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A hidden gem in Guatemala

My family and I have had the good fortune to volunteer in many service projects over the past 25 years in Guatemala and Belize. From building a school, to assisting in medical clinics and digging a well for water in Belize, as well as undertaking projects in Guatemala’s Hospital Roosevelt children’s hospital, I thought we had seen it all. I discovered how wrong I was after visiting Adopt-a-Village's Maya Jaguar!

This extraordinary educational center is truly a hidden gem. Situated in an exotic rainforest in northwest Guatemala, it fills a void in the lives of the students who are fortunate enough to be able to attend school here. The impact Maya Jaguar has on the lives of the students and their families is beyond anything that could be imagined. The quality education they receive is supported by a well equipped science lab and a fully outfitted computer lab. This formal schooling, along with the sustainable, organic, “green” farming techniques taught is transforming the students lives and opening opportunities that they could ever have foreseen. This is a gift more valuable than gold or gems.

My wife, Frances, and I have been financial supporters of Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala for several years but had never thought we would have a chance to visit and work there. We also had a burning desire to meet Gladis, the student we were supporting. Gladis, an indigenous Mayan girl from a small village, had been part of our lives for several years through the Adopt-a-Village child sponsorship program. This year, she was selected as a scholarship student at Maya Jaguar. Our family members, along with our church, undertook to support her coveted scholarship. Through our conversations with Frances Dixon, the organization’s president and director, we came to believe that a working trip might be possible.

After careful consideration, we decided to take a leap of faith and make the trip. And not only go ourselves, but take my brother and sister-in-law with us. Danny and Marne had never done this type of trip before and I’ll be honest here, I was not sure that this trip for a 'first timer' was the right thing to do. I was worried that this would be more than they and I had bargained for. These feelings were intensified on the trip up to Maya Jaguar from Guatemala City. It was difficult, and the final leg up the steep rocky road to the school absolutely took our breath away. But we discovered that it was not more than we could handle and we arrived safely thanks to Devere Wolsey and Alan Crawford, Adopt-a-Village board members who assisted us in making this trip possible.

For my brother and me, our task was to build mobile chicken runs so that the school’s flock of 70 could access new forage space for bugs, worms, and fresh grass. We were successful in constructing four. Now those beautiful hens that were producing our breakfast eggs every day could get a “vacation day” from their normal routine. The students worked with us, stretching chicken wire over the wooden frames. Then they taught us two Mississippi boys how to make a thatched roof for each of the runs—a skill we still have not mastered. We could tell that they got a kick out of teaching us!

Danny and I had the easiest job. Frances and Marne were the new help in the kitchen. They were there to help and observe the workers and offer new recipes and practices that could be beneficial. It was interesting to watch these two southern women cook in a kitchen with an open fire and no refrigeration or air conditioning. Quite different to what they were accustomed, and it brought home the fact that we are so blessed with the conveniences that we have and take for granted. The food, though simple, and for the most part vegetarian, was outstanding. Most of all, we were all impressed watching the students, alongside the cooks, rotate kitchen jobs of cutting vegetables and making some 300 tortillas every day. Preparing three cooked meals, plus snacks for the students, staff and visitors is truly a collaborative effort that is done cheerfully and efficiently. What a great place to be in school!

I wish that I could express all of my thoughts and feelings about our trip to Maya Jaguar in such a short article, as we had so many fantastic experiences. But I will say this--support this organization with your financial blessings, or go to Maya Jaguar and volunteer. You will be deeply changed by the experience, and you will have the chance to transform a young person’s life from one of limited opportunity to one of hope and excitement for their future.

Steve and Frances Burr are retired and live in Meadville, Mississippi. Danny and Marne Burr are also retired and live in Madison, Mississippi.

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