On March 31, students entered the El Buen Samaritano library for the first time. Initially, they went towards the chairs in the corner and just looked with wide eyes. But once Ryan said “You can touch them,” the floodgates opened. There was pointing, sharing, touching, and READING. Little hands grasped onto brand-new covers and the smiles were endless. Some students even hugged the books. It looked like they had never seen so many books in one place. Honestly, I’m not sure if many of them had ever seen a new book before. This brought tears to my eyes, not only because I knew these stories were going to be educationally and emotionally empowering to these students, but I also knew that each of these books contained such a tangible expression of your long-distance love. These books were sent from schools all across the world, from our family, friends, and strangers. They were sent with notes from the University of Wisconsin medical students, and from friends in Florida and Georgia. Words can’t describe the power of that moment. We have been motivated by believing in the potential of these 958 books to truly impact our 63 kids, and it is so gratifying to see it come to fruition. So we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Your gift has provided these kids with an invaluable tool for enhancing their academic achievement while opening their minds to the innumerable joys of literature.
We flew into Guatemala early Saturday morning, hearts heavy after a devastating Badger Sweet 16 loss witnessed from the airport terminal. Kyleigh, Ryan and I had full overnight travel itineraries with little sleep, so we were running on adrenaline for most of the first day. We were pretty worried about the potential complications of importing $1,300 worth of books through Guatemalan customs - you can imagine our relief when the entire process was accomplished without incident. After getting picked up by Danny and Zarai (directors of El Buen Samaritano) at the airport, we collected our friend Dietrich from his hostel and then headed to some local bookstores in Guatemala City! We shopped in a rather ritzy zone of Guatemala City in bookstores filled with many popular American titles and series. I looked at our list of donated books for months on the computer, and it was surreal to be able to finally purchase the hard copies. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Sunday was a bit more relaxed since all shops were closed for the celebration of Advent festivities. We spent the morning exploring Antigua and climbing a nearby hill which offered amazing views of the city. As Kyleigh and I were sipping on our water on top of the hill, a few Guatemalan teens came up to us. I don’t speak spanish so I played a week long game of charades with anyone who tried to talk to me. We thought they were gesturing us to take a picture of them with their phone. After some mild confusion and more motions, we figured out they wanted a picture with us. When they left, Ryan came up the hill laughing and told us they were saying, “Those American girls look like they need some friends.” So I guess we made some new friends that morning. The afternoon was spent processing the books by recording titles and attaching the library cards.
Monday was the first day we did some team splitting. Ryan, Dietrich, and Danny headed to get lumber and crates to build the shelves while Kyleigh, Zarai, and I stayed in Anigua to finish our book shopping. Kyleigh and I also visited The School of Hope in Jocotenango, which is a private school run by an organization based out of the UK. We are so thankful for Sara who spent an hour with us touring the building and answering our endless questions about the community. More to come on this in another post.
On Tuesday we put in some sweat equity. Kyleigh and I tackled the task of digitally and physically organizing all the books. Ryan, Dietrich, Danny, and Freddy (brother of Danny) endlessly sanded boards and crates that had recently been sawed into rough lumber (we bought the “rustico” grade for price). When I say endlessly that is exactly what I mean. Sanding was the task that never ended. They also started creating our book display wall and hanging brackets for the future shelves.
Wednesday brought more finagling of the hanging fixtures, and we also started to assemble our large bookshelf that would cover the north wall of the room. Best of all, it was also the afternoon we set aside to hang out with kids. We ate chicken and beans for lunch and played many vicious rounds of dodgeball. I also played about a million rounds of Miss Mary Mack and Ryan threw every child under 10 in the air around a dozen times. Smiles, laughter, and hugs were numerous - my favorite day.
Thursday we left town for the day. We hired a man to repair the tin roof over the room and install a drop-ceiling to insure that our books would be protected from annual rainy seasons, and this was his day to complete the task. But we also had a mission for the day trip: Zarai and Danny were taking us to Puerto San Jose, a port town on the Pacific Ocean where they are considering implementing another community center similar to the operation in Jocotenango. Not surprisingly, Zarai has a heart for this community too. Each time I’m in Guatemala, I am most taken by Zarai and her love for the people of Guatemala. You go anywhere with her and she is known. I can’t even count the amount of hugs she receives in a day. She has committed her whole life to lifting others up. I’m so inspired by her. Her family members have a home Puerto San Jose with a dirt from yard, and this is where we gathered with the neighborhood children to eat a delicious meal and get to know them. So like everywhere else in the world, there are always more kids that we would love to love. We are a long way from being able to expand our services to this community, but these kids have made their way into our heart and we hope that someday, once the Jocotenango community center is fully functional, we might be able to serve more children in some capacity. Stay tuned friends...
That night we returned to a completed ceiling! We then set to the task of organizing all the books on their proper shelves and entering the stragglers into our database. I cannot even tell you how excited we were to have to project DONE! We quickly packed our bags in preparation for our flights home the next day, eagerly anticipating the next morning when our kids would see their library for the first time.
And the rest was bliss. Words can’t describe the contentment I felt when these kids walked into the room and actually got excited about what was there. I have never been prouder in my life. I am proud to personally know so many of the people who contributed. I am honored to be in the profession that lifted this little non-profit up through engaging students and schools in impactful work. I am so blessed to work with Pernille Ripp who took a chance on us and introduced our work to the amazing community at the Global Read Aloud. Ryan and I are so thankful and humbled by all of you. Your money is working to give 63 students hope and an opportunity to create a brighter future for themselves