Amy Olive, Consumer Marketing Manager, went to Guatemala with Medical Teams International this year with a team of 7 other Superfeet volunteers. She reflects on the experience below.
Superfeet has been giving 1% of sales to local and national causes long before I joined our company. At times we have shifted how or what we give but the one thing that has stayed consistent is that we always give back. Most recently we've decided to partner with national non-profits that, like our products, help build strong foundations.
SUPERFEET'S 1% GIVE IN ACTION
Superfeet has donated time and resources to Medical Teams International for the last three years. Our partnership allows us to send Superfeet employee owners to Guatemala to volunteer building latrines and freshwater systems in remote villages. It's a highly coveted trip among our 160 ESOP owners. Each year, employees put their names in a hat in hopes of being randomly selected for the trip. When they called my name this year I couldn't pack my bags and to get on that flight quick enough. I mean, who wouldn't want a paid trip to a gorgeous Central-American country to do good with 10 of your co-workers? Looking back, I had no idea what I was about to experience or how it would affect my everyday perceptions.
We were tired and it was dark when we arrived in Guatemala City on September 2nd. We had only completed the first leg of our journey and made a beeline straight to the hotel. The next day, we traveled 10 hours to get to the remote village of Chitas where we would be volunteering all week. We split the journey into two days, staying the second night in Chicaman and making our way to the village on day three.
WELCOME TO CHITAS
As we drove into the village of Chitas for the first time, we were greeted by a sea of smiling faces shouting Gringo! Gringo! Many of the kids weren't sure what to expect and were still quite shy, moving quickly away as we started towards their school. We were greeted with a welcoming ceremony and began to get acquainted with each other. We learned more about the village, the mother counselors, the families and their children. They learned, after 40 minutes of watching us trip over ourselves in the hot sun, that there was nothing they could do to teach us how to dance. This realization ended our opening ceremony a little early.
Next, we visited Eliso and Amalia's House. Many of the young parents in Chitas were caring for a little army of squirmy, energetic, curious children. Some families had five or six children, Eliso and Amalia had eight. I've been married to my high school sweetheart for nine years (we've been together for almost two decades) and can't imagine taking care of anything more than our well behaved Australian Shepherd. Besides caring for eight children, Amalia also worked as a mother counselor in the village alongside eleven other women leading their community to advocate for change, clean water and better health for their families. Some of the women were trained midwives to help safely deliver children in their village. During the 2 years MTI has worked in Chitas, the infant mortality rate has dropped by 30%. On our last day in Chitas we sat down to have lunch with the mother counselors. I was incredibly inspired by their ability to be open-minded, to encourage their neighbors and to advocate for the change they wanted to see in their community. For me, getting to know these women better was the highlight of my trip.
OUR VOLUNTEER WORK
During our four days in Chitas we worked alongside members of MTI and families in the village to start or complete 4 different clean water systems. We installed rebar, moved, shoveled and mixed concrete then we moved, shoveled and mixed concrete some more. I was humbled by the work ethics of the masons and families involved and their patience to teach us how to do their work even though it probably took them longer with us by their side. When all the work was finished we played. We played soccer, volleyball, tag, we danced, braided hair, had our hair braided, gave fist bumps, high fives, blew up balloons even had a mini firework show with the more than 350 kids in the village. I've never encountered more energy in my entire life. In the end, the only thing I would change about the trip would be being able to stay longer. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of this beautiful community and just as we were leaving the kids were starting to really get comfortable with us.
I was recently asked to describe my trip in one word. My word is challenge. Challenge what you think you know about yourself. Challenge what you think you know about others. Challenge your everyday perception. Why? because I learned that not everything is as I first see it. Chitas taught me what it means to have an open mind, to be accepting and to work hard for the changes that you want to see. I am forever grateful to Superfeet, MTI and to the community of Chitas, Guatemala.
Here's what other SFGT3 team members had to say...
Jes Naki, Superfeet Customer Care
"My favorite day was the first day. The first time we drove into the village of Chitas after a 2 hour bumpy truck ride we were greeted by the people with welcoming hearts and open arms. It was emotional and beautiful. We also got to complete a water tank that day at one of the houses which was so rewarding. I worked with Annie, Amy, Greg and Jeff. It was so amazing to be a part of the final touches, even though they clearly didn't need our help. They were so grateful for our contribution and were filled with joy and happiness that we were there to help them. I loved learning about the families and what this water tank would do for them."
Brian Mastrofino, Sales Operations Manager
"Our last day in the village of Chitas was most memorable. We arrived and quickly broke into groups to deliver Hygiene kits (that we brought on the plane with us) to all of the school classrooms. We taught the children how to wash their hands, brush their teeth and floss. After that we went up to a home where we had finished building a water collection tank 3 days prior. Most of the surrounding families and all of the village dignitaries were present for a celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony.
It was amazing to hear their appreciation and what having clean water meant to all of them. At the end of the ceremony all of the "Mother Counselors" (women in the village responsible for taking care of pregnant women and the health of small children) presented each of us with a handmade bag with the words "Remember Chitas" (in Spanish) sewn into the sides. From there we went back to the main part of the village to play with the children. Many of us had brought things like stickers, stamps, beads and soccer balls for various activities.
As a soccer player, I quickly hiked a quarter mile down to their field. Many of the children followed and before long we had a game on our hands. This field was nothing more than dirt, rocks and mud, but the pure joy these children had for the game was infectious. I could have stayed there forever. Sadly, our visit in the village was coming to an end. We all gathered back by the trucks we rode in on for a final picture and farewell. What was meant to be a picture of our team turned into a picture with many of the villagers and their children, symbolic of the bond we had built over our week in the village."
Jeff Gray, Director of Fit and Outreach
"If I were to describe the trip in one word it would be transforming. We transformed their lives, they transformed ours."