Xela (Quetzaltenango) is the second largest city in Guatemala. On the outskirts of Xela is a community called Urbina in the district of Cantel, where we completed our first court project in Guatemala. Recent history has not been kind to Guatemala beginning with the CIA sponsored coup of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, whose proposed agrarian land reforms did not sit well with vested American interests including The United Fruit Company. Shortly after the coup, Guatemala was plunged into a brutal 36 year Civil War which supposedly ended in 1996, although the violence against the indigenous population waged on. One of the most consistent messages we heard from the community of Urbina was that they feel forgotten and abandoned.
One of the major needs in Urbina, as identified by the community, was another safe place for their children to play sports. Travis Houghton, a Peace Corps Volunteer and semi-professional basketball player in Guatemala, who taught in the school where the court is being built was the person who connected us to the community and was an integral part of the project from start to finish.
We brought a team of 23 participants, 18 of whom were high school students from the Portland/Vancouver area who participated in the project for their spring break. The volunteers spent the first three and a half days working hard on the construction of the court, which included lifting the massive basketball hoops/soccer goals into place, digging holes and then loading and unloading a concrete mixer over and over again until the 28 meter by 15 meter court was completed.
women would actually run the buckets from the sand pile to the mixer in their nice jeans or sometimes traditional attire. They were amazing! On
the last day, the community had a big opening ceremonies where together we all celebrated what we had accomplished and then had a chance to play a game on the new court. Although the impact was very strong in Guatemala, undoubtedly the impact on our American youth was equally impressive.
In addition to the work, our group had a chance to experience some amazing Guatemalan food including Paches de papas, a local specialty as well as a healthy supply of homemade salsa, tortillas, meat, beans and avocado. We happened to be in Guatemala during Semana Santa (holy week), which meant festivities, celebrations, parades, street art, etc. Finally, what trip would be complete without seeing some of the beauty of Guatemala, which involved doing a zip line tour with this volcano erupting in the background!
A special thanks to those who participated in the 2011 Courts for Kids benefit auction, from which funds for this court were raised, in addition to funds raised by Travis and the community itself.
And some quotes from our participants:
From this trip I hope to walk away with a new outlook on life. I hope to not focus on materialistic things, to be more relaxed and not worry about time, and to spend less time focusing on technology. I will miss everyone I met like Catalina, Luis, Iesha, Augustine and Milagro. I will remember all they have taught me and to appreciate everything that I have. Also to appreciate the small things, not worrying about always having the next best thing.
To see the daily living conditions of a true Guatemalan was a humbling experience. Iesha works so hard. It’s sad that a girl with her passion and perseverance will be stuck in the same social position of her ancestors. However, our own advancements seem to hinder the value of human relationships with one another. Our technology becomes a replacement for the love and community strength that is present in the Guatemalan society. The community of Urbina may lack funds but they have so much more in comparison through their genuine compassion for others.
As strange as it sounds, the experience that made the most impact on me during our trip was seeing the kitchen where the women prepared our food. When we walked up the house- well, shack, really- a heat wave just slammed into us- it had to be 10 degrees hotter there. When we walked into the kitchen, the temperature went up another 5 degrees and there was so much smoke that it created a visible, stinging haze throughout the room. The kitchen itself was tiny, maybe 15 by 15 with an oven, a stove, and a table. I still can’t fathom how the women could stand to be in there for hours at a time, when I was at the limit of my endurance after 30 seconds.