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Blog . Student Update and Reflections from Guatemala
Hi, everyone. Max Beers here, from on the ground in San Miguel Duenas, Guatemala, where I am shooting video for a documentary on a collaborative project with students and alum from Kent State's College of Architecture & Environmental Design. As most readers know, we are helping to build a home for a family in need through an NGO in Guatemala, Constru Casa.
Since I last checked in, we have helped complete one home, and have already begun working at a new site, starting the groundwork! The new family is gradually warming up to us, and by Monday (our last work day here in Guatemala) we will already have completed a good portion of the work. This weekend is our last weekend here. I return to Cleveland on Tuesday. So my only remaining Kent State State colleague, Dustan, and I were thinking about hiking a nearby volcano on Saturday, and then hanging out in Antigua on Sunday, around our home-stay, for some rest, relaxation, and reflection, before our final work day on Monday, and my trip back to the U.S. on Tuesday.
Here are some recent journal reflections I would like to share with everyone, as well as a new group of photos I hope you enjoy:
Q: How has the situation on the ground in Guatemala been different from what you expected or visualized?
The pending trip seemed like make-believe until the flight ticket was purchased. Even then it was like a dream until I walked off the plane into the Guatemala City Airport. Compared to my departure airport in my hometown Cleveland, my senses were bombarded with low light, unique smells, and Spanish dialect. During the airport shuttle commute through Guatemala City, I observed a city that was tight-packed, vandalized, poverty-stricken, and full of fast-paced driving, to say the least. We arrived at our home-stay in Antigua to a charming 3-story, narrow house with open windows (no screens), no toilet paper in the can, and an enchanting 3rd floor rooftop garden. What I visualized before my trip was nothing as rustic and beautiful as what I am now experiencing.
Q: How have your definitions/notions of poverty and inadequate housing changed, as a result of this experience? In what ways are these things in San Miguel Duenas different than what you have observed in the Cleveland area?
When deciding to come to Guatemala, I envisioned I’d see poverty. But being on the ground in San Miguel Duenas has brought a new definition of poverty. At lunch on the site you can see the hunger in the children’s eyes, as we eat our lunches provided by our home-stay mother. In 2008, a flooded creek wiped out whatever housing that these people did have, which completely devastated them. When imagining this creek, I thought it would be a large river, but at this time it is shin-high. As of now, the housing consists of sheets of wavy steel, hammered into wooden posts and logs, and dirt floors. The comparison of Cleveland housing to San Miguel Duenas housing would be our differing definitions of a "house": having a concrete floor and no leaky roof would be considered wonderful here.
Q: What skills --- from art school, and just life in general --- have prepared you for this experience?
Well, my art school experience might be different than some. I was faced with dorming my freshman year because I had no other option; my family’s house was up for foreclosure. Along with this was the intensity of the freshman year, including trying to pay for school on my own. That May, when dorm life ended, trying to find a place to stay for the summer was a struggle, to say the least. So, due to family hardship, I have been in housing transition since my first semester at CIA. All of these problems made me quickly grow up. When it comes to this experience in Guatemala, then my recent past personal experiences, my skills in money management and planning ahead, and my video and photography sensibilities, have all helped prepare me for functioning in new surroundings and for interaction with the community of people here.
Q: Describe a person you've encountered in the community you are serving, who has made a strong impression on you, and why.
A person who has made a strong impression on me would be Guermo, the father of the family receiving the first house we have been working on. A hardworking trumpet player, he worked with us all week on his house, as well as on his daughter’s house being built right next door. With no one on site that is bilingual, we are all trying hard to learn each other’s language. Guermo really tries, too, and does it with his unique sense of humor. His and our favorite phrase we have coined is, “I don’t care, no work!“ With someone with so little, he makes so much out of it, and welcomes our group with open arms. This has touched me and I will never forget it.
Q: What are some specific things you have learned about the people/community you have been serving?
Some of the things I have learned about the people are that they seem happy and appreciate everything, leaving nothing to waste. For example, they collect rainwater, never let water run, and recycle all soda bottles. They are cheerful and friendly, yet also seem reserved and dignified. As an example, the masons bring a pair of dress shoes for their “chicken bus” commute home at the end of the work day. Another observation would be how these children love interacting with our group, and with all the Constru Casa volunteers in general, which has been so heartwarming and welcoming.
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