Guatemala Day 10

The last leg of the journey was the hardest…the 5 am wake up call at the hotel in Toronto so we could obtain our boarding passes, hit Tim Hortons and catch our 8 am flight to Winnipeg. Everything went so smooth, although the wake up call was followed by some insistent knocking at  a few of the hotel room doors.

As with the rest of the trip, this leg of the journey was flawless and our students were excited, yet sad to be returning home. I think the smiles on the faces of the parents waiting at the bottom of the escalator was a fitting end to an amazing journey!

Mr. Williams and I were honored to chaperon this amazing journey with the greatest group of BH students! As we move on and have only memories, I know that I have just shared an amazing experience with each of my students and I will hold each of these memories close to my heart.

To each of my students….thanks for the journey….thanks for caring and taking the time to show that your few minutes can make a difference to someone else in the world. I am so very proud of each and every one of you!

To the parents….because of you, each of your daughter’s have just had an experience that really can’t be put into words but will be a little piece of who they will become.

Goodbye Guatemala and as the mom in the hills around Duenas said, “You are all angels!”

Guatemala Day 9

Today is a day of mixed emotions…excitement about traveling home but also sadness about leaving this new community we have called home for the last week. The day started just like the others…with cafe con lache, a greeting from Mischa, the cat and the arrival of our two bus drivers, Manuel and ?. After challenging the drivers to load our luggage for our hour long trip to the airport, we were off for our last ride from Antigua to Guatemala city, through the winding turns and heavy traffic.

After a 9 days of eating Guatemalan food, many of the girls hit McDonald’s at the airport for their fill of burgers and fries and with some familiarity with home. It wasn’t long until our boarding call and the first leg of our journey home with a quick flight to San Salvador. The plane sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes which had me worried as the connecting flight was already on a tight schedule. Arriving in San Salvador, we walked into the terminal from one side and immediately entered the next plane on the other side and were headed for Toronto. Flights home always seem so much longer but we arrived on time in Toronto at approximately 10 pm. Customs went smoothly and we caught our shuttle to the hotel for our final night away from home. Although late (midnight) pizza and Chinese food were ordered in  as we hadn’t eaten in some time. We loved the size of the room and the amount of hot water and water pressure in the showers. What Mr. Williams and I thought might be a late night wasn’t as many were exhausted.

Off to bed!

Guatemala Day 8

Well our last day in Antingua…it started just like any other…knocking on Mr. William’s and each of the girl’s doors  at 7 am and while the girls showered and dressed, Mr. Williams, Julie and I headed next door for our hour of cafe con lache.

A quick trip to the market to pick up the last few items followed breakfast and then off to Open Windows for our last day. We had some last minute donations to sort and some groceries to purchase before lunch. The groceries and a few candies were sorted into four boxes for families we would soon be meeting. After a quick (and delicious) but tiny lunch we left to deliver the boxes to families who lived on the hillside around Duenas. The walk was steep and most of the dwellings we passed were tin walled with sometimes plastic for a roof covering and dirt floors.  Teresa accompanied us and after a brief conversation with a woman surrounded by four children, we were invited in to her small yard. This house is along the path that leads up the hill and during the rainy season, the water runs down the hill into their house, often soaking all their belongings. (Teresa and the Opén Windows Foundation are collecting plastic water bottles which will be filled with trash and used to create a retaining wall to help slow the erosion along these steep banks. ) Once the girls had a quick visit inside her house, we left a box of groceries and continued our climb. Soon we came to another yard with a couple of tin dwellings, again with dirt floors. This yard is home to 3 families with a total of 15 children ranging in age from a month old to 14 years.  We stopped for a quick visit and left the remaining three boxes of groceries. The mom at this house spoke in spanish and when interpreted said that she is so grateful for people like us who are willing to help and that the students were angels sent to help. When talking with the girls later, this visit had a huge impact on them.

