Guatemala Team March 2011

Guatemala Team March 2011
Olathe Rotary Members Wes McCoy and Michael Ashcraft (3rd & 4th from left in back) join a team of MNU students and others traveling to Guatemala with Heart to Heart International to help provide medical and water services to Patanatic and communities near Lake Atitlan. Not all team members are pictured.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Postscript - Guatemala 2011

(While it's been nearly a week since we all returned home, several people have asked me to bring closure to the blog and to fill-in some of the missing pictures.  I'm happy to do so with apologies - sometimes technology is with you and sometimes it's not.)

Here's the missing video of AJ Fry at IXIMCHE.  AJ turned out to be one of those quiet leaders of the group.  His height was also a blessing when painting the ceiling at the Rec. Center in the clinic. 

Here is a team photo near the shore of Lago de Atitlan.  As a group, we didn't venture across the lake this trip although Wes, Ed and a couple of others made the trip to another clinic on the other side some 20 miles by boat.

I want to close with a note on the children of Patanatic.  The work of Heart to Heart, Rotary and the gallant students from MNU really comes down to what will not only our future hold but the future of the nations who share God's green earth. 

Kids in Patanatic are very much like children anywhere.  During the festivities celebrating the opening of the clinic, the village elders set up a Pinata for the kiddos.  (See below.)

They do Pinata's a little differently here.  The paper/cardboard caricature is sturdily built.  They hang it on a cross-wire and allow the kids to have at it in full view.  Adults supervise and wiggle, push and jump the Pinata making it a challenge for anyone to hit.  Of course, when they finally make contact, it's a free-for-all as you can see.

In the following photo, Cindy is playing with a couple of young girls showing them how to work her camera.  While nearly all of us had cameras, and I suspect most foreign visitors do too, the kids everywhere were interested in taking pictures and being part of the picture taking.

Which brings me to this young fellow.  (See below.)  I'll just call him my amigo because I was not able to get his name. 

As I was taking pictures of the Pinata bash-a-thon he came up to me and literally began pulling on my pant leg.  He didn't speak any English and didn't seem to understand my Spanish which was no fault of his, but it became evident that he wanted his picture taken. 

I was happy to oblige and responded to his insistence to see the photo I took of him.  He just looked at me seemingly satisfied that I had captured his moment then disappeared into the crowd of the day. 

I've wondered what struggles this young fellow will face in his future and am so proud of the efforts of HHI, Rotary and MNU in this corner of the world.  They'll mean a lot to this young man and all of the children of Patanatic.

At the formal ceremony dedicating the clinic, a local family group offered the community a serenade.  This is a short excerpt of their performance.  It offers a highlight into the richness of Guatemala's culture that I thought you might enjoy.

Final Thoughts

This was my second trip to Guatemala.  It was as rewarding and as disturbing this time as it was before.  If you have never visited a third world country, I would strongly recommend you do so.  It can be a shock to American sensitivities, but it can also be a reinvigoration of the beauty of the American Dream

The people of Guatemala are so much like us.  They want to live safe in their person, free of hunger and dispair.  They want to know that the water they drink will sustain life and that their children will flourish with a better tomorrow.

Thank you HHI, thank you Rotary, thank you MNU for helping make that dream more of a reality for this corner of the world.


Friday, March 18, 2011

A Touch of Sadness; The Growth of Hope

If you've never been on a mission, you might not realize how hard work and challenges can build friendships fast.  It's been a quick week.  Today, Wes, Nancy, Ed and Evan visited another clinic across the lake about 25 miles from Panajachel while the MNU crew took a couple of hours to explore the city, relax and talk about experiences we'll take home.

We spent the afternoon putting the finishing touches on the clinic.  Most of the crew painted the exterior overhang to the first floor entrances.  I note the first floor component here because the clinic is built on the side of a mountain and the walkway/balcony that runs the face of the first floor is some 30 feet off the drive below.  As an old man myself, I couldn't nerve climbing a ladder and reaching outward toward oblivion to paint the ceiling and decorative overhang.  Our younger cohorts were much more daring if not comfortable.

