You hear that a lot… life-changing. When you do, you may think, “really, was it really?” My answer to this recent trip to Guatemala is “absolutely, yes!” To be honest, when I first registered to go on the trip with Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Moreover, I really had doubt that I could possibly have anything to give that would be useful in any way. Still, there was something inside me that made me want to go. I had been a small, monthly donor to Kevin Macpherson’s group for a few years, but honestly had little clue about what all he was doing. I only knew that the pictures of the smiles on face of children from China and Guatemala were priceless, and I wanted to see them for myself.
The first part of our trip would take us to the ancient city of Antigua. Surrounded by volcanoes, Antigua is known for its Spanish-Baroque architecture and colonial ruins. I found so much to paint there, and spent the better part of two days doing just that.
Adjusting to some of the cautionary do’s and don’ts of Guatemala took some doing. I’m sure that more than once I accidentally brushed my teeth with sink water or ate the farmer’s cheese. Luckily, no harm came to me… maybe it was the rum.
We left Antigua and began the LONG drive to Quetzaltenango (Xela in Mayan). It is a huge city with a mixture of western and traditional dress. This would be our base camp for several days as we began work with our partner for the trip, Xela AID. Every morning at breakfast, leaders and Leslie and Mel Dinkel (Xela AID), along with Kevin, Jack Vogler, and Joel Heger (from Art Ambassador) gave us the run-down for the day. Next, we rode about 45 minutes into the mountains, above the clouds, to San Martín where the village children and staff of Xela AID welcomed us with opened arms.
On our first day, we toured the facility and the village. Currently working on a new Center for Learning and Innovation, the current capacity for Xela AID to serve critical needs will be doubled upon its completion. The new building will have three floors plus an open-air studio on the roof to welcome artists due to their partnership with Art Ambassador for a Colorful World. (Learn more.)
Our tour of the village itself was breathtaking. So much beauty and so little infrastructure. The people were all welcoming as we traipsed through the area, gawking and photo taking. We had the great privilege of visiting inside the homes of local families.
When we first entered the dirt-floor home of this woman, we paused in her entry where the chicken coop and chickens were. The woman needed to tell us something. While many of the people speak Spanish, many more speak Mayan. Through two interpreters, we realized that she was confessing that she had had to eat one of the chickens that Xela AID had provided her with the year before. Just one of the many tasks our group contributed to during our trip as well, was building more coops, sexing chickens (yes, you look between their legs), and delivering them with feed to families in as a means of providing eggs for much-needed protein.
On our second day, we were again greeted with the same enthusiasm before digging into our projects. Those of us on “art” detail, got assignments and the children were divided among us. Our group of 50 were asked to go to one of 4 stations for a HUGE project on the 3rd floor, while the rest of the children went downstairs to work on a different project.
We were also lucky to get to meet two, art scholarship recipients, Walter and Lorenzo. These scholarship were made possible by Art Ambassador for a Colorful World. (Read more about that here.) Seeing their work was inspiring to say the least.
The slightly older children painted, sculpted, and created a diorama of their village. Thanks to Anne Wickham Smith who had brought all of the supplies with her, we were able to build a village in just under three hours.
Most of the younger children made these great masks with Joel and his crew.
The third day in the village, more work was done to complete the chicken coops, purchase the chickens, and deliver them. Several of us were also treated to an afternoon of painting from models as well.
During that same afternoon, a miraculous thing was happening. Without divulging too much personal detail about the young mother and children, let me just share that an entire family was saved by the selfless giving of some members of our group. I am not exaggerating. When I say saved, I mean literally, their lives were quite likely spared due to the generosity of these people. In only two hours time, the family was removed from a horrifying situation, placed in a clean environment with floors, running water, and electricity, given with mattresses, a futon, and a plastic table and chairs.
The mother has been sponsored to have a cleaning job and she and her children will be able to learn to read and write, receive counseling, and have hot meals. It takes so little to make this happen. Empowering this and other families to a life of self-reliance is the mission of Xela AID.
Our final few nights were spent at beautiful Lake Atitlan. We arrived at our hotel, Casa de Mundo, just in time to settle in and have a little rest (or drink)
Built into the mountain side, this hotel is amazing. All of the little “cottages” are different and every one has a view as lovely as this. You have to be aware of stepping on scorpions, but that seems a small inconvenience in a place so beautiful.
It was great to close out the trip in this way. Spending time painting again, taking in the beauty, and receiving the gift of the company of others. I cannot think of a better group of people to have been with on this trip.
Truthfully, I have only give you the shortest of summaries for our enormous adventure. It is simply not possible to describe everything the way I would like to. You have to be there to really get it. (Read details on next year’s trip).
As we came to our closing dinner, we shared a little something about what the time meant to each of us. Laughter like mad; tears flowing; and the presence of new friends… yes, absolutely life-changing.
It takes very little to help.
If you would like to give directly to Xela AID, visit http://xelaaid.org.
If you are interested in becoming involved with Art Ambassador for a Colorful World, are interested in upcoming trips, please visit our website at http://artambassador.org, or simply make a donation by clicking the button below.