It’s hard to fully capture the feelings of joy, gratitude, excitement, and fulfillment that I’m feeling today.
We invited Sara Morales (my ‘tocaya’ — one who has the same name as me), the music teacher at our program in El Tejar, to come with us to visit Chacaya, because we knew of the gifts and talents she would bring and share with our partners in Chacaya, namely her experience teaching and building the music program from scratch. What we didn’t know was the way spending the weekend with Sara would highlight a need we often overlook in our line of work.
In other contexts, I often reflect on the importance of relationship building, especially as it relates to mission work and service projects. Our culture tells us the busier we are, the more valuable. It’s easier than I’d like to admit to forget the importance of taking the time to just be and time to be with. Over shared meals and walks around town David, Sara, and I have not only talked business, but also shared ideas and dreams, and established a level of trust that is essential in the work we are doing in Guatemala.
David and I know that we cannot do the work we do here in Guatemala without first listening to the needs of the people we are working with. And in order to listen to people’s needs, there has to be room for conversation. Building relationship and trust happens over time and often in our rushed visits to Guatemala, we focus on the work to do, the decisions to be made, etc., and have little time to simply be with the people with whom we partner. This weekend we realized the importance of inviting our Guatemalan partners into some “downtime” and leaving our agendas to the side so that the important work of relationships can emerge. We had more of that time than ever before with Sara, and it changes everything.
Having been working in Guatemala for nearly eleven years now, some of our relationships go pretty far back. David met Pascual Mendoza, director of the Escuela Pronade in Chacaya almost ten years ago. This morning we hopped in the back of a pick-up truck and headed there again. Chacaya is a small and traditional village on Lago Atitlán. Though it’s not far from Santiago, it feels worlds away, and many children there have never left the village, even to go to Santiago. People grow corn and coffee, and fish on the lake in dugout ‘lanchas’ that I suspect look precisely how they have for centuries.
When we arrived, we were greeted by smiling children, curious, and eager to know who we were. We met with two teachers and the director of the school to learn more about their program of artistic expression. They explained that on Thursdays, the children have a half day of regular classes and half day of artistic expression classes. The classes of artistic expression include: music, dance, theater, poetry, games, and drawing. The students choose which class they would like to take and commit to it for the year. Students from preschool to sixth grade are in the same class with a maximum of 16 students per class. The following year, they can go further with the same subject or switch to a different one. With the addition of instruments and other materials for art, they plan to expand the artistic expression program.
We’ve been in conversation about this fledgeling program for some time, and it was wonderful to hear that they got started without us. That indicates a deep commitment to, and passion for, the idea. Clearly, this is not just something they would like to do if the money is there, but a vision they want to make real, and they are going to figure out how to do it.
The PEG Board had already authorized us to get started on this one, so we had the pleasure of leaving a check to buy some instruments today. The most wonderful part of today’s trip, however, was seeing the sparks of inspiration flying back and forth between Sara, the music teacher from El Tejar, and the two teachers who are heading up Chacaya’s arts program. Sara was able to share her experience of getting the program up and running, as well as helping them get a deal on mandolins, and the two teachers from Chacaya made tentative plans to come visit the music program in El Tejar.
We have so much to be grateful for, and are thrilled with the results of the trip thus far. It’s a slow and steady process, but I’m convinced that this is what it looks like to change the world.