Thanks to the help of family and friends my husband and I have been able to help many people in Guatemala.
Our first big experience was Christmas Eve, 2008 when we brought toys and clothes in our luggage to children at Hospital Roosevelt. At the time we weren’t completely prepared for all the children we encountered and after a while we ran out of things. It was really disappointing having to leave without giving a little something to all the children that were spending the holidays at the hospital and we hoped that next time we would have enough so that everyone was given something.
Upon our return we decided that next time, hand carrying the donations in our luggage wouldn’t be enough and since that first visit we have been shipping boxes filled with donations. Each box measures 30 x 30 x 30 and costs $185 each to send. We try to fit as much as we can and we pre-select the best quality items as well as what is the most needed at any given time. For example, after a volcano erupted filling towns with ashes or a really bad storm, caused mudslides and floods we shipped food, pots/pans, blankets and home necessities. For cold seasons we try to send sweaters and anything else that may be needed. We also try to get as many pictures as possible of the packing and distribution because we feel it really makes a connection with the people who helped to be able to see where their donations and efforts went.
This past Christmas, 2011 we took a trip to Guatemala shipping two boxes ahead of time (boxes 14 and 15). In the boxes there were clothes, toys, crayons, shoes and miscellaneous items. Lately, we have been focusing on shipping as many things for children as possible, but we also try to send some things for adults.
Another new development has been some people have entrusted us with monetary donations and so the first thing I did after landing in Guatemala, was to buy several bags of candies, 100 toys for boys and 100 toys for girls. Using sandwich bags my family and I made little surprise bags with candies, crayons and/or a little toy which we handed out to children as we came across them in farms, by the side of the road or in the city or towns.
Also during this trip, I worked with another charity in Los Angeles called, The Reading Glasses Project, which provides reading glasses to low income people. I brought 120 pairs of reading glasses and distributed them to elderly people throughout Guatemala.
After staying in the city for a few days I left on a road trip with my family up north to Santa Cruz del Quiche, Huehuetenango, and Chichicastenango. While on the road, just outside of Tecpan we could see many children on the side of the road waving at cars, trying to get the drivers attention in order to ask for food, money or perhaps a gift.
This gave me mixed feelings. On one hand it is sad seeing so many children on the side of the road waiting for something every day, but on the other hand I couldn’t understand how parents could teach their children to do that the entire day every day.
Next, we headed to Santa Cruz del Quiche where I handed out candies at the park while visiting the town and later we continued on to Huehuetenango.
On our way we found 5 children and an old man sitting in a garbage dump. At the time I wished I had some food because although they were grateful for what I could give them I am sure they would be happier with their tummies full. It was an experience that broke my heart.
On our way back to Guatemala City we stopped in Chichicastenango where we met two sweet boys that turned into our tour guides showing us around Chichi. We were able to spend some time with them and treat them to an ice cream for all their help before heading back home.
A few days later my husband arrived with another piece of luggage filled with donations. Once unpacked we separated clothes for boys and girls, differentiating between ages, toys and shoes while my grandmother folded every piece of clothing to make it easier to fit in bags. This makes it much easier to distribute things at a moments notice which is important because anytime we left home we always brought toys and candies to hand out to the children that work in the street, polishing shoes, selling gum or doing tricks in order to get a few coins, that later is taken back to their parents.
On Christmas day we returned to hospital Roosevelt, but this time our family came with us and we brought plenty of donations to make sure each child would receive something. A nice nurse stayed with us the whole time and took us around the hospital to all the children’s areas. To begin we started in the children’s emergency room, which wasn’t an easy way to begin and the path we followed, took us through several floors and several wards full of children.
On every floor you hear a story, you get to see a parent suffering with their children’s pain, or a child asking through sad eyes if somebody can give him something for the pain. In these wards we were able to meet an orphan girl that was left in a trash dump and was going to be taken to the orphanage the next day. Another boy and dad that couldn’t understand us because they didn’t speak Spanish and a sweet baby boy named Nery that now lives in the hospital cared for by the nurses because after being born without hands or feet his parents abandoned him. Every child and every parent has a story and every story makes you more thankful for everything that you have. But at the same time it is overwhelming.
