Guatemala is a beautiful country of contrast. The landscape is stunning, as if you’ve stepped onto a movie set in some places; ancient lakes lined with volcanoes; bright, vibrant colors of the gorgeous hand-woven ‘traje’ (typical clothing) worn by the locals; warm, genuine, beautiful people who touch your heart like no other can. Contrasted to this beauty is such overwhelming poverty it takes your breath away and shatters your heart.
In August, our family was blessed with the opportunity to spend three weeks in Guatemala, during this time we brought down two different groups of friends to work along side of us and share our love of Guatemala with them. One week we had a group of 25 people, the next we had a group of 17 and our trip was a mixture of sightseeing, visiting friends, and service work – we are fortunate to be in a position to give back to this beautiful country that means so much to us, our son was born in Guatemala and came home to us in 2004.
Due to the overwhelming poverty, the need is so great in Guatemala that there are an abundance of amazing organizations to choose from to volunteer your time in Guatemala. The majority of our service work time was spent with an orphanage in San Lucas Sacatepeqez (not far from Antigua), ‘El Amor de Patricia’ and the ‘Bunk Bed Project.’ Both of these are very close to my heart. A good friend of mine, Tamara Hillstrom, founded the orphanage and Bunk Bed Project back in 2009 and named the orphanage after her mother Patricia. Tamara lives in Minneapolis and has three beautiful daughters who were born in Guatemala. Her programs are truly changing lives in Guatemala!
Entering a home with a dirt floor and seeing a wood pallet, cement blocks or sometimes just the dirt floor with a bug-infested blanket on it as the family’s current bed is heart-breaking. It takes your breath away, to realize that something we take for granted here in the U.S., a good night’s sleep, is often a distant dream for so many around the world. Think about how you feel after a restless night of uncomfortable sleep? These families manage their lives on a constant sleep deficit, which makes it even harder to function during the day. The reality is, daily life in Guatemala is so incredibly difficult for most, that a good comfortable sleep in a REAL bed, is life-changing for them!
The beds and frames are loaded into the backs of pick-up trucks, and we either hop in with them there or follow behind in a van, loaded to the brim with comforters and pillows. We can feel the excitement of the village as we enter, sometimes with a police escort in order to direct traffic around us! Neighbors and shopkeepers stop to watch us unload, smiling children run up to us and grab our hands to show us the way. We brought bags of donated stuffed animals along to give to the children who received beds, but also to those children in the villages who were there just to watch us set-up beds. The smiles on their faces after receiving a stuffed animal was priceless – most have never had a new toy or stuffed animal to ever call their own. Although there is a language barrier, a connection is made.
The beds themselves are made in Guatemala, and the families that receive them are so grateful, happy and excited to receive such a blessing of a new bed! The stories we would hear from the families that receive the beds are so sorrowful and powerful but yet these families are truly the most gracious, genuine, happy people you could ever meet! Many of the families would hold our hands in prayer after the new bed set-up was complete and they would pray and thank God for bringing us into their lives! Little did these wonderful families realize that we actually received more then we could ever give them, by God bringing them into our lives!! It’s a humbling, life-changing experience that is difficult to put into words.
El Amor de Patricia is more of a home setting than an orphanage. The children there are loved beyond measure, and the nannies and staff are incredible and have dedicated their lives to these children. Children who have been abandoned or taken away from their families by the courts are in a family oriented environment, not institutionalized care, at El Amor de Patricia; they are nurtured and loved. These children have heart-wrenching stories that come with them, but their time at El Amor de Patricia helps to heal those wounds and allows these children the opportunity to build trust and loving, healthy relationships. El Amor de Patricia, through donations and sponsorships, provides private schooling for the children so they can grow and lead a productive, successful life. All of the needs of the children and even some of their wants are provided for. Through generous donations these children are able to experience normal childhood by visiting the zoo, a movie, getting an ice-cream cone – the simple pleasures of childhood that most children growing up in care do not get to experience.
As our car pulls into the orphanage gates, the children come running to greet us and are so excited to have visitors and new people to play with – hugs a plenty! We spent our times at El Amor holding and loving babies, playing with the toddlers, practicing English with the older children. We played several soccer games with all the children and even spent an afternoon having a BBQ and birthday cake to celebrate all the children with August birthdays. Service/volunteer work isn’t always about getting your hands dirty and physical labor, building relationships and connecting with people provides hope and love, not only for them but for us as well.
Along with the orphanage and the Bunk Bed Project, El Amor de Patricia also provides help to the general community with the Family Revitalization Project. A community outreach program that helps to keep their children in school, and helps families reach their full potential. “We are all children of God, and are all entitled to reach our full potential”
During our three weeks in Guatemala we delivered a total of 36 bunk beds! Our family and our groups of friends who traveled with us did some fund-raising before our trip in order to have a bigger impact while we were there and we are so thankful to those who donated and helped us to help those most in need in Guatemala. Our family will return to Guatemala in July of 2016, if you would like to donate a bed and have us deliver it on behalf of your family, or if you would be interested in joining us for a life-changing experience, please contact me at as we will be bringing another group to Guatemala summer 2017!
Denis, Kellie, and Sam Anderson have been attending Zion for about 9 years. Prior to that they attended St Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis for several years, but wanted to find a church closer to home. Kellie has taught Sunday school and been part of the Food for Friends ministry. Sam has been in SONshine Choir and Sunday school, and is currently in his first year of confirmation at Zion.
Kellie, Sam, and Denis are pictured above with their friend Nestor, of Our Guatemala, delivering a bunk bed by pickup.
For more information, or contribute to El Amor de Patricia and the Bunk Bed Project, please visit theloveofpatricia.org. All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.