Saying goodbye to each individual student in 2011
I am forever inspired by the rally of support that comes from friends and family, from people we met five years ago and haven’t seen since, and from the droves of newcomers, those who just happen upon this little aldea (village) and want to help. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve witnessed people coming out from the deep recesses of Facebook to vote for Las Manos de Christine, trying to push us to the top of a grant contest, and I take it personally. So, I want to thank you all personally (via publicly-posted blog entry, of course).
Before we ever arrived here in 2010, we asked that people fulfill an Amazon wish list of supplies, books Emma dreamed she’d have at the school, and within three days people were asking us to extend the list. People bought so much (not just books, but art supplies and prizes and equipment) that my mother donated the money for us to check an extra bag, and then, when she came down a few months later, she had to bring the rest: We actually had to separate the need it now versus need it later. When the list ran dry, some folks just sent checks.
For the year we were here, family and friends continually came to our aid, making donations in honor of our birthdays, following our progress through newsletters, and rallying when we needed a rally. Our moms were instrumental in fundraising, supplying an end of the year celebration for the kids, supplying a new classroom. Drew and Bri at Earth Lodge gave us long leashes to conduct fundraising events, cornhole tournaments and charity concerts, selling spicy peanuts, pub quizzes, raffles—whatever new scheme we could come up with. Las Manos grew beyond…
When Emma and I agreed to pilot Las Manos @ El Hato, we didn’t know exactly what we were signing up for. We were excited about Earth Lodge being our home. We’d driven through the village before. We knew that one quetzal of every happy hour drink at the Lodge went to providing the children with healthier breakfasts. We knew that Las Manos was going to give us free range to create something, and it’s humbling to see what this—what began as English classes—has become: a network that lives and breathes and expands, into which we are welcomed back as guests.
Before we ever arrived here in 2012, we asked that people help us finance a three-month art program, GUPP, which will have El Hato’s sixth graders creating yarn-based art installations throughout their village. It took a couple of weeks to raise more money than we could spend on the project. We had to revise, come up with more activities, and eventually, we had to relent that the funding would probably dictate yet another return in 2013, or an extension this year. Every time we come up with something new, there is the pause between the announcing and the support in which we wonder if people have grown weary of it all. Then, the explosion occurs.
What’s more is that we keep gathering new people. It seems that those who work at Earth Lodge intrinsically migrate to the school, filling in gaps, assisting teachers, starting art classes, and rallying more. Guests volunteer. They drop donations into a jar at the bar. They remember us. They want to help, too. They travel and come back to work with the school. Our friends tell their friends, our families involve their co-workers and acquaintances, and as we once theorized, the pool swells. People from every edge of earth rally around this village, this tiny school.
I don’t know what El Hato ever did to warrant such love. I know now that, when we walk down the street or along trails high into the mountains here, people know us by name, children shout from trees, parents smile and nod and greet us like neighbors—even when we’ve been gone for over a year. I know the teachers were happy to see us back this year, that Drew and Bri trust us and count us without reservation (I said reservation when we are all at a hotel). I know that, via support, I’m in contact, even if just the occasional line, with more people than I would otherwise be. I know that being here feels right on so many levels.
From that first January back in 2010, you—whoever you are, whatever you did—believed in us, supported us, and took our word that El Hato could use a hand, that we’d deliver your dollars and care if you’d be willing. I don’t know what we ever did to warrant such love. I know that it feels familial to me, like you’ve all become relatives, forever connected to us and, in turn, to this community that has adopted us and, in turn, to a great global community of people who care beyond the confines of conversation. Thank you, sincerely, for your gift of participation.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.