Jessi Huls, Brooklyn Schaefbauer, Emily Schaefbauer, Kennedy Schaefbauer, Ralph Schaefbauer, and their local guide Saùl Alvarez Paz stand in front of the house they built in three days, with no power tools of any kind, and the young family for whom they built it. Photo courtesy of Jessi Huls.
By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
At its best, travel can be a mind-expanding, life-altering experience. In a world of crass commercialism and living to impress others, such an experience can be both rare and precious.
Two Kimball classmates from the Class of ’98 shared just such a trip earlier this year, Oct. 28 through Nov. 6.
Emily (Burblies) Schaefbauer had been to Guatemala five times with The God’s Child Project, based in Golden Valley. She shared on Facebook information about her planned sixth trip, inviting others interested to join her. She got only one response, from Jessica “Jessi” (Holte) Huls. The two hadn’t seen each other since high school, but soon they were in Guatemala along with Schaefbauer’s two daughters and her father-in-law.
This team spent three days building a house for a Guatemalan woman and her three children. This local family’s prior home had a dirt floor, plastic tarps for a roof, and cornstalks for walls. This is a very unhealthy environment in which to grow up. Their new home is a modest 12’ x 15’ with a concrete floor, solid walls, and a metal roof.
“It was fun to do the hard labor with your family,” said Schaefbauer. “It’s fun to see what you can build without electricity.” She added that it was good for her kids to work hard, and that she was so proud of her 12- and 17-year-old daughters. Her kids want to go again. “It was just an awesome process,” she added.
Huls had been wanting to do something like this trip for quite awhile. When she saw Schaefbauer’s post, it piqued her interest. “There are points in your life when you give and receive. This was a good time to give,” Huls said by phone this week. Knowing someone else on the team going to Guatemala was a comfort to her, and to her husband as well.
“It was amazing,” Huls said, “the whole trip experience.” She appreciated getting a personal look at day-to-day family life that some of the side trips allowed.
The team’s itinerary was well planned out for them, and everything was arranged and communicated well. In addition to airfare (averaging around $400-600 per person), their $92.50/day included all their transportation, lodging, most meals, and walking guides. They also had time for sight-seeing, and a few other visits related to The God’s Child Project.
Guatemala has the highest child mortality rate in the Western world. The God’s Child Project operates a hospital for malnourished children, the only such specialty hospital in all of Central America.
Visiting the hospital “made me appreciate my kids and my health more,” said Huls. She added that the people of Guatemala are very welcoming, and that they ran into a lot of others traveling to volunteer and sightsee in the area.
They also run a Friday food distribution since there are no social services provided by the government. “It makes me appreciate our government and infrastructure very much; grateful for the safety nets we have,” Schaefbauer said.
The team was able to visit a school established by The God’s Child Project especially for young children who were in the child labor force. The school can fast-track these children so they can catch up with their peers who have been in school consistently (instead of working for years).
Regarding the caravans of migrants coming to the United States from Central America, Schaefbauer believes that stability for Central America is stability for the United States. Those who have a good home and education are much less likely to leave. So the more we can help them, there, the fewer refugees we’ll have from that area.
“I wish everyone in America could do this,” Schaefbauer said of the trips. She said it gives the participants such perspective on the world and on themselves. Kids especially benefit, she believes, and they learn humility. In fact, she said, upon their return from Guatemala, her kids asked for no Christmas presents this year.
“I plan to go back at some point,” said Huls. “It’s time to give.” She is pleased to know that the family is so appreciative of the simple home they built, and that this gift will affect this family for the rest of their lives. “The resources we have here for our people are a blessing, and are under-appreciated,” Huls added.
Here’s a summary of what the Schaefbauer/Huls team did while in Guatemala, all within their ten-day trip.
• Built a 12×15’ home using no electricity. The concrete floor will help the family stay healthy, protecting them from parasites and lung infections, and keep them and their belongings dry during the rainy season. This home was built for a working but impoverished family for whom it was impossible to save enough money to build it on their own. Women don’t have many work opportunities in Guatemala, and nearly 40 percent of the population is illiterate because the country of Guatemala does not require children to go to school.
• Helped care for children at Casa Jackson Hospital for Malnourished Children. This hospital dedicated to rehabilitating malnourished children is the only one like it in all of Central America. Children ages 0-11 years are brought here to recover from severe malnutrition caused by parasite infections, poverty, or neglect. The average stay is four months, but children can stay as long as they need to become healthy and to gain weight. Children with less severe malnutrition are cared for as out-patients while more extreme cases are in-patients. There is a waiting list to get into Casa Jackson for full-time care. Children are brought to Casa Jackson by families desperate for help. The Guatemalan government also brings children whom they have removed from neglectful families. Sometimes children are abandoned at Casa Jackson; they go through the process of being adopted out after they are healthy. More than 2,000 malnourished children have been helped at Casa Jackson. Volunteers are always needed at Casa Jackson. If you have arms to hold a child, you can help. Visit www.CasaJackson.org to learn more.
• Social work home visits. Guatemala does not have a governmental system that provides social work like the United States. Their team visited family homes in an impoverished region to check on what they may need, and if there is some way they could help them.
• Food distribution. The team helped distribute vegetables, fruit, milk, and corn meal from local farmers to the working impoverished women, children, and widows who can no longer work.
• Santa Madre Homeless Shelter. The homeless in Guatemala have very few resources for assistance. Women, men, and children who are kicked out of their homes often have no resources. The Santa Madre Homeless Shelter is co-ed, so women and children can sleep on one side and men on the other. They have access to a shower, laundry tubs, and meals.
• School visits. A specialized school for children who have been used for child labor exists in Jocotenango, Guatemala. This school is named The Scheel Center, after Bob Scheel of Scheel’s Sporting Goods, and it allows older children to advance a few grades at a time with a concentrated education plan. The students who attend this school often start out as teenagers with an elementary-level education. Another school called The Dreamer Center is for children who are extremely poor; this school is a unique opportunity for them to get an education and stay out of the child labor force.
• Fuego Disaster Site Visit. On June 3, 2018, the Fuego volcano in Guatemala erupted, killing and displacing thousands. The country is still recovering, and the team drove through the disaster site while they were in Guatemala.
• Sponsored Child Visit. Schaefbauer has sponsored Rosa Raxon, a Guatemalan child, for three years. She was able to visit her on this trip, and Rosa helped the team paint the house they built. People who sponsor kids in Guatemala can visit them, which is very exciting for the kids. They feel very important to have a sponsor from the United States.
• Tourist Activities. While in Guatemala, the team also did fun things like visiting Mayan ruins in Iximche, watching sea turtles lay their eggs, releasing sea turtles into the Pacific Ocean, and attending the annual Day of the Dead Kite Festival. There are varied touristy things to do with each visit, in addition to humanitarian aid work.