Nepal

NEPAL | the Road to Recovery

On April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.8 magnitude killed 8,897 people and impacted the lives of approximately 5.3 million*. Upon the one-year anniversary of this tragic disaster, we review the many ways the resilient people of Nepal find hope again through the assistance of helping hands extended to them.INFOnepal

An hour after the earthquake struck, Good Neighbors organized an emergency relief team in Nepal; within two hours, we distributed relief supplies in Gorkha, a village near the epicenter, as the first-responding relief organization. Additionally, we dispatched specialists from our Psycho-Social Support Team in Korea to provide Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) prevention programs and related education for local residents. This support was especially important to protect children who were likely to be left unattended amidst the chaos by establishing a continuous program to increase its effectiveness.

Kids copyGood Neighbors was selected as the most active NGO in the sector of health out of all international aid organizations, including the UN. In addition, we were designated by UNOCHA as the leader of 11 organizations in the sector of protection in Gorkha, and managed over 30 organizations, including UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and WVI (World Vision International). In total, we conducted emergency relief projects worth USD $1,282,783 in 17 villages in three areas throughout Nepal. Through the generosity of support from our members, donors, supporters and more, 190,795 residents from 38,159 households were able to receive proper assistance.

Good Neighbors will be implementing a 5-year-long reconstruction project to assist children and residents to get back to their daily lives, in cooperation with international organizations, local governments, and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

NepalgoatThe emergency response from Good Neighbors is not limited to coping with urgent situations. We continue to help people return back to normal. It takes much more time and effort to recover from disasters, but together, we will make good changes happen for the residents by supporting them.”
Sandip, Staff Member from Good Neighbors Nepal


 

* Approximately 20% of the entire population of Nepal (UNOCHA, Nepal earthquake humanitarian situation report, 2015)

  Be the first to like this post
blogSunaGirls

NEPAL | Unlikely Heroes

Five girls. Five baskets. One soccer ball.blogSunaPortrait

“Sunakali! Are you coming?!”

“Yes! Just let me feed the cattle first.”

The faithful friends, baskets secured firmly with a strap around their heads, waited patiently until Sunakali joined them- then they were off! Six girls. Six baskets. One soccer ball. As they cleared any suspicious eyes of the lonely mountain village they broke free, chasing the ball down the slopes of Nepal.

Welcome to Nepali sports. Not exactly open to girls.

These ambitious girls found a loophole, though – they brought the ball along during their daily task of gathering fodder. Doesn’t count if it’s not an actual match, right? Sunakali watched the ball spin away from her, eyes burning like lonely campfires back-dropped by silhouettes of the towering peaks. And the fires burned deep.

Desire.

Talent.

Legacy.

At age 16, Sunakali was just one of many strong-spirited Mugu District girls with a passion for this forbidden sport. Soccer didn’t fall into any of the approved Nepali traditions passed down through the years for young girls. Traditions like the ceremonial smearing of vermillion on their rich-brown skin. Or like marriage, feeding livestock, collecting fodder, and if they were lucky, an education.

That’s what was expected. That’s what had always been expected.

More than 63% of the district’s population would be  married by 19, and many would begin their long domestic life as early as 15. With most opportunities handed off to the boys, the literacy rate for women stood at a ghastly 10%. Asking to play team soccer might as well have been asking their parents to buy them the moon. But for a girl with limitless dreams, the moon itself was too small.

On this particular sunny day in Nepal, Sunakali and her friends took a break from gathering, kicked the ball around and tumbled around in the pockets of sunlit snow.  Little did they know that this small white ball was about to change their lives- and the trajectory of culture in those mountains- forever.

blogSunaFlagIn 2013, Good Neighbors started a soccer league in Nepal. But not just any soccer league. An all-GIRLS soccer league. How can the world rise above poverty and violence while one of its greatest resources lays buried and neglected: the beautiful, resilient and courageous heart of a woman. Maybe, just maybe, bucking tradition in Nepal and giving girls a chance to shine would prove this.

Word of this unorthodox soccer league spread, and there in the heights of Mugu, it reached Sunakali and her friends that day as they sat in school. After class the friends huddled in conference. Half decided to go for it- the others agreed there was no way their parents would bend.

