Sweating profusely, and aching in my knees from the strenuous hike through the jungle, I was beginning to question my sanity and wonder what I had gotten myself into.
My son Jeff, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I joined 18 other Rotarians from northern Illinois for nine days in late January, delving deep into the rainforest of eastern Guatemala on a service project with District 6440 (Illinois, USA) to Ak’Tenamit.
The community development organization promotes long-term solutions to poverty through education, health care, income generation, and cultural programs for indigenous Maya in 100 villages near the Rio Dulce. The community has a boarding school that supports more than 500 students and 220 girls; a 24-hour clinic that serves more than 25,000 people; a floating dental-care boat; a restaurant for vocational training; and seven women’s cooperatives.
Each morning, our team traveled by boat for an hour from our hotel in Livingston to Ak’Tenamit, to build a girls study/gathering area for the school. We also assisted with a project to build an aquaponics unit that will allow the local Maya to raise Tilapia and a variety of vegetables that will help improve their diet.
On Thursday of our week-long project, we delivered water filters to a village deep in the jungle. I met Walter’s family. Walter is a student at the school, and one of seven siblings. His father is the leader of the village we visited. Walter was born with severe leg deformities and could not walk until he was six. Ak’Tenamit paid for Walter to receive surgery on his legs. Now, this bright young man is thriving in his studies, taking part in the cooking program, and aspires to be a chef.
Despite the physical toll on my aging body, I have to say the trip was a life-changing experience, for both my son and I. It opened my eyes to the internationality of Rotary, and all the good it is doing in the world. Without a doubt, this was one of the best things my son and I have ever done.