Category Archives: Guatemala

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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WHY I GIVE: MEET JEFF

We have partners that pop up from all around the world–connecting hearts to form a wide-reaching web of care–but sometimes…sometimes we find them just down the hall. Jeff Suarez is an everyday business man and father who happens to work across from the GNUSA offices in downtown LA, close enough to toss a paper airplane, or share a coffee break with us. He may work in a completely different industry, but there is a thread of compassion that has linked our offices, and our hearts, in this common goal. Grab your latte and sit with us in a coffee break convo with our friend Jeff…

GNUSA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff: My name is Jeff Suarez. I was born and raised in LA and currently live in Valencia with my wife and two children, Mateo & Simon. I studied International Relations at USC, and lived in New York City between 2005-2010. I’ve been working at Farfetch.com since 2011 as an Account Manager.

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I got involved with GNUSA through an open house you guys had a few years ago. On the way out, I was given a package about its programs which also contained a profile of Luis, who is now my sponsored child. This was also a special season for me because it was around the same time my first son Mateo was born. I’ve been a child sponsor ever since.

GNUSA: What’s your passion behind sponsoring a child?

Jeff:  I have loved interacting with kids ever since high school. Working with kids has just always been a highlight for me. And since GNUSA works a lot with kids, it was an easy decision to sponsor Luis, and then interact with him through my sponsorship.

GNUSA: Have you ever been to other countries?

Jeff: I travelled to Europe, and my family is from the Philippines – so we go there every so often. I think for me, somehow I really related to kids in difficult circumstances around the world, and I don’t just see them, I feel what they’re going through. I know that GNUSA uses its resources to build programs and provide opportunities for these children, and I love that I’m a part of that. Anything I can do, I try.

GNUSA: What interests you more about the child sponsorship than other programs?

Jeff: I have always wanted to be part of a sponsorship program. Your office is across from mine so it just made sense for me to sponsor a child with you guys. It’s wonderful to walk into work every day and know I’m a part of what GNUSA does.

GNUSA: Since you have kids, how do you plan to introduce them to your sponsored child?

Jeff: (haha) At some point we will. My oldest is three, so we’ll probably have to wait until he gets a little older before we tell him about his brother Luis!

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I think this sponsorship experience will help me instill in my children a continuing awareness of the needs of other children and families around the world. Being from the Philippines- a third world country- my wife and I are keenly aware of issues that communities have, and that children face just to be able to survive.

GNUSA: What has sponsoring Luis for 3 years meant to you?

Jeff: Giving $35.00 a month hasn’t felt like a burden for us at all because we understand why we are giving, and exactly how it is really helping Luis.

GNUSA: Besides helping him financially, how else do you feel Luis is impacted through your sponsorship?

Jeff:  I believe I’m reassuring him that there is someone out there looking out for him. One day I hope to write him and share with him about my sons and family. I know I sure love seeing the photos and letters I get from him.

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GNUSA: Have you ever thought about a lifetime commitment with your child?

Jeff: Yea, I had never thought about it, but building a longer relationship with the sponsored child is unique. I think that would be great! Like I said before, I have two boys and it’s exciting for me as a father to see them grow. It’s no different with my sponsor child Luis – it’s such a joy to see his growth, and how he is enabled to continue moving forward.

GNUSA: What has been your favorite part of sponsoring?

Jeff: Receiving the letters and drawings from Luis. I love posting them on the fridge!

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Thank you Jeff, for sharing your story with us!  To learn more about sponsoring a child, click here.

 

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Why we support Coffee Meets Water: EQUATOR COFFEES & TEAS

We’re continuing our series of highlighting all the amazing partners of Coffee Meets Water this year.  Next up is a new partner for 2015 – Equator Coffees & Teas, based in lovely San Francisco, CA.  We had a chance to connect with Ted Stachura, Director of Coffee at Equator, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us!

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Photo Courtesy of Equator

Q: Tell us a little bit about Equator Coffees and Teas, and your favorite part about working there!

A: Equator was founded over 20 years ago on the premise of roasting the highest quality coffee and providing outstanding customer service. The company has evolved from being solely a wholesale roaster to operating a small number of coffee houses. This experience has allowed Equator to focus on our local community in a whole new way. We also feel deeply connected to the communities where coffee is grown; in addition to the many relationships we have with coffee producers around the world, Equator also co-owns a small coffee farm in Panama called Finca Sophia, near the town of Cerro Punta. The team that takes care of the Gesha variety trees on the farm help close the loop from coffee origin to roaster to cup. As Director of Coffee, my favorite part of working at Equator is helping establish new relationships with coffee growers and bringing their stories to our customers.