Once back at the center, we spent the next hour in the library reading with the children who attend the center in the afternoon. (approximately 60 children) Activity time follows reading time and today was our last chance to organize the daily activity. Our girls have done a fantastic job all week of organizing fun and new activities for the children and I think today, the hugs received at the end of the activity time was reward enough for our students.  While activity time was on, a few of us spent the last remaining time sorting our donations and boxing and labelling them for ease of distribution. Not only does Open Windows distribute supplies to the community and surrounding schools, but they also create 150 gift bags for Mother’s Day gifts and 500 Christmas gifts for children in the area.

By 5:00, the day had finally come to an end and we had to leave the centre for our last time. We were invited to the home of a retired couple from the US, who sit on the board of Open Windows.  We met many of the board members and had a wonderful hamburger bbq with Teresa, Julie,  and the staff of Open Windows.

We arrived late back at the hotel, but Mr. Williams, Julie and I had arranged for dessert night at the restuarant next door this morning before we left, so those who wanted were treated to “raw apple pie” and terra mazu.

Last minute packing is still to be done tonight and we should be travelling much lighter than when we arrived…although we have some shoppers in the crowd!

Off now to pack and up again in the morning for our usual routine and last cafe con lache!

Guatemala Day 7

“Take a step back and it won´t hit you in the face”.  (anonymous BH student)

Last night after we returned from dinner, we went to the rooftop to reflect on the day. Each of the girls spoke about their experience so far and the quote above was so fitting. Although this student was talking about how she adapted to the crazy shower head in her room, she brought the discussion full circle and related it to how she felt about what she had seen so far. She talked about how things really aren´t so different and how people really are alike regardless of where they are from and if you just take a step back, it is so much easier to see.  Mr. Williams and I love this metaphor!

Day 7 -It was amazing how easy it was to get everyone up this morning and to breakfast on time when shopping was first thing on the agenda. Even those who hadn’t been feeling well over the past few days pepped up with the thoughts of shopping. After a quick exchange of money we went to an outdoor market where the girls tried out their best bartering techniques and by the amount of bags accumulated after a couple of hours, I’d say they were successful. I hear that we may be returning in the morning to pick up a few last minute items.

Around noon we left the market and ventured out in tuk-tuks, three wheeled taxis for a short ride to Teresa´s (director/founder of Open Windows)house, where we had been invited for lunch. We  felt like we were in the Amazing Race reality show as we raced down the street one after each other in 6 tuk-tuks. We arrived at a typical doorway, much like any other in Antigua, but once through the door, we found the most beautiful house filled with magnificent archways, gardens and artwork. The girls enjoyed homecooked lasagna and were invited to relax until the buses arrived to take us to the centre for the afternoon.

We weren´t at the centre long before we were lacing up the runners in preparation for the “soccer match”. A short walk brought us to a soccer field where we began a quick warm up…only because we thought we should…not because we thought it would help! I know BH is known for some of its sports teams, but I´m afraid the  BH Guatemalan soccer representatives won´t go down in history for their incredible game. A great effort ended and we distributed candy to all the children who played against us and all the children who were watching.

We are now back at the centre after another great dinner at the local Mexican/Guatemalan restaurant just down the street. They are thrilled to have our business and have gone out of their way to make sure we have a great experience and pass on the word to upcoming groups. 

The local teens are just arriving for teen drop in night and word on the street is that more are coming to participate tonight after hearing about all the fun had on Tuesday night with the students from Canada. I think tonight´s activities consist of games, some Salsa dancing and maybe a few rounds of Sing Star!

We´ve all made comments today about the fact that tomorrow is our last day at the centre and our last chance to interact with the children, and how sad that is as the local children are really just getting to know us.

Another busy day is planned for tomorrow….off now to see how Teen night is going.

Thanks for all the blog comments!

Guatemala Day 6

I´ve decided to blog today before leaving the school so I can use a keyboard that actually works and so I don´t have to fight for time on the only computer at the hotel!

