Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Following Our Hearts to Guatemala for Christmas

McFadyen Family Christmas Service Trip, 2012

In case you hadn’t heard, and you probably have, the McFadyen Six will return to Guatemala next week for our second Christmas Service Trip.  There is much to do as we prepare for our journey, but a different kind of energy is now sustaining us.  The nervousness of 2012 has been replaced with genuine excitement and anticipation.  There are no unknowns this time around. The kids have experienced the landscape, the culture, the language, the food, the heart of the people…. all of the things that make Guatemala unique compared to their lives in the Boston suburbs.  And, although not speaking the language or understanding the traditions can be a barrier at times, it only adds to the depth of the experience in serving others.

I remember, two years ago, being so afraid that the kids would panic when someone tried to talk to them in Spanish or in Kakchiquel, or that they would somehow offend others if expressing their displeasure when seeing the living conditions of the indigenous Maya, but they were true champs.  They smiled, they were respectful, and they engaged with both children and adults, despite the communication obstacles.  Needless to say, both Jay and I are carrying a lighter emotional load as we pack our suitcases and discuss our itinerary, thanks to the overwhelming success of our first Service Trip.  (And, this time around, the kids know how to say “chicken fingers” in Spanish.  Pechugitas de pollo, if you must know.) 

Again, we have decided to forego receiving Christmas presents and have asked those with whom we usually exchange gifts to instead share those funds with Mayan Families for their Christmas Tamale Basket program.  In Guatemala, the tradition – for those who can afford it – is to eat a meal of meat filled tamales and hot chocolate at midnight on Christmas Eve to celebrate Jesus' birth.  Because most families do not have the means to purchase the special ingredients required to make the tamales (especially the chicken), Mayan Families assembles Tamale Baskets that each feed up to 10 people, and they ask their donors to consider funding one so that their sponsored student can enjoy the Christmas tradition.  As you can imagine, the need is always far greater than the supply, so hundreds of families who did not receive a basket from a sponsor line up outside of the Mayan Families offices with hopes and prayers that one may have been donated for “general distribution.”

We were delighted in 2012 to supply 150 tamale baskets, feeding upwards of 1500 Maya, to those for whom a basket had not been dedicated.  This year, we set a goal to match that glorious amount, and we have been blessed beyond words to exceed it.  As I write today, our friends and family have generously donated 178 tamale baskets on our behalf, and now we’re closing in on 200.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?
We expect to be working hard alongside Mayan Families staff and other volunteers to create and distribute the baskets all next weekend, but the first stop on our itinerary on Thursday is to assist with the Christmas Party in the agricultural village of El Barranco.

About a handful of years ago, on what was my first trip to the Lake Atitlan area, I visited the village of El Barranco and truly fell in love with its people.  It is a small community that sits on a patch of farmland and does not enjoy the spectacular views of the volcano-shored lake.  The people, though, are hard-working and hopeful and are careful to maintain the culture of their Mayan ancestors.  Children in this community learn and perform folkloric dances that tell beautiful stories of the rich history of the Maya.

At that time, Mayan Families had wished to have a presence in the village so that they could offer support to some of the most needy residents.  As is their model, they hoped to establish a pre-school that would not only serve as a teaching center but would also provide the children with a healthy meal once each day, a vitamin to supplement their nutrition deficits, a teeth brushing activity to maintain dental health and, from a safety standpoint, the supervision that many toddlers simply don’t experience as just slightly older siblings offer care while parents work in the fields.
When a property became available for rent, our family offered funding to cover the monthly rental expense for Mayan Families and we have continued that commitment for several years.  But, great news came at the end of last year as a piece of land adjacent to the current school was advertised for sale.  We were very pleased to be able to contribute toward the construction of the brand new El Barranco Pre-School which we will see in its near completed phase on December 18th.  It makes sense that it feels good to have a hand in something real and tangible, but it somehow feels extra special when you are able to give back to a country that has helped you to create your forever family.  Nothing will ever compare to the blessing that our son Will has been in our lives, but it feels absolutely necessary that part of our legacy reside in his country of birth.  And now it does.

And so, our service week will be spent distributing stuffed animals and small toys to children, touring the new school, visiting our sponsored students and elderly women (oh how I adore Maria and Guadalupe) and assembling and distributing the coveted Tamale Baskets.  Oh…. And let’s not forget that we’ll be participating in the Panajachel Christmas Parade too, wearing reindeer noses and tossing dulces (candy) into the crowds of people lining the streets.  (Super fun!)
So what are we giving our kids for Christmas this year?  We’re giving them the gift of being Santa Claus to a people with true needs.  We’re giving them the experience of sacrifice and the understanding that giving feels way better than receiving.  We’re building their character, shaping their values and providing them with the opportunity to be good citizens of the world.  They themselves told us last Christmas, after opening their gifts and playing with their new toys, that they far preferred the Christmas Service Trip over Traditional Christmas.  Who knows what future holidays will hold for the McFadyen Six, but – this year – we’re following our hearts to Guatemala.

If you wish to offer a tax-deductible donation toward the purchase of a $40 Christmas Tamale Basket that feeds 10 people, you can do so with a credit card (or via PayPal) through this link to the Mayan Families website.  Simply enter the dollar amount and add "McFadyen Christmas Service Trip 2014 - Tamale Basket" in the text block marked "What is this donation for?"  (Ignore the prompt that suggests that you didn't indicate a designation for your gift.)  Mil gracias!

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