Q: How do you choose what types of coffee you use, and what drinks you make?

A: In our cafes, we feature a dynamic assortment of coffees that change on a monthly basis. Along with the standard espresso based beverages, we offer single-origin coffees brewed by the batch and by the cup. We curate the coffee offerings in our cafes and feel they are a representative snapshot of the depth of our coffee program overall.

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Photo Courtesy of Equator

Q: Speaking of drinks, what is your favorite coffee drink?

A: I’m a purist when it comes to coffee, I tend to drink unadorned brewed coffee and espresso but, I also enjoy an occasional cappuccino.

Q: Have you done any coffee- specific travel? If so, what are some of your favorite destinations and why?

A: It is difficult to pick one coffee producing country over another. That said, visiting Kenya was especially memorable because the coffee produced there is consistently a favorite of mine. My recent visit to Colombia was also meaningful for the deepening relationships we have established with an assortment of growers. And finally, Panama, home of our very own Finca Sophia, and so many other excellent coffee farms.

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Ted picking coffee in Colombia. Photo courtesy of Equator

Q: How important is access to clean water in regards to coffee?

A: Water plays a critical role in coffee production. Water is used to convey coffee cherries, separate dense cherries from low quality “floaters” and, ferment and wash coffee beans in the traditional wet method of processing. Perhaps most importantly, clean water is required for the health and livelihood of the people who grow coffee and their families.

Q: Why did you decide to partner with us for Coffee Meets Water?

A: Equator decided to partner with Good Neighbors because of our obsession with sustainability. The fact that this program is focused on coffee producing communities around the world helped seal the deal.

Thank you so much Ted, and everyone at Equator, for being a part of Coffee Meets Water this year!  Equator has generously donated a bunch of great perks for supporters of Coffee Meets Water – such as a Latte Art class, bags of coffee, bkr water bottles and more!  Check out the campaign here!

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Why we support Coffee Meets Water: Demitasse

We’ve been lucky to work with the amazing people at Demitasse over the past few years.  In addition to being the first partner of Coffee Meets Water in 2014 and supporting this year’s campaign, they’ve also helped fund the construction of new cookstoves for families in Guatemala.  For the folks at Demitasse, their amazing work goes beyond coffee!

We had a chance to chat with Bobby Roshan, the founder of Demitasse, to hear a little bit about his love for coffee and why they’re supporting Coffee Meets Water again this year.

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Photo courtesy of Demitasse

Q: Tell us a little bit about Demitasse, and your favorite part about working with coffee.

A: We put a lot of effort into sourcing our coffee. The past year has taken us to origin for the first time (including Guatemala) and we look to continue visiting farms and farmers to find not only exceptional coffees, but exceptional coffees from farms that are taking care of both their people and the land they work on. We also make a lot of fun drinks and try to do crazy things with different ingredients that compliment the coffee. Our current seasonal special is a black sesame lemongrass latte.

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Photo courtesy of Demitasse

Q: What’s your favorite coffee drink?
A: My favorite coffee drink right now is an iced cappuccino. We shake up some milk and espresso with ice in a shaker and it creates a nice little foam on top. Nice and refreshing on these hot LA days.

Q: Have you done any coffee-specific travel? If so, what are some of your favorite destinations and why?
A: In the past year or so, I’ve had the privilege of visiting El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia. I loved each country in its own way! I have a weakness for coffees from El Sal and being the first country we’ve bought coffee from directly, it’ll have a special place in my heart. As far as cities go, Bogota blew me away.
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Bobby working on a coffee farm in Argentina. Photo courtesy of Demitasse

Q: How important is access to clean water in regards to coffee?
A: Clean water is insanely important to any plant, but especially coffee. Not only does the coffee itself need clean water to grow, but many countries need clean water to process the coffee as well. Having a stream or a well on a coffee farm gives that farm a huge advantage over its neighbors.
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Photo courtesy of Demitasse

Q: Why did you decide to partner with us for Coffee Meets Water?
A: I’ve always been interested in development work since my days at a foreign policy think tank, and to be able to combine two of my favorite interests was huge for me! You guys do amazing work and we’re happy we’re able to help in any small way we can. Now if only we can get the Lakers involved somehow, we’d have all three of my interests wrapped into one effort. 😉

Thanks so much Bobby!  We agree, if only we could get the Lakers involved somehow, we’d be thrilled too!  We appreciate your support and everything you’re doing to help get access to clean water around the world.  To support this year’s Coffee Meets Water campaign to get water filtration systems for schools in Acatenango, Guatemala, click here!

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