Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guatemala: Thursday Recap

Thursday in Guatemala has been just as good as each day before. Maybe even better!

This morning we started with a breakfast of hot porridge, coffee, eggs, beans and tortillas. After breakfast we loaded up and headed to the local market that is open each Thursday and Sunday. There were many colors and sounds and things to see. It was a unique experience for sure!

After making our way through the market, we loaded up in or vehicles and went our separate ways. One team went to the home of Ana and her children and another to build our fourth stove.

We have a few ribs left to insert and tie at the house to complete the foundation and more U blocks to chip away at before we complete our work for the week and of course more blocks to haul. The team enjoyed a soccer game with the kids and more time spent enjoying their hard work and sweet smiles! We all have grown attached to this community and family and truly see it as a privilege to be here.

I and three others were on a smokeless stove again today. Today’s location was so simple and easy set up that we each had a good laugh to think how different it was for the team yesterday. We had two extra community helpers and large space to work in. We were so efficient from learning the process the day before and having extra hands that we were also able to spend some time assisting the family in shucking their large harvest of corn that they will later take to market to sell. Most of the corn was white corn, but occasionally we found bright and unique colors making it a fun surprise under each husk!

For lunch we enjoyed a stew they made for us over their current stove and fresh blackberry juice they made with the berries they picked themselves. They pick, package, and sell blackberries to be shipped and sold internationally. If you ever see Berry Best or Special Fruit brand, we know some of the hands that packaged them!

After our work day, our team of four, Kayla, Samuel and our driver all enjoyed another ice cream stop followed by homemade horchata! We then met up with the group at the hotel for a lesson in making corn tortillas and another delicious dinner where we ate the tortillas we made ourselves!

A brief meeting to discuss the next 48 hours was our after dinner plan. Tomorrow we work our last day and have plans to pack up and head back to Antigua. Saturday we have a day in the city to explore and rest. My hope and a few others on the team is to hike a volcano and roast a marshmallow over molten lava Saturday morning! Though these plans sound amazing, I know I will be sad to return stateside and leave this beautiful community behind.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Guatemala: Wednesday Recap

We are now halfway through our time here in beautiful Guatemala!

I know that I will dearly miss this place when we leave. As many places I have traveled to have, this place has stolen a little piece of my heart. The people, the work, the landscape, the food, my best assistant on the build site, Jason, and so many more things I will remember as a privilege and joy to have experienced.

Today the group split up again in the eight and four fashion that we have thus far this week.

Those that installed the smokeless stove today had a different experience than the rest of us. They built inside in a 10x10 space. That is very tight quarters for building the stove. The stove they are replacing is also in that same 10x10 space making it even tighter quarters! They also had a hill to work up and down as they brought in mud, bricks, and mortar. Though their experience was a little different than those of the past two days, they still greatly enjoyed the experience and opportunity to serve as I am sure the family will enjoy their new stove!

The rest of us were back to the build site with our friend and best assistant, Jason, and el hefe (the boss), Jorge. The first layer of rebar and concrete were dried out and ready for the first layer of CMUs for the foundation. (A CMU is a concrete masonry unit or cinderblock, I just learned the fancy terminology today) Jorge and his assistant Andy layered the block as members of our team hauled the block to them as they needed. Others on the team worked on tying more rebar that will be used to strengthen the walls of the house. We are becoming very efficient at make these ribs! The other main task for the day was chipping out the end of the CMUs to make them a U-shape so that the rebar can lay in them as they stack to create the walls.

The weather was perfect today; warm, but cloudy with a nice breeze. It was a lovely day to be outside and working with our hands.

Today we found out the brother of our homeowner makes a living by selling small handmade bags and other items he sews from the beautiful textile fabrics of Guatemala. A few of us were able to support him by purchasing unique souvenirs. We also got to take a walk around the family land. It has an amazing view! They farm strawberries and cabbage among other things. They also have a well they dug by hand that is 5 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. It is amazing the things they can accomplish without the tools and things we see as necessities.

To end the day we spent a half hour moving block down a chain of people from the street to the house. This was a great task to do as a team and with our friend Jason taking his own blocks one by one to stack by his house. How proud he will be when his family gets to live in the house he helped build!

After work today we got to go to see Mayan ruins of Iximche. The culture and history of the Mayans is quite fascinating. The ruins were interesting and set on a beautiful mountain top. This Mayan city was built there because of the location with cliffs and difficult access. Our guide was a student studying history and archaeology in Guatemala City. He gave us a great lesson and tour of the ruins. I will write more specifically on this when we return.

On the drive back to our home for the week, we were talking about what we have enjoyed the most so far. For me one of the things is seeing another culture and how they do things. For others it was working on the stove and being with the family and seeing the joy they had in receiving such a gift. For another it was the simple tasks that we are doing like tying rebar and hauling blocks and how those small, simple things make such a difference. She said “It makes you feel like you can really do anything as long as you have enough people to help.” I think that statement truly sums up what we are doing and a big piece of the mission of Habitat. You really can do anything as long as you have the people to help. The communities here depend on each other and we can learn a great deal from their simple living and how we are serving alongside them.

