HN Issue 16: From Tag-Along to Advocate - My Journey in Guatemala

Guatemala is a beautiful country: it’s very mountainous with active volcanoes, lush vegetation and stunning waterfalls. Emily, Danielle, Richard and I readied ourselves for the seven hour drive from Guatemala City to Nebaj region. We wanted to see the region, meet the leadership and residents of a few different communities, and learn what it means to partner with a community throughout a multi-year development process.
We were helped along by travelling with two other groups already partnered with communities in the region. Each night we debriefed with a team from Vernon Alliance Church and a team from Binbrook, Ontario. Whereas we were the “newbies” to the process, they were already spending their days with their respective partner communities—helping with projects, hanging out with families, reconnecting with the sponsored children of their friends and family, and simply continuing to strengthen and grow their community-to-community partnership.

Our first community visit in the Nebaj region  was to Xonca (pronounced “Shon-kuh”). The community leaders were awaiting our arrival in a room connected to the community’s medical clinic (built in partnership with FH). Among the community leaders gathered were Xonca’s “Leader Mothers”, and it wasn’t long before we got to see them in action.
Each of these women is highly respected in the community. They are educated in health and nutrition by FH trainers, and then become trainers, themselves, to their own groups of 12 mothers. With a staggering 75 per cent of the children in the area suffering from chronic malnutrition (Guatemala has one of the highest rates in the world), their role is a vital one. They track the weight of all the children in the community until age two, as this is a key phase for brain development and growth potential. If a child is not growing, a Leader Mother will make a home visit to provide extra support.

After the medical clinic we went to visit Rich’s sponsored child, Andres. This was the very first time they had met. No one knew what to expect—least of all Rich—but as soon as we started up the hill to the house, Andres’ mom saw us and called for her son. I watched as Rich gently reached out to the seven-year-old, and I saw Andres put his arm around him. Rich was glowing, and the whole family came out. It was evident that everyone had been impacted.

Hairpin turns, ruts, stray boulders, stray dogs, motorcycles, people—the dirt road to Hortencia Dos was crazy! We had driven an hour and a half and were quite high up in the mountains when the forest opened up to the most amazing vista. It was vast, stunning, green and lush. Tall mountains encircled a tiny village nestled deep in the valley: Hortencia Dos (“Hydrangea Two”).
Once again, community leaders welcomed us in a room connected to the community’s medical clinic. In honour of our visit they had covered the entire floor with pine needles and it smelled wonderful! Florencio, one of the leaders, pulled out a pen and ruler and walked us through the harrowing history of the village. Before 1980, everyone had fled to the hills to save themselves during the Civil War. Around 1983 they started to return and began to organize, form a leadership team and build homes. They were basically starting from scratch. We learned, for example, that it was the men of Hortencia Dos who had carved the winding mountain road that we had just driven down.

They have finished several other big projects since working with FH and are understandably quite proud of their accomplishments. In addition to their infrastructure development, their farming expertise has grown and their chronic malnutrition rate has dropped. Previously, their only crop was corn, but now they grow a mix of broccoli, cauliflower, beans and peppers.
We were also able to see one of the Leader Mothers in action as we accompanied her on a home visit to a young mother whose eight-month old hadn’t gained weight in two whole months. I watched as the Leader Mother walked her through some nutritional changes, referring to laminated sheets of information and pictures provided by FH. Afterwards, we had the privilege of praying with mother and baby.

Our final community visit was to Rio Azul—considered by many to be a model community of sustainable development. They have a main street full of homes and businesses, greenhouses bursting with tomatoes, and a school that’s currently training several intern teachers—the educators of tomorrow. 
The leaders were excited to show us the water storage tanks built in partnership with Friends Church, their FH Canada partners. The tanks provide a constant supply of clean water to all the homes of the community, a definite first. The project started with the men of the village and their Friends Church partners carrying thousands of large rocks up a very steep, narrow path to build the foundation for the facility. Each family was then responsible to dig their own portion of trench to run the pipes into their home. Two years later, the system is immaculately maintained and is the pride of the community. What a success!
For so many years, violence and poverty meant that the people of the Nebaj region couldn’t afford to dream, they were just trying to survive. But now they have a clear and bright vision of their future.
FH is not about jetting in, building something, and jetting out. FH and their partner communities truly walk hand in hand, day by day. Over the course of this trip, I have been transformed from a tag-along to an advocate.




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Food for the Hungry: HN Issue 16: From Tag-Along to Advocate - My Journey in Guatemala
HN Issue 16: From Tag-Along to Advocate - My Journey in Guatemala
Food for the Hungry
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