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Guatemala High School Service Trip • 2023

Day 1 – Travel Day

The day started very early for us since we had to meet at the airport at 3:30 am! Everyone showed up and we went to the gate with plenty of time and no stress. Both our flights were uneventful (except for some minor turbulence in one flight). Once we arrived in Guatemala City, we were greeted by the hosts at Fotokids who gave goodie bags to each of us containing water and some snacks. So thoughtful!

We hopped on a bus at Guatemala City and went on a 3-hour bus ride to Santiago Atitlan, which is where we’re staying. The ride was so beautiful and everything around us was so green with all the rain they’ve been having. We reached the hotel and had some amazing dinner. Pastor Lauren led the debrief session for tonight and our Youth Director Keris provided the room assignments and plan for tomorrow. We’re excited to begin our first day of service tomorrow!

Day 2 – Introduction & Integration

Today we started our day by having a lovely breakfast together outside on the patio of the hotel’s restaurant. We were met by Andres, the Santiago Atitlán Site Director for Fotokids, at around 8 am in the morning. He introduced himself and then walked us over to Fotokids’ property, which was about 15 minutes away. The walk was very picturesque.

We were greeted with an incredible reception by the Fotokids, Evelyn, who is the Executive Director of Fotokids, and the rest of the staff team with ‘get to know you’ games and other fun activities.

They also had us put together and hand deliver food gift bags for the families of the Fotokids. The Fotokids staff organize this delivery once a month due to the challenges of hunger and unemployment this community faces. Climate change has brought a serious drought and thus affected the local crops – many of the local people’s livelihoods and sustenance. The streets some of the families live in are pretty narrow.

When we returned from delivering the food bags, we relaxed with the children and youth from Fotokids by playing several games and also some arm wrestling! We were then treated to a delicious, home-cooked lunch on site.

After lunch Nancy McGirr gave a presentation about how she came to start Fotokids due to being traumatized and burnt out as a Reuters war photographer in the 70’s and 80’s. She wanted to instead spend time teaching children photography so that they could document their lives and the daily realities in Guatemala City’s trash dump. This is how it all started, and it’s grown ever since.

The oldest Fotokids (most around 15 or 16 years old) then presented their portfolios of their best photography work – it was incredible.

Later in the afternoon we walked back to the hotel for some downtime, and then returned to the Fotokids site for dinner in the evening. Again, it was incredibly excellent. When dinner was over, we walked back to the hotel for the night and listened to Keris share a devotional on Matthew 7:7-14, which talks about how Jesus encourages us to seek God, and his promise that we will then experience God. We were encouraged to ask ourselves what we are seeking in life, and what is worth seeking in life. We ended the day in small groups discussions and then some free time before heading to bed by 10pm. Please continue to pray for our service team, Fotokids, and the whole Santiago Atitlán community! We’re loving this!

Day 3 – Photo Hunt, Church Tour, & Rain!

In the morning we started off with another excellent breakfast on the hotel patio before walking over to either Fotokids or another local restaurant called La Posada, in two groups. The group that went to Fotokids participated in a photo scavenger hunt alongside the Fotokids themselves, who acted as our guides through the town. It was so amazing to see the sites of Santiago Atitlan with them!

The group that went to La Posada were greeted by Dolores, a local guide and healer, who showed us the Catholic Church in the town square, and a couple of Mayan sacred shrines. The Church was built in 1547 on top of a Mayan temple. Despite this painful beginning, Dolores told us the story of Father Stanley Rother, who was beloved for his advocacy in the Indigenous community.

He was eventually martyred in 1981 by the Guatemalan Army due to his stance against them recruiting young men of the town to become soldiers, among many other acts of civil disobedience on behalf of the local people. Instead, he told the army that what the community really needed was food, education and health care, not guns and war. Dolores also shared about how many believe that Father Rother was the fulfillment of an ancient Mayan prophecy that promised a descendant of a Mayan prophet would come and serve them – and he might not even look like them.

We enjoyed lunch together, took some fun pictures of siblings and family members within our group, and then the two groups switched activities, so that everyone got to have both experiences for the day.

After that we all went back to the hotel for some needed rest before taking tuk tuk rides (because it started raining) back to Fotokids for dinner! We then walked back to the hotel to hear a devo by Pastor Lauren about Matthew 25 and how Jesus calls us as Christians to serve the least of these, and how as the youth enter into positions of power as adults, they remember who they met here and what they witnessed and make decisions accordingly. We finished the night with small groups and then some more downtime before heading to bed at 10pm. What a day!

Day 4 – Crafts, Farming, & Photography

Today we had a morning craft of Mayan beadwork, which was advanced for our skills. But with the help of our Fotokids friends nearly all were able to complete a flower bracelet! These beaded bracelets look similar to many that we have seen out and about in the markets that are for sale. You might be gifted one of these bracelets in the near future!

Next we went to a nearby field and cleared the land with machetes (under supervision) learning the techniques from our skilled friends. After clearing the land, we planted three different kinds of corn and three different kinds of beans. We prayed that the gentle rains would come and nourish the crops for future tortillas and frijoles!

