A few weeks ago I headed off with 12 other members of my church to Guatemala. Before you raise your eyebrows, let’s agree to call this uncharted territory for me. I didn’t know anyone going. I mean, our church is large; I listen to my slightly irreverent 35 year old pastor on Sundays and had met one other person but that was about it. I doubt either of them knew my name.
I am not sure what made me sign up. Maybe it was turning 40 this summer. Whatever it was, I had a moment, thought it was a good idea, wrote the check and signed the papers.
When I first landed in Guatemala City we hopped in a van for the first leg of the trip to Chicutama, a small village 15,000 feet up in the Highlands of Guatemala (that’s almost three times the altitude of Denver if you are keeping score at home). What strikes you first is the truly breathtaking beauty. We were immediately surrounded by lush green mountains and active volcanos.
The second thing that strikes you is the poverty and that is where we entered the equation. We went with a non-profit called the Highland Support Project, www.highlandsupportproject.org. Not to get overly philosophical on a fashion blog, but whenever I have read about the group it’s always been obvious they align with one of my core beliefs. It’s that the world would be a better place if more people were willing to give a hand instead of a handout. In our affluent society, we (and I am included in this group) too often find it easier to write a check to solve the problem than to fix what caused the problem in the first place. This group takes an opposite approach, working to make permanent differences in village life by augmenting the strengths that are already there.
The vision of the Highland Support Project sums it up best, HSP’s founding vision is that the role of an “outsider” should be to support local efforts rather than competing, displacing or co-opting local leadership.
This year we worked on what was eloquently named “The Toilet Project.” We began the first phase of the installation of a sanitation system.
Below are some photos of my trip.
Since I returned, lots of folks have asked me how it was. Some have been surprised that I have little to say. That’s for a good reason. As terrified as I was to be away from my family with 12 total strangers on trip that began with a packing list that included “flea powder,” and the accurate expectation of a shortage of showers and (obviously) toilets, the one word that comes to mind about this trip is: peace.