Sharing and caring hearts are making a difference in Guatemala

August 11, 2008

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Three local women shared their loving hearts to those in need during a recent trip to Guatemala.

Lois Dahl of Dassel, Annabelle Johnson of Dassel, and Marvel Erickson, formerly of Dassel, traveled to Guatemala as part of a mission trip through Bergquist and Associates/Global; a humanitarian effort through agriculture and ministries providing practical management and technical skills in developing countries.

For eight days, the three women, along with seven others, from the area worked in a Mayan Indian village near Tecpán.

While there, they worked on several projects to help the village people live more productive and healthy lives.

For the first project, the women were introduced to a new, and healthier, way of cooking by using a solar oven.

Each day, the Mayan women travel miles collecting wood and carrying it back to the village upon their heads.

This solar oven made out of tinfoil and cardboard was at no expense to the village people and uses little to no wood at all.

The oven works by heating it with solar energy from the sun. The aluminum surrounds a dark pot or roaster containing vegetables, potatoes, beans, and on occasion, meat.

The second project for the group was making clay pots using clay, cement, sawdust, and water, which is then poured into aluminum forms. This also reduces the consumption of wood.

Dennis Bergquist of Hutchinson, the organization’s project manager, and has been to this particular village several times in the past; this being his sixth trip.

In past trips, Bergquist was able to identify certain individual needs and find ways in which he and the missionaries can help.

For example, with the first two projects, Bergquist saw a need to reduce the burning of wood for cooking within the homes. He found the smoke causes soot on the walls of the homes and, due to poor ventilation, kids were experiencing respiratory problems, according to Erickson, Bergquist’s sister.

By using the clay pots and solar ovens, the Mayan Indians within this village can minimize the usage of wood for cooking.

“He sees what needs to be done on an individual level,” Erickson said.

The third project also helped to improve the Mayans’ daily lives.

It is common in the village for women to spend the day in the fields, weaving, and, cooking.

For many of the older women, their eyesight worsens and they are no longer able to weave and work like they once could.

Through Rotary, 400 reading glasses in various strengths were donated just for this particular trip.

An entire morning was spent checking people’s vision and handing out glasses to the people.

Happy to see clearly again, the village people smiled happily and thanked the group graciously, Erickson said.

The group brought with them students from Guatemala City to interpret for them during the three days of projects.

Dahl explained these students who hadn’t been outside of the city nor had they seen this level of poverty before, were surprised by what they saw as well as the willingness of others to help.

One of the students said to them “I can’t believe you come so far to help our people who are forgotten people.”

When the projects were finished, the students made a commitment to come back for future projects, Dahl said.

The women had heard of Bergquist’s trips in the past and wanted to help make a difference.

“We’ve all been blessed with so much and it was just time to give back,” Johnson said.

With them, the group also brought 500 donated Crocs shoes (each shoved as many as they could in their suitcases).

Erickson explained that with the current rainy, wet season, the shoes are perfect for them.

The residents and children of Dassel and Cokato also helped this Guatemalan village by donating 1,200 Beanie Babies through churches, Sunday schools, and vacation Bible schools.

“Oh, the smiles they brought,” Johnson said.

The women explained how the children don’t have toys to play with, yet they are just as happy playing with a stick.

Johnson said it was hard for her to come home.

“You almost feel guilty for all the stuff you have, yet they are so happy with so little,” she said.

Erickson saw God working there among them, she said.

“He provided materials when we needed them. He provided sun when we needed sun. That was a revelation for me,” Erickson said.

For Lois, it was difficult to explain exactly how this trip has impacted her.

“It’s really hard to put into words what you have in your heart,” she said.

Providing educational opportunities

At the end of the week, the mayor of a village on the edge of Tecpán came to thank the group for all they had done.

The mayor asked if they would help financially to build a school within the village because their current school only goes through sixth grade.

To receive education beyond the sixth grade, children have to travel to another village where the cost of transportation is too great to attend, according to Bergquist.

Five hundred families have already contributed the money and purchased the land for the school.

The villagers are also willing to build the school, but unfortunately they have no money to build it, Bergquist said.

That is Bergquist’s next task; providing the finances to build a school for grades seven through 11 (they only go to school up to 11th grade).

Once the school is built, Rotary International, which Bergquist is a member of, will donate school supplies, books, computers, and money for teachers as part of their Guatemala Literacy Program.

For those who would like to contribute to the building of the school, send a check made out to WaterStone, (the foundation Bergquist and Associates are under) and write in the memo, “7542.” Mail to 2925 Professional Place Suite 201, Colorado Springs, CO, 80904-8105.

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