Guatemala Trip update
By Tom Clarke
The Perth Courier, Feb. 21, 2006
Five of nine Canadians who travelled to Guatemala this month for the Guatemala Stove Project's eighth annual volunteer trip returned home on Saturday night.
Al Teflissi, Ali Ross, Kathy Moutros, Lorri Lavender and Dee Simpson arrived back in Canada, leaving Perth residents Tom Clarke and David Zimmerly there for a while longer to document the stoves that have been built over the last year.
Perth's Amanda Brady and Jeff Peters also stayed. For the next month, they will be volunteering as teachers at a school for children who live next to the Guatemala City dump.
Each year the Guatemala Stove Project works in different villages with new volunteers. Until this year, the group has always worked in the northwest Altiplano in villages near Quetzaltenango (known by the Maya as Xela).
This year, the group started working in San Marcus de Laguna on Lac Atitlan, then, for the second part of the trip, moved on to Xela. The Canadian volunteers joined with a similar-sized group of Americans in San Marcus and built more than 20 stoves during the three days they worked there.
The Canadians then travelled up to Xela to witness Hurricane Stan relief work that the Guatemala Stove Project has been funding, and built some more stoves in the tiny village of Corral Grande.
Life is for learning, and we definitely bit off more than we could chew this year. By the time we were ready to build stoves in Corral Grande, four of our volunteers were under the weather, one had moved on to other work and two more moved on to other work the next day.
That left two of us to build two stoves, as opposed to the 37 we built near Xela last year.
The local masons built the other 48 stoves and the volunteers have all learned how tough the conditions are here. As well as building stoves, we visited refugee camps, where survivors of last October's Hurricane Stan are rebuilding. While we were unable to physically help during the brief time we visited the camps, we came away from the experience with a better understanding of the incredible difficulties these people face, with such courage and resolve.
These people are living in flimsy, temporary shacks, but will first build a school for the children before worrying about their own shelters.
To quote one of the survivors, "We didn't have much before, but what we had we lost." We are coming back to Canada with new insight into how much we have here, and how little the survivors have. The experience leaves us with new strength - for if the Maya can survive such devastation, we can surely do something to help.
Please be patient with us when we knock on your doors asking for help for Guatemala. The Maya have given us the wonderful gift of showing us that the human spirit can face anything. We just want to give back something in return. We have seen their suffering and will not turn our heads. We will do what we can to help.
Visit the Guatemala Stove Project online, at www.guatemalastoveproject.org.