Four months volunteering in Fr Anton’s Grech parish church in Izabal, Guatemala confirmed my belief and volunteering perception: THAT WHEN YOU LOVE, CARE, SHARE AND HELP OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN NEED ONE RECEIVES MUCH MORE IN RETURN. ‘The Poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts’ says Mother Theresa.
I accepted to be one of the members of GuateMalta Foundation as I fully believe, trust and support Fr Anton’s Grech sustainable projects. My mind is at peace, knowing that all the money raised is being well managed and spent for sustainable projects to help people in need. I knew better what I was in for being that this was not my first volunteering experience abroad.
I fell and am in love with Guatemala and its people. Guatemala highly rich in its diversity, unique ecosystems and distinct culture characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences endured a bloody civil war from the 1960 to 1996. It still continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade and instability. It is the poorest country in Central America. Fr Anton witnesses and struggles with all these problems daily in his parish church in Santo Tomas de Castilla.
I started the fitness classes in the pitch with the adults, gymnastics, and zumbatomic and fun games with the kids. I helped with the installing of clean stoves, cleaned, cooked, painted, sorted out the container clothes, visited poor families whom Fr Anton gives them food every month, went to the villages, garbage village, the prison and attended three medical missions. I loved the mass celebration.
Lara Gerada and myself, both of us being into sports found out about the pitch project, we instantly believed in it and promised to help Fr Anton with this project. It was my dream to start fitness and sports activities in the pitch, which I achieved in the last 4 months. The fitness ladies enjoyed the classes and worked hard. They are still doing the fitness class on daily basis. Visiting poor families with the social worker Mariela Sandoval gave me a good insight of the poverty, misery, problems and different unfortunate family situation stories.
Maria Luisa, a fifty three years old woman has been three years in a wheel chair as she lost her strength. She lives in total misery, in a filthy wooden hut or a house if it could be called a house without running water and no sanitation facilities. She had nine children, only four survived. The girls are married but too poor to help. Her husband Erasmus a very simple man, tries to earn a living by cutting out logs to sell, which he then spends on cheap alcohol. Daily he gives his niece worth of 10 Quetzales, (one euro 30 cents) of logs so in return she gives him tortillas. They have a nineteen year old son who is retarded. She spends all day in the dark in this filthy, horrible room. She had no shoes, I gave her clothes and my flip flops and hopefully she is going to be taken to an old people’s home with the help and support of Fr. Anton.
Oscar is an eleven year old boy who stole my heart. Oscar doesn’t know his mum. When he was seven years old he witnessed his dad being beheaded as he was into drugs. He is being brought up by his aunt who has four kids of her own. They are very poor. I got to know Oscar as he was always eager to help out when we were sorting the container clothes. He is a very sweet, loving, intelligent and sensitive boy. I helped him study and set a goal for him that if he learnt the maths tables I would buy him a pair of trainer shoes. I gave him my love and attention. Oscar learnt the tables and achieved his goal.
Fr Anton has to visit twenty seven remote villages in the rain forest every month to celebrate mass. It is an adventure getting to these diverse and beautiful villages. Means of transport varies starting with four wheel drive, then trekking or going by boat as well. Mostly the villages are Q’eqchi indigenous people whose believes are a mixture of syncretism and catholic faith. Before starting his mass they always burn incense to drive the evil spirits away. During a mass celebration Fr Anton at times celebrates, baptism, Holy Communion and reconciliation. The villagers wait eagerly to buy new and used clothes, toys and soft toys for one quetzal that is 12c of a euro. I loved mingling, interacting, playing and doing gymnastics with the kids. Some villages are so remote that they have no water and electricity. The people are poor worshiping a hard life with no opportunities.
A very sad experience that I encountered two weeks ago with Fr Anton at Santa Maria’s village was of a very sick three year old girl. She had fever and her skin was all covered with bed sores and blisters due to lack of nutrients. Fr. Anton told them that he would pay for all the medical expenses to take the girl to hospital and as well for the parents’ accommodation. They said that they would rather take her the next day. Fr Anton told me that they still believed in the witch doctor that would attend to her later on. This was Friday afternoon; they never called him the next day. They called him mid-week of the following week asking if he could help them with the funeral.
I helped in the installation of the twenty one clean stoves in the remote village of Macho Creek. I was happy and sad at the same time and appreciated that these people believed that they could improve their health standard of living by installing the clean stove. At the same time, it was very sad seeing the hardship all the family members, all ages had to endure, walking and carrying the clean stoves to the village on their foot which was thirty minutes away. They have no water and electricity in this village.
We went to the garbage village three times. The first time it was very hard seeing families with their children working, living and earning their living out of garbage. The first time we gave them clothes. The next two times that we visited we gave them sandwiches, milk, sweets and clothes.
Another unforgettable experience is when I went with Fr Anton and Deacon Mario to celebrate mass at the Puerto Barrios prison. On 31st December of last year there was a riot between fellow inmates prisoners and nine men were beheaded and burnt. This notorious prison should take only two hundred prisoners but it is overcrowded by six hundred more. At the moment there are over eight hundred prisoners. We gave then t-shirts and sweets. The prisoners attending for mass; all welcomed me and bought me a small bottle of water. I could not stop crying, I did not know what I was actually feeling and experiencing. I felt sad for them; some of them were isolated and were hearing the mass behind the bars. I thought of their social and family backgrounds, their families and them being deprived from freedom.
I attended three medical missions in three remote villages in Izabal, being organised by Unidos por la Fe, a voluntarily organisation in collaboration with Fr Anton, the army and United States embassy. Doctors, dentists and nurses treated the people as necessary. While the parents and kids were being attended medically, we organised fun games for the kids and gave them sweets and soft toys.
I loved the mass celebration being lively with music and all people participated. It is different from Malta; there is no life to our Maltese mass celebration. Our Maltese perspective is to get it and over done with. During the peace exchange people hug and greet each other with love. You feel pure joy.
I would like to thank Fr. Anton for giving me the opportunity to volunteer in his parish church sharing the daily routine, experiencing the hardships, poverty and different problems which so many people have to endure daily and throughout their lives. God bless Fr Anton and his hard work to keep up with the sustainable projects to make a difference in these people’s lives with dedication and love. I would like to thank Santo Tomas’ parishioners for accepting me, giving me love and their friendship. I experienced pure joy, serenity and love. I promise that I am going to keep on helping GuateMalta Foundation. I would love to help the villages as well so maybe one day the kids will have more opportunities and a better life.