Jaibalito, Guatemala is a tiny village nestled in a mountainside surrounded by rain forests and volcanoes off the coast of Lake Atitlán. To get there, you have to travel by bus to the city of Panajachel, Guatemala and then catch a boat. There is no set time schedule. You simply walk up to the dock and hope someone will take you across the lake. Americans were always charged more quetzales (Guatemalan currency) than the locals, but the price was still inexpensive and fair.
Unless you wanted to hike through the rain forests, the only way in and out of Jaibalito was by boat. To leave, we went down to the dock and then waited, hoping a small boat would pass by. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. Sometimes it would be more than 30 minutes before a boat would pass, and even then, it was a gamble as to whether or not they’d stop to pick you up. We had so many people packed into a tiny boat that at times I wondered if we would sink. It was crazy fun but a little unnerving.
As we didn’t want to travel in and out all day, some days we spent completely in Jaibalito. Working with the children in Jaibalito, Guatemala was definitely a highlight of my trip. They have the most beautiful spirits and trusting smiles. I was captivated by their love and innocence. After building garden boxes in Sololá with Cultiva International, I spent the next day relaxing in the morning and then serving and getting to know the local children of Jaibalito, Guatemala better.
Play Time with the Children
My friend, Cynthia, did an amazing job preparing for this trip. She brought toys, coloring books, clothing, and tons of fun activities with her. I also brought a suitcase, per her request and donation money, full of items to share. I also brought some of my own items that my family made and donated. We had a common area included with Cynthia’s rental where we would meet with the children. They LOVED Cynthia. I enjoyed watching them flock around her, excited to see what new toy she had to share with them.
We split up into groups and made stations for the kids. I was in charge of the coloring station at first.
The boys and girls both LOVED the crayons and coloring pages I brought. We had to teach some of them to share but overall it was an amazing experience.
Cristian was a favorite of mine. The kids made fun of him a lot because of his size, but I loved his cute cheeks and sweet demeanor.
Jenri (pronounced “Henry”) captivated me with his dark, mysterious eyes.
All of the children loved showing off their works of art! I had studied about the Mayan people for four years in my Latin American Studies Major at BYU, but nothing compares to actually being there, living and serving among them.
Time with the Girls
For this day’s activities, Cynthia rotated stations for the kids and separated the girls and boys. This seemed to work really well. I headed up the coloring stations for a time while she played games with the other kids. It was now my time to work with the girls. Each had a unique personality. I loved it.
The girls all seemed really happy and proud of their work. They shared their crayons a lot better than the boys, which is no real surprise at these ages.
Cynthia’s girls helped tremendously with my station. What an amazing opportunity for them to be in a new place experiencing new cultures and activities! I wished I could have shared this with my own family.
Even the older girls seemed to have a great time and they proved to be very helpful with the little ones as well.
The above portrait of Lidia is one of my favorites. I love her shyness and beautiful smile!
Posing for the Camera
In addition to the games and activities, the children also loved my camera. They would have me take their portraits and then look at the back of the screen to see their photo. They would look, giggle, and then ask me to take another portrait. This happened over and over again. Honestly, I’m not certain if some of them had ever seen their reflection before. I never saw mirrors in the houses I had passed, though I could be totally wrong.
From what we did see of the local houses, poverty prevailed in many cases. The disparity between poverty and wealth sadly showed its face all too often. In spite of these circumstances, happiness exuded from these children. I learned a lot from them about contentment and joy in any situation.
Jaibalito had a much slower pace of life which I really appreciated. Parents left early in the morning to work and gather firewood, food was cooked on open flames, and children often took care of smaller children. It seemed that daily living was often centered around survival.
One challenge we encountered with the children was communication. As I mentioned in my previous post, many of the children spoke Kaqchikel, their native Mayan tongue, instead of Spanish. We were lucky that Luciano, a local boy and guide for us, spoke both Spanish and Kaqchikel. Thankfully my Spanish was good enough that we could communicate, through Luciano, with all of the children. Sometimes I think he changed what I said because the children would laugh about something that shouldn’t have been funny:)
At the end of our activity, I got to taste passion fruit for the very first time from a tree in the common area. I think it wasn’t quite ripe yet, but the kids loved it!
After we finished playing with the kids for the day, we hiked back up the hillside to Cynthia’s “casa” rental, which was no small feat. From a distance we could hear the children calling up to us, wishing us a good night, hopeful that we could meet together again in the future. Having had a very full day, we laid down in hammocks and watched peacefully as the sun set over the beautiful Lake Atitlán and the tiny village of Jaibalito, Guatemala.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures. Thanks for stopping by!
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