Since they had little influential sway at home, the seemingly impossible task of convincing fell on the recruiting coach; a task greater than the physical climb he’d faced just to get there. What were these mountains compared to decades of towering tradition? Sure enough, the coach was met with a barrage of resistance. “They were girls!” “What would a girl do with such an opportunity?”

“If our daughter goes away, our daily work will be affected. Who will herd the goats and cattle? It will also hamper her studies.”

“We won’t send her. You might sell our daughter. Who will be responsible for her if she falls ill?”

“Nothing will come of playing football.”parents

Over and over the coach experienced this scenario, like deja vu: inside the walls of a humble thatched house, outside while the parents worked the wool, or on the porch dodging a mother’s passionate gestures. Yet through gentle persistence he insisted these girls had potential, would make the parents proud and- most importantly- give the village a good name.

“Your girl won’t make a name by raising cattle. But if she wins the soccer match in Kaikali- your name will spread far and wide.”

Finally- perhaps from the pure novelty of the offer- some parents actually caved.sad

It is hard to imagine the emotions surging through these beautiful people. The young girl longing for adventure and to prove herself, even as tears proving her apprehension hit the floor. For the first time she’d be leaving her home, her hills, and the only faces she has ever known. And despite the stubbornness of the parents to stick to the opinions of the past, the real depth of their concern surfaced from their love for their daughter, and desire to ensure her safety. Releasing them into the care of this man- official papers or no- was a risk that tempted tears out of even the sternest labor-lined faces. But towards their dreams the girls turned, and up the mountain they climbed.

Literally.SunaHike

They didn’t jump in a mini van and ride down smooth asphalt paved roads munching on carrot sticks and PBJ. No, their dream lead them on thin shoes through rocky mountain inclines. They hiked for hours to reach the next village where they joined more young athletes for official try-outs.

30 girls tested. 15 chosen.blogSunaSoccer

Sunakali made the cut.

And then another “small” hike (two whole days) to the village where they would have their first match. There was a massive turn out. No one had ever seen anything like it. Not for girls.

With no rest day before the game, and little to eat, the girls pulled on their uniforms and huddled around coach as he sketched out the plays.

Soon after, the game began.

The crowd cheered, gasped, and of course, argued with the referees. Sunakali and her team played with every ounce of remaining energy they had, but it wasn’t enough. As the other team celebrated they collapsed in tears. From exhaustion. From disappointment. From the echoes of their parents voices, “Give your village a name. Win the hearts of people.” They had failed. But it was not the end. Not yet.

Joining with another team, they set out for a tournament Good Neighbors had organized. But this was no two day hike. They represented the entire Mugu district and carried that weight of responsibility with them, even as they rode on a small plane for the first time, traveled by ox-cart, bus, and even motorcycles to finally arrive at their destination: Kaikali. But here they found they were a mere spec amidst all the teams competing. 14 teams had gathered. As was the tradition, the teams were greeted with crowds, garlands, drum beats, and the bright vermillion smudged on their foreheads.cart

As the tournament began Sunakali’s coach launched into his pre-game speech. “They’re more advanced than you. Their clothes are better. Even their talking style is more advanced.” (uh..maybe we should send him a copy of Rudy?) “But you girls are no less capable than them. You must remember that!” It may not have been a perfect Hollywood script, but it did the job. With the hum of the crowd hemming them in like a buzzing cocoon, the games began.

Amidst the motion, adrenaline, bodies- the passes, the shots, the sprinting- Sunakali started to hear her name over loud speaker as she cleared goal after goal.

“Jersey number 12- Sunakali is playing a beautiful game.”

“Jersey number 12 has given Mugu the lead!”

Slowly the ashes of their first loss in the mountains of Mugu made way for a stockpile of wins. And it kept growing!

Some of the games were a breeze, some a genuine struggle, but now the end was in sight. The Mugu team found themselves matched up for the championship. The whispers of their parents “give us a name,” must have surfaced and laced their skin with tension as they stared their final opponents in the eyes.

“If it’s your dream to win, you will win.” Their coach’s words joined the rest of the voices in their hearts. But which voice would be loudest? The ball began to fly. The score was tight, the opposition relentless, and Sunakali’s burning eyes on the prize.

