families of the surrounding communities of Antigua.
April 10 to May 10, 2009
Project Summaries, Work Done, and Contributions
The volunteer work we accomplished for the three different organizations we connected with were absolutely different from one another and each provided a unique experience that was truly positive and enriching. The work we did and projects we worked on were not technical in nature as the major project in Mexico, for example, but that did not take away from their challenging nature and subsequent satisfaction during and after the work was completed. Below is a quick summary of what we did in each organization.
Cocode de Vuelta Grande y La Colorada
As mentioned earlier, our main goal when working with this rural and substantially impoverished community was to help them in their efforts to convince the central Antigua government to connect them to the water system so that they could have running water particularly during the summer months when the mountain reservoir ran dry. There were a host of other issues such as no trash disposal, poorly constructed dirt roads that became truly dangerous mud rivers in the winter months, and more, but we didn’t have time to address them all.
Our first step after our initial meeting with the community leaders was to schedule a visit to the problem area with the intention of taking pictures of the consequences of not having water, particularly in the community school and health center. If you REALLY want to see the pictures, click here, but a few of them are a bit graphic (you have been warned). We also attended a major community meeting where I addressed them directly and made it clear that the only way they were going to get anywhere was to show – preferably graphically – the consequences of the lack of water to the inhabitants in terms of health problems, poor sanitary conditions, etc.
The next step we took was to meet directly with the mayor of Antigua during a meeting of the cocodes. Along with Antonio Guzman, our point-person in this project, we brought the press and a representative of the Human Rights Watch of Guatemala to the meeting and I got the chance to personally address the mayor and discuss the situation of these water-deficient communities.
We left this project simmer for a while we worked at the other organizations, and after we came back from our side trip to Cuba, we were pleased to find out that the community had been donated a water pump to help abate the situation. Several issues remain to be sure, but progress was being made.
Camino Seguro/Safe Passage
Camino Seguro was a very fun and different community service experience for us. Basically we got to volunteer with little kids of both kindergarten and elementary by helping their professors throughout the day. While I stayed primarily in the kindergarten playing with the children (running around the incredibly nice playground, playing soccer, and generally goofing off), painting, putting kids to sleep, and even washing their flea-infested hair and helping to bathe the 4-5 year olds, Pablo worked at the larger center with older children. There he helped professors in more advanced activities and courses (and got better food too! arghhh!), which he enjoyed more. Finally, we also helped cook meals for the children – all 600 of them!! I literally have NEVER cut up so many vegetables or washed so many dishes in my life! Great experience though and we got preferential treatment when it came to food portions…heh heh…
Corazon de los Niños
This NGO provides similar services to those of Camino Seguro, but in Antigua and the children they work with do not go to a Corazon de los Niños school. They are spread throughout the different communities and towns that surround Antigua and are sponsored by people worldwide to help subsidize the services that are provided to them. When we arrived, the organization was well behind schedule on the yearly reports that needed to be sent to headquarters and so, our mission there quickly became helping go around the communities basically taking pictures of children and helping prepare their annual reports. What an incredible experience. Not only did we get the chance to see absolutely gorgeous Guatemalan towns, but we got to see them from within and get to get a better idea of what their people (and their children whom we played with to absolute exhaustion) were like. Furthermore, being a lover of photography, I had full access to photograph the children who were simply beautiful and so spontaneous and photogenic that it was hard not to take pictures by the dozens! Keep in mind that Guatemalan mothers traditionally protect their children from pesky tourists wanting to take pictures of them and so this opportunity was truly unique and would simply not have been possible had we been tourists exploring these towns. In short, we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. So much so that we didn’t even realize how much work we were actually doing until we finished each day drained of all our energy.
Fortunately, we got an e-mail from them confirming that all reports had been completed in time (something I personally had a few doubts would be possible at a certain point during our time there). I just hope this year they start earlier!
Pictures and Media
There is a wealth of pictures and videos of our experience in all three organizations. Guatemala was truly a paradise for taking pictures, particularly of the people and their culture. I definitely encourage you to take a look at the media below to get a good idea of what our short yet intense month of volunteering was like in this absolutely gorgeous and interesting country.
La Colorada and Vuelta Grande – Water project
Camino Seguro volunteer work at the kindergarten
Tour of the municipal dump in Guatemala City where Camino Seguro works
Corazon de los Ninos pictures during photo tours of Antigua’s surrounding communities
Guatemala City municipal dump
Me getting raided by the children at Camino Seguro