Written and submitted by Louise from Wesgroup’s marketing team

First of all, I want to thank all of my supporters! Without each and every one of you (friends, family and Wesgroup), I wouldn’t have this great experience!

Everyone keeps asking….how was my Guatemala trip? In a word…EXTRAORDINARY!

If you ever get lucky enough to have a chance like me to join a volunteer group to build homes – I strongly recommend you do it! Not only will you get the chance to travel, meet great and fun people, but you will come home feeling good about yourself and your contribution to a community who really needed help.

The Experience

I signed up with Habitat for Humanity for one of their trips online then created a funding page to raise money for my trip. The 10 day trip included all my meals, my accommodation and travel to and from the worksites.

The Location

When I booked our trip to Guatemala, I had little idea of what to expect when we arrived at San Lucas Toliman, a location that’s about 3 hours away from Antigua. Our area surrounds Lake Atilan, so our view was tremendous.

Guatemala is surrounded by active volcanos and that also added a bit of adventure to our trip, as well as, adding to the amazing landscape.

The hotel we stayed in surprised me because I incorrectly assumed we would be sleeping on dirt floors in the families’ homes we were helping. The hotel was clean, and comfortable with great service and food overall.

The little town itself has around 17,000 residents with many small local retail stores. There is not much electricity in the region we worked in and people generally worked in agriculture in the surrounding areas while the kids attended school.

Our Team

For my trip to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, we were lucky to have a large group of volunteers; a total of 22 people (generally, it’s about 15 people max). Our group consisted of a mix of people of all ages from all over North America, which made the dynamic of the group both productive and fun.

Every day, our group would assemble for a really delicious breakfast at our hotel – which overlooked some gorgeous views, and we’d be assigned into five smaller teams to work on different project that were slated for the day. At the end of the day we’d all have a couple hours to relax and then regroup for a large dinner and share the experiences we had that day.

Our Goals

Our mission for this trip was to have the following completed before we left:

  1. Start the beginnings of building a house
  2. Build 5 smokeless brick stoves
  3. Build 7 latrines

House Building

Going into this build I had no idea our group had to literally start from scratch building this house. From drawing the lines for the shell of the house, to digging the trenches, to cutting and twisting wires to make rebars, to mixing concrete with only shovels and hoes, to carrying bricks one by one to the site located two blocks away – all of this was done without using any type of machinery! Everything we used was sourced from the surrounding area as well. For example, twigs were holding up the rebars and bricks were used as worktables and stools. Unfortunately, we weren’t there long enough to see the house completed, but the work we did finish set the foundation of the house, something I’m quite proud of.

Smokeless Brick Stoves

The creation of smokeless stoves were an important part of our goal as the families from this town didn’t have much electricity so the only way to cook was with wood fires, but usually these fires caused smoke within their homes which have been leading to many illnesses and black ceilings. The stoves we were directed to build were made from mortar and concrete bricks, then stacked like Lego and connected to a duct that’s raised through the roof and out the exterior of the house. The tricky part of this task was to ensure the bricks were all levelled without cracks or open seams so that any smoke from the stove did not spread into the house.

Mixing concrete and mortar is really hard work! Made even harder with only a shovel and hoe to use as tools. I ended up using my hands instead and pretended I was kneading dough to make tortillas to help me stay focused with the difficult assignment.

Latrines

Imagine walking one or two blocks away from your home in order to use the bathroom….that’s what a lot of the townspeople had to endure in San Lucas Toliman. So we set to work to make life just a little easier for the local people to “do their business”.

We were lucky that when we arrived, all the latrines already had a 350 foot hole dug with a toilet installed overtop. The deepness of the hole helps to turn all waste into mulch as flushing isn’t an option.

Because the hole and toilet were already in place, all we had to do was build around them in order to provide the latrine users with some privacy. In building these latrine surrounds, we got to do a little bit of everything such as hammering, cutting wood, laying bricks and making a door.

The Finale Dinner – American Thanksgiving

The last day arrived so quickly! Everyone was exceptionally happy and exhausted all at the same time but we were excited to celebrate American Thanksgiving together with the families that we had helped. We all shared a large meal of turkey, potatoes, stew and then broke 2 pinatas filled with candies for the local children. In addition, we presented each family with a healthy water filtration kit.

The families expressed such gratitude for all the work we did and were truly appreciative of the fact that we were all strangers from different countries who were there to specifically help them in the hopes of making their lives better in the future.

That night was incredibly memorable and I’m thankful for the entire opportunity to experience such a gracious group of people, both the townspeople and my co-workers at Habitat for Humanity. I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure and that I might have inspired just a few people to pay it forward with this rewarding experience.

– Louise