On our last days in Guatemala, as we were putting the finishing touches of paint on the new school through the Sienna Project, the people of Panajxit and the teachers of the school thanked us with food, speeches, and locally-made sombreros.
Over a three-day period, our group from Tulsa, Oklahoma, along with a team of local builders, worked tirelessly to build the body of the school, fully-equipped with large windows, three rooms, and a playground. In the coming weeks, the schools roof and floors will be completed and classes will begin soon.
Earthquakes are a common occurrence in Guatemala and it was vital the material used to build the school is designed to withstand earthquakes. Their current, two-room, cracked, adobe school building could easily crumble in an earthquake, which has been an ongoing fear for parents.
The villagers and children thanked us profusely. It was clear how grateful they were, yet it was us who felt blessed and grateful for the experience we had with them. From the very beginning, we were charmed by the warm welcome, we enjoyed the joyful disposition of the people, we were amazed by the beautiful landscape, we were honored to experience their exquisite culture, and humbled to have the opportunity to make a positive impact in their lives.
Being in a setting which is so different from our daily lives in the United States has given us the chance to reflect on our own ways of being. It’s hard not to romanticize the situation when we recall our own children’s lives. They are often surrounded by dozens of toys, games, and opportunities. Yet, they frequently talk of being bored and having nothing to do. In contrast, children in Panajxit can take an empty three-liter bottle for a non-stop game of soccer. It would be easy to oversimplify these differences and sentimentalize them but instead we honor who they are as a people, and their culture.
In the end, we hope that by providing these children with safe space to receive their education that it will increase their ability reach their full potential and beyond.
To me, it feels like everyone involved in this year’s Sienna Project left better off than we were before we started. One hope I have is that everyone, one day, has the opportunity to experience cultures different than their own. Our experience in Guatemala was rich with meaning and cultural differences.
I want to thank everyone who supported the Sienna Project with your financial and moral contributions. Special thanks to my fellow All Souls builders: Ted Bakamjian, Libby Billings, Madeline Butler, Nancy Coryell, Susan Crenshaw, Emily Duensing, John Greene, Laura Hailey, Rod Harwood, Robin Hernandez, Gayle Hunt, Mary Ellen Jones, Shelley Mackin, Leslie McGuire, Joe Nurre, and Diane Rusher.
If all goes as planned, I am hoping to share the story of our experiences in the Traditional and the Contemporary services on Sunday, February 19. I expect this year’s group who traveled to Guatemala with me will help me. We may even wear our sombreros.