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Guatemala (Eng - ADICAY) Winter 2024 - Justice's Story

January 23, 2024

The ADICAY team traveling in Guatemala.

Our group rang in the new year by embarking on our trip to Guatemala on just the second day of 2024. The first day was full of travel, by land and air. It started early as we departed from BNA around 5 AM and ended late as we arrived around 8 PM at our first stop in Guatemala. This first stop was a hotel that allowed us to rest on the 8-hour journey from Guatemala City Airport to the village in which we would be staying. Once at this hotel, we met up with our host partner ADICAY. ADICAY is a local, Mayan-owned, engineering firm dedicated to improving the well-being of the Mayan people who are often ignored by the Guatemalan government. The CEO of ADICAY, Anna, greeted us at the hotel and formed a caravan with our bus the next morning for the duration of the trip to the community of Las Mercedes. Before we reached our destination though, our trip was not without troubles. The truck that Anna and a few others rode in was unable to withstand the rocky terrain and broke a shock. This resulted in the rest of their trip being full of the sound “ker-thunk” every other second. While the bus, carrying the rest of the team, was without mechanical issues, it eventually found itself unable to cross the treacherous terrain provided by the winding mountain dirt roads. As we climbed higher into the mountains the road was plagued by more frequent and larger mud pits it had to concede. We all unloaded the bus and stood at the side of the road, waiting for a truck to pick us up. As we waited, we passed the time by conversing with the family living in the house near where we stopped. We also played games and even interacted with the children there, which included a juggling show put on by Cole. 

Finally, a truck came, it was a large flatbed truck with a metal roll cage over the bed, which is where we loaded all our stuff and finally ourselves. We stood hanging on to the bars of the roll cage for about an hour and a half as we bumped along the winding roads while taking in the beautiful mountain views. Finally, we arrived at the community. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a line of children all holding American flags printed on paper and yelling with excitement. The entire community showed up to greet us and played lively tunes on the marimba, which is essentially a large xylophone. Once all of our belongings were sorted and put away in the rooms of the school we were staying in, many chairs were brought out as the whole community gathered around and congregated under the awning of the school. A microphone was brought out and a leader of the community welcomed us and gave a speech about the importance of the water system. Since none of us speak Q’eqchi’, Sammy, an ADICAY project manager, translated the speech into Spanish. From there some of us understood and the rest of us listened to Alex’s translations into English. Kevin, one of our team leaders, also spoke. He informed the community how excited and honored we were to be there. He emphasized the importance of the water project and his dream for it, which was the dream that women would no longer have to walk miles to get water and could instead be with their children who could be healthier with the supply of clean water. After this moving speech, Kevin also introduced our whole team, and the children made sure to remember at least a few of our names, as we would discover as the day went on. 

After introductions, pleasantries, and prayers, R’Mani, one of the team members, aired up a soccer ball we brought, and the fun began. Immediately, all the boys, both on our team and in the community, climbed up a small hill to the massive soccer field and the game was afoot. It appeared that soccer was a unifying language across three different groups of people, and all could share in its fun. Despite soccer being universal though, any semblance of organization of teams was not. The game was chaos as about 30 children joined on the soccer fields, and everyone seemed to run in every direction simultaneously. Despite the chaos though, it was so sweet to see the excitement and see just how much fun could be had without ever having to say a word. The night ended with a stunning sunset behind the distant mountain ridges after which the most amazing stars appeared in quantities I had never seen before. After a long day of travel and chaos, this moment centered me on God’s creation, and I just stood in awe. 

A sunset in Guatemala.
Guatemala Eng Adicay Working

After a night of sleeping in hammocks, the next morning was our first official workday! This day was spent at the tank site. After a fairly short, but very steep walk to the tank site, we were greeted by a team of about 15 men from the community. They were already underway digging the 20-foot by 40-foot hole in which the tank would be built. It would need to be slanted going from a depth of 1.1m to a depth of 1.5m. This excavation site was split into three sections with a natural dirt wall of about 3ft separating each section and group of men. After catching our breath from the hike, we got to work on the tank site. We took up shovels without owners and followed the example of the already working men. Some of our efforts were met with giggles as we are not as skilled with a shovel or pickaxe as they may be. But as the day wore on, the mood got lighter, and the men became more excited we were there. There were many laughs and exchanges especially once Cole, one of our team members, decided he could football tackle his way through the dirt divider. Although his effort was fruitless as he bounced off the unwavering dirt wall, the laughs that erupted from the worksite were worth it. After many hours of this, we took a break for lunch back at the school, provided by our phenomenal cook, Cata, and her assistant Romelia. After this meal, we returned to the tank site until about 4 pm to accomplish the desired depth of the tank, as prescribed by the ADICAY engineers. Another amazing dinner was prepared by Cata and another breathtaking sunset fell over the mountains.