CJ was quite willing to conquer his fear and the afternoon sun.  My parental instincts were too strong so I held on to his red, HHI shirt pinning him to the ladder as best I could.  No fear, no worries, all went well.

Wes and I went to a local school for about an hour in the afternoon.  We worked with one of the region's HHI representatives and taught helped the kiddos with their English pronunciation.  We may have done them more harm than good since both Wes and I were raised in Kentucky where you put "oll" in your car and count the "fangers" on your hands.

The evening is dragging as we prepare to say farewells to new friends and know that we continue to learn and grow.  We pray that our efforts change the future of all those who we serve.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Big Day!

Our numbers continue to grow.  Evan Conner joined us today.  He is a HHI volunteer who plans on attending medical school in the future.  He joined us just in time for the grand opening of the clinic.

The morning started early for us as usual.  The unusual thing was that several of us volunteered to run a marathon from the lake to the clinic.  One of our guides said it was about 8.5 kilometers or around five miles.

Hanna led the pack and eventually won a trophy for her efforts.  Being the old man of the bunch, I'm tickled to say I completed the run in just under 45 minutes.  Not bad, even if I do say so myself.  A rough run considering the grade was anywhere between 30 and 80 percent.  It seems like it was nearly straight up hill at times. 

Unfortunately our internet access is still less than ideal so we'll have to proceed without pictures or video.  MNU was able to skype the dedication ceremony back to Olathe to an audiance of about 35 students and HHI employees.  Dr. Morsch thinks it may be picked up by the local TV stations in Kansas City.

The people of Patanatic came out en masse to witness and support the dedication today.  Rough estimates had about 500 people in attendance.  There were many, many speeches.  Wes McCoy and Eric Unruh were the lead recripients.  A local artist painted a number of scenes of the clinic with volcano San Padro in the background.  They were so new that when they were presented, several of them were still moist with paint.

An interesting contrast between cultures involved the singing of the national anthems.  Our Guatemalan hosts sang a soft, melodic rendition of their national anthem and then it was our turn.  We knew we were out numbers 25:1, we sang with gusto!  We were proud to represent Rotary, HHI, MNU, Kansas and the good ole US of A!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day Three - Hard Work, Laughs and Anticipation

Well, this is turning out to be a constant complaint for I am not having any luck with either photos of video footage.  If I'm able to find a better connection, I'll insert our images when I can.

Today we started early with a few sore muscles but a growing sense of anticipation.  Jorge offered us a quick stop down by the lake shore before we headed by to the clinic to finish painted and cleaning for the dedication tomorrow. 

If you're interested, the dedication will be Skyped to MNU tomorrow at about 4PM.  The viewing will be in the Cook Center, Hager Hall.  Believe it or not, that link worked earlier today.  It is free to the public and will offer some grand scenery of the Patanatic community.  Dignitaries from all over the region and Guatemala City will be in attendance.  Gary Morsch arrived this evening to be part of the festivities.

(The above video may load.  If it does, it is of Mary Miller and Emily Joy Roth at our Day One dinner meal.)

The story behind the clinic is deeply routed in the commitment and faith of the students from MNU.  They raised and donated about $53,000 to make the clinic a reality.  We have 12 with us on this trip including Eric Unruh who graduated about a year ago.

Jorge gave us all working assignments for the day.  We were to finish painting the exterior and clean and paint the meeting hall on the bottom floor.  Michael Zigler is a take-charge leader and he wiped us into shape.  And, I will tell you without exception, the MNU team sprung into action.

The hall is probably 30 by 100 with a 10 foot ceiling.  We painted the wall blue and the ceiling white.  Jorge explained to us that white is for peace and blue is for health.  They are also the colors of the Guatemalan flag.

One more quick note about the MNU cohort that I want to add.  If these young people are any indication of the nobility of American youth in general, then I have no doubt that our nation's future will be prosperous, strong and secure.  These men and women without exception have been welcoming, polite, smart, energetic and positive.  With limited equipment, tight timeframes and only scant direction, they make it happen from soup to nuts as they say.

On the ride back to the hotel this evening, they even had the energy to sing Michael Jackson and Beach Boy songs.  They rocked the van all the way home.


Early Morning = Day Three

I{m up early to post.  I could never get the wireless connection to work long enough last night to share our story of yesterday.  I{m at the hotels PC now using a Spanish keyboard in the dark so you{ll just have to forgive the typos.

I{ll try to find a better location this evening and share our story.  All is going well.  The team spent yesterday and will spend today putting the finishing touches on the clinic and preparing for the grand opening on Thursday. 

Panmachel is a thriving community with deeply cool evenings and a warm, direct sun during the day.  This is the dry season, but we can expect a quick rain shower most days.

The mornings start early here for everyone.  Dogs, chickens and cars stir well before light.  At about 5am each morning someone always sets off a series of firecrackers like church bells waking the villager. 

By 6am, a dense shroud of smoke hangs over the area as people start their morning breakfast fires.  Cool, smokey air in the mountains = That{s the way to start every morning in paradise.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day Two - Back in Panajachel

It's been a little over two years since I last left Panajachel on Lago de Atitlan.  As I was working on this post, I rediscovered the frustration we had using the web in 2008.  Our connection is not real strong as I found trying to post a short video done by Mary Miller and Emily Joy Roth from last night.  Both of these ladies arrived with our MNU cohorts and we grabbed a late dinner. 

Jorge took us his favorite restaurant - Pollo Cambrello's (Not quite sure of the spelling).  They specialize in chicken - deep fried and juicy.

The video is short, but it's just too much for the link.  I'll try to post it once we're back in the state for those who are interest.  Both Mary and Emily Joy say hello in the video.  They are high energy, developing professionals although they'd had a long day up to this point.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"G" - Our First Day in Paradise

For those of you who have ever done any international travel, the idea of a long distance flight in usually not well received.  Jet lag can get the best of the most seasoned traveller.  Somewhat surprisingly, when you travel due South staying in the same time zone, the wear on the system is not the same. 

Nancy, Wes, Ed and I left Olathe at 330AM and were joined at the airport by Cyndy Hopkins and her son - CL.  Cyndy is a Lt. Colonel in the Army and CL is one of the brightest young men I've ever met.  (Although he was a bit sleepy at this hour.)

CL and Cyndy
Guatemala is a beautiful country although like many of our neighbors to the South, it has had a tragic past.  The Civic war(s) ended in the mid-90s and a lot of progress has been made, but even as you enter the capital you are struck by the separation between those with wealth and power and those who are without.  If you want to learn more about Guatemala's history, you might want to visit .

Our first night in country has really been a treat.  Don Jorge made arrangements for us to spend the night at Seminario Teologico Centroamericano (SETECA) with our host Carl and Karen Martinsen.  Carl and Karen have committed themselves to the people of Guatemala for the past 36 years.  They serve SETECA and have trained thousands of men and women to serve the Lord and the needs of people throughout the Americas.  If you're interested in learning more, you might also want to visit their website at  The seminary is open to all and provides a welcoming, safe enclave.

It's been a long day as you can imagine.  We're awaiting the arrival of our MNU contingent who will be arriving later this evening.  We'll be off to Lago de Atitlan early in the morning with a building sense of anticipation.  The clinic will be dedicated this week and Wes, Ed and Carl reported that the last support funding from Rotary International has been secured.

Carl Martinsen of Development and Communication at SETECA

On a lighter note, Cyndy, CL and I walked around the SETECA compound late in the afternoon and came across a street vendor selling fresh produce from the back of his old, beat-up Toyota pickup truck.  The fruits and vegetables were gorgous.  Huge carrots maybe two inches in diameter, squash, corn and berries galore.  Cyndy couldn't contain herself so we bought close to half  a pint of the largest, richest, juicest blackberries I've ever seen.  She and CL had a hardy snack.

Well, today's story could go on, but then what would we do for tomorrow?!