As I get organized here in Portland, Oregon to return to Guatemala for the fourth year in a row, I’m thinking back on how this “love affair” began with this country.
For many years I have been involved with an amazing organization called Dining for Women. With over 450 chapters now in the United States, this educational giving circle has raised nearly $6 million donated to grassroots projects around the world that empower women and girls.
In 2013 I went with a DFW group and visited five of the programs we had donated money to in prior years. We visited MayaWorks, Starfish One by One, Mercado Global, Friendship Bridge and 13 Threads. While I had done a great deal of traveling before this trip, this was the first time I had the opportunity to see behind-the-scenes extreme poverty. It was eye-opening and life-changing for me.
These beautiful women and children were living in various conditions, often with lots of family members in one room, many times without a flushing toilet, predictably with chickens, and a cow out back, and usually their small villages were far from grocery stores or medical help.
We were greeted with such warmth and smiles of appreciation. With Friendship Bridge we were able to see examples of their micro-finance small business transactions. We participated in the teen mentoring team building training at Starfish One by One. We had a four directions fire ceremony with 13 Threads. We tried a back strap loom at Mercado Global. Mi corazon estaba lleno. My heart was full.
I stayed an extra ten days after this first trip and got connected with yet another wonderful organization, Mayan Families. This social service program with several preschools in the highlands of Lake Atitlan also does amazing work with children’s education and nutrition, medical help for families, ancianos (elderly), and artisan support and training.
After that first year of infatuation, I’ve returned to Guatemala every year to study Spanish, visit some of the programs and projects that Dining for Women still helps support, and do some volunteering with Mayan Families including visiting our sponsored preschool children and their families.
I am now hooked on this country and this way of traveling. I no longer can be just a tourist (though there is certainly some of that on my trips). Guatemala is an amazing country and Lake Atitlan is simply stunning. The indigenous culture still exists including the native dress in many villages with women and men wearing hand woven fabrics. The physical beauty of the natives themselves is remarkable.
Yes, there is extreme poverty. Most visitors may never see this side of Guatemala with so many people who struggle to survive. My love affair will continue as will my efforts including monetary donations to worthy programs to make a difference. My connection to Guatemala has been life-changing for me, and hopefully, in even a small way, also for them.