Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons Learned in Guatemala

It takes a certain kind of person to travel with us to Guatemala. A gutsy, don't-care-if-I-can't-get-a-shower-for-a-few-days kinda person. On our visits to the Finding Freedom households, our volunteers work through hunger, thirst, bug bites, tummy trouble, fatigue and rib-banging drives in the back of pickup trucks through the northern Guatemala mountains. We curse at the potholes that bruise our ribs, hide under tarps in rain so hard that it feels like needles pricking our skin, and we know all along that we can't hide our true selves from each other. It is an in-the-trenches experience, and like all hard times, relationships are built on these trips that go beyond the fluffy edges of normal surface friendships. 

Desi, wind-blown in the back of the truck

Traveling with Desi was all of the above and more. Her grandmother, Jo Brewer, had promised me that if I agreed to let Desi, who was only fifteen, travel with us last fall, I wouldn't regret it. Jo reassured me that Desi wouldn't balk at the poverty we would be witnessing, that she wouldn't shirk from the work we needed her to do and more importantly, she would not cause me any concern. Jo knew how much these trips occupy my time and energy. A wayward teen was the last thing I needed to worry about in the lawless regions of remote Guatemala. 
Grandma Jo knows Guatemala, and I trusted Jo, so Desi was welcomed. 
I wasn't disappointed. 

A winner in every respect
When the rain pounded and the bugs swarmed
Desi handled it. When our pickup truck hit potholes that sent us across the truck bed she dealt with the bruises. Mayan children swarmed her in the mountains and she entertained them, allowing us to interview their mothers. She hauled things up mountains, walked through garbage and sometimes worse, and never complained. 

This summer Desi decided to test herself even further by entering local beauty pageants in the counties of western Kentucky where she lives. In her words, she needed to "refine herself" by gaining poise and the confidence required to go onstage in front of an audience. 
So she has, time and again, all while wearing a tiny rope bracelet on her right arm, given to her by a grateful Guatemalan mama. And and after almost every contest she comes away with the prize most suited for her: Miss Congeniality. When the judge asked her what she would do if she had a million dollars, Desi responded "I would go to Guatemala with Finding Freedom through Friendship and build houses for women and their children who don't have them."
I would like to end this story by telling our readers how much Desi learned in Guatemala, but in truth, we learned much more than she did. We discovered, in a refreshing way that lifted our spirits, how much capacity our youth have for personal growth, for altruism and for challenging all of us to improve ourselves into our best possible beings. We learned that the world will be just fine when we are ready to hand it over to the Desi's of the world, the youth who will bring their confidence and their competence into an interesting future. 
We look forward to learning more from Desi when she travels with us in October.