Field Trip – San Juan

We recently took our students on a morning field trip to San Juan, a small town of around 10 thousand people on the southern side of Lake Atitlan. It’s about a 20-25 minute boat ride from Santa Cruz. All 14 of our students (minus 2 who attend school in Pana during the week) met us at the dock on time which is a miracle because nobody in Guatemala is on time. The boys sat in the back of the launcha while the girls filled the front. Justin and I along with my parents chaperoned the trip. We really enjoy giving them the opportunity to visit other towns on the lake as many of them only travel to Panajachel.

San Juan is our favorite town to take friends to visit as it’s fairly quiet, clean and filled with local artisans. There are around 35 women’s weaving cooperatives in San Juan. Each consists of a group of women who make a variety of textiles using organic cotton and natural dyes. We always visit Casa Flor Ixcaco. We have become friends with one of the weavers, Delfin, who can give demonstrations in English. Her presentation is about 20 minutes and she talks through the entire process from picking the cotton to dying it to weaving it into scarves and other various textiles. Delfin also speaks Tzutujil and Spanish. She did a great job engaging our students who recorded the whole demonstration on their tablets.

Next, we stopped at Licor Marron, a chocolate factory, for another demonstration where the kids learned about the cocoa plant. This is another one of our favorites places to take friends for obvious reasons. The students may have enjoyed it the most as well after we treated them to a sample of chocolate.

Finally, we took the group to the catholic church at the top of the hill. I thought this would be of least interest to the students, but we spent quite a bit of time here where they took pictures of each other and of everything inside the church. It took us several attempts to get the group back together and start heading back towards the dock.

We were able to get through a couple of art galleries before we loaded on the boat back to Santa Cruz… just in time for them to eat lunch and head to their afternoon classes.

You can check out all of our pictures in this slideshow.

 

 

 

 

Field Trip to San Marcos

Today we took our students on a field trip from Santa Cruz to another town on the lake, San Marcos. For all of our students this was the first time for them to visit San Marcos. That idea seems slightly crazy because it’s like living in Mount Pleasant, SC for 15 years and saying you have never been to Summervill. However, in reality they have no need to go there. It’s not practical.

San Marcos is a small town on the western side of Lake Atitlan. Approximately 2,200 people live there, the majority of them Kaqchikel speaking, indigenous Mayans. One of the reasons we wanted to visit San Marcos is because it has a small nature reserve called Cerro Tzankujil.

The trip from Santa Cruz took around 20 minutes by boat. Almost all of our students came on the trip, several of them with small backpacks or satchels. We left around 1pm which meant the waves on the lake were a bit rough. We heard several squeals from the girls followed by laughter from the boys. We first made our way to the nature reserve to hike around a bit. One area of the reserve has a 30 foot platform (also called a trampoline) where you can launch yourself into the water if you’re brave enough. We did find a group of tourists filming themselves jumping into the water. We were fascinated by it as well as our students. After watching the “crazy white people” for several minutes, our walk circled us around to the front of the park as which point the girls wanted to check out the town.

The walk from the dock to the center of town is fun and interesting. It’s a small pathway that winds to the left and right and is lined with hostels, small restaurants and health food stores. It takes approximately five minutes to make your way to the center of town where you’ll find all the tuk-tuks, a covered (yet still outdoor) basketball court and if you keep walking another minute you will find a public park. Gold mine. This is where our students who are 12-14 years old transformed into 8 year olds. They swung on the monkey bars, went down the slide, spun the merry go round and sat on the see-saw. They had the best time.

It was truly an enjoyable experience and we look forward to taking them to other towns on the lake.

Family Missions

In June, the Lant family joined a small group from our church to visit and serve along side us in Santa Cruz. Todd Lant is my former manager from Blackbaud and his wife, Hope, teaches at First Baptist School. They have two daughters, Sullivan and Zoe. The Lant’s only had a short time to visit, but we made sure to pack as much sight seeing and teaching in 3 days as possible.

We had seven teenagers in that group and I was overjoyed with not only the kindness and respect they showed their parents, but their willingness to participate in teaching our students in Santa Cruz. I planned to partner them with a parent, but they all wanted to work with a friend. It was amazing to watch them connect with our students without knowing very much Spanish. I hope the impact they had on me was just as strong as the their visit to them.

Sullivan Lant had the opportunity to write a piece in her church newsletter. Her family attends Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston. I can’t begin to express the feelings of gratitude for Sullivan to share her experience.

People on Mission 
The Lant Family Serves in Guatemala – By Sullivan Lant

This past June, my family went on a mission trip to Guatemala. We had the opportunity to help teach English to about 20 young Guatemalan children. It was an amazing experience to see how little these children had in common with us, yet they loved to play with us and were eager to learn anything that we were willing to teach them. Without having even a language to connect their lives to ours, our family was able to engage with the group and enjoy spending time with them and sharing God’s love.

I was given the opportunity, partnered with my dad, to teach the students about the family tree. Using the extent of my knowledge of the Spanish language, which is very little at best, I shared conversation with the kids, some of whom only spoke their native Mayan language, and I learned what I could about their personalities and interests. They were able to decode much of my butchered Spanish, and I did my best to understand what they spoke about. Although it was only two days that we got to spend with the kids, they were incredibly kind and fun.

After school and lunch, we would take the kids out to play soccer on their field. There weren’t any nets on the goals, and the ground was covered with little patches of grass and pebbles, but never have I seen more joy in a child’s smile than when we got to play soccer with them. The oldest kids were around 14 years old, and the youngest around 5, but they really knew how to play soccer. Despite the best efforts of four high-school soccer players, two middle-school soccer players, and me, we were demolished, the score too embarrassing to repeat. Nevertheless, it was a very fun match to watch or to play in.

The most surprising and beautiful part about the trip was probably the way that we were able to bond with the kids over a short two-day period without doing anything more than playing soccer and engaging in simple conversation. At the end of the second day, the children were eager to take pictures with us and give many hugs, even though they had just met us. It was a very heartwarming experience, and I really felt the love of God moving through me and these children. Should the opportunity arise next summer, I certainly hope to visit Panajachel, Guatemala again, and this time, I hope that you’ll be able to come with us!

IMG_2973

Nexus Missions 2017

We moved to Panajachel, Guatemala in October 2016. God called us and we knew it. (You can learn more about our family and decision to move by watching our support raising video.) We sold almost everything we owned and stored a wall full of belongings at my parent’s house. In August, we learned our friends, who established the after-school program, would not be joining us as expected. We were heart broken, but quickly determined God still had a plan. We decided to finish our support raising so we could move, take our 3 months of Spanish classes and enroll Brooks and Carly in school. The fear of the unknown was overwhelming, but within a matter of days God connected us with an amazing network of believers, some also missionaries. The week before we were scheduled to fly to the United States for Christmas, our friends informed us they could not return to Guatemala with us after the holidays and didn’t know if, and when they could move back. Again, we felt disheartened and a little lost. So many questions raced through our heads, but never once did we question God’s purpose. Over the three-week break, we had a decision to make regarding the after-school program in Santa Cruz. Our original plan for moving to Guatemala was to expand the program, but now we were challenged with teaching it ourselves. Of course, it seemed easier to look for work through other non-profit organizations in the area. I mean, our new network of friends represented at least 10 different organizations all serving the community in unique and various ways. As we talked over the weeks and fussed about what seemed “hard” in our minds we concluded that those 16 children mattered. We couldn’t let all the little details ruin the opportunity for us to be mentors.

Fast forward 8 months and we are now talking about ways to pour more into these children and expand the program. Check out our latest video to see what we are doing and meet the students of the Nexus Institute.

Nexus Missions 2017

Education in Guatemala is free and children are only required to attend through sixth grade. That means, less than 40% of children will enroll in middle school and less than 20% will enroll in high school. Think about that for a minute. If you have a child in high school or middle school, it’s more likely that he would not be attending classes right now. Many classrooms in Guatemala, especially rural areas such as Santa Cruz, do not have adequate teaching materials. 75% of the population in our area of Guatemala lives below the poverty line which means many indigenous children are forced to drop out of school and support their families by working.

We know a few families who will be in this situation when our students graduate from sixth grade in October. We learned that it costs roughly $150 for a student to attend 7th grade in Santa Cruz. That covers the cost of school supplies, a monthly fee and uniforms for the entire year. We want to remove that financial burden for the families of our students. Our goal is to raise a minimum of $2400 over the summer to establish a scholarship fund. We continue to pray for God’s discernment in leading this program. We plan to add another day to our schedule and begin a study hall. We see a need for our students to receive help with homework. Also, if funding is available we are interested in sending our students to Intecap, a technical school in a nearby town once a week. This would allow them to explore a variety of trade skills such as mechanics, cooking, sewing or computer repairs. Lastly, we would like to cover a portion of tuition fees for a friend of ours to attend Atitlan Multicultural Academy (our children’s school) next year. Her family cooks the lunches for our after-school program. Lydia currently attends a Waldorf school, but it only goes through 6th grade. AMA is offering a partial scholarship, but the total cost will still be too expensive.

We are also working this summer to continue raising funds to cover our cost of living in Guatemala. We know we are asking a lot, but God knows the desire of our hearts and we trust that He will provide exactly what we need. We are asking that you prayerfully consider financially supporting us monthly or contribute a donation to our scholarship fund. We are still looking for two people to contribute monthly to cover the cost of school supplies such as photo copies and the cost of internet to our school building. Each cost $75/month. To make a tax-deductible donation you can follow these instructions.

Mission Enablers Website

https://meigiving.com

Support the Wallace Family –

  • Fill in your personal information
  • Select Giving Type (Special Gift for Person or Recurring Gift)
  • Recurring Gifts require you to select a frequency and duration
  • Enter account N2217
  • Enter Payment Options

Support the Scholarship Fund –

  • Fill in your personal information
  • Select Giving Type (Special Gift for Person or Recurring Gift)
  • Recurring Gifts require you to select a frequency and duration
  • Enter account N2200
  • Enter Payment Options

Our door is open for you to visit any time during the year. You may come by yourself, with your family, a small group of friends or co-workers or coordinate a mission trip with your church. You will get the opportunity to help us teach and strengthen our relationships with our students. We will also make sure you get the chance to experience the culture and explore Lake Atitlan.

Thank you for all your love and support,

Justin, Sara, Brooks & Carly Wallace

Lake Atitlan Forecast – Rain for the next 6 Months

According to locals and by our own assessment, rainy season in Panajachel has started. It typically runs from May through October (known as winter) which means the dry season (known as summer) is the other six months of the year. On average, the warmest month is May, the coolest is January, the wettest is June and the driest is in February.

During this time of year, the sun will shine the first half of the day. Then, like clock work, the clouds will accumulate around 2pm. The warm air from the Pacific collides with the cooler air from the Lake. The temperature drops a bit and the whole lake becomes masked in a haze. The rain is usually in the afternoon or night and can be a hard rain. The streets can become temporary rivers. In the towns with paved roads, mud is less of a problem.

According to https://weather-and-climate.com Guatemala City averages 8 inches of rain each month during rainy season.

Pana Rain

Here is a link to a youtube video showing the rain pouring at the corner of two main streets in Panajachel.

Lake Atitlan is a volcanic crater lake nearly a mile above sea level. It is endorheic which means it does not have any surface outlets and is the deepest lake in Central America (nearly 1100 feet deep). It formed after a long tectonic and volcanic process of almost 14 million years in which several volcanoes surged, exploded, and scattered, giving way to new ones. 88,000 years ago, the explosion of the present day Caldera formed Atitlán. The formation of its three volcanos followed on the south side: Toliman, Atitlan, and San Pedro. On the north side of the lake are high mountains that formed from the explosion of the caldera.

Atitl‡n

Carpenter’s Son

I was blessed to be able to hang out with my friends Rich and Cheryl Buhre last Wednesday. This couple, living most of the year in the Atlanta area, have a ministry called Carpenter’s Son that builds bunk beds for needy families here in Guatemala. They come down to Panajachel for about 4 months out of the the year to build these beds at their rental home and then deliver and put them together again in the home of families. Just receiving one of these beds can make huge quality of life differences for these families.

I joined Rich and Cheryl and a family, the Hashbrouck’s from Charleston, to build a few of these beds and then drive up in the mountain to a small pueblo called Patanatic to deliver them to five waiting families. It was an amazing experience and what a cool ministry the Buhre’s have here. They are amazing people and it was a privilage to be able to tag along. And by the way (as Brooks often says), I am not handy with wood working equipment in the least…

The Colorful Cemeteries of Guatemala

The kids are out of school for the week. AMA takes a week vacation to break for the mid-year. Justin and I thought it would be fun to take the kids on a quick trip to Santa Catarina which is only 2 miles up the road. We decided it would be better to take a pick up truck there, grab a snack and walk back since it would mostly be downhill.

We left the house just after noon which is a very busy time around town because the local kids are getting out of school. The pickup trucks were crammed with people so we decided to begin our trek on foot hoping to flag down a ride on the way. Our walk took us down a “newly” paved road lined with streamers and at the end of it we found the cemetery in Juncanya.

Cemetery 4 Cemetery 1

The afterlife is highly celebrated in Guatemala and its evident in the cemeteries where the tombstones are colorfully painted. Friends and family paint them the favorite color of the deceased. You will find flowers, fresh food and occasionally music playing at the tombstones. November 1st is called Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Families will gather and have lunch at the cemeteries to honor their loved ones who have passed away. Kites and flags are painted with messages and flown as part of the celebration because the locals believe its a way to communicate with those who have died.

Cemetery 3  Cemetery 2

We only walked around for a few minutes, but it was neat to see it up close. Justin and I have seen the cemetery in Solala and it’s quite a site. The kids seemed a little intrigued. Brooks more so than Carly. Afterwards, we ended up at the Lake and made our way back home. Maybe we will visit Santa Catarina later this week.

Banking 101

We opened a bank account. Sounds exciting, I know. We only  had to spend 30 minutes at the bank Friday afternoon, 30 minutes at an attorney’s office Monday afternoon followed by an hour at the bank until it closed, came back the next day, spent another hour at the bank and used 500Q ($67)as a deposit. We heard stories about opening bank accounts and its challenges. We have friends who have lived here 16 years and don’t have bank accounts. You are required to have a local resident vouch for you. They are co-signers to your account although they cannot withdraw or access your money. It’s crazy. Opening an account does not mean we are residents (a whole different process), but it will allow us to transfer money from our U.S. bank to our account here without having to pick up cash. We will also be able to use an ATM without incurring $13-15 in fees. Also crazy.

Even more crazy, is trying to change U.S. dollars into Guatemalan Quetzales. A friend of ours asked if we could change several hundred dollars for him. His bank only allows him to do so once a month and he already met that limit for February. Justin and I thought, this should not be a problem. So, one Wednesday morning we set out to exchange this money. 2 hours and at least 7 bank stops later, we still had our dollars in hand. How could this be? Why is this so difficult? A couple of the first banks we visited were not open yet so we visited those twice. BAM only allows you to convert $125 once a week and you must have exactly $125. Banco Industrial will convert $200, but only after 12pm. We went to this bank three times because we came back after 12pm that day and the computer system was down. How does this happen? We went to Banrual where we always transfer money and opened our bank account. Yes, it looks like they will convert all of the money. But, wait, that bill has a microscopic tear and the other bill with nothing seemingly wrong with it won’t be accepted. Oh, and we will ask you many times if you have changed money this month in Spanish that we cannot hear because you are whispering behind a pane of glass. No, we have never converted money since we moved here three months ago. Well, the system will not permit us to change money for you. We did find out, a week later, that transferring money electronically counts as exchanging money even though, they are in fact two different types of transactions. GT bank (pronounced hey-teh) will only convert money for account holders. Two weeks later, three banks later, we still have money to convert.

Our advice if you come to visit, either send us the money to withdraw for you or pay the ATM fees which, by the way, you can only withdraw 2,000Q or $269 per day. You will get a terrible rate of 6.5 at the airport. Banrual converts at 7.1 and BI and BAM convert at 7.36. You will get 7.5 at the ATM and through our bank account.

Class is in Session

Justin and I can officially add teacher to our resume. We held our first classes for the boys and girls in the after school program. I should probably call them young men and women since they are 12 going on 13. They have grown so much in the last two years. Justin and I first met the group in November 2015. We came to visit Nathan and Laura to find out what it was like to live in Guatemala with children and could we do it too?

To learn more about Nathan, Laura and the after school program, check out our video. Nathan and Laura went back to the States to visit friends and family last summer. They planned to return to Guatemala when we finished support raising, but God had different plans and kept them in Arkansas. Again, they planned to return in January along with us after Christmas, but again, God is still working on those plans. Justin and I know and understand this is part of His plan, whatever it may be. We would have never moved here if we knew ahead of time that Nathan and Laura couldn’t return. God may have tricked us into coming, but he was ready and waiting for us when we arrived. He led us to the best network of Christians who immediately prayed for us, He provided us the best Spanish teacher and He exceeded our expectations when it came to our children’s transition.

When Nathan and Laura told us they couldn’t come back in January we had a choice to make. And, not once did moving back to Charleston make the list. Do we start the after school program by ourselves or do we try to partner with other organizations in the area? I can’t say that we mulled over it for very long or very hard. Sure, we talked about the challenges we would face, but it still felt like we were suppose to be in Santa Cruz teaching these children. So, we decided let’s do it.

We messaged a young woman we know and asked her to spread the word. We want to meet up with everyone (8 boys and 8 girls) and find out who still wants to participate. The local Mayan children who are in K-6th grade go to school the first half of the day, 8:30 (possibly earlier) – 12:30. The middle and high school aged children go to school the second half of the day. 1-5pm, I believe. We told the children to meet us at the Institute building after class. All but four showed up. The room was packed with these almost teenagers, smiling and seemingly very excited to see us. I’ve never been hugged so hard. We updated them on the situation and asked if they wanted to start classes again and every one of them said yes.

We are meeting with the boys on Tuesdays and the girls on Thursdays for now. At some point, we would like to teach four days a week. We held our first class Tuesday and five boys came; Adolfo, Moises, Edwin, Cristian, and Ricardo. We are using videos from a local production company as part of our bible lessons. It’s called Deditos. They are in Spanish and come with lessons plans. The boys laughed and giggled when the video introduced Adam and Eve, but overall they seemed to enjoy it. Afterwards, they answered some questions and put together a craft related to the 7 days of creation. I did not anticipate the amount of time it would take for them to color and cut. They did not color fast. They did not cut fast and they did not glue fast. They literally had 10 minutes of class left to play with their tablets.

Boys 3  Boys 1

Thursday, we met with the girls. All eight of them came to class; Nicolasa, Andrea, Teresa, Keyra, Francisca, Clara, Nicol and Maria. I decided not to pack the English lessons since we didn’t have time with the boys. Instead, we would focus on the bible story and getting to know these young women. The girls giggled a little less at the video and also talked less among themselves. However, they are fast. The majority of them colored fast. Cut fast and glued fast. Nicolasa finished with an hour left in class.

Girls 1   Girls 3

So, we have a few kinks to work out for next week. Perhaps a craft with fewer steps. We are using our membership from education.com to build our English lessons. The boys seemed to know quite a bit more than the girls which means we may need to put together slightly different lessons for each group. Overall, the week went well. We finished our personal Spanish lessons and the kids filled in the blank when we didn’t know the right words as well as corrected us when we used the wrong verb tense.

My Bible study this week began week 5 of Beth Moore’s Daniel study and she shared the following information –

The lexical form of the word translated saints (Ephesians 1:1) and holy (Ephesians 1:4) is haigos meaning “holy, sacred, separated from ordinary or common usage and devoted to God. Something holy is that which has been brought into relationship with God… and designated by Him as having a sacred purpose or specials significance…marked as holy, classified as belonging to God… sacred, hallowed, consecrated.

We are chosen and we have a purpose.

We are seeking 3-4 new monthly financial sponsors to support us with teaching the class. $30-$50/month would cover the cost of lunch ($40), craft supplies ($40) and internet access ($60). If this is something you would be willing to support please let me know (sarawallace78@gmail.com).

Girls 2  Boys 2

Our New Normal

It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to a new lifestyle. Almost everything is different here in Guatemala. Our children can rattle off a list of their dislikes and I feel it’s easy for them because most children are creatures of habit. They thrive on routine and familiarity. Typically, a meltdown leads to desires of moving back to Charleston because our life here is just not the same.

We spent three weeks visiting friends and family for Christmas break and we noticed very quickly some of the conveniences we miss. Justin immediately said it was so nice to have a garbage disposal and a dishwasher. The second day in town we went grocery shopping and it was such a relief to be able to purchase everything from the same store. I typically go to a minimum of three places to buy food here in Panajachel. Also nice was the grocery cart and a car to transport the groceries back to the house instead of carrying it in a backpack.

Both kids enjoyed having a car to drive in since we walk everywhere in town. It’s a little harder to do that in a town like Atlanta. Carly did have a slight learning curve when it came to using the bathroom. She kept asking where to put her toilet paper because in Guatemala paper products go in the trash can, not the toilet. We took several trips to Chick Fil A for lunch, made a visit to Chuck E. Cheese and played at trampoline parks. Our “fun places” in Panajachel include stopping by the tienda to buy ice cream.

We returned to Guatemala late Friday night. It was quite possibly the longest day of our lives, however, life quickly returned to our “new normal.” Leftover food is going in the trash, dishes are washed by hand, toilet paper is not flushed and we went to two grocery stores on Saturday. Today, the wind is howling and the electricity flickers off and on. It didn’t keep us from going to church, but the tuk-tuk ride was very blustery. The kids will go back to school Monday and just like that our routine will be in full swing.sky-plane  brooks-airport   carly-airport