In July 2015, my friend Cynthia invited me to join her and her children in Guatemala for a week to do some service there with the local children. We worked hard all week while still allowing some leisure time. Our first day, we focused on building square foot gardening boxes for the local families in Sololá, Guatemala. This fulfilled a dream for me and was an amazing experience. I majored in Latin American Studies at BYU – Provo, and I have always had a special place in my heart for the Guatemalan people.
I traveled for the first time ever outside of the United States by myself. Admittedly, I was a little scared. Thankfully Dave supported me and watched the kids while I was gone. My itinerary included flying down to Guatemala with a layover in Mexico, City. Upon arriving in Guatemala City, I would catch a shuttle that had been set up by Greg Jensen, with Cultiva International, and from there, catch a boat in Panajachel, Guatemala to take me across Lake Atitlán. The trip started well enough. Once in Mexico City, with my rusty Spanish, I worked my way through the airport trying to find my connecting flight.
Unfortunately, I missed my connecting flight in Mexico City and my trip took me on a different adventure than expected (another story for another time). In Mexico City, I toured the National Museum of Anthropology and then caught a late flight. Due to bad weather, I arrived in Guatemala City at 2:00 am. Traveling internationally is difficult when you are used to picking up a phone and making a quick call. I had set up international texting through AT&T, but even had trouble with that. Fortunately I got through to my dad, located in the United States, and he was able to get through to Cynthia and Greg. A hotel in Guatemala City was booked with a bus arriving early the next morning to pick me up.
After over four hours of travel by bus, I finally made it from Guatemala City to Panajachel, Guatemala (aka Pana). There I met Cynthia and Greg. We packed ourselves into his truck and went up the bumpy road to Sololá, Guatemala.
Our activities that day were to help Cultiva International build some raised garden beds with local Guatemalan families. I happen to LOVE gardening so this spoke my language.
We traveled up this tiny path to get to our location. When I arrived at the top, blood oozed from several places down my legs. Tiny black bugs had bitten me all up and down my calves. Shortly after, my feet and legs began to swell up. I have no idea what bit me, but it was intense. Lesson? Wear bug spray!
Working with Cultiva International to Build Garden Boxes
Once at the top, we were put right to work building boxes. Greg Jensen uses the square foot gardening method and these boxes, in some cases, are laid down on a concrete slab next to tiny concrete homes. It is absolutely incredible that you can grow vegetables almost anywhere!
Planting these garden boxes helps fight malnutrition
Because I love gardening, and had used the square food gardening method before, this was a very exciting day for me. There is a lot of undernourishment in many areas of Guatemala, due to the poor diet and lack of vegetables. Many children have stunted growth, weak teeth, and some die early. According to UNICEF, 8 out of 10 indigenous children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition.
To help fight this extreme malnutrition, Cultiva International teaches classes and trains the local families how to square foot garden. For their graduation, the families receive their own box, soil, and tiny plants. They also receive follow up visits to help ensure success. It is all free for these families and is supported by donations and volunteers.
What I loved most about working on this project was seeing the happy faces of the Mayan people.
I loved watching mothers teach their children the importance of growing vegetables while helping them break the cycle of malnutrition and poverty. Water is not as easily accessible in Sololá, Guatemala as it is here in the United States. Six families shared a single garden hose.
Because of that, I watched, amazed, as many of the Mayan women worked tirelessly to water their tiny plants by hand.
Service – The Universal Language
Working side by side with these great families was a joy. That said, not all of the indigenous families spoke Spanish. In fact, most spoke their native Mayan dialect, Kaqchikel. I had learned a few words in K’iche’, which is similar, but it wasn’t the same. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful experience that transcended words.
Working with Greg Jensen and his family was so much fun. They have a loving relationship with the Mayan people and have really made an impact in so many lives.
A Fond Farewell
After working for several hours, we finished the job. It was time for a small break and then a fond farewell.
We rode in Greg’s truck back towards Pana, and then caught an open shuttle (really a gutted out van). The open shuttle literally packed us in like sardines. Just when I thought that no one else could fit in the shuttle van, it would stop and pick up even more people. By the end, people were hanging on the sides with an open door and I had to move one of Cynthia’s kids onto my lap to fit more people. It was a hoot! Afterwards, we got to ride the “chicken bus.” I had always wanted to do that, so it was a great memory!
After our ride on the bus, we took a small boat across Lake Atitlán. Upon arriving at the dock, mobs of beautiful Guatemalan children greeted us. We brought my luggage up to Cynthia’s rental and then watched the children play in the lake until the sun set. What a refreshingly beautiful day.
To learn more about Cultiva International, to sign up, or to donate to the cause, you can visit their website: https://cultivainternational.org/
In order to keep this post shorter, I am going to break up my trip to Guatemala into a series of posts, so check back often to learn more about these amazing people! My friend, Cynthia, shared some of her photos with me. You can see more of her photos and get Cynthia’s perspective on her website here.
Read more of my travel stories here!
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