Thankfully this time we were able to leave toys and clothes for every child we encountered. We also left extra toys in the common play areas as well as clothes for people that come to the hospital not knowing they would have to stay as some of these people travel five to eight ours and sometimes more to make it to the hospital.
Our next adventure began when my husband and I took off to Xela (Quetzaltenango). While on the road we encountered more children like I saw on my first road trip waving at cars hoping for a gift. On one stop my husband got out to hand out donations. I looked in the mirror and saw one child running over to the car, and shortly thereafter a whole herd of children came running towards the car. My eyes widened and I jumped out of the car figuring my husband could use the help and again we were able to make sure that every girl and boy received something. Unfortunately this was just one stop and while we did stop a few more times there were so many children everywhere.
While visiting Xela, we noticed a woman selling newspapers that was holding them very close in order to read them so I asked if she needed some reading glasses. We grabbed a reading chart and figured out which pair of glasses worked for her and she told us that her mom also had trouble reading and we visited her as well.
Later while walking through the city we came across a craft store where we met Melissa. Melissa works with a group of elderly indigenous women in a village close to Xela who make textile and handcraft products. After hearing about the women in the village we thought they could benefit from reading glasses as the work they do is usually very delicate and intricate and Melissa is one of those people that you meet who you know you can trust at first site. So we left some of the glasses with Melissa to be distributed at the village.
Next we took off to Panajachel and on our way we stopped as much as we could whenever we saw a boy working with his dad, carrying heavy loads of wood on his back or when we saw a young girl working in the fields with her mom. The only thing that you get to take with you are memories and knowing that you did the right thing, sometimes you are not even thinking of taking a picture, sometimes you don’t even have the time.
On our way to Pana we took a back road and met some more children working in the fields and making handcrafts. We gave some girls some books that we had and they asked if we could come back next year with more so they could learn.
Once in Panajachel we took some time to walk around the lake and learn more about the Mayan culture, we met two nice people that taught us some words in Quiche, which is similar to Kackchiquel (Languages of the Maya that are still spoken today). They told us about the Tzutunil language which is the primary language in a village on the other side of the lake so the next day we took a boat and went to San Juan La Laguna to get to see and hear the Tzutunil culture.
While in Pana we heard about and orphanage in Solola which is in the mountains above Pana and we decided to drive up and check it out. Once arriving we were greeted by a beautiful school and orphanage created by some expats from the US called Eagles Nest. They have built a school and an orphanage in the mountains above Panajachel with a beautiful view of Lake Atitlan. It is truly a wonderful place for a wonderful cause.
We started handing out toys inside where the person in charge asked the children to sit on couches and chairs, so I was able to hand out toys and candies. Then we went outside, to hand out more toys and where I also got to play tag. On our way back to the office I got to talk to one of the people in charge and learn more about the project, in the mean time my husband was helping one of the directors with an Internet problem. After we said our goodbyes and headed down the road we stopped one last time when we saw more children working the fields. It started with just one or two but more children kept coming out of the fields until we had given away almost all of the donations that we had with us.
Still, I wish we could have stopped one last time because as we were driving I saw a little girl who was probably only eight years old holding a baby at the bus stop. It was heartbreaking seeing a child so young already doing the job of a mother. Unfortunately it was just a passing moment that we passed by too fast. I still wish we weren’t rushing and just turned around.
Later we arrived back in Antigua just in time to take a shower and meet friends for dinner at Mono Loco. We spent a few days here with my grandmother walking around town and when we came across children we handed out candies or bought ice cream.
Also in town we visited a retirement home where we were able to hand out more glasses to the residents.
Ultimately, we ended our trip with tons of new adventures and great memories, which inspire us to keep doing what we are doing and as always we couldn’t do these things without the amazing support of people like you.
Some donations that werent passed out while we were there were left with: