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...Happy "A Smile from Guatemala"

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" It is with great pleasure that I unveil my first guest blogger. Ms. Barbara, my dear friend, has graciously allowed me to post her thoughts, feelings, and impressions on her latest service trip to Guatemala in February. I may love to write about the Old World, but the New World is pretty amazing, too. I always tell Barbara that she has a heart of gold. Read below and see why. Let's fly those friendly skies to Guatemala.

MUSINGS FROM MY MISSION TRIP... by Barbara Minor Reiniger

On Monday, February 11th we started our day at IJM (International Justice Mission) located in Guatemala City. The team arose at 4:00 AM to navigate Guatemala’s rush hour traffic, to have breakfast on the road, and arrive on time. By 8:00 AM our group was joined with the IJM’s executive team to participate in their daily “Time of Thanksgiving” and prayer in their large conference room.

IJM’s leadership team is comprised of an extraordinary group of men and women! They are focused on protecting the most vulnerable from crimes of sexual violence. IJM is a 501(3)(c) non-profit organization founded by Gary Haugan in 1987. IJM is comprised of 17 field offices around the world. The Guatemalan IJM field office is one of those 17 offices. In his bestselling book, "The Locust Effect," Mr. Haugan compares the cycle of poverty and violence to a locust plague. Although the world has made great strides in combating global poverty, there is a hidden crisis silently undermining our best efforts to help the poor. It is the plague of everyday violence. We watched a video about IJM and this locust effect. We also watched and learned about the survivors and help that they have received from IJM.

Now I will share some facts that we learned from IJM’s extensive research on the subject of sexual violence here in Guatemala, as well as share some information about Guatemala. 1) There are 16 million people in Guatemala and this country is the size of PA. 2) It is a very young country in terms of the demographics - 48 % are under age 15. 50% of those children live in poverty and 15% extreme poverty. They have children very young and those children are often subjected to sexual violence by someone they know. 3) 85 % of the violence occurs in their home. Thus, there is a horrible cycle of poverty and violence here. IJM has conducted an extensive study of the problem, looked at the key contributing factors, and is systematically harnessing their best people and resources to address the problem. They have feet on the ground in key areas and have an educated police force. Plus, they work with schools and church to help. Okay, please get the book entitled "The Locust Effect."

Following our visit there, we visited a hospital and had a tour by their director, a doctor. There is much scarcity of resources everywhere in a Guatemala, but it's especially prevalent in their health system. Hospitals are greatly underfunded so they depend heavily on private donations from outside groups to help them. We saw that their needs are great. The roof of the hospital needs replacing in certain areas. They need to replace older sections with newer equipment. They rely on paper files and need computers and better resources to help their ill patients. We prayed for babies and many patients there thanks to Pastor Hugh and Pastor Richard! However, the biggest problem is under staffing. In the US, we typically have a nurse for every two patients. In Guatemala the ratio is one nurse to every ten patients. The director greatly appreciated our prayers, level of concern and willingness to see what we could do. He surprised us by reciting a very beautiful poem from a famous Cuban Poet, Juan Martin, entitled “The White Rose.” It was a gorgeous poem about friendship and he wanted us to know that we had his deep friendship.

After that emotional visit in Guatemala City, we later got back into our nice tour bus and headed off to Santa Catarina Pinula. There we visited and had lunch with elderly survivors of the Cambray Dos mudslide that killed over 285 people. The Senior Center has very intelligent elders who are well dressed and colorfully dressed to boot! They use this facility for art projects and community. We gave them all gifts and served them lunch. We even joined them for their warm-up exercises while the men played dominos. They greatly appreciated the toothbrushes and toothpaste, hand sanitizers and stuffed animals we gave them along with nice bags. You have no idea how happy they were having us give them these items. Following that, we visited a school and gave out over 300 beanie babies. Finally, we went to a children’s daycare and gave out more beanie babies. We also gave a blender, a pressure cooker and some other items for young children to the maestras (teachers) there. This is my fourth mission trip and it has been a blessing to work with so many people from diverse backgrounds who are all coming together to be Jesus’s hands and feet on the ground here in Guatemala. I feel blessed and thankful for the friendships and fellowship.

Tuesday, February 12, we went on a riverboat. One carried all twenty of us. Another amazingly carried our large tour bus and a third carried our smaller van. Our destination was the village of Chico located in Retahules about 3.5 hours away on the west coast of Guatemala near the Pacific Ocean. There we heard about the plight of yet another school and gave all the girls brushes, combs and hair accessories. The boys and girls, again thanks to the generosity of Allen Temple’s generous donations, were given beanie babies. In addition, we gave coloring books and crayons to the teachers. For lunch, we enjoyed fried chicken, a staple here. Fortunately, I love chicken. This was my fourth chicken meal!

Following that, we went to yet another school and finished off a metal fence for the protection of the students. Two of our team members, Josh and Jeramy, both from Pivot Ministry, had spent four previous days there installing all the posts in cement that our wire fencing would be supported by. They actually have spent a month here with Pastor Rafi working on a two-story building at Pastor Rafi’s church/school, as well as this project. Therefore, this fence did not happen in one day but over the course of many days and our team paid for all the raw materials and labor. Very thankfully, the Senior elders of the village presented each one of us with a diploma for making such a contribution to their community. Next, for those who dared to go into the water due to treacherous rip tide, many enjoyed a swim in the Pacific Ocean. Cameron, 19, enjoyed a little wave surfing. It was a very productive day. I forgot to mention that Bruce, one of our team members, is a trained and skilled Electrician. He helped use his skills in yet another area at a facility near the beach. There was an open community building with a thatched roof that needed some rewiring due to corrosion. Bruce tried to do the best he could to repair it. We had a fascinating little history lesson about a turtle population that comes to Playa Paredon, our area beach, to lay turtle eggs. Conservationists are trying to save the turtle eggs from predators so they have a fenced-in, secure area to keep the eggs so they can hatch safely.

Yesterday, Wednesday, February 13, we stayed here at the Colegio Cristiano Ultima Llamada to teach English, as well as do many art projects. For example, hand prints with finger paints and beads for bracelets. Also, we had some educational sticker books. I taught several classes in English and Spanish to children K-5. Last Call Ministries has ninety students here. I used many of the tools and strategies to teach the children that I have learned from the teachers at the Burr Elementary School and training at Fairfield University. I used the “realia” or real life objects to help them learn the colors, names of fruits and vegetables. I then had them read an easy book about lunch foods. “I like eggs or cereal for breakfast.” I then asked the students to tell me in English what they liked to eat, after they had introduced themselves in English and told us their age and a favorite activity. I used other helpful teaching methods learned through my excellent teachers at the Burr Elementary School where I work as a paraprofessional for English language learners. I thank Maria and Professor Campbell for the materials that you loaned me which have proved to be very helpful.

I thank one and all for all your support! I feel blessed to be making a difference here and you must all come here to feel the amazing hospitality and appreciation of the Guatemalan people! While my teammates go off today to see “ground zero” or the death and destruction caused by the recent eruptions of Volcano Fuego which literally means “fire volcano,” I will stay behind today to spend time in the remaining classrooms that I did not visit yesterday.

Our second to last day here we visited an amazing dairy farm in Tecpan, Guatemala. Apparently, the owner came to Guatemala over fifty years ago from Switzerland. Now his descendants run the farm, and large tourist groups like ours visit often. According to Pastor Rafi, this is the fertile farm region where they grow broccoli, carrots, beets, cucumbers, cherries and many other things. The food there was AMAZING! We enjoyed family style dinning at Restaurante Rincon Swiss. First, for an appetizer some delicious black bean soup with jamon (ham). Second, the entree arrived in a large ceramic dish comprised of smoked ribs, steak, barbecued pork and of course seasoned and savory chicken. They had grilled scallions and guacamole with chips and one of our non-meat eaters enjoyed shrimp, too. Now for dessert, there were two options - either a pecan delicious tart that I split with several others or a chocolate crepe!

I think most Americans underestimate what Guatemala has to offer. This trip has been filled with a strong focus on helping others but we also have had some great times together! We had three separate groups enjoy a ride on a tractor pulling a cart carrier around the farm, got to touch the well-cared-for Jersey cows used for producing milk and cheese, enjoyed scenic views of mountains, and even had one of the best meals that one could imagine. 😀❤️👍🌈😋 Yes, there is danger, poverty and drugs. I could not mail the post cards that I had written to family members since the postal system was discontinued to prevent drugs from being sent or received. However, once you get to see the people here and build relationships, you discover a nation of people firmly thankful for their faith, family and each day. They wear colorful dresses and tops that sparkle. Conditions may look bleak and often they are but the joy, happiness and deep appreciation the people of Guatemala express for your investments in their country are heartfelt. Last night, I toured an impressive walkway built of bricks supplied by Stanwich Church. We also had time to visit with parishioners in Pastor Rafi’s church and play volleyball with many residents of all ages. One little girl, Sarita, who had been abandoned by her mother, gave me a blue hydrangea bouquet. My heart melted as she kept wanting to hold my hand and jump into my arms. I relished the love she and other children have expressed to all of us. In summary, if you have never jumped in with both feet to do mission work, I encourage you to try it. I hope you will reap the blessings that I have experienced. God is good all the time! Adios! Soon I will return to the cold of New England; however, I will carry many wonderful memories and my heart and spirit will be at peace.

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