“Jersey 12 has the ball. This might be dangerous…”  the announcer cried, his voice rising.

Feet thundered down the field.

She shot.

Goal1

Time froze.

goal2

“Goal!”goal3

Sunakali got it in with one powerful kick. The teams continued neck and neck, but in the end, the other team just…couldn’t…score.

Times up.

Sunakali’s name now filled the air on the waves of an uproarious chant.

“Sunakali! Hi hi! Sunakali! Hi hi!”blogSunaWin

Lifting her on their shoulders a tidal-wave grin spread across her normally rock-resolute features. In her arms she held the trophy and by the end of the day she was named the Most Valuable Player. She just couldn’t wait to go back and show her parents.


She did it! 

They did it!

The reception when they arrived back in their district was unparalleled. No Nepal legend ever told of a woman bringing fame to her town. Now a new legend had been born. Greeted at the airport with a line of drummers, they continued through town after town only to be buried by garlands and painted with vermillion until their faces were as red as their blazing hearts. Everywhere they went the streets lined with villagers chanting Sunakali’s name and praising the fame their team had brought to the region.

“These girls went all the way to Kaikali and won a football match.” The State education minister pronounced on a microphone to one community, “We have neither been able to produce a single toilet in the district, or build good roads. We haven’t been able to provide proper education. But if these girls can go so far and win, why can’t we?!”

But perhaps, despite all the fanfare and accolades, the most beautiful moment of all was when two parents with calloused hands held a picture of their daughter, raised victorious on the shoulders of her team and said- “this is our daughter….even a daughter can perform well if given the opportunity.”picture

But this wasn’t the end of Sunakali’s dreams, it only gave her more courage. She went on to speak out against child marriage in her area, and later went to try out for the national Nepal football league.

Sometimes it takes a long time to turn the tide of a culture. Sometimes it only takes a small rudder to turn the massive ship. Sunakali and her friends- literally through their sweat and tears- opened a discussion of change in their villages, and proved that all that anyone needed was an opportunity and willing heart.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot. The translation of the name Sunakali? 

Golden girl.

She watches, she waits, she dreams.
She lives across the seas, or across the street, or walks among us.
I guess w
e just never know what treasure will be uncovered if we only take the time to extend an opportunity.

Lets find more gold, shall we?blogSunaMom

  Be the first to like this post
Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

VOLUNTEER INTERVIEWS | A Warm Touch of Humanity

Meet Jacob (pictured above on right.) High school student, musician, and life-changer. After consistently offering his small income to support a child through our sponsorship program, Jacob made the bold decision to take his involvement a step further. In 2015 he signed up for our volunteer trip to Guatemala with his musical ensemble of 18 students from Irvine, CA. Little did he know that this courageous decision would set him up for an encounter that would impact his life forever.


Hello Jacob, introduce yourself to our readers!

Hello, my name is Jacob, I’m a music dork who plays the viola and is obsessed with classical music.

Awesome, wish we could hear some of it! Tell us a little about the trip you took with Good Neighbors.

Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

After five hours of flight, our ensemble arrived in Guatemala and headed for our target city: Patzicia. Led by Good Neighbors Guatemala staff member Maribel, we immediately started building cookstoves for families in rural areas. After short greetings with overjoyed residents, we dirtied our hands with bricks, and mud, and started to build our first cookstove.

Traditional cookstoves in kitchens are very toxic: smoke from cooking fills the room, the family member’s eyes would burn, and it is difficult to breathe. I had assumed that cookstoves weren’t as crucial as other projects, such as building houses, but I was wrong. Cookstoves are pivotal to the health of the whole family. The process wasn’t as laborious as I had expected; we had teams of 7-8 volunteers  per cookstove which made the work enjoyable and relatively quick. Each day, we built two cookstoves, and vastly improved the lives of each of those families! We shed blood and sweat, but reaped the residents’ heartwarming thanks that motivated us to keep on serving the community.

Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

 

That’s so amazing! Were there any challenges you had to overcome through this experience?

