On Monday last week, we did some volunteer work with Cultiva International, which is a nonprofit organization started by the Jensen family here in Panajachel. We have become good friends already with the Jensens, and we're amazed by their generosity and goodwill, which they have shared with the local community for the past 7 years. We spent the entire day involved in garden box construction, travelling behind their van "Uncle Rico" full of supplies for building garden boxes at the homes of local mayan neighbors. It was an awesome and inspiring day.
First, we drove up to the Jensens' house (affectionately known as "The Homestead") in San Jose Chacaya. It is only about 9 miles away, but because of the road conditions (super steep, narrow, bumpy), it took about 40 minutes to drive there. Lucy Jensen took us on a tour of their house, and of their 30+ garden boxes. They use their boxes to teach the locals, who sign up for their classes, about the different stages in the process of growing various vegetables and fruits in the boxes. Lucy gave us a presentation about the definition of poverty, and what these garden boxes provide for the local families who get them.
After the presentation, we drove to our first house. We all got out of the car and met the lady for whom we were going to build a box. We put the wood planks together, stapled tarp onto the bottom, placed a wooden divider rack on top of the box, leveled out some ground to place it on, and then put up chicken wire all around the box. It took about an hour with about a dozen of us working. While we were working, a few people from the local village came and watched us, and we used our broken Spanish to communicate briefly with some of them. Most were relatives who had dropped by to see what was going on. Lucy told us that the only advertising they really did was word of mouth, and so it was great to see that others were interested in the garden boxes being put down in their neighbor's yards.
When we finished the first box, we hauled in a few sacks of dirt (which was decent topsoil, collected by hand from a nearby mountainside), and filled up the newly constructed above-ground garden box. Then we planted various fruits and vegetables in each box, according to a map that Lucy had made. In one square, we planted seeds (radishes, which are edible after only 6/7 weeks), but in the rest of the squares, we planted vegetable starts, giving the owners an immediate vision of their growing vegetables. After we were finished, we taught the new owner of the box how to properly take care of and water the plants. Then she made us a warm, sugared corn drink to show her appreciation for our help.
Then we went to the next house, where we installed two garden boxes. We had to level out quite a bit of land, since we were building on the side of a hill. We were a bit faster the second time, since we had had some practice. About halfway through the work process we stopped for a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, and then resumed our work. When we were done with the land and the boxes, we again put chicken wire around both boxes. We were going to go to one more house, but the lady wasn't home, and so we were done for the day.
Overall, it was a great day of hard work and service, and possibly the most memorable part was what we learned about the Guatemalan way of life in the relatively remote hills surrounding Panajachel, and how something as simple as a wood box with dirt in it could set them one step closer to transforming their lives.
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Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!