Our Trip to Guatemala
In April, we traveled to Todos Santos, Guatemala for the fourth time. Our group included myself, Natalie, Melissa, Shawnah, Josh and two volunteers from outside the clinic, Drinda and Kris. Once we got to Todos Santos, we joined a group made up of volunteers from Guatemala, Chile, Germany, the United States and Canada. By the end of the week what started as a group of individuals from various backgrounds had become a family all working towards a common goal. And much like a family, though everyone doesn’t always agree, everyone loves and respects each other in the end.
Todos Santos is like many underdeveloped areas – change comes slowly and may be as simple as a new hotel sign on one of the streets. For us, the lack of change is a good thing. We are happy to see the village looking much the same as it does every year. For the people of Todos Santos, the lack of change may be a bad thing – still not enough jobs or opportunity to improve the quality of their lives.
This year we were recognized and greeted warmly by villagers as soon as we arrived. After four years, there are many people and pets that we remember and are excited to see. The children especially are happy for out arrival, because for one week they receive extra attention, gifts and activities. The children and even some adults happily participated in market day activities. There were raffle tickets provided at no charge for items such as coloring books and toys for the children and blankets and buckets for the adults. Can you imagine being excited at the possibility of winning a simple, white plastic bucket? Can you imagine a 12-year-old Canadian boy standing in line to get a raffle ticket for a package of colored pencils? Josh and Shawnah were positively amazing at helping the children use pipe cleaners and googly eyes to create everything from little animals to rings and bracelets. In the evening everyone was excited for movie night with bags of popcorn included!
As we started into our work week we were thrilled to see how many people wanted their pets spayed, neutered and vaccinated. It is gratifying to see that people are recognizing the value in caring for their pets and decreasing the number of unwanted pets. It was also nice to see that many of the pets are better cared for. Many still wore the collars they had received in previous years. There are still some stray dogs on the streets, but many dogs are kept at home with their families and not allowed to roam.
We also saw the impact of our sponsorship program for the kids. All four of the sponsored children are flourishing. The three boys (Mario, Cristino and Roberto) were able to spend time assisting us with set up and other work during the week. They loved helping to monitor pets in the recovery area, give vaccines under supervision and tattoo ears to show pets have been spayed/neutered> . It is incredible how much the boys and the girl, Roxanne, have matured and become more self-confident. I am not sure who was more excited by the fact that we were there during report card week. We all gathered together for the opening of their report cards – the kids, their mothers, their mentor, Andres, and the sponsors. We reviewed each report card and all four kids had raised their averages to a minimum of 75%. Roberto received a certificate as the number one pupil in his grade! There were smiles all around! We had learned earlier in the week that the two families were only able to purchase mean to eat once every few months. The remainder of the time they survive on beans, rice and a few vegetables. So the reward for the great report cards was a trip to get fried chicken and French fries for both families. It was quite a sight to see a group of 10-12 people walking all over town looking for a place that had enough fried chicken and French fries for two families. We ended up getting chicken at one shop and fries at another. And the smiles on the boys’ faces when we said they could get sodas as well was heartwarming. The smiles got even bigger when they realized they could have their own drink and not just one to share!
We learned that the physician in the town has seen the importance of the children having activities on the weekends to they don’t just sit around. He has organized a group of parents to pay a physical education teacher to come and provide weekend activities, for the first time, we saw an organized group of children with an instructor playing basketball and soccer in the municipal building.
As usual we went to visit Santa, Cristino and Roberto’s mother. She expressed the hope she has for her children to live a better life since they are able to continue their schooling. Santa has also started sewing purses to sell which will help provide extra income for the family. The family cat we spayed last year continues to be a beloved member of the household.
Our last night in Todos Santos we were served pizza by the wonderful ladies that provide our meals. It may sound strange, but they make the best pizza we have ever had. Santa, Cristino, Roberto and their little brother Hansen came to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking to hug the boys and see the tears in their eyes because we were leaving. Their life is so different for the week that we are there, it would be wonderful to bring more of that joy all year round. Everyone got an opportunity to speak about what the week meant to them. The dominant theme was that it was life changing and everyone couldn’t wait to return next year.
It is so difficult to describe the work we do, the bond with the people of Todos Santos and the joy and sometimes sadness the week brings to our group. We are grateful to all of those people – clients, friends, and family members – that help support the work of the GAAP. It does make a difference! Every donation, every mention of our work, every person that attends a fundraiser helps us to help others! Thank you to everyone that makes this work possible!
– Dr. Patricia Lechten