Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Antigua, Guatemala

This feels like cheating, but here are some pictures… from online.

Guatemalan females- women, girls, and children- from the aldeas are always seen in their traditional clothing. It’s quite beautiful!

Antigua is an old colonial town, BRIMMING with tourists.

Did I mention the volcano?

Always on the lookout for new fruit!

Slept in a treehouse. No big.

The Earth Lodge is wonderful, with incredible views. And considering that it's avocado season and we're on an avocado farm, we've been eating lots of them! We even tried avocado ice cream!

Friday, November 25, 2011

I just met a new first-year student for next year, about 12 years old, bright-eyed, in awe at everything at the Center, alongside Sister Teresa receiving the grand tour. The young girl explained to me with confidence that she wants to study so that she can defend women's rights. Day made. I know that she will flourish here and am so proud of the Center for being able to give her the opportunity to continue studying. Not only that, but seeing how proud and excited Sister Teresa was in hearing her aspirations gives me hope for these students because they have someone that believes in them.

Today's my last day at the Center and as much as it breaks my heart to know that I won't be able to get to know these lovely young girls who are bound to grow in beautiful ways here, I have hope and faith in what the Center sets out to do.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Ever since I was younger I’ve always been intrigued by people with developmental disabilities. In fourth grade I remember the curiosity I had for my classmate who had a special tutor, and felt comfort in his friendship. From then on I found myself with different opportunities, always learning more about people with disabilities. So last year when I read about Jean Vanier and learned about the L’Arche communities that he formed in the 60’s, I was moved by his vision.

L’Arche was originally created as an alternative for institutionalization, which many years ago went hand in hand with human rights violations. Today the international organization creates permanent residencies- loving homes- for abandoned persons with disabilities. The values of L’Arche are quite beautiful, based on values of community, respect of the individual, developing one’s gifts, and strengthening one’s spirituality.

Knowing that there are two communities in Honduras, I was interested in seeing the strengths and weaknesses of a community in a developing country. In my past months I’ve found a strong sense of community in the face of poverty, so being able to experience an intentional community in the context of an impoverished country was exciting- for me, two things that go hand-in-hand. So on Saturday I ventured to Tegucigalpa, taking my first rapidito out of Guaimaca. I arrived later that morning to a community in Aldea Suyapa, in a house overlooking the city. (And of course being there, the community life felt natural. I asked one woman for how many years she had been with L'Arche. She looked at me and said- I don't know... this is my home.) When I arrived to Casa Nazareth, one of two houses in Tegucigalpa, I was warmly welcomed by its seven residents. The weekend was slow and gave me a good opportunity to learn how the organization’s values were lived out on a daily basis.

Weekdays are spent at the workshop, making different things for the store. Men are in charge of sanding mop handles and women make various crafts.

Before each meal, to start every work day, and every Monday night is prayer time. It was humbling to be part of their prayer services because they were so simply joyful. One woman led us in song with all of her strength (her face was strained the entire time) and complained of a headache afterwards. They just didn’t hold back.

Throughout my entire visit I was a bit frustrated with my inability to communicate. You would think after a year of living surrounded by Spanish speakers that I would’ve learned some more patience. A couple of the residents are unable to speak and rely mostly on gestures or grunts. It made me thankful for my understanding of Spanish and appreciative of other volunteers’ patience in learning Spanish. It also made me think back to my time at Harriman Lodge (a summer camp for adults with disabilities) where I met a man who relied on using a communication box. He told me of a time before he used the device when his caretakers plopped him in front of the tv when he wanted to be doing other things. He ended up writing a book and was on a news program for his efforts. Without that technology he was stuck in a world of frustration and misunderstanding. While this woman at L’Arche is cared for, I wish that she was able to feel that she could express herself more freely and that I could understand her. But despite the barrier, we connected and she shared her joy with me.