On the fourth day of our trip, we hosted a concert for a high school run by Good Neighbors. The violins, clarinets, and violas set up on the stage, and as the time of the performance approached, the seats in the gym started to fill with friendly faces. I took out a little speech I had prepared, introduced our ensemble, and started our repertoire of five pieces.

Disappointingly, most of the audience seemed uninterested. In desperate need to entertain them, after the fifth song, I asked the audience, “Quien sabes Mario?” I was met with silence and I was shocked that they didn’t know who Mario was. I asked once again, “Super Mario?” The crowd suddenly became boisterous, showing unprecedented excitement.Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

I started to play the Super Mario theme song, and their faces remained astounded and excited. I continued with Titanic, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Frozen. Surprisingly, most of them knew these movies; especially during my playing of ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman?’ the crowd became wild.

This had to have been one of the most climactic moments of my music life: I was able to excite the whole crowd with the goofy musical pieces that I’ve often played for fun. My competitive side of music has been mostly in my view, but this was an opportunity to show my goofy side.

So fun!! Now, we heard that you had a really special encounter on this trip? Can you tell us what happened?

A few days before my departure to Guatemala, my mom told me that Good Neighbors had set up a meeting with Bryan, a boy I’ve been sponsoring through the Good Neighbors sponsorship program. My feelings were mixed: nervous, yet excited. I hadn’t considered that I might ever have the fortune to meet Bryan face-to-face, and now that this opportunity was so close, my eagerness grew.

After the concert, the rest of the group left to continue building more cookstoves, but I stayed with a Good Neighbors leader to meet Bryan. We walked down an underground path to the Good Neighbor local office. I slowed down, realizing how tremendous and significant this meeting would be.

When we reached the office, there was a young boy with short, spiky hair, waiting there. I reached out to him and hugged him tightly. He had grown so much since that picture Good Neighbors first sent me. Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

We couldn’t communicate fluently, but with my limited knowledge of Spanish and with some translation help, we started to talk about all kinds of random things: favorite colors, hobbies, subjects, foods, and every other possible thing that came across my mind.

Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

We walked around the neighborhood that Bryan lives in, and each step that I took with him seemed so unrealistically marvelous that I couldn’t help grinning. Bryan’s mother also came along, and gave me a hug and kept thanking me for coming.

Guatemala Volunteer Trip August 2015

I’ve never felt so accomplished, satisfied, thankful, and proud. Our awkward conversation continued on, but each word we spoke touched me; everything seemed so unreal and too good to be true.

They kept on thanking me, but I should’ve been the one thanking them for being a source of encouragement and motivation every day. Meeting Bryan was probably one of the best moments in my life, and I will always treasure it.

These were the biggest highlights from my Guatemala trip that made it so meaningful and worthwhile. What I gained from this trip highly outweighed the laborious aspect; we exchanged our hard work for a warm touch of humanity. This trip was indeed an unforgettable journey, and I am very thankful to Good Neighbors that I’ve been given the opportunity to participate.


Incredible. Thank you Jacob for making choices that position you to make real, consistent change in people’s lives! We’re inspired by your story.

If you want to experience a warm touch of humanity like Jacob did, email us at volunteer@goodneighbors.org for information on our upcoming trips! You never know, you might just end up with your own miraculous encounter.

  Be the first to like this post
ROCKvolunteer

5 STEPS | Becoming a Rockstar Volunteer

If you’ve ever thought about traveling the world for a good cause, but just got a little intimidated by the whole process, this post is for you! Once we show you the easy steps to getting on board with a Good Neighbors volunteer trip, you’ll see how simple it really is and be well on your way to the adventure you only dreamed you could one day be a part of! Check it out>>

June 29, 2013-Ladagada Community, Silgadhi, Doti Province, Nepal: Staff of Good Neighbors International, Photo Credit: Kibae Park/Communication Advisor-CECI

 1- Pick Your Trip

In any given week, we often hear about issues such as the water crisis, human trafficking, or poverty in general, but can feel helpless to do anything about it. These issues loom like a dark cloud that stretches across the sky. How is one person supposed to even poke a hole in that? Well- you’re doing it! No one person is going to chase away that cloud, but a whole lot of people poking holes will let more and more sunlight burst through. A volunteer trip is your way to make some light break through by doing something practical and lasting for people in another country. You’ll get to experience daily life through their eyes, help with urgent needs, and most importantly, empower them with friendship and knowledge. Be warned though, they will most likely steal your heart and become friends and “neighbors” for life. As you’re scanning our info page of volunteer trips, a specific country or project is bound to catch your eye. “Hey, those people look cool” you might think. Or “I could do that!” That’s a good indicator that it might just be the trip for you!

