Alright so I completely failed on writing about my trip to Guatemala, but here it is finally. Although it’s a couple of months late, I hope you enjoy hearing about my adventure!
After a breakfast of eggs, black beans and coffee, Fr. Greg, the Parish Priest, talked to us about their mission and the people of San Lucas. He came to San Lucas about fifty years ago and has been there ever since, creating programs and projects to raise the people out of poverty. Because of all of his experiences, Fr. Greg has an incredible amount of wisdom and knowledge about poverty. I was captivated with his stories and could have listened all day. One thing that I’ve thought about before but never really seen in action is what he called expressed-felt need. This means that the people will tell you what they need and listening to those needs is the best way to help them. He also revealed that many poor people know exactly how to solve poverty and have even thought about it extensively. They just need to be given the resources and power to put that into action. Fr. Greg has allowed this philosophy to guide all the projects and as much as possible has locals plan and run them.
The part that struck me the most was when Fr. Greg talked about the core of Social Justice, which in his opinion is to recognize that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Recognizing this helps us remember the inherent dignity of every person and the fact that every person is entitled to certain basic needs. This has been a personal mantra of mine for the past couple of years so I was excited to hear someone so wise confirm my thoughts.
He said something else that I definitely needed to hear – one component of living social justice is being patient with yourself and the people you are serving. Sometimes I get so impatient to go to Africa and just start saving the starving children, but right now is my time to learn, experience different cultures and for God to prepare me for the work ahead. I’ll have to keep this phrase in mind. One other thing he said was our job is to make the road smooth for others to walk on, as an analogy for empowerment. We also need to walk alongside them on the road, not in front of or behind them. I’m still trying to understand how to go to a place and be one with the people, rather than be idealized and seen as a savior. It seems that only comes after being with a community for a long time and building trust, as Fr. Greg has.
After lunch we went on a tour of the projects that the Parish runs. First we went to the Women’s Center which is currently being built. It’s actually been under construction for a number of years because it’s not the top priority of the mission. This frustrated me at first but then I remember Fr. Greg’s warning about patience. Eventually the center will be a place for women to gather, learn new skills and hopefully be empowered. Currently, most women spend their days in the home, isolated and oppressed. Men can go out at night and socialize, but women have no outlets for socialization. It is widely known that many women experience domestic violence in San Lucas, but their isolation makes it hard to fight this. Hopefully, the Center will begin to bring these injustices out into the light.
The next stop on the tour was the health clinic. I was especially interested in this because of how much time I spent at the health clinic in Machui. San Lucas’s clinic was definitely more up to date and high tech. They had more equipment, such as an x-ray machine and more room. They bring in a team of doctors from the states twice a year to perform free operations, which has definitely saved many lives.
The last place we visited was the parish farm. Our tour guide, a long term volunteer, gave us a brief history of the land problems. For a while most of the farmers existed under a sort of feudal system. The mission started giving people their own land to break the pattern of subsistence living. The main cash crop is coffee and they started a fair trade system with the farmers to help them make a better profit on the coffee. Coffee trees are started at the Parish farm and then given to farmers to grow. They literally asked how much the farmers needed to make on coffee and bought it from them at that price.
Later in the day, we walked down to Lake Atitlan, which is the center of life in San Lucas. The people drink from and
bath in its waters and most unfortunately, it is also where all the waste goes. As in many developing areas, the unsanitary water is the root of many health problems. The Mayan people have a beautiful story of how the lake was created. They say that when Grandmother God was finished creating the world, she shed a tear because it was so beautiful and that tear created Lake Atitlan. I thought that was a beautiful description of how much God cares for an loves his creation.
As in Tanzania, the joy of the Guatemalan people is astounding. We saw one scene today by the lake which captured this perfectly. There is a playground on the lakeshore and there was a family playing on the seasaw. Grown men and women were having the time of their life and screaming with laughter. They exuded simple joy and were happy just to be together. Then a little girl came over and was showing us all the different ways she could go down the slide and my heart just melted. These scenes left me with the question that continually burns in my heart: why is it that the poor have such joy, such a love for life?
After a day full of learning about San Lucas, I headed to bed pondering all that I had learned and what it meant for my life.