Reflecting Back on the April 2014 Frank Flaman Foundation Guatemala Humanitarian Trip
This blog was written with input from Brian Rask, Dave Schultz, Wayne Sumners and Barney Bartley all from our Prince Albert, SK location.
A wise woman once said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love”. Reflecting back on the April 2014 Frank Flaman Foundation Guatemala Humanitarian trip, this quote may very well have been the theme of the entire trip.
We began our journey where most great stories start – sitting in an airport, anxiously awaiting our flight to be called for boarding. We embarked on the plane and soon found ourselves in Calgary where we met up with the rest of the Flaman volunteers hailing from locations across Saskatchewan and Alberta. (It is thought that “some” of us *ahem Prince Albert* may have been better looking than others… but I digress.) After some introductions courtesy of Kate and Crystal, the lot of us boarded the second leg of our trip, and after a brief pit stop in Texas, we were finally touching down on Guatemalan soil.
It was about 10:30pm when we landed in Guatemala City, and despite the long day of traveling, we wasted no time breezing through the airport and boarding a small tour bus that would take us to our first destination – Antigua. On the bus ride over, however, is where we experienced our first cultural shock. One of the passengers who’d been travelling with us has asked if we could stop for water. The driver denied the request, saying it was too dangerous to stop. Can you imagine that happening here in Canada?
It didn’t seem to take long until we were at our hotel. A big “Hats Off!” to the hotel staff who provided us with extremely polite service and were all too eager to help – they unloaded our bags and got us to our rooms in record time.
With our first night behind us, morning came early. We decided to take our first day to do some exploring of the area, get some money exchanged and do a bit of souvenir shopping for our wonderful and hard-working coworkers left in the grind back home. Later that afternoon, we met up back at the hotel to catch our bus to Lake Atitlan, where we would once again experience incredible hotel service and true Guatemalan spirit in the people so eager to make our stay warm and welcome.
The next morning was warm and pleasant and it was the perfect day to gear up in our work clothes and get down to the reason we were there! Now, some of us have been in the work force for nearly 40 years but on this day for the first time ever, we caught a boat to work - not the typical Saskatchewan experience! The captain was great and only took about 45 minutes to get us to our destination. On the boat, we passed fishermen in tiny canoe-like boats checking their fishnets. Further out, nestled between the water and the mountainside were small villages. It was a truly picturesque sight.
We docked the boat and walked a few blocks with fruit and veggie markets lining the street most of the way. All 16 of us then piled into the back of a 1976 Toyota pick up truck and drove to the job site. Reality really sunk in at this point… We had come to help dig trenches for footings and build the foundation of a new learning centre. We stepped off the truck and immediately started wondering where all the equipment was - the track hoe, the bobcat, the gravel truck… they had nothing! Instead, there were wheelbarrows and shovels and what was obviously a LOT of work ahead of us! There were about 8 old men and about 8 pretty ladies working away at this intensive labour which made for excellent motivation for us tough Canadian guys to work our best and hardest for these people who are clearly working so hard to help themselves. But when it came to hauling wheelbarrows around, nobody could keep up to Joe, the trucker. He poured his soul into his work, so much so, that when we finally made it to lunch time, every one of us at the table had an unspoken respect for the man to take the first plate the waitress brought out... A small courtesy can mean so much.
It only took a couple of days to start seeing the fruits of our labour. On-site progress was well underway under the spectacular leadership of Kate and Crystal, the Operations Managers. Lunches were prepared traditionally by a few ladies from the village, and the food was great, considering they had very little to work with.
One of the most heart warming moments was the day when Charlene gave her brightly coloured running shoes to a poor old wood cutter whose own shoes were several sizes too big and who would have to wear them on the wrong feet so they wouldn’t fall off.
Another moment was when we went to a home and helped build a stove that will now benefit 3 or 4 families in the area. Most of the homes here have no stove, or if they do, it lacks a chimney to vent out the smoke and fumes. These people then resort to having to light a fire on the dirt floor of their home, which leads to respiratory problems in infants and children, and in some cases even resulting in death. The gratitude for the simplest thing that we as Canadians take for granted every single day was simply amazing.
One can never know how appreciative these people are of so little until you have been there and have seen it for yourself. After our experience, it really helped each of us see the difference between our wants and our needs. Our new Guatemalan friends showed us what true gratitude and happiness is, and in many ways, they gave us so much more than we gave them. Maybe the small things we do with great love aren’t really such small things after all.
We would like to extend our thanks to all of you that we met on our incredible journey. We could not have experienced this with a better group of people, and we miss you all. We would also like to thank Frank and his family for one of the greatest experiences of our lives. It will be etched in our minds forever.