Guatemala Eng Adicay Working 2

The following day, we went to the spring site where the water is being captured and will be provided to the community. The entrance to the hike for the spring was about 50 feet past where the tank site was. The hike to the spring itself was muddy and slick. The trail was lined with cardamom plants and some spiky trees you had to make sure you didn’t accidentally grab for balance. The hike had creek crossings and steep inclines that were only scalable using both hands and feet. Once the group finally made it to the spring site, we were able to see what was being done and what had already been accomplished. The end of our hike brought us to a point above the spring. So, we carefully slid our way down the very steep hill into the creek bed where the spring had been pouring. Before we arrived though, they had dammed up the spring and had a singular PVC pipe running out of the dam and pouring further down the creek bed so that the work site could remain dry. Our goal for the spring site was to pour two concrete walls which would be the first steps to creating the first sediment box. This sediment filter was designed to keep debris out of the water system that the people would be using. The concrete was made with a mix of sand sediment, naturally collected, and bags of locally sourced concrete. We passed from person to person five-gallon buckets full of sand from the top of the hill down to the spring site. The bags of concrete weighing 100 lbs were walked down by people who miraculously managed not to fall on the trek down the hill. Once the supplies were gathered down near the concrete pour site a few men used shovels to mix the concrete and sand, eventually adding water to complete the concrete mix. We were able to jump in at this point, using shovels to stir and mix the mixture until it was the correct consistency. We helped fill the buckets with the concrete mix which was then passed from person to person until it was dumped into the wooden forms that would make up the walls of the sediment box. As this was occurring, rocks were also being selected from the creek bed and passed from person to person and dropped into the forms as a part of the walls. After many hours of this, we finally took a break for lunch. Our lovely cooks Cata and Romelia along with four community men brought our lunch out to the spring site. After we all had our share, Cata, without hesitation, offered the remaining food to the other men working and prepared and passed out the food. During our lunch break, Reid also attempted to learn Q’eqchi’ specifically the articles of clothing he was wearing. The younger boys working was especially excited and interested in teaching Reid their language. Everyone laughed as we would forget the word for pants or mispronounce the word for shirt. This time of shared food, laughter, and language was heartwarming. We got to enjoy and relish in the beauty of all that God had provided for us and see how incredible He is as we still managed to connect with these people through three language barriers and completely different backgrounds. It was inspiring to see how a common goal of clean water could bring all of us together deep in the jungle of Guatemala. We did manage to complete both walls by the end of the day, even though it seemed like we were out of concrete somehow water kept being poured and more concrete appeared until we had just enough to finish the final wall, another testament to God’s goodness. That night, after dinner and after sunset, our team sat under the stars and sang hymns. This time was sweet and wholesome and the perfect end to such a wonderful day.

The next day was our final full day in the community. After breakfast, we all joined the rest of the men working on the back of one of those flatbed trucks and journeyed down to the riverbed. There we formed a line of people from the truck to the river and passed various-sized rocks from one person to another until the truck bed was loaded. While the first load was being taken to the tank site, the rest of us rested by the river, building stone towers and wading through the shallow areas of the river, enjoying the shade and sounds of the running water. Once the truck returned, we all assumed our places in line and the passing of rocks continued again until another truck bed was full. Our team then went up to the truck and rode it back to the school at which we were staying. Before dinner, a couple in the community invited our team into their home. They graciously allowed our large team into their home and showed us around their living space and kitchen. They were thrilled to have us and talked to us about how excited they were about the water system and how dire the situation was before this system was installed. It was difficult to see just how fortunate we are when there are people with so much less. Despite their lack of worldly things, this did not deter their generosity as they presented Steve and Kevin, our team leaders, with Guatemalan bags that displayed beautiful colors. It was such an important trip to be able to truly see a family that would be benefiting from the water system. At that moment, the gravity of this project set in on every one of us. 

That evening was filled with another soccer game, this time including the adults and older boys in the community. Some of us stood on the sidelines kicking a soccer ball in a circle with the younger kids. Eventually, the younger kids were eager to show off and especially determined to have Gretchen take their photo. They created pyramids by themselves and even Micah joined in to make the bottom layer of people. This then transpired into cartwheels and round-offs, and, eventually, it ended in teaching the community how to play limbo with a random stick that was found. At this point, the marimba had been brought out again and lively tunes were being played. We went down to the school and danced with each other and convinced some of the children to dance with us as well. We gathered the largest participation when conga lines were started. This was a very sweet time with the community that we had grown close with and worked alongside all week. It was sad to think that this was our final night in the community, but it was the sweetest finale.

Guatemala team with the community.

The next morning, we packed up early and headed out right as the sun was topping the mountains. The whole community had shown up for our departure, just as they had for our arrival. We rode in the back of one of the flatbed trucks just as we had gotten there so we all stood at the edges and waved our goodbyes as we slowly descended the hill from the community. After a couple of hours on the back of this truck, we eventually made the switch to another bus. From their ADICAY wanted to treat us and take us to a beautiful landmark in Guatemala called Semuc Champey. This was a national park with an underground river that overflowed into these beautiful pools of crystal blue and green pools surrounded by beautiful Guatemalan mountains. We were able to spend a few hours here swimming and enjoying the scenery and fellowship with the ADICAY engineers. After this fun time of rest and fun, we got back on the bus and headed to Copan where the ADICAY office is located. Once we arrived they showed us where we would be sleeping and a delicious dinner was prepared for us. After that, my senior design team was able to present our capstone project to them which directly related to the water projects that they work on. It was an exciting opportunity to share with them our work and gather their feedback so that we could help each other. 

Overall, this trip was phenomenal. From the breathtaking views that emphasized God’s amazing creation to the spectacular and hardworking people that we had the privilege of working alongside for the entire week, it was incredible. I am so thankful to everyone who partnered with our team to aid in us making it to Guatemala and I am so grateful for the amazing team that accompanied me on the trip to Guatemala. It is always so sweet to partner with ADICAY as well as to participate in amazing, life-changing projects. Every day I was there and every day since I have been so thankful to the amazing God who made all this possible and put everyone in the right places so that a community can be one step closer to having clean drinking water for the first time. 

- Justice White

Not a Trip
Category: Student Life