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St. Luke's is again conducting two return construction mission trips to Guatemala. The Week 1 trip is from March 16 to March 25, 2012, and the Week 2 trip is from March 23 to April 1, 2012. The work will be centered in Lemoa in the department of Quiché near the highland center of Chichicastenango. Our previous construction mission trips were in March, 2005, March, 2006, March, 2007, March, 2008, March, 200, March, 2010 and March, 2011. Most of the population there is indigenous Mayan. Lemoa was especially hard-hit by massacres and destruction of villages during the years of "La Violencia", guerrilla rebellion and army repression which ended just recently in 1996. We will be working with local people to construct a concrete block school in Lemoa (to replace an existing school built of cornstalks), building chicken coops to help widows earn extra income, and will also be spending time with children in Bible school programs. We may also do some work at the orphanage across the street. We will also spend time at the John Wesley School in nearby Santa Cruz del Quiché. Look here and here for the itinerary. See puravida.org for more details about Lemoa.
You may contact the missionary team while they are in Guatemala by sending email here.
Click on any image to see a larger version.March 16, 2012
The Week 1 missionaries all arrived safely in Antigua, Guatemala tonight. Tomorrow we head to Lake Atitlan and then Chichicastenango.
March 17, 2012
We began the day by taking our "chicken bus" to Panajachel, which is on Lake Atitlan. On the way there, literally on the side of the road, we met the Pura Vida group which just finished a week putting in the foundation for our "corn stalk school" (the Escuela Caserio El Rosario). After lunch in Panajachel, we did some sightseeing and shopping around the lake. Then we drove to Chichicastenango, which is where we'll be staying for a week.
March 18, 2012
In the morning, we split into two groups. Six of the group conducted a Band Camp at the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiche, while the rest of the group shopped at the world-famous Sunday market in Chichicastenango. Many of the students at the Band Camp were new to their instruments, so the Camp started slowly. But by the end of the morning, they were able to do a rough rendition of La Bamba; Jim Ramsey considered the first day of the Camp a success and called the progress a minor miracle.
After lunch, we visited Helen and Connie, the Mary Knoll Sisters who live in the large church in the Lemoa central square. They gave us the history of the civil war in Guatemala and explained how that led to today's poverty. Then we attended worship services at the Methodist Church in Chichicastenango.
March 19, 2012
Today was our first day of construction. We arrived at the Lemoa "corn stalk school," where we'll be replacing school rooms made of corn stalks with rooms made of concrete cinder blocks. We found that last week's Mission Team had done a nice job on the foundation, almost finishing it. We added concrete forms, mixed and poured a lot of concrete using bucket brigades, added some rebar, moved a lot of dirt, and, just before we left at the end of the day, began our first course of cinder concrete blocks.
Four people spent the morning continuing the Band Camp at the John Wesley School. Several people visited with their sponsored students.
Spirits are high, but we've already had a couple of people run into gastrointestinal problems (in spite of all the precautions we've been taking).
March 20, 2012
We made great progress today at the school. We laid five rows of cinder blocks around about a third of the building (which will have four rooms). Several of the team members are now reasonably proficient in laying the blocks (which means the supervisors correct only half their work).
Six team members went to the John Wesley School and finished the Band Camp in the morning. The students practiced "La Bamba" and "Mirem Que Bueno," which they'll perform for the entire team when they visit the school tomorrow. Then the team members went shopping for more band instruments for the school; they purchased a trumpet, two saxophones, and 10 guiros ("cheese graters").
We also had more visits between sponsors and their students. And several of the missionaries visited the orphanage in Lemoa.
March 21, 2012
The morning was spent at the John Wesley School. We were greeted enthusiastically by the students, and then treated to a program by them. Then the new band instruments were dedicated. The highlight was the performances of "La Bamba"and "Mirem Que Bueno" by the school band; everyone was impressed by the performances, and the students kept asking for encores. Given that there had only been three rehearsals, the Band Camp proved to be a major success.
In the afternoon, most everyone worked at the cornstalk school, adding rows and rows of cinder blocks. A few of the team members spent time at the orphanage. Some of the team members also visited with their sponsored students during the day, both at the John Wesley School and in Lemoa.
Most of the team is well, but the gastrointestinal problems seem to be moving around.
March 22, 2012
Most of the team spent most of the day at the cornstalk school. The teachers and students gave us a morning presentation and thanked us for our work. Each missionary got a little frog and a hug from one of the students. We also had a chance to play with the children for about an hour; they loved the balls we bought them! We continued to make good progress on the construction: we've completed six courses of cinder blocks in just over half of the school, including pouring concrete into the rebar-reinforced vertical beams in the completed half-walls. We're very pleased with the progress we've made in just a few days. And there is plenty of work left to be done by the teams following us.
Some of the team members went to the John Wesley School to paint the main courtyard, to help keep the school looking its best. Other team members visited the orphanage again. Visits with sponsored students continued, including with students who just became sponsored by members of the team. And three missionaries shopped in Chichicastenango for food supplies to be donated when we visit Chontala tomorrow.
No one was so sick today that they had to stay at the hotel, so our collective health is improving.
March 23, 2012
We spent today in Chontala, a small village about 30 minutes from Chichicastenango. In the morning, we split into four teams, each of which built a chicken coop. The coops will be used in a micro loan program; families will be loaned the money to buy chickens, which will be raised and sold to repay the loans and make a profit.
In the afternoon, we conducted a bible camp for approximately 150 children in the area. The camp included field games, photos of each of the children, singing, and an Easter story told by Rev. Dave Money. The looser format of this year's camp was considered a success; it was more fun for everyone, and much less chaotic, than in recent years. After the bible camp, the local Methodist paster, Pastor Jeronimo, gave out about 45 bags of the food we had bought the day before to the families of the village.
Several of the team members who had sponsored students living in the area met with them.
The missionaries enjoyed visiting this small village and getting to know the people there. Inspired by the week's experiences, several of the team (led by Jim Ramsey, Matt Cummings and Juliette Hamer) wrote a song to capture their feelings.
The team continued the pattern of different people getting sick, but only for about a day before rejoining the group's activities.
Tomorrow most of the team heads to Antigua for a day of rest, before the flight back home. Four missionaries will stay over for Week 2.
March 24-25, 2012
The Week 2 team arrived on Saturday, March 24. They traveled to Lake Atitlan and then to Chichicastenango.
They began Sunday, March 25, shopping in the market in Chichicastenango and visiting the cemetery nearby; they provided a large boost to the local economy.
In the afternoon, they visited the Mary Knoll Sisters Helen and Connie. Then they went to Sunday worship services at the local Methodist Church. Afterwards, they shopped at Ruth and Naomi's, buying goods made by their church members.
While last week's weather was near perfect, Week 2 has been experiencing rain and heavy clouds. Otherwise, everything is going well so far.
March 26, 2012
Today was our first day of construction work, and we felt good about the progress we made. Most of the team worked all day on the school: mixing mortar, laying cinder blocks, making rebar components, and putting the rebar in place for the horizontal concrete beams. The team members quickly came up to speed on all the new skills needed to construct a cinder block building.
Five of the team members spent the morning painting two walls in one of the rooms at Sister Helen's and Sister Connie's home.
Several missionaries were able to meet with their sponsored students who live in the Lemoa area.
We've had a few minor health problems, but apparently none due to eating the foor or drinking the water in Guatemala. Also, it has been raining heavily, but only after we were done working for the day.
March 27, 2012
Most of the team spent the day working on the cinder block school. We finished laying six courses of blocks around the entire school, and we began building forms and pouring concrete for the horizontal beams above the sixth course. There was considerable rebar work, which some of the missionaries picked up quickly, and some simply could not figure out. We asked the teachers what school supplies they needed; we plan to pick the supplies up tomorrow.
A small team spent the morning at the John Wesley School, painting the stairwell. Another group visited the orphanage. And another small group gave Sister Helen a new camera and showed her how to use it with her computer, as well as working on some repairs at the sisters' home.
March 28, 2012
We spent the morning at the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiche. We were treated to an hour-long program by the students. The highlight was the band performing six pieces for us, including the two taught during last week's band camp. The band impressed us; they have come a long way in the last year!
After lunch, we split into multiple groups. One worked on repairs at the sisters' home and bought supplies for the corn stalk school. A second group visited the orphanage. The rest of the missionaries continued the construction of the new school, including lots of rebar work, removing old concrete forms and installing new ones, and pouring concrete for the horizontal beams. By the end of the day, half of the beams had been completed.
There were more visits with sponsored students; this was a major highlight of the trip for some of the sponsors.
In the evening, Pastor Juan from Padulup came by our hotel to pick up two large bags of shoes which had been donated in Denver.
Some of the team members have had cold-like symptoms which have caused them to miss some activities. But there have been no reports of problems with the food or water.
March 29, 2012
We conducted a Bible Camp at the corn stalk school this morning. The students and teachers started by thanking us for building their new classrooms. We donated the six whiteboards and school supplies we purchased yesterday. Then we did individual photos of the students, played Tee Ball, jump rope, bubbles and parachute with them. We told the Easter story, using "the egg." We handed out toothbrushes and gave out hearts that said "Jesus Loves You." We also played with the rocket launchers; the kids here discovered they could launch them at each other, rather than up into the air. Those who had done Bible Camps in Guatemala before thought this one went quite smoothly; the first timers thought it was quite chaotic.
In the afternoon, we worked on rebar, forms, and concrete. We poured a lot of concrete, finishing four more horizontal concrete beams; two remain to be completed. Some of us will be hearing "mas concreto" in our sleep for a while. This was our last day working on the school. Another Pura Vida group will be working on it in mid-April. Then our local construction friends will finish the school, since we've raised enough funds for that.
March 29, 2012
This was our final day in the Chichicastenango area. In the morning, we visited the home of Pastor Tomas; he lives in Paquixic, a small village outside of Chichicastenango. Methodist pastors do not get paid in Guatemala; he weaves traditional Guatemalan fabrics at his house to support his family.
After lunch, we visited Sisters Connie and Helen one last time, dropping off our extra food and supplies. Then we split into five teams and each built a chicken coop in the nearby village of Paxot. We took tuk tuks to get to our work sites, because our bus wouldn't fit on the narrow roads. We took pictures of each finished coop and the receiving family, to take back to those who had donated the cost of the coop.
Tonight, we have a farewell dinner. Tomorrow, we're off to Antigua for a day of rest before heading back to the US on Sunday. It's been a rewarding couple of weeks, for both the missionaries and those whose lives they've touched here in Guatemala.