Another surprise, but inevitable due to the lack of resources, was that none of the staff (including the director) had received any kind of formal training for their work. They rely mostly on learning from their own experiences and from their co-workers. In fact, they were a bit surprised when I asked if any sort of pre-requisites were required. In the States we’re all about qualifications, certificates, titles. The director shared that they struggle to find willing people to dedicate their lives to L’Arche, so it makes it nearly impossible to find educated persons. (In reality, this goes back to Honduras’ larger problem: lack of a solid educational system that can empower its students to help to rejuvenate the country and a basic value for quality education.)

Something that I’ve frequently observed throughout the year is acceptance. It is an empowering notion when a person is accepted for who they are, but when there’s no reflection, development, challenge, to offer the best of what you have, then acceptance becomes stagnant. In L’Arche they lacked the development of the individual’s gifts. It may have been hard for me to see in my short stay, but it seemed like the community needed more intentionality and guidance.

But while the house lacks a lot of resources, it does offer a lot of love and a dignified life to its members. And I certainly learned a lot. It was a pleasure to have been able to experience L’Arche as I did and to remember the gift of people with disabilities and the simple ways that they can transform others’ lives.

And being away always makes me thankful to return to a loving community, where I was greeted with familiar faces. Just over a week until Chris and I begin our travels to El Salvador and then Guatemala!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

First, I apologize for not having blogged recently. The past few months have been busy, but life here has felt even more like my life, much more than just a really long service trip- making it feel strange to blog about.
Eventually I’d like to share some reflections about my personal growth, what the year has meant to me, etc. But for now, just a few updates:

Two weeks ago was the final closura, similar to a graduation or promotion ceremony. Special students were awarded for their honorable behavior and one was granted a scholarship to continue studying at the Center. It was a nice way for us to congratulate the students for their hard work and acknowledge the value of their education. The bachillerato students danced and we watched a picture slideshow of the year’s events. I thought that the day would’ve been more emotional for me- it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the students but I was comforted by the memories we shared and the growth I’ve had, thanks to them.

Two of my 8th grade English students were required to take their second re-take (after failing the first two tests at the end of the second semester). We had the entire semester once a week and then a full week before the second retake to review the material from the entire semester. They both worked hard but in the end only one of the students passed; the other failed. For the Center, unfortunately, that means that she won’t be able to return to the Center. If she wants to continue studying she has to repeat the grade and travel every day to and from her aldea to Guaimaca.

I wasn’t able to attend the service, but there was a neat ceremony for All Souls Day last week. There were a lot of flowers being sold around town for families to decorate the tombs in the two cemeteries. I wish I could’ve seen it because I’m sure it was decorated beautifully, but it seemed pretty common to go with family to visit the deceased. In mass that night there was a special remembrance of those passed- parishioners that bought a candle were called to light it and put it on the altar. Each name was called and by the end the entire altar was covered in shining candles. It was a symbolic way to remember that the memory and spirit of those passed still live among us.

Last weekend Matt and I traveled to El Destino, to visit Digna and her family. We arrived and were put to work making the day’s tortillas- we finally got it down. Her and her sister were giddy to show us their pictures, sometimes running away laughing of embarrassment. At the end of the day I gave Digna a wooden heart that my mom had sent down for Valentine’s Day. I normally don’t re-gift, but it felt appropriate- in more than just a symbolic way was the heart passed on. From the love that I received from my mother is what has helped me to have such an open heart to Digna and to care for her in such a special way. And now I will look for the next place to carry the love that I found with Digna- and I know that she will do the same. We live in each other now.

This week has been a lot of repairs, cleaning, and organization around the Center. Matt will be leaving next week, so we've had a lot of last dinners with friends and co-workers. I'm so inspired by the number of people that are dedicated to the Mission and the support that we've received from them throughout the year. 

On Saturday I’ll be going to Tegucigalpa for a few days to visit the L’Arche community there. I’ll try to update when I’m back because I have no idea what to expect! (Check out Jean Vanier if you want some good readings on community.)

Chris and I will be traveling for the last bit of our time before we head home. The rough plan is to travel to El Salvador to visit Oscar Romero’s chapel and tomb, then Guatemala to chill on an avocado farm/eco-lodge. I am looking forward to the opportunity, not only to soak in more of Central America, but to have time to reflect, between leaving Guaimaca and arriving in the States.