Tonight we have dinner and relaxing planned. I think we are all glad to have some downtime to prepare for the work tomorrow and the rest of the week. Tomorrow we will do the same work of eight on the house and four on a stove. Hopefully tomorrow evening we will also get to learn how to make corn tortillas!

This week has been a wonderful experience so far and I can hardly wait for more to come. I hope the time slows down as I know it will be hard to leave. Now where did I put that passport…

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guatemala: Tuesday Recap

Our team split again today to work on the home for Ana and her family and to install another smokeless stove.

Eight members of our team finished tying the rebar to reinforce the walls of the home today as well as mixed and moved and poured 8 inches of concrete for the foundation. They worked hard and were also able to afford the time to play with the kids. They loved the bubbles a team member brought! The kids also led them on an adventure to see where they harvest strawberries and cabbage.

Today I and 3 other members of our team had the privilege of working in a home to install another smokeless stove/healthy home kit. We were joined by our field coordinator, Kayla, and Samuel, a Habitat Guatemala staff member.

We ventured a little farther out to do the stoves than where the home is being built, but the drive is a part of the day I enjoy. Getting to see the landscape and the different communities are a perk of a long drive. And the landscape here is beautiful. We are working at about 7,000-8,000 feet elevation and there are beautiful vistas around every curve.

The smokeless stoves are fairly simple, but a life changing home addition for these families. If there are not teams to build the stoves, the women in the community will build them. There is a promoter who works with Habitat to encourage more people in the community to install the stoves. Once enough interest is met they will bring in one Habitat staff to help with the process. They make their own adobe bricks and allow them to dry the proper amount of time and then build their stoves. Each family pays a portion of the cost of around $20 American dollars for their stove.

Today we were honored to help speed that process.

The first tasks of the day were mixing mud/mortar and hauling 35-40 adobe bricks to the home we would build a stove in. Our leader, Samuel, got us started on the first layer to make sure things were even and level then we were put to work to build the stove!

Stove building here involved a lot of mudslinging and lifting heavy blocks. It’s pretty much grown up Legos or Lincoln Logs! It is amazing that something as simple as a stove can change a family’s life and future for about $100 American dollars and about 6 hours of labor to build once the adobe bricks are ready.

We spent the morning making the base layer of the stove, but a break is needed to let things settle and dry a little. During our break we went for a walk through the community. We stopped by a home to purchase frozen chocolate dipped bananas. They were a treat and only cost .75q! That is less than 10 cents. On the break we also saw coffee beans on their branches, bananas in their bunches, and limes and oranges on their trees! What a beautiful and bountiful landscape this is.

For lunch we had another delicious meal and enjoyed fresh tortillas from the stove the family now uses. If you have never had a fresh corn tortilla, you are missing out! Hopefully we will get a lesson on making them this week. You can hear the clapping sound of making tortillas all over here. What a neat local commodity!

After the break we filled the walls of the stove with dirt on which we would lay the bricks for the stove. The pipe that will be finished in 2 weeks was also put in place. (The pipe is not completed on the main build day so that it discourages use until the stove has had time to dry out.)  Once done laying bricks and placing the pipe we put the stainless steel cooktop on, Samuel finished the last layer of concrete to make the smokeless stove complete (almost).

We were able to celebrate the new stove with the woman who will be using it! What a gift!

Such a simple task and process, but a world of difference for the health of the family. The smoke will now go out of the house when cooking, they won’t be cooking on open fire, and they will use less wood (saving them money and the local trees).  It is a true privilege to see a need met and to work with your hands, seeing a finished product at the end of the day.

After our work day, we enjoyed our drive back comparing Habitat stories and watching the scenery go by. We also got to stop for ice cream! I opted for the galleto (cookie) ice creams dipped in chocolate with nuts on top. It was delicious!

We are now back at the hotel and showered off after the mudslinging and looking forward to what we might enjoy for dinner.

This week is going by much too quickly and we are all enjoying every minute of it.

Tomorrow will be a similar task set up with an adventure to see Mayan ruins in the late afternoon!

Until then…

Monday, January 16, 2017

Guatemala: Monday Recap

We are back to the hotel after our first day on the build site! Eight of us worked on a new build and four of us worked on smokeless stove/healthy home kits.

The work on the build site consisted of all rebar work. This area is prone to earthquakes and the Habitat houses are built to withstand them where many buildings are not. We cut, bent, twisted, carried, and cut, bent, and twisted some more! We are preparing the ribs for the foundation. Tomorrow will begin the mixing of concrete and seeing more noticeable progress. It was a beautiful, sunny day. In the shade it was lovely and in the sun it was lovely, but that sun was hot! Plenty of sun screen was used.

The work was repetitive and easy to make efficient! We all enjoyed the day very much.

For me, the work was great, but what was more satisfying was seeing the family and the children interact. Jason, who is 7 years old, will move into the house we are building. He helped us work and was a quick learner and hard worker. Our guide, Fredy, grew up in a Habitat house and the first English he heard was that of the volunteers building his home. He remembered those gringos helping his family and eventually came back to the organization that changed his family's life. What a different future will be made for Jason and his family by have a safe, decent, and affordable home!

The smiles of the children were the best part of the day. (Children on a build site is not something we are used to, but a blessing to have with us today!)

The other group worked on the smokeless stoves. Myself and three others will have the opportunity to do that tomorrow! We are rotating 8 and 4 each day this week and will all be together Friday afternoon for the celebration with the family of the beginning of their new home.

We ran to a market after work for snacks and treats and will soon gather back together for dinner and to debrief the day.

This will be a wonderful week. We are all so thankful and grateful to be here!

What a great way to serve on MLK Day!

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. 


It seems photos to the blog will not be working on this internet connection. Be sure to check Instagram for a few pictures a day! Posts will go up under usernames hlwick and habitatgvl.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Guatemala: Sunday Recap!

Today we headed out of Antigua bright and early to make our way to Tecpan with a slight detour to Lake Atitlan.

We were able to cross the lake by boat (the faster way to travel) and explore the hometown of our field coordinator, Fredy. He was able to take us through the town and to a weaving cooperative. The weaving cooperative was fantastic. They also roasted coffee! 

We had lunch at a local restaurant and got to know more about Guatemala and our team. We then did some shopping in the small community. It was great to support the artists and their means of living. 

We headed back across the lake to then travel back to Tecpan to arrive at our home for the week. 

The internet isn't super, but I finally found a spot to get some typing in. 

We had a meeting where we met the local affiliate staff and our family partner. It is great to learn about the work they do and the family we will be working with. 

Some things we learned in our meeting:
- The Central Guatemala affiliate works with 2 of the 22 departments (states-ish) in Guatemala
- They started as an affiliated in 2003
- Since 2003 they have built 2,000 new homes and installed 4,000 latrines and smokeless stoves
- Habitat Guatemala began in 1979 because of the devastation of an earthquake in 1976 
- Habitat Guatemala has helped 85,000 families since 1979
- Only 4% of the work is done by Global Village teams and they receive 72 teams a year
- Our family partner works away from her family in Guatemala City from Monday-Saturday
- The home will be 8 family members living together: a mom and 3 children, her sister and 2 children, and their brother

The meeting was followed by another delicious meal and a meeting to go over the plan for tomorrow. 

Eight members of our team will work on the first stage of the house and four will go to install a smokeless stove. 

No photos for tonight! Hopefully tomorrow : ) 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

We Made it!

We have made it, safe and sound in Guatemala!

Today was travel from GSP to ATL and ATL to GUA then to the bus to travel from Guatemala City to Antigua.

So far so good!

More to come later. Off to bed for now. Tomorrow we travel to Tecpan and meet our partner family!

Here are a few pics from today:



Baggage Claim
Here we go!

Our awesome guide, Kayla!

Chicken buses...there is a documentary somewhere out there about these.

A colorful community!

We made it!

Street outside the hotel in Antigua

Rooftop view!
Clive Rainey! The first ever Habitat volunteer! 

A church in Antigua

The whole group!

View from the roof. I think I'm gonna like it here!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Guatemala We Go!

We are less than 48 hours from arrival in Guatemala! (And I haven't even begun to pack.)

For some on the trip, this will be a first taste of Habitat and for others, an international trip with Habitat has been a goal for quite some time. I am one of those others.

We will be traveling to the red pin.

My journey with Habitat began 10 years ago this month. In January of 2007 I moved to a city to which I had never been and only knew one person. I made this move to begin my year of service as an AmeriCorps member working with Habitat Wake. I certainly did not know what I was getting myself into nor what that next year or even 10 years would bring.

The foundation of "my" house, January 2008.

Though I entered my AmeriCorps service with much uncertainty and was pretty touch and go those first few months, I am now certain that I was meant to choose that path and be where I am today. My Habitat journey has been a meandering one that has had me in roles as an AmeriCorps VISTA and National member; a participant in a Carter Work Project; a volunteer (when I could squeeze it in amongst the long hours and non-traditional schedule of camp life); an Alumni house leader for the AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon; a ReStore employee getting my foot in the door in hopes of moving on up; a Volunteer Coordinator (because that foot in the door method worked); and now a co-leader for a Global Village trip!

Build-A-Thon May 2016

I am often not exactly sure what it is that draws me to Habitat, but I am certainly drawn in.

The others going on the trip feel the same way, I'm sure.

Our team is made up of 12 individuals who collectively have 64+ years of experience as staff, AmeriCorps, and volunteers with Habitat. We have 5 Habitat Greenville staff members on the team, all with varying positions and backgrounds. (Three of us served as AmeriCorps at different affiliates many moons ago.) Another 3 of our team members are part of our Quality Assurance Team (QATs) who are volunteers that we could not do our work without. One of their daughters will also be joining us as well! The last 3 members of the team are involved in our Habitat Young Professionals (HYP) group. Our Global Village Team is quite a range of ages and personalities and because of that we think it will be a fantastic first Global Village experience!

Most of the team!

I know I am excited to work hard and see how an international affiliate operates. And I am sure the others on the team are as well!

We welcome your encouragement and prayers as we travel and work to fulfill the vision of Habitat: a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Thank you to all who have supported and continue to support as we make this journey!