Life-changing? Absolutely!

 Thank you, Bunny, for this wonderful pic. They have so much love to give.

Thank you, Bunny, for this wonderful pic. They have so much love to give.

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.

 Thanks to Michael for this pic of me painting in Antigua.

Thanks to Michael for this pic of me painting in Antigua.

 First painting in Antigua with Michael Lindstrom.

First painting in Antigua with Michael Lindstrom.

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.

 Our trusty driver, Carlos, loading luggage on top of our bus while Luis rounds us up and also drives a van for us.

Our trusty driver, Carlos, loading luggage on top of our bus while Luis rounds us up and also drives a van for us.

 Quetzaltenango (Xela in Mayan)

Quetzaltenango (Xela in Mayan)

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.

 We received such love and affection from the children and staff at Xela Aid.

We received such love and affection from the children and staff at Xela Aid.

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.

 Village of San Martín, Guatemala.

Village of San Martín, Guatemala.

 This woman and her daughter gave me a tortilla lesson. We provided the Masa, she provided the sticks of wood she gathered for the stove.

This woman and her daughter gave me a tortilla lesson. We provided the Masa, she provided the sticks of wood she gathered for the stove.

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.

 Joel’s photo of Michael sexing chickens.

Joel’s photo of Michael sexing chickens.

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.

 Leslie Baer-Dinkel and Phil Gardiol accepting the love.

Leslie Baer-Dinkel and Phil Gardiol accepting the love.

 Joel snapped this pic of Phil giving an impromptu art class.

Joel snapped this pic of Phil giving an impromptu art class.

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.

 Kevin with art scholarship recipient, Lorenzo.

Kevin with art scholarship recipient, Lorenzo.

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.

 Sculpting animals for the village scene.

Sculpting animals for the village scene.

 Great job my sweet little artists!

Great job my sweet little artists!

Most of the younger children made these great masks with Joel and his crew.

 Joel took this cool image of the masks the children made.

Joel took this cool image of the masks the children made.

 Models Maria and another woman from the Xela AID complex allow us to take photos of them as they choose the best produce for hand-prepared lunches each day.

Models Maria and another woman from the Xela AID complex allow us to take photos of them as they choose the best produce for hand-prepared lunches each day.

 One of our wonderfully prepared meals at Xela AID.

One of our wonderfully prepared meals at Xela AID.

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.

 Luiz, Guatemalan Operations Manager, helping deliver the coops and chickens.

Luiz, Guatemalan Operations Manager, helping deliver the coops and chickens.

 Mayan model posed in front of the History of the Mayan people mural.

Mayan model posed in front of the History of the Mayan people mural.

 Mural painting by Art Ambassador for a Colorful World on a previous trip. Kevin gave us the whole story.

Mural painting by Art Ambassador for a Colorful World on a previous trip. Kevin gave us the whole story.

Lori_KevinMuralXela.jpg

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.

 Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

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)

 View from my room at Casa de Mundo

View from my room at Casa de Mundo

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.

 The little pathway on the way to my room, so perfectly detailed with plants and sculpture.

The little pathway on the way to my room, so perfectly detailed with plants and sculpture.

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).

 Michael and Victoria with Catarina, their newly sponsored child. Smiles all around.

Michael and Victoria with Catarina, their newly sponsored child. Smiles all around.

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.

 Final group dinner on our last night before heading back to Guatemala City and flights home.

Final group dinner on our last night before heading back to Guatemala City and flights home.


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.


P.S. — It is my great honor to announce that I have accepted an invitation to join the Board of Art Ambassador for a Colorful World. I hope you will join me in supporting the mission of this organization. Art DOES have the power to change the world.

Lori Putnam2 Comments