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Day 1:  Monday, July 30, 2012

I will recount stories, memories, and pictures of my 14-day service trip to Guatemala working with the NGO Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI). I had an incredibly rewarding time working with the organization, the other participants on the trip, and most of all the welcoming and gracious people of Chajul.

I arrived in Guatemala City and met up with Christy and Lindsay and our driver at the airport after filling out a missing bag claim form. Apparently, baggage security people in Miami thought my duct-taped duffel bag full of school supplies was threatening, so I filled out a missing bag form and met Lindsay and Christy, two other program participants, and our driver. Off to Antigua, an old colonial town about 45 minutes from Guatemala City to meet the other people on the trip. Not much to see on the roads in Guatemala City except for two-story fast food restaurants protected by tall fences and gates.

We got to our hotel in Antigua on a busy boulevard and found that I’d be sharing a room with Frank, who I shared my first classroom with five years ago. Frank is the person who told me about how he had participated in the LHI program last year over February break. Frank was back to participate again and also to help LHI with logistics and planning. It was nice to know someone on the trip.

We then did ice-breakers and had a talk about program logistics on the roof of the hotel with Katie, the founder and executive director of LHI. She founded the organization about eight years ago to increase educational opportunities for the youth of Chajul, an agrarian-based town with an elevation of 7,000 feet in the highlands of Guatemala in the Quiche district of the country. Chajul is one of three towns in the “Ixil Triangle” along with Nebaj and Cotzal. More about Chajul in coming posts..

I met Alan and Sally, a married couple who heard about the trip through a friend of theirs who has an affiliation with LHI. Everyone else on the trip was a teacher, as the focus of the two-week program was to work closely with the students, teachers, and librarians of Chajul to increase learning opportunities and continue to move education in Chajul in the right direction. Lindsay and Lisa are both kindergarten teachers at a school in Boston, Frank mentors first-year teachers in Boston, Christy teaches Spanish at a private school in Denver and Joy teaches at a private school in California. It is a small group, and everyone seems nice and excited for the experience.

We toured Antigua and checked out the expansive artisan market where one can buy anything woven under the sun — skirt, blouse, pocket book, place mat, blanket, etc. Many women in Guatemala, and especially in Chajul, are expert weavers and LHI has a program to sell items woven by women of Chajul at a fair market price. We had dinner at a nice restaurant where I learned to tread lightly with hot sauces.

Tomorrow: All-day commute north to Chajul via Chichicastenango and Nebaj.

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