Communal forest of San Miguel, Totonicapan
Sorry it's been a while since my last report, things have been a little crazy around here! As of today I've visited with 26 different organizations here in Guatemala, and I'm starting to reflect on the last two months as I'm gearing up for the next leg of my journey in Honduras.
Guatemala... Where do I even begin. This country will always have a special place in my heart; it is full of contradictions and understated beauty, both in its landscape and in its people. Guatemala has the third highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, 54.5% of the total population and 69.5% in indigenous areas. Over half of Guatemalans live in poverty, many in a state of extreme poverty. Nearly 30% of children do not pass the first grade. Not to mention the fact that Guatemala is still recovering from a brutal civil war which lasted more than 30 years and which could be more accurately categorized as a genocide of the country's indigenous peoples.
Yet, despite the jarring statistics and its unsettling recent history, Guatemala has a magic about it that I find hard to express to those who have not experienced it first-hand. These people have a way about them that makes all statistics fall aside. So many of my site visits have been full of stories that are both heartbreaking and uplifting, fascinating and disconcerting, humbling and inspiring. When I think of Guatemala, I don't envision poverty or illiteracy or malnutrition or any of the other issues that plague many of these communities. Instead I see the wide, toothy smiles of its endlessly playful children; I hear the evervescent laughter of women cooking tortillas on a small wood-burning stove; I imagine the bright colors of their breathtaking textiles. I have such a profound respect for their resilience.
One of these special stories came from a man I spoke with while visiting People for Guatemala's projects in the rural town of San Martin Jilotepeque. At 35 years old, he had begun to lose his eyesight after many years spent working long days in dusty fields with little to no eye protection. He and his wife, who has also been blind since an early age, have two children ages 3 and 5. He confided in me the deep fear that he felt when he began to lose his sight, and how he worried for his children's future without a parent who could see in order to clean and cook and care for them. Thanks to People for Guatemala's health program, he and several other men from his village recently received cataract surgeries to restore their eyesight. So far the operation has been successful, and this proud father will be able to continue providing for his children.
Another experience that will forever be close to my heart was a site visit with the EcoLogic Development Fund and their partners in Totonicapan. I was shocked to learn that EcoLogic's partner organization 48 Cantones, a volunteer-based group of community leaders, has been fighting to protect this area's unique natural resources for nearly 500 years. The region is home to over 50,000 acres of old-growth forest, housing the world's largest remaining stand of endangered Guatemalan fir trees. We spent several hours getting lost in the forest, passing soundlessly across the beds of pine needles, through fields of newly planted fir trees from EcoLogic's nearby greenhouses. Together, EcoLogic and 48 Cantones are working to reforest areas devastated by illegal logging while educating locals about environmental impact and conservation.
As we strolled between these massive 200-year-old pines, our hosts Mario and Fernando from EcoLogic told us about an old Mayan tradition that I found rather poignant; one must not exit the forest on the same path by which he entered. Local villagers believe that we seek the forest as a way to clear the mind. So when you enter, you leave all of your negative thoughts and energy behind in order to emerge renewed.
As my time in Guatemala comes to a close and I prepare to exit this part of my journey, I continue to reflect on how my perspective has shifted and how I have been changed by my experiences working with GlobalGiving partners in Central America. I am beyond thankful for your support and interest in the work I am doing with these organizations, and I can't wait to see what the second half of my trip has in store. I encourage you to share these stories and my project page with anyone who might be interested, and thank you again for your immense generosity!
EcoLogic greenhouses for reforestation
Nurse seeing patients with People for Guatemala