June 30, 2013-Pokhari Community, Silgadhi, Doti Province Nepal: Photo Credit: Kibae Park/Communication Advisor-CECI

2- Ace Your Application

This isn’t an application for a job or a college entrance exam, so just be yourself! Take a few minutes to really think about what it is that impacts you about the work Good Neighbors does, and how it connects to your dreams or heart for people. Maybe even throw in some ways that you first got interested in volunteer trips or making a difference in the world, and future goals and plans you have to do it!

Jan.10,2011~Jan.19,2011

3- Conquer Your Funds

Ok so you’ve decided on the country, and you know what you’ll be working on while your there. Now what? Pillage and plunder! Just kidding. No pirates allowed on our trips. But you are officially an adventurer and activist, which is incredible! Your friends and family will want to get in on that! Not everyone can take a break from their job, family or responsibilities to go on a trip like this, so most likely they will want to support someone who can. So get out a pen and paper and write down every idea that pops into your head for fundraising or reaching out. Write down the silly ones, and even the massive ones! This will help get your creative juices flowing. Now pick a few favorites, and put all your effort into those. The cool thing is, even your friends who don’t have money to give would probably LOVE to help you with a fun fundraising activity! Here are some ideas to spark your brainstorm session:

-A letter. A real letter. People love getting things in the mail that aren’t bills! Haha. Write a heart-felt letter with all the details about the project and your desire to make a difference in the world. Don’t forget to give them a website they can visit to donate, or include a pre-addressed envelope to slip a check in the mail for you.

-Set up an account on GoFundMe.com. Having a link online to share on social media where people can easily click and donate is a great option!

-Make a funny video (something people will want to pass on) about your fundraising. Get your friends in on this!

-Everybody loves merch! BonfireFunds helps you design your own T-Shirt and launch your fundraiser online! 

-Ask a church or sporting event if you can have a BBQ at their location!

-Ask friends and family for unwanted items and hold a garage sale (everyone has stuff they want to get rid of!)

These are just a couple. Pinterest is a great source for more fun ideas!

empower

4- Empower the People

You’ve raised the funds. You’ve made the journey. But how do you really make the most of your trip? Remember that above all, it’s about people. You aren’t there just to do a task and bounce. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone- interact with people. Even if you don’t speak the same language, there are other ways to communicate: through gestures, through smiles, through hugs. Show them you see them and want to know them. People are empowered by being known and being taught. Once they see you care about knowing them, they soak up everything you have to show them. We want to leave every trip with people thinking two things: “They care about me” and “I can take it from here.”

“My experience in Guatemala prompted me to reevaluate my decisions and the values that I deem important in life. I realized the necessity of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in order for self-growth. There is so much more to explore in the world, and now I can’t sit still knowing there is so much more work to be done. Creating something meaningful is so much more exhilarating than you may expect.” -Amy Chio, GN Volunteer 2015 *Link to her blog

 

document

5- Document Your Adventure

When you get back home, toss off your dusty sneakers and fall with a thud on your bed, that’s when all the details will be fresh in your mind. But it won’t stay that way! One week turns into two weeks and slip by fast, and you’re already forgetting that silly thing the kids did to make you laugh, or the way that mother looked at you so gratefully as you put the last layer of paint on her new cookstove. If at all possible, sit down to write about your trip within the first week! If nothing else, write down a list of the highlights that you can expound on later when you have a good chunk of time. And in case you haven’t noticed, we love to feature our volunteers’ stories on our blog, so if you do write it down, let us know!!

Well that’s it! Pretty simple right? You can get more info on 2016 trips or start your application HERE , or shoot us an email at VOLUNTEER@GOODNEIGHBORS.ORG if you have any questions (or if anything still seems vague or daunting.) We can’t wait to voyage with you and see lives changed- lives in the communities we work in, and yours!

