We only had about a week at home after our Asia trip before we headed off again in mid February, this time to Central America. The week gave Bridgette and I just enough time to unpack, get over our jetlag, see a few close family and friends, and then repack once again. It felt nice to sleep in our own beds again, even for just one week!
This was our first trip to Central America, and a meaningful one because our main intention was to serve at an NGO name Konojel, in the small village of San Marcos La Laguna at Lake Atitlan.
Getting to San Marcos was not easy. We first took a flight across the country to Miami, where we transited to another flight into Guatemala City. From Guatemala City, we hired a car to drive us 4 hours to the village of San Marcos. The last part of the ride was quite bumpy, but thankfully none of us got car sick.
Lake Atitlan, known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, is in a massive volcanic crater in Guatemala’s southwestern highlands. There are a number of Mayan villages around the lake, and San Marcos La Laguna is one of the smaller ones, with just 2200 inhabitants and most of them being the indigenous Mayans.
We stayed in a cozy little guestroom at the POSADA del BOSQUE ENCANTADO (aka The Enchanted Forest). It was a lovely location, with a hammock outside our door, and a small loft area inside our room which Bridgette immediately claimed as her own quarters. The main part of the village was within an easy walking distance, and so was the lake itself.
We got connected to the NGO Konojel through Jenn Miller, a fellow Worldschooling mom whom we met when we attended the Worldschooling conference in Bali last year. Jenn was one of the conference’s organizer and shared with us her extensive experience living in Guatemala, which inspired us to plan a trip there. It was the best decision ever.
Our short week in San Marcos was memorable not only because we loved the beauty and serenity of the location, but because we got to serve and engage with the indigenous community there. Every morning after breakfast, the three of us would trek up the hill to Konojel, the local community center whose mission is to reduce the chronic malnutrition and endemic poverty that is so prevalent in San Marcos. We would help the group of indigenous women that works in the Konojel kitchen to cook up healthy, delicious meals. This included food prepping tasks like washing, peeling and chopping vegetables, making tortilla from scratch (which was SO much harder than it looked), and putting the balanced meals in little containers for families to pick up when lunch time came around.
The elementary school aged children would arrive around noon time to eat lunch together, and afterwards, we would play games with them and teach them various things. Bridgette prepared origami paper to teach them how to fold origami cranes and the kids had so much fun! They really cherished the small cranes that they got to take home with them, reminding us that those who have very little need very little to find joy. It made us reflect upon our own abundances back home, and how consumerism has become so normalized in developed countries, giving us an insatiable desire for more, more, more.
Konojel quickly became the highlight of our days in San Marcos. Despite the language barrier, we established a genuine bond with the people there and we undoubtedly felt God’s hand at work every part of the way. If you have served in any capacity before, you will know what I mean when I say that we serve with the intention of making an impact, but we always leave being the ones that become impacted.
Our last day at Konojel fell on Valentine’s Day, so we asked the Director there if we could spoil the kids a bit with popsicles. When we got the okay to do so, I walked down to the local market and hand picked several different flavors of popsicles for the children. If only I had a video to show you their giddiness and excitement when they found out, their smiles and laughters would likely be contagious even through a screen!! They were completely ecstatic for such a special, unexpected treat, and gave us giant hugs and kisses (an obvious reminder now that those were pre-COVID days) to express their immense gratitude. Ahh…..more reminders of being grateful for the simplest things in life…
After all the children left on the last day, the ladies in the kitchen asked if Alan, Bridgette, and I could stay later. We thought they needed further help in the kitchen, but as it turned out, they wanted to dress Bridge and I up in the indigenous attire of their community! We were incredibly touched by this kind gesture!
One thing I found to be really cute was how giddy the Mayan ladies seemed to be when Alan was helping in the kitchen. They would smile and laugh and converse in Spanish while watching him work, and I finally found out that they were so giddy because they rarely see men working in the kitchen! Alan was also considered especially tall and large built in their community, so they found it very amusing to see him do what is normally considered “women’s work” there. The Director at Konojel said it was actually a great thing for them to witness, so that they can encourage their husbands or the men in their household to help out with house chores.
We are so, so grateful for the opportunity to serve at Konojel, and our time there was definitely too short. We were planning to go back in the Fall but ofcourse, COVID hit and the borders closed. The San Marcos community have experienced dire situations since the pandemic, and just recently, they even had a landslide that displaced many families there! The staff at Konojel continues to work hard on food distribution and to provide emergency shelter and supplies for the people there but they need continual financial support to do their great work. If you are able to help, even a one time $15 donation can provide over 2 weeks of meals for a family. Bridgette put together a short video to explain in more detail what Konojel does, and we hope this can bring more awareness to the needs of the community. Thank you in advance for taking the time to better understand what Konojel stands for, and for your consideration in donating.