It’s GUATEMALA WEEK on our Watershed social media channels (Facebook & Instagram) and blog! For the next five days we’ll feature content written by participants from Watershed’s trip to Guatemala last month to visit our global partners, EducateBV. Follow along as we post several pictures and thoughts throughout each day. Full-length blogs by contributors will be linked in each day’s final post.

By Jill Kays

I am fairly new to Watershed, attending about 5-6 months. The church was an instant fit for me and has continued to be so. I have past experience with overseas mission work and a passion for service and people, so when I heard about the opportunity to travel with Watershed to do this kind of work, I was immediately interested. I didn’t know anyone, but went in with an open mind and heart, ready to love on others and receive whatever truths I would learn. I knew it would be great, but I honestly think I underestimated how amazing it would be. I came away from the experience overwhelmed with a sense of love, gratitude, and humility. I was inspired by the Schmidt family (the family we partner with), the work that is being done in that community, and, most of all, by the people of Buena Vista.

This town is small and very, very poor. Most people live in overcrowded shacks with dirt floors. There is a lack of clean water and good nutrition. The children are all very small, due to the malnutrition. Sixteen year olds look like 12 year olds. Six year olds look like toddlers. There is a cycle of poverty that keeps people stuck in these situations, including poor education, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and gross lack of resources. Going into this type of setting, it is easy to feel “sorry” for them and assume the worst… that everyone is miserable and hopeless. However, while there is certainly some of that, what I was most struck by was not the misery or hopelessness, but the opposite. I was impressed by the hope, joy, resilience, and drive of the people, particularly the children. The Schmidt family’s impact is noticeable: they are providing an education to these children, pouring love on them, giving them good nutrition and positive experiences, and showing them their future doesn’t have to be dictated by their past… and it’s working.

When I talked to these children, I was humbled by how much they have already experienced in their short lives. For example, I rode on the bus with a 16-year-old girl named Jessica. I asked her what she liked to do outside of school, expecting her to give a normal teen answer like listen to music, talk about boys, or something along those lines. She shared nonchalantly that after school each day she travels to the fields to work on the farms so she can earn 5 quetzal (about $0.66) a day. Three of those quetzal is spent riding the bus to and from school so that she can get an education; the rest goes to her family.  I was instantly hit with a sense of sorrow… saddened that this beautiful young girl isn’t able to really get a carefree childhood. However, she did not share my sorrow and showed no desire for pity… only a sense of strength and resilience. For her, this is life, and the only life she knows.

Jessica is very smart, one of the top students in her class. She loves school and plans to go to college to become an architect. She is hopeful about her future, has a contagious smile, and you would never know for one second the struggles she endures if you didn’t dig deeper. Jessica’s story is similar to many of the stories I heard from the students. They acknowledge the challenges and difficulties they face currently, but they have joy and are focused on their hopes, dreams, and a desire to make a different future for themselves and their community. The Schmidt’s school has provided them with a refuge where these kinds of dreams are possible.

In addition to the school, the Schmidts shower love on this community by meeting some of their needs when possible – they rebuild kitchens to allow for safer living environments, provide food baskets, and offer free medical care to some members of the village. This kind of unconditional love empowers the community, sending a message that we see you, we care about you, and you matter. It’s beautiful.  One of the things I most enjoyed was that, even though we don’t speak the same language, live in the same culture, or have the same life experiences, this universal language of love was easily understood… and it was powerful. To me, this is God: this force of good and love that moves people toward hope and unity. God’s presence was evident there in Buena Vista and in the work being done.

Each one of us on the trip was moved by the experiences of the week. Several talked about not wanting to leave and hoping to come back in the future. We ended the last night with a long discussion around a firepit, processing our time together. Mark asked each of us, “If you could stay here another month, what would you want to accomplish?”

Each of us shared a vision we had, reflecting our individual passions and talents. David shared about his hopes for the medical facility, I shared about my desire to build relationships with the people and improve access to mental health care, and so on. Mark’s response… ”Do that where you are called.”

He reminded us that while we may not be called to Guatemala, each of us has a calling, a passion, and we can live out that calling to serve others whenever and wherever we are. It was a powerful message and a great reminder that all around us are hurting people, hurting communities, and we can make a difference right where we are.

We are so fortunate in this country. The contrast becomes overwhelming when you go to a third world country like Guatemala. The suffering and injustice is right in front of your face, so it’s hard to ignore. However, in America this is often not the case. It is easy to get caught up in our daily lives, Instagram posts, and soccer practices and lose sight of the hurting world around us.  I will be the first to acknowledge I am guilty of this. However, this trip was a good wake-up call for me and my hope is that we can start to gradually wake up and, as a community, can continue to be as outwardly focused as we are sometimes inwardly. It’s a slow and difficult change, but one that I think is possible.

I am so thrilled to be a part of the Watershed community and look forward to continuing to witness the work being done locally and internationally to enhance justice and make a positive difference. I am inspired to be a part of that work in whatever way I can and I hope you will too.