  Be the first to like this post
BlogAMYheader

VOLUNTEER JOURNALS | Unedited Lives of People

In 2015 Amy Chiu, a student from South Hills High School,  gave up part of her summer to fundraise and take a trip with Good Neighbors to Guatemala. Once there, Amy and her team spent long days in the sun building safe cookstoves to replace old units that were causing serious health risks for the families. But we’ll let Amy tell the story..


Nowadays, technological innovations seem to be updating faster than we can keep up, allowing us to view other parts of the world through the small screens of our electronic devices. However, what we see on television simply isn’t the same as what we can marvel at in person. Although we hear global news blasted from our car radios every morning, we don’t truly understand these problems with such big, scary-sounding words.

I wanted a taste of this experience firsthand by catching a glimpse of real world crises that others face. Thus, upon decisively signing up with Good Neighbors to volunteer in Guatemala by building cookstoves for the local villagers in Acatenango, I embarked upon a weeklong journey.

stove

An old cookstove

Constructing new cookstoves could make a significant difference in the lives of local villagers. In order to cook, families build open fires inside the rooms of their homes. This is especially dangerous for small children playing near the fires. In addition, the families are exposed to the smoke, which can cause lung-related illnesses, and young children who should be learning at school must spend long hours gathering large amounts of firewood instead.

Compared to the amount of wood needed for traditional cookstoves, the Good Neighbors cookstoves only needs one-third of that amount, and the smoke travels through a stone chimney connected to a hole in the roof. Not only can many health problems be prevented because the toxic smoke is eliminated, but children can also have more opportunities for a better education by not having to collect as much firewood throughout the day.

worker

A new Good Neighbors cookstove being installed

This trip ultimately broadened my perspective as an individual and taught me lifelong lessons that I will forever cherish. During my experience, there were countless moments that touched my heart.  

On the first day, after we arrived, all fourteen of us (including our Good Neighbors staff members and guides Esther and Jose) clambered out of the airport and into a van. (By the way, our driver would prove to become a regular James Bond with his insanely awesome driving skills.) We were, and I quote fellow volunteer Jason, “excited and nervous.” I pressed my face up against the window in anticipation, drinking in every detail. Our group stopped by the Good Neighbors Guatemala office for a quick tour and introduction (and our hotel DelSol) before we headed to Acatenango.

Blog_AmyGroup

Guatsquad with local school children in Acatenango after chatting with the students and challenging them to an intense game of soccer. We tried and failed at not looking like tourists.

During the first half of the drive out of Guatemala City, our surroundings resembled parts of Los Angeles. However, as the van carried us further out into the villages up the long, winding roads, we all quickly became mesmerized by the beautiful scenery. Everything was so…green. Our van moseyed up the mountain, and everyone seemed to be infected with excitement as we pointed out the rows of unending maize, oohing and aahing at adorable children playing. Young, rowdy boys piled into the backs of trucks laughed and waved at us.

When we finally parked at the side of a dirt road, Jose led our group to the very first house we would build a cookstove for. The piece of land was surrounded by a fence made of short sticks, and Jose swung the gate open, inviting us in. There was a cage full of chickens, and small chicks roamed freely. Before us stood a room with three walls and to our right stood another room half its size. There were no doors, and the floor was completely made of dirt.Amywork2

Everyone was assigned different tasks, and then we got to work by soaking bricks in water collected from a plastic barrel, sifting the dirt, and mixing the cement with a sticky syrup. We took turns asking the family questions in Spanish, who introduced their three children. Oldie was a bright little girl with wide eyes and an even wider smile who caught chicks for us to hold. Little Santo shy, but he occasionally rewarded our attempts at jokes with peals of laughter. Alfonso was quiet, with a mischievous sparkle in his eye.

With everyone pitching in, we managed to finish most of the cookstove that day.

AmyWork

The next few days, we repeated the process of building stoves for different families in the community. Some lived higher up in the mountains, so to reach their homes, we hiked for fifteen minutes on steep roads. Others lived in the middle of the farmland, so we waded through the rows of maize. As we chatted with the locals, we picked up bits of Spanish phrases and learned more about Guatemalan culture. I found out that one couple had been married for fifteen years and the husband built a well from scratch in fifteen days! Their doe-eyed little girl, Dulce Maria, was bundled up in a Dora the Explorer jacket and their son climbed trees to pick fruits. The couple shared soda and local snacks with us.

Although each family had a unique story, I noticed a common theme that all the residents shared. There was an intangible element in the air, a feeling that I couldn’t quite put into words, until one night, when Esther asked us to share our thoughts in our daily evening reflections. As she spoke about teamwork and being good neighbors, I realized that what we had all been feeling in Acatenango was a strong sense of community.

Blog_AmyMeal

Bolique. The traditional Pueblo meal with Amy, Jason, Miles (from left to right)

Whenever we passed by anyone, each person always chirped a friendly greeting, whether it was “buenos dias” or “hola.” Strangers welcomed us to their homes with genuine smiles. Even when we were building stoves for one family, other friends would eagerly stop by to lend a helping hand. Though our Spanish was far from fluent, we connected with the children by playing games. In fact, the locals were so open and warm, when we spontaneously decided (encouraged mostly by Jason) to challenge a nearby school to an intense game of soccer (which the schoolboys won), the principal came out to take pictures!

Everyone wanted to share a piece of their lives with us- some families generously prepared traditional Pueblo meals of bolique and tamalitos; Maria passed around cups of leche con bananas as Mark, Shivani, and I painted her stove, and still others bestowed upon us blessings with tears in their eyes.

Building cookstoves became routine for me, but this meant the world to the families.

Blog_AmyStove

My beneficiary family: Maria, the mom, Oldie, the daughter, Santo, the little boy, and Alfonso (not pictured). They were the first family we visited, and to my surprise, after a couple days, we came around full circle and I ended up at their home again with my benefactor tile.

 

AmySignWhen the trip came to the end, saying goodbye felt bittersweet. In about a month, the families would be able to use their new cookstoves. However, I had gotten to know them and my fellow volunteers so much more personally that I began missing everyone before we even left! I wasn’t ready to part with the beautiful land up in the mountains or the sense of inspiration the soaring skies gave me.

As we shuffled off the van and into the airport, I thought about how much Guatemala had changed me on the outside (I tanned due to my refusal to wear an adequate amount of sunblock and made friends with mosquitos) and on the inside, as I would walk out of LAX a completely different person.

When visiting a country on a volunteering basis, there are more opportunities to see the raw, unedited lives of real people. I went into the trip with the mindset of helping others, but I now feel that Guatemala helped me much more. Children were constantly laughing and found more reasons to beam than frown. They saw so much happiness in life and seeing them reminded me that choosing to view a situation in a positive light isn’t so hard. Even if we didn’t understand what anyone was saying, everyone we met showed us that a smile was the universal language for friendship.

It was a tough decision, but we eventually settled on thumbs up over peace signs. #girlsruntheworld

It was a tough decision, but we eventually settled on thumbs up over peace signs. #girlsruntheworld

There are different connotations associated with the word “neighbors.” Some immediately shiver at the sound of this two-syllable word, as recollections of controversial views and ancient tensions regarding the Your-Golden-Retriever-Desecrated-My-Garden war of 1930 resurface. Others beam fondly as they reminisce about the many “welcome” pies received upon moving into the neighborhood. Still others ponder, “Neighbors? What neighbors? The nearest store is a two-hour drive.” However, when I see the word “neighbors,” I think of people who may not know you very well, but are willing to share their stories with you.

During my experience in Guatemala, volunteering with Good Neighbors taught me much more about being a neighbor than I ever expected. So, from one neighbor to another, I urge you to challenge yourself to seize the day and change someone’s life- you never know, you might even change your own in the process.


Amy and her team completed a total of 13 new stoves, drastically improving the  living conditions and lifestyle of these families. Our neighbors in Guatemala who encountered this team will never be the same. But there is more work to be done! If you want to spend your summer like Amy did, email us at volunteer@goodneighbors.org for info on our upcoming trips!

  Be the first to like this post

News + Notes from Our Corner of the World