Donations from Creston help Guatemalan schools

A Guatemalan school has a concrete yard, and dozens of students have new school supplies, toys and vitamins, thanks to a group of Creston Valley residents who visited Azucenas, Guate-mala, in February...

The Creston team with Seeds International co-ordinator Heidi Graham de Olivares (right) and its police escort.

A Guatemalan school has a concrete yard, and dozens of students have new school supplies, toys and vitamins, thanks to a group of Creston Valley residents who visited Azucenas, Guatemala, in February.

Nine Crestonites visited Guatemala, each taking two 50-pound bags stuffed with donations by residents and businesses, including Pyramid Building Supplies, Wendy’s Custom Framing, Pharmasave, Extra Foods and Cranbrook’s Cloverdale Paints. Money for the trip itself was raised by Glad Tidings Pentecostal Church.

“I was blown away by the amount of stuff that came in,” said with Heidi Graham de Olivares, co-ordinator for Seeds International.

Since 2000, she has overseen 127 schools through the program, which offers humanitarian aid in the form of a Bible and course book that teaches students about God, morals and respect for others.

The main goal if the February trip was the concrete surfacing of the 400-square-metre schoolyard, which became rutted and muddy during the rainy season. Although the school had been fundraising for five years, only $25 had been raised; cash donations from Creston residents were the only way to get it done.

Expecting to level the ground and mix cement by hand, the team had packed gumboots, but found that a large portion of the work had been done before they arrived, mainly by the students — local help had been promised before, but it never materialized, so the adults had given up hope.

“By the time we got there, the ground was all level and they had built the forms,” said Olivares.

The prep work included spreading eight dump truck loads of gravel, and because so much of it was done before the team arrived, the concrete project took two days instead of the expected five, allowing the Creston visitors a chance help paint the school — when they were allowed.

“Basically, the team stood back and watched,” said Olivares. “They had to be pushy to even get to paint. If they put down their brush, it was gone.

“Sometimes, you get the impression they just want a handout. But these people worked very hard to raise money, and when they had the money, they worked hard.”

The team also spent time at some other Guatemalan schools. Two schools in the mountains received new sweaters, purchased with a donation from Pine Profiles, and donated toques, mittens and water filters were also delivered. One school that received supplies had students of distinctly Mayan descent, most of them shorter than average and wearing traditional garb; getting to it required a one-hour boat trip across a lake.

One afternoon, the team visited a garbage dump, where many homeless live and collect recyclables.

“That was a good experience,” said Olivares. “It was pretty emotional.”

None had to worry about their safety as they travelled in the area.

“The community arranged for us to have a police escort,” said Olivares. “The whole week, we rode in a police van with three police officers.”

On the first day of the team’s visit, every student — about 100 of them — hugged each team member and said thank you. Their gratitude was genuine, and it continued through the visit.

At the end, the team was invited to lunch; the room was decorated with Canadian and Guatemalan flags, and 50 VIPs, including the governor, minister of education and Azucenas mayor attended.

When they returned to the school, they arrived to discover a walkway lined with pine needles, a marimba band and a ribbon cutting ceremony, all of it televised. A large banner read, “The completion of the pavement — a dream come true.” The students were surprised by the brevity of the Canadian anthem; they offered a 15-minute performance of the Guatemalan national anthem.

“It was so touching,” said Olivares. “I think everyone was crying.”

That was simply the icing on the cake for team members, many of whom would like to return.

“Everyone came back totally happy, and saying they’d go again in a heartbeat,” said Olivares. “It was a blessing for the people that went. … I’ve already had people ask me, ‘When is the next trip?’

“Maybe we’ll plan one for next February. I have a project in mind.”

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