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Chimaltenango, Guatemala

October 19, 2005

Dear Friends,

My family—my husband, my 2 sons (8 and 12 years old), and I-- spent 3 weeks this summer on a short-term volunteer assignment in Chimaltenango, Guatemala.  Chimaltenango is a city of about 40,000 people located in the Mayan highlands region west of Guatemala’s capitol.  It is located at the crossroads along the Pan-American Highway so brightly painted buses belching black exhaust roll in and out of town all day long. 

We were assigned to work with a church called the Kaqchikel Presbytery—named after the local Mayan dialect.  The church provides spiritual leadership through church services but also community development projects, medical and psychological clinics, and a technical school.  Although the church itself is located in the town of Chimaltenango, most of the constituents live in the surrounding countryside.  We had the opportunity to spend a day shadowing the Presbytery’s doctor on her rounds as she attended to school children in some rural communities.

We drove out of Chimaltenango on one of the main paved roads but soon turned off onto a rough, steep dirt track—4 wheel drive only.  We climbed up the hillside for about ½ an hour and pulled off at a town called Bola de Oro.  There we walked up the path to a fairly new cement block school building.  This school has 2 classrooms—lower elementary for kindergarten through 3rd grades and upper elementary for 4th through 8th grades.  As we arrived we passed a small outdoor kitchen where one of the women from town was cooking a thin oatmeal drink to serve for a snack for all the kids.  

ImageDoctor Patricia explained that children here eat a diet high in carbohydrates because they are cheap to grow or purchase.  Corn meal and fresh corn tortillas are eaten every day.  Small loaves of white bread and oatmeal are the typical daily snack.  Although many of the small farms have chickens and pigs, almost all of the eggs, chicken, and pork that are produced are sold in town to raise some cash for the families.  Farmers here do grow some beans for their families as well as tomatoes and rose plants for sale at the market.  But by far the biggest crop is corn, which is grown in small plots on the steep hillsides.

We met the teachers and visited the classrooms.  Classroom supplies are scarce—the only books are the New Testament and a few donated Bible story pamphlets—but the children were bright, attentive, and the teachers were obviously very dedicated.  The kids sang us some songs and we answered some of their questions.  Then the students lined up for their turns to be weighed and measured by the doctor.  She charts their growth to make sure they are getting enough nourishment.  She also gives each one a month’s supply of vitamins to last until her next visit to their school.  

Image After the measurements, the kids had snack and recess.  Our boys joined them on the cement court, which serves as basketball or soccer field where several groups gathered with a ball to play.  The students each got a piece of bread and a cup of oatmeal drink which most used to dip the dry bread in before eating.  

We were glad to meet these energetic and bright children and inspired by the simple but critical work the Presbytery is doing in this and other communities.  

Kate and Kirk served as short-term volunteers with the Kaqchikel Presbytery of Chimaltenango, Guatemala (Presbyterian National Church of Guatemala) using their physical therapy (Kathryn) and civil/environmental engineering (Kirk) skills in the community and at the health clinic, which offer mental, psychological and natural (Mayan) health services.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 October 2005 )

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