After planting, we enjoyed a tostada lunch and free time with Fotokids. Some enjoyed their first taste of Guatemalan coffee! (The region around where we are staying sells to Starbucks.)

Today we also got to review the photos that we took during the photo scavenger hunt yesterday. Each pair (one LOPC student, and one Fotokids student) presented their best photos to the whole group. There were some really great photos and Nancy McGirr gave us some photography tips!

We got to come back and get some free time and snacks at the hotel before we took Tuk Tuks again to dinner in order to have another adventure and to stay out of the drizzle. After a great dinner we walked home and heard a devotional message from Alex on faith and strengthening our relationship with Jesus. We ended the night with small groups and some free time to hang out before bed! We’re excited for another day tomorrow!

Day 5 – Chocolate, Textiles & Honey

What an incredible day! We started with our breakfast, outside at the hotel restaurant looking out over their incredible garden. We have the choice daily of several options but the Americano seems to be the preferred choice of the group due to its familiarity.. or quantity?? An egg, strip of bacon, pancake and some fruit.  Guatemalan coffee and dragon fruit are popular.

After breakfast, we walked the labyrinth of streets (seems like no matter how many times we walk to FotoKids from the hotel, there is discussion about what corner or street we need to take next).

We met up with almost 20 of our FotoKids friends at the docks by FotoKids and boarded two boats for the picturesque lakeside town of San Juan Laguna.

For some of the FotoKids it was their first time in a boat. Their cheers, excitement and laughter made everyone happy.  One little guy even wore a suit coat for the big day.

San Juan Laguna has a number of streets decorated with brightly colored hanging umbrellas or hats overhead and painted streets below.

Our first stop was a chocolate factory where our group was divided with the Spanish speaking Fotokids attending one presentation and our group in a separate one. We learned about the cacao pod and the beans, and we were able to grind the beans and of course try chocolate ranging from 100 percent cacao to milk chocolate. They grind with volcanic rock!

After the chocolate program we all walked to a cooperative that produces the colorful woven fabrics and clothing that the Guatemalan Mayan people are known for. We heard a great presentation and demonstration of the weaving process from the raw picked cotton to thread to dying.

After the cooperative we walked to a honey facility and learned about the Mayan honeybee (one of over 100 bee varieties in Guatemala) which is tiny and has no stinger but produces a delicious “white honey” and that has medicinal properties.

The local election campaigning was in full swing in San Juan and some of the streets were clogged with parading loudspeaker-mounted pickups and cheering.

Our whole group had sack lunches and our LOPC students had a fun impromptu soccer game with one of the campaign balls that were being handed out.

After lunch we went down to the docks and headed back to Santiago and said goodbye to the Fotokids and we headed back to our hotel for a couple hours of rest.

A small group headed back downtown to check out the souvenir stands.

We walked back to Fotokids for an excellent shrimp and mushroom pasta and, what has become the norm, got stuck in a large campaign rally/parade.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel for our nightly devotional where Keris read Luke 10: 25-37 and Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan talked about our obligation to love and care for one another and how we might apply it to our “busy” lives.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and a group of us went to the corner shop for frozen chocolate bananas which has become a post devotional small group ritual. Only tonight, the campaign rally was for a former Fotokids alum who is running for Mayor! One of our sharp-eyed students recognized her and caught her attention and she welcomed us during her speech and came over and greeted our students and posed for a picture! We walked over ten miles today! We have one more day here before we head back. More tomorrow!

Day 6 – Mayans, Crafts, Games, & Farewell

We started off the day by having breakfast on the hotel patio and then walking with Fotokids staff to a local coop that makes traditional Mayan embroidery. We listened to a speaker share about the culture and how they are working hard to keep their traditions and language of Tz’utujil (su-te-heel) alive.

We then went to Fotokids for a full day of activities including kite making (& flying!), learning about Mayan cosmology and doing some embroidery ourselves, having an amazing tamale lunch, and then a craft where we painted our own bags.

At the close of our time together we enjoyed pizza, games and very tearful farewells. Back at the hotel we had appetizers, even more pizza at the restaurant and listened to a devo by Lauren about how we may be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) without knowing it, and how it is now our job to share and advocate on behalf of Fotokids. We finished the night with small groups, games, and packing our bags. Now on to our travel day!

Also, Nancy (the founder) and Evelyn (Executive Director) will be joining us back at LOPC for a special visit in September!

Thank you so much for following the posts each day and for all your prayers. Since today was the final day, this is the last post for this trip. Parents, please talk to your kids about how the trip impacted them. God Bless!

High School Service Project Day 7 – Surprise!

While today was just a travel day (4 hours from Santiago Atitlán to Guatemala City + 3 hours to Miami + 6 hours to SFO + time at the airport), we were pleasantly surprised to know that Allison Kunz flew to Miami to meet the team during the layover. We were so happy to see Allison again – there were tears and laughter! We love and miss Allison!!!