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What the heck are we doing!!?

We are so excited about what is happening. Just five short weeks ago, we were getting on a plane and in shock that it was happening. Honestly, getting on the plane seemed like the accomplishment. We knew we were coming to Guatemala, and we knew we would be volunteering. That was it, that was all.

But let me back up just a bit; it's essential for me not to give the impression that it has been all sunshine and roses. In my last post, I touched on the diarrhea, the sickness, the lack of appliances. I am a very optimistic person overall, but I would be doing everyone a disservice if I skipped over some of the "tough." I need to dive into some more details regarding Christina and the kid's extraordinary perseverance and our overall commitment to this experiment as a family. It's the adventure of being in a place that, compared to Canada, is so differently developed. We are not only in Guatemala; we are in very rural, highland Guatemala.

These challenges are what I was excited about before we came. We wanted character development exercises for both the children and us. (Guatemala has not failed us there!) We love it and wouldn't change a thing. However, that doesn't mean I shouldn't document the challenges.

Let's start with the puke. Five children taking turns puking and diarrhea-ing while having no washer, dryer, or hot water. Hand washing laundry is HARD! Take that and then add in a rainy season where things just don't dry; they start to grow. What you get is two exhausted parents, flipping puke-filled blankets, sandwiching the puke so we couldn't "feel" it against our skin, but certainly knew it was there because of the temperature difference and smell. Then you have water shutoffs. In our first month here, the municipality has shut off the water over half a dozen times. So we lay there, staring at the dark ceiling, not even bothering to go to sleep, pondering why we became parents in the first place, let alone what we are doing here.

Bathing has been another challenge. While camping in Canada, we would heat water over the stove to sponge-bathe. Here, with a kitchen consisting of one plug-in burner that doesn't work very well, our bathing options for grumpy sick kids stopped at cold showers.

Together, we made it through, and together we'll make it through in the future. The good news is we've found an excellent second-hand dryer at a great price, and that's a start!

I want to reflect on this new reality a bit. We may have our moments of feeling down and sorry for ourselves, but the truth is that this is most of the world's everyday life. There is no luxury. Yes, appliances, no matter how old they are, are luxuries. Floors, if they are not dirt, are luxuries. Reliable power and running water? Huge luxuries. I want you to all take a moment as you stare into your screens and take a deep breath. Take a moment to go hug your appliances.

Extreme beauty sprinkled with garbage deposits everywhere.

We are enjoying the breaks in between the adjustments going on in our bodies. We have been able to scrape together a pretty decent routine. That has led to our ability to form a committee with four beautiful local Mayan women and set up a kid's club, "Children for a better San Juan."

San Juan is on the shores of the beautiful, deep and calming, Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, Atitlan, which translates as "where the rainbow gets its color," is in danger of being irreversibly over-polluted. With only 19 of a necessary 68 functioning sewage treatment plants around the lake built, unsustainable contamination is flowing into the lake daily.

As a family, we are unable to build sewage treatment plants. What we CAN DO is help tackle plastic waste. Waste is found everywhere on the shorelines and streets of San Juan. The vision of "Children for a better San Juan" "is to educate and empower the very children of San Juan to take control of the future of the lake and their beautiful village streets. We are teaming up with donors to support this committee in cleaning and establishing public trash cans with regularly scheduled emptying, sorting, and disposal.

The kid's club started as a three-month pilot project with 14 children signed up. The club leaders and members clean garbage weekly, learn about sanitation and receive a full meal at the end of the program. We are so thankful to provide this blessing in such an impoverished area, thanks to our community!

The long-term goal of this project is to set up a self-sustainable plastic recycling plant. It will not only serve to clean the area but help provide a source of employment for an area hit extremely hard by the current downturn in tourism, past disasters, and war.



Owen Dargatz is a Canadian writer living in Guatemala with his wife Christina and 5 children. Together with a local committee of four Tz'utujil Women, they are working towards tackling the plastic pollution problem in their community of San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala.

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