After our long day yesterday, we slept in this morning and started our day at 9 again today. Our morning consisted of completing all the jobs that we started yesterday so when we leave today, all is done.  The front of the center has a fresh new look with bright yellow paint and all the desks have been repaired and re-painted. We are hoping on Thursday that we can personally take the desks to the school that they are being given to so we can see who will benefit from our work.

Right now all the girls are involved in two craft activities and one music activity in a new room that was just completed with donations such as ours. The students from the center have been divided into three groups and are rotating through each of the stations. The two craft activities are going great and our girls that are running the music center have learned that they never want to be music teachers. They are trying to communicate with 15 students and a language barrier how to play Hot Cross Buns on the recorders! As I sit in the next room, the sound at times is recognizable….only one more group to go.

Tomorrow is our shopping day so you can only imagine how excited the girls are. Because we are staying late tomorrow night again, we are taking the morning off to do some shopping at the market. Teresa the director of Open Windows is hosting us for lunch at her house and then we will be back here at the center. We have been challenged to a soccer game tomorrow afternoon, so I´ll blog tomorrow  and let you know how we make out. From what I hear, I think we are in trouble!

The girls are doing great and working hard. Teresa, the director is impressed with the work ethic and dedication of our students and that of course makes Mr. Williams and I feel great as well.

I´m heading off to catch the last round of Hot Cross Buns! And yes…I have found the ‘ on this keyboard.

Thanks for the comments on the blog….I´m sharing each and every one with the girls.

Guatemala Day 5

A long day….our day started off at 8 with our usual breakfast next door to the hotel and then we boarded our bus for the quick trip to Duenas. Today was a working day with some girls rebuilding desks, some painting the new desks, some painting the outside of the building and a few preparing craft activities for the afternoon session with the children.  The desks are actually not for Open Windows, but are being donated, once repaired to a government school which is badly in need of equipment and supplies. (word was out about the excellent painting and a school from another town called to see if we would come and paint their building as well…we sadly had to decline)

The afternoon was  whirlwind of activities with the children that including reading time, craft time and play time. The girls did a great job of working with the local children!

I spent some time in the computer lab on Friday watching a computer lesson and realized that they had a shortage of software and lesson ideas. I spoke with the director of Open Windows and offered to help with some ICT training for the teachers and she loved the ideas. Mr Williams and I spent the better part of the afternoon updating software and downloading some free online programs that will allow the children to work collaboratively and creatively.

Just recently, Open Windows started a teen drop in program that runs a few times a week and we decided it would be great to stay and help out with this program. The older children attend school from 1 pm until 6 pm and after a quick dinner, they have the opportunity to attend the teen drop in program. This program is in place to give the children an alternative to crime or gang participation.  Although the attendance tonight was not great, our girls had a wonderful time interacting with the teens who did drop in.  After a few ice-breakers, a game of pictionary was followed by some Dance Dance Revolution on the newly donated Play Station.

Another day comes to a close and all the girls have finally sent their emails, skyped their families and now are hopefully ready for bed. (I know Mr. Williams and I are!)

Guatemala Day 4

Wow…what a day and it hasnt ended yet.  I only have time for a brief overview and will have to write more tomorrow.

We left first thing this morning and were hiking up the volcano by 9 am. I think the consensus was that it was a much more challenging hike than any of us had predicted but in the end, we all made it up to the lava and roasted marshmallows. We finally reached the bottom again by 1:30 and had the quietest bus ride back to Antigua as the heat and hike wiped all of us out.

We have just had the pleasure of creating a carpet of flowers out on the street in front of our hotel as part of the Easter preparation in Antigua. The carpet has been created and now we are waiting for the parade to go by that will be recreating the path Jesus was taken on after he was placed on the cross.

So….I have to run, but will follow up with all the great details of today.

We are all fine, eating well and having a great time.

We heard there was an earthquake in Guatemala City…no talk of it here at all. We are all great and looking forward to our first hard day of work at the school tomorrow…..a nine am to nine pm day.

Guatemala Day 3

Today was an early start. Breakfast at 7 and  on the bus heading for Lake Atitlan. After a 2 1/2 hr winding bus ride up and down the mts and volanoes, we arrived at the entrance to the lake. A consensus vote the day before put a small detour in our plans. Ziplining was now added to the agenda and all 16 of us, including our guide had agreed to try this out! Equipped with our harnesses and helmets, we discovered we had a 20 minute hike up to the top, crisscrossing the river over no less than four suspension bridges. Finally arriving at the top, some who had been keen at the bottom were having second thoughts but the thought of walking back down over the bridges again wasnt the greatest alternative and I was sure I wasnt the teacher going with them. In the end, all took the leap and the adventure began. Some who hadnt been listening really well at the bottom and thought there was only one zip line, soon learned that after they accomplished the first line, that there were only 7 more to go to get to the bottom! We arrived at the bottom, tired and hot, but feeling great about the experience.

Next we were off to the lake and a short boat ride to a small village on the other side, where we spent a few minutes visiting a church and a few girls purchased items from a womens cooperative.

Exhausted, we climbed back onto the bus for the 2 1/2 hr return trip. Mr. Williams and I were sure that the ride would be quiet as everyone would crash, but somehow the energy returned and lots of laughs were had on the ride back.

Tomorrow is another early day as we head out to the volcanoe for our hike but I will blog more about that tomorrow.

And yes, I still cant find the apostrophe on this keyboard!

Guatemala Day 2

If you educate a girl, you educate a family…if you educate a boy, you educate a boy – a quote that had a huge impact on all of us today!

All of the girls concerns that the food was going to be awful turned out to be for not as we have had the most incredible meals at every place we have eaten. Even the meal prepared for us by the local women in Duenas met with the approval of all the students.

Our hotel is great and very comfortable and the couple who own it also own the restaurant next door where we eat breakfast and they also help to arrange all of our cultural tours.  They hold a trivial pursuit tournament on certain nights and we have been challenged to a game.

We spent our first day in Duenas today and after a quick tour of Open Windows, we spent the next couple of hours walking through the village. Teresa, the founder of Open Windows accompanied us and as a respected member of the community, we were well received everywhere we went. We were taken to  a small yard where a family of five sleeps in a room the size of a large closet and cooks in an outdoor kitchen about the same size. Three families share this small yard and kitchen.

Next we visited a “finca family”, a compound that is provided to the families of the coffee plantation workers. The size of the compound would be about half the size of the BH gym and during the busy season, 500 people share this yard.  I think this was one of the most influential moments of the day today.

The remainder of the day was spent at Open Windows where the girls read mostly in Spanish to the children. It was interesting watching the interaction between two groups of people who couldn´t communicate but in the end read over 25 books with each other. The children loved teaching our girls some Spanish words and by the end of the day a real bond had been created.

After a very nice meal in the town center, we returned to the hotel and spent some time on the rooftop looking at the lights of Antingu. Each of group shared their favorite moment from the day and as Mr Williams and I had hoped, each of the girls understands why they are here and why what they are doing is so important.

An exciting day is planned for tomorrow, but I dont want to spoil the news if some of the girls havent talked to their families yet!

(I realize that the punctuation is poor, but you wont believe this keyboard. Not only is it a different layout but every key sticks!)

Will blog again soon!

Guatemala Day 1

As the entire group is huddled around one computer and one phone trying to connect with families back home, I have finally been given a turn.

The day was fairly uneventful after our 3 am start in Winnipeg and 3 flights to our final destination in Antigua. Our hotel is clean and quaint and our tour guide, Julie is fantastic. She has an incredible itinerary planned for us and our days at the schools sound packed with activities.

We have just returned from a great pasta dinner and once the phone calls and emails are finished we are off to bed.

I have to run for now but will post more tomorrow!