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Guatemala mission offers hope, health

Peninsula team to visit remote villages, build a home, in Piedra Blanca
Jackie Davidson and Mem Xavier with a box of donated items that are to be delivered to a Guatemalan village this month. (Contributed photo)

A team from the Semiahmoo Peninsula – and beyond – left for Guatemala today (Feb. 15) to assist a local organization’s medical efforts and build a much-needed home for one family.

And they packed far more than a healthy dose of community spirit for the trip.

Medications, handknit blankets and baby hats, as well as a package of items that they’re sure the kids will get a kick out of – soccer balls and jerseys, and even some training pylons, courtesy of Coastal FC – will all be delivered as well.

“They will be so excited to have soccer balls and proper jerseys,” team member Grace Howlett told Peace Arch News. “It is their favourite thing to do… in fact, in between building the houses the workmen take a break and eat lunch in the sweltering heat (and) play a game of soccer even with cement on their hands!”

Howlett said she and her husband Raie, who call White Rock home, are travelling with Surrey’s Jonny Ketchum; James Teur of Langley and his daughter Ainsley; Angela Hoogland, a Langley nurse; Vancouver resident Shaelin Darien; Tsawwassen’s Lori Thack and her daughter Maddie; and TJ Miller, a country music artist from Langley.

The journey for the Howletts started in 2016, during a trip with a team from Village Church in Surrey, she said.

“Through the organization, Hope for Life in Guatemala, we were able to bring in the funding to go out into the very rural villages in Guatemala and assist where the needs were the greatest,” she told PAN by email.

Over the past two years, the Howletts have visited four times, bringing funding that enabled local labourers to build a school, two churches and two homes, and nurses who were able to provide medical attention to the local children.

“The ability we have had of going back to the same villages has been amazing… the local people are quite touched that they are not forgotten by us, but remembered.”

Last time the team visited, they built a school in a town called Piedra Blanca. During its dedication, they were surprised to learn the English translation of the name: white rock.

This trip is to the same town, and Howlett said the stay will include building a home for a family of 14 who currently live in a shack built from sticks and mud.

“They are one of the neediest families,” she told PAN.

”They work very hard in the plantation fields. We are encouraging them, through sponsorship, to keep the children going to school and talking to them about having hope that these children can be impactful one day in whatever field they choose to study in.

“They are in a bad situation and cannot think about all of this without a roof over their heads.”

Howlett said a nurse who is with the team on this trip will be conducting a medical clinic in the villages they visit, and will be able to determine if anyone needs intervention. On a previous trip, she said, a grandmother brought in her granddaughter – and the girl’s non-responsive baby.

“We were able to get her back to the hospital for immediate help.”

Howlett said the team has visited often enough that planning for future trips is done “well in advance as we know what is needed now.” Her family’s business, Tide’s Out Services Ltd. – which operates the City of Surrey’s outdoor pools – has ongoing fundraisers through the summer. In addition, companies such as Hall Constructors has donated, as have local Buddhists, she said.

White Rock resident Jackie Davidson – who fosters a child in Guatemala through Hope of Life – said she contacted Coastal officials after asking Howlett if there was anything needed for the trip.

“She told me if I had any old soccer balls, in any shape at all… these are coveted by the village children,” Davidson told Peace Arch News by email.

Turns out the cause was close to the heart of one Coastal FC official. Davidson said Mem Xavier told her he grew up in a “not very nice area” of Brazil, “so he knows firsthand what these kids are dealing with,” she said.

Xavier also suggested a cleat drive in the future, Davidson added.

Howlett said the connection to Guatemala is one the team plans to continue.

“We have pledged that we have a relationship with these villages and will continue on working with them in years to come,” she said.

“They don’t get visitors… In fact Piedra Blanca is very remote… to get there we bus for a few hours then hop into four-by-fours up a narrow, winding, very muddy single track path for a few more hours.

“When we visit and they know they are remembered it is unbelievable to see.”

Grace Howlett of White Rock with some of the children she meant on a previous mission trip to Guatemala. (Contributed photo)
The team at work on a previous trip to Guatemala. (Contributed photo)
Time for a soccer game. (